Senegal: Place Faidherbe in the city of Saint-Louis becomes Baya Ndar

In Saint-Louis, Senegal, Place Faidherbe is no longer relevant, it was renamed to be renamed “Baya Ndar”, that is to say Place Saint-Louis. Explanation: Baya, a word derived from Wolof “bayaal” means place, crossroads, and Ndar is the local name of the city, which was the first establishment founded south of the Sahara by France in the 17th century.e century and later, the capital of French West Africa. The debate on the persistence of references to the colonial era has been recently revived in the country of Léopold Sédar Senghor, as in others, by the death of the African-American George Floyd and the demonstrations it provoked in worldwide.

Louis Léon César Faidherbe is honored in France as a military figure who preserved the north of the country from the Prussian invasion during the war of 1870-1871. In Senegal, he is known as the one who led the French colonial enterprise as governor from 1854 to 1861 then from 1863 to 1865. His governance was marked by numerous military campaigns carried out in the former kingdoms of Fouta Toro (Senegal, Mauritania), Khasso (Senegal, Mali) and Kayor (Senegal).

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The myth of Faidherbe has always been defeated

In Saint-Louis of Senegal, there is a statue bearing his effigy, the place in question of course, but also a bridge named in his homage, Avenue Faidherbe, Hotel Faidherbe, Faidherbe pharmacy, etc. Formerly, the city’s high school bore his name, but it became the Cheikh-Omar-Foutiyou-Tall high school in 1984. A more than symbolic decision, because it should be noted that this establishment was the very first high school erected by the France in 1886 outside its territory, therefore the first in Africa. This means that for many years the Senegalese have been trying to undermine the heritage and all the myth that was built around Louis Faidherbe.

Already in 1978, the Senegalese writer and filmmaker Ousmane Sembène was offended by this visible homage not only to Saint-Louis, but also in other cities of the country. He addressed himself directly to President Léopold Sédar Senghor: “Isn’t it a provocation, a crime, an attack on the moral dignity of our national history to sing the hymn of Lat Joor under the base of the statue? of Faidherbe? Why, for years that we have been independent, in Saint-Louis, Kaolack, Thiès, Ziguinchor, Rufisque, Dakar, etc., do our streets, our arteries, our boulevards, our avenues, our squares still bear the names of colonialists? old and new? Hasn’t our country given women and men who deserve the honor of occupying the pediments of our high schools, colleges, theaters, universities, streets and avenues, etc. ? ”He wrote in an open letter in 1978.

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Since then, associations and activists have taken over. In their viewfinder: the bronze statue which stands on the square in the city center, with in particular the plaque affixed below where it is inscribed: “To its governor Louis Faidherbe, Senegal grateful. In September 2017, the statue fell to the ground during heavy rains that hit the region. Quite a symbol for many young Senegalese. Calls to permanently remove it and replace it with local historical figures have since been relayed on social networks. But in the meantime, the Senegalese authorities had decided to postpone it until the current work on the square. Abdou Aziz Guissé, director of cultural heritage of Senegal, had specified that “the statue is part of the architectural and historical heritage of the city of Saint-Louis, classified as a World Heritage Site by Unesco. It was maintained, not to celebrate colonization, but out of duty to remember ”.

Quite a symbol

The Senegalese Collective against the celebration of Faidherbe, which brings together hundreds of sympathizers in Senegal and within the diaspora, was formed in reaction to the status quo of the authorities. He asks for the definitive unbolting of the statue, but has also undertaken to go beyond this single fight by undertaking a vast research work to make better known the biography and the whole of the work of Faidherbe and others historical figures, or heroes through actions with populations, but also through various speeches, as was the case during the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron in February 2018. “I was told that here, in Saint-Louis, around the 1850s, the French were worried about the rise of jihadism. Sometimes history stutters, ”said the French head of state.

Meanwhile, the debate has revived in light of the Charlottesville protests in the United States, where the question of the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert Lee arose. The subject has become of global concern, with online petitions, protests, bustings, statues of Gandhi in South Africa, Cecil Rhodes, Leopold II in Belgium, among others.

Proof that the protest is starting to take shape, the leaders have taken hold of the debate. “The renaming of Place Faidherbe” will have “historical significance”, estimated Mansour Faye, the mayor of Saint-Louis, a city classified as a World Heritage Site by Unesco. “The square had previously had the following names: Place Savane, then Place de la Monarchie-de-Juillet, Place d’Orléans and Place du Gouverneur-Faidherbe in 1887. And since that date, it has housed the statue of Governor Faidherbe (. ..) ”, recalls the document sent to the press and relating to the project discussed by the municipal council. “Our grandfathers, our grandmothers used to say: We are going to Baya Square,” he stressed.

According to the mayor of Saint-Louis, the fate of the Faidherbe statue erected in 1886 and moved in early January to renovate the square will be discussed “later”, he said. “The statue will always remain in its place, because the final decision to move it or not, will remain the exclusive business of the sons of Saint-Louis and without any influence from anywhere. It is the sons of Saint-Louis who will decide, ”he said.

If, after consultation, “the council decides to move this statue, we will do so. If the people decide that the statue is going to stay, naturally, it will stay, ”he said.

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