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AFRICANS YOU SHOULD KNOW: Léopold Sédar Senghor

President of Senegal from the country’s independence in 1960 until his retirement in 1980, Léopold Sédar Senghor was a Senegalese poet, politician, and cultural theorist who is also the author of the Senegalese national anthem.

With Aimé Césaire and Léon Damas, Senghor created the concept of Négritude, an important intellectual movement that sought to assert and to valorize what they believed to be distinctive African characteristics, values, and aesthetics.

This was a reaction against the too strong dominance of French culture in the colonies, and against the perception that Africa did not have culture developed enough to stand alongside that of Europe.

Building upon historical research identifying ancient Egypt with black Africa, Senghor argued that sub-Saharan Africa and Europe are in fact part of the same cultural continuum, reaching from Egypt to classical Greece, through Rome to the European colonial powers of the modern age.

Négritude was by no means—as it has in many quarters been perceived—an anti-white racism, but rather emphasized the importance of dialogue and exchange among different cultures (e.g., European, African, Arab, etc.)

A related concept later developed in Mobutu's Zaire is that of authenticité or Authenticity.

Senghor is also a world-acclaimed poet and in 1978 he was awarded the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca.

Although a socialist, Senghor avoided the Marxist and anti-Western ideology that had become popular in post-colonial Africa, favouring the maintenance of close ties with France and the western world. This is seen by many as a contributing factor to Senegal’s political stability: it remains one of the few African nations never to have had a coup, and always to have had a peaceful transfer of power.

Senghor’s tenure as president was characterized by the development of African socialism, which was created as an indigenous alternative to Marxism, drawing heavily from the négritude philosophy. In developing this, he was assisted by Ousmane Tanor Dieng.

This is not to say that Senghor’s rule was never without opposition.

Upon becoming President of Senegal on 5 September, 1960, after a disagreement with the Prime Minister Mamadou Dia over the country’s long-term development plans and foreigh policy, Senghor had Dia arrested on suspicion of brewing a potential coup d’etat. Dia was imprisoned for twelve years.

In March of 1967 Moustapha Lô, a man who pointed a gun, that did not fire, at Senghor after the President participated in the sermon of Tabaski, was arrested and executed on charges of attempting to assassinate the President.

On 31 December 1980, Senghor retired in favour of his prime minister, Abdou Diouf.

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