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Dakar’s African Renaissance 0

I have wanted to come to Dakar since I was a young man growing up in western Kenya reading Léopold Sédar Senghor’s poetry. My mother, a schoolteacher, made me read Senghor’s poetry aloud before asking me to explain what Senghor was thinking when he wrote his poetry.

In my late teenage years, I read Mariama Ba’s “So Long A Letter,” one of the most acclaimed literary books out of Senegal. The powerful images from the book forcefully introduced the world to the life of women in Senegal and the intersection of African traditional culture and Islam. In 2002, as I was becoming a man, at Kenyatta University, my mother and I watched Senegal beat its former colonizer, France, in the World Cup, though it looked more like a contest between Africans in the diaspora against Africans at home; most of the French players are of African descent. My mother was jumping all over the seats with joy. Senegal would later be eliminated in quarter finals.

Dakar airport is like those in any other developing country, with its remnants of colonial structures. The city is beautiful in a way. In an honest sort of way, in a “I am going to charm you and not rob you” kind of way. Nairobi is different. Kampala also. Detroit too. Those places twist people’s arms for the smallest of gifts.

Standing atop the 160 steps of Dakar’s African Renaissance monument, installed by former President Abdoulaye Wade, reminds me of the Gaza strip. Rows of short, square brown unpainted houses. No shine in them, just brown, the color of concrete and sand with the beautiful Atlantic as a backdrop.

The people in them and their taxis on the streets are colorful. Like little butterflies on a brown background. Restaurants like the one where I am seated waiting for fresh fish, have been made very popular by Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” on CNN. My waiter is wearing Kanye West’s shoe line. The Yeezys. I cannot afford these shoes. The prices of the limited edition are steep in the United States. How can he? In a country that is over 90% Muslim and elected a Christian president, I guess possibilities abound.

Senegal has been a diplomatic and cultural bridge between the Islamic and black African worlds. Some devout non-hijab wearing Muslim women are still be bound by religion. Iif indeed there is equality, why is the woman in the African Renaissance Monument behind the man? Why is she not by his side as a strong family forging forward together? Why is the African woman always left behind yet she carries the burden of the entire family in most instances.

In this era, one could argue that the monument is not adequately feminist. But then again there is a child pointing to a new dawn. Tomorrow, I need to find out if the child is indeed pointing to a dawn of a new era or to France as some people say.

Senegal maintains closer economic, political, and cultural ties to France than probably any other former French colony in Africa. West Africa also seems to be led by many children. Cunning African children of the French. Black-skinned Frenchman. Identity crises start at the highest levels of the government.

Continue reading on Africa is a country

By Norbert Odero

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi