Vol. II, Issue 2 (Spring, 1995): Francophone West Africa

Table of contents

Editorial: Francophone West Africa

by Prof. Gloria T. Emeagwali

Chief Editor of AfricaUpdate

In this issue of Africa-Update we pay some attention to Francophone West Africa, a region which includes Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin and Togo amongst others. In reality three of Africa's four language families, namely, Niger-Kongo, Nilo-Saharan and Afro-Asiatic, are associated with this area. Languages such as Mossi, Mande, Fulani, Senufo, Dyula, Hausa, Mandinga, Wolof and Serer, are some of the indigenous languages of the region spoken by large numbers of people. The concept "francophone" is therefore useful insofar as it refers to a significant historical encounter between France and the peoples of the region, albeit in the context of sustained and fierce battles of resistance in some cases and the adaptation of some aspects of French culture in others.

The region is also associated with important centers of power which include the influential empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai in the medieval era. The region of Senegambia was host to several historically significant political formations including the Wolof empire and the commercially significant state of Takrur, which eventually seceded from Malian hegemony. In the 19th century this region was the stage for some of the most dedicated statesmen and political activists in the region, including the famous Samory Touré of Guinea, who organised well coordinated and sustained guerrilla campaigns against French expansionism over a twenty year period.

In Medieval times Timbuctu in Mali was a center of intellectual activity in West Africa. Today Ouagadougou of Burkina Faso is its counterpart in the cinematic world and no less a contributor to intellectual discourse.

In this issue we include relevant discussions on this matter, including perspectives on some of the prevailing difficulties faced by African film producers and critiques of productions by the pioneer Senegalese film producer, Sembene Ousmane and the Mauritanian, Med Hondo.

Dr.Ojo-Ade of St.Mary's College gracefully agreed to contribute a short piece related to his area of specialization and by so doing shed additional light on another significant aspect of intellectual development in the region, the literary field.

We note as well the significance of women in this area.

Maimouna Diallo-Seydi, one of our regional contributors, discusses the impact of Structural Adjustment programs on Senegalese women, pointing out that the program has led to the emergence of new patterns of migration and major destabilisations in the region. She points to the various ways in which Senegalese men and women try to cope with the new dispensation.

Return to Table of Contents.

Map of pre-modern African kingdoms

Return to Table of Contents.

Map of modern Sénégal

Return to Table of Contents.

CODESRIA Academic Freedom Programme

Programme Officer for Academic Freedom, CODESRIA

The Lima Declaration on Academic Freedom and Autonomy of Institutions of Higher Education (1988), The Dar-es-Salaam Declaration on Academic Freedom and Social Responsibility of Academics (April 1990) and the Kampala Declaration on Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility define "Academic Freedom" as "the freedom of members of the academic community [which covers all those persons teaching, studying, researching or otherwise working at an institution of higher education], individually or collectively, in the pursuit, development and transmission of knowledge, through research, study, discussion, documentation, production, creation, teaching, lecturing and writing" (See Diouf and Mamdani, editors, Academic Freedom in Africa [Dakar, CODESRIA, 1994, p. 362]).

As part of its programme on Academic Freedom, CODESRIA has set up an Academic Freedom Monitoring Unit at its secretariat in Dakar and will henceforth be publishing an annual report on The State of Academic Freedom in Africa. The Monitoring Unit has embarked on a systematic collection of information on cases of violation of academic freedom. Eg: actual, or threats of detention, dismissal, expulsion, shooting and assassination of academics; university closures; policy/army raids on university campuses; banning of organizations of academic and /or non-academic staff; censorship; and other forms of harassment. The list is long.

CODESRIA is inviting members of the Academic Community in African universities to report on infringements of academic freedom. Information should be sent to:

The Programme Officer for Academic Freedom
Box 3304
Dakar, Senegal, West Africa

Return to Table of Contents.


by Femi Ojo-Ade

Professor of French, St. Mary's College of Maryland

Introduction: Francophone Writers and their World

Francophone African literature was used as a weapon in the political struggle. Most interestingly as in other areas, women were left out of the mix, which does not at all mean that they did not participate in the struggle. The Senegalese Sembène Ousmane's writings recount their heroic deeds (cf. Les bouts de bois de Dieu, God's Bits of Wood). After Independence, women have become involved in the literary art and, of course, the themes have had to change with the times.

Mariama Bâ, Trailblazer

From all indications, it would be right to state that the number of African women writers is much less than that of their male counterparts. Furthermore, one feels that francophone women writers are not as many as anglophones. Whatever may be the reasons for this situation and, indeed, the assumption may be wrong, what is beyond debate is the prominence of one particular francophone writer from Senegal, the late Mariama Bâ.

Bâ's novel, Une si longue lettre (So Long A Letter), has become a classic in African women's literature. A visibly autobiographical text written in the epistolary form, it tells the story of Ramatoulaye, her journey from a happy youth through a marriage wrecked by her husband's infidelity, polygamy and a convoluted divorce, to a final widowhood marked by a determination to be happy. "The word happiness, does mean something, doesn't it? I shall go in search of it," affirms the tragedy-struck heroine of Bâ's deep novel.

Critics, especially those from America and Europe, have held up this novel as a feminist masterpiece as they have made a feminist martyr of the novelist. However, those of us from Africa with knowledge of and belief in African culture, have continued to advise caution: Bâ's novel would be a feminist piece of art since it raised issues about woman's condition in a reactionary society but, on the other hand, it underscored the importance of family as nucleus of the nation. Ramatoulaye's friend, Aissatou, in a situation similar to the heroine's, decides to cross the Atlantic and to live in New York. Feminists have praised to high heavens her act of freedom and emancipation. The contention here is, however, that such is not the message that Mariama Bâ wanted to pass to her public. Aissatou's choice, personal and self-centered, is, of course, viable in a restricted, individualistic sense. For the larger community (the African concept must be borne in mind), her action does not resolve much.

For a more rounded understanding of Mariama Bâ's complex and thought-provoking ideology, one ought to read also her second novel, Un chant éclarte (A Scarlet Song), which addresses the issues of mixed marriage, cultural conflict, the colonial experience and, most poignantly, the human dilemma. Given today's very problematic realities in which religion and the advocates of its primacy are contesting the heart and soul of our communities, one is urged to re-read Bâ's Letter and Song in which some form of humanism, deeper and wider in scope than feminism, remains.

Aminata Sow Fall and other Women Writers

While Mariama Bâ was the toast of the literary community (she won the Noma Award in 1980), the work of her compatriot Aminata Sow Fall (her first novel, Le Revenant, The Ghost, was published in 1976) was already in print. The difference between the two is, that Sow Fall has not limited herself to "women's issues," as it were. "The writer is the witness of her time. . . Writing is a testimony, a means of filtering social reality at a given moment," affirmed Sow Fall (interview in ALA Bulletin, 14, 4, 1988: 24).

Sow Fall's novels deal with the myriad problems of post-colonial or, neo-colonial, Africa, and they no doubt include issues particular to women. What is most significant is, that the novelist presents an all-inclusive picture which, to my mind, bodes well for Africa. Her latest novel, L'ex-père de la nation (The Former Father of the Nation), 1987, recounts the life of a former Head of State and many have claimed that it is a criticism of the revered Senghor. Sow Fall has denied the charge, but the very notion proves that her work attacks societal ills while castigating the shameless authors of Africa's demise.

Viewed from that perspective, Sow Fall and other women writers of francophone Africa, such as the Cameroonian Werewere Liking, the Ivoirian Véronique Tadjo, Rawiri of Central Africa, Nafissatou Diallo and Catherine N'Diaye of Senegal, show their commitment to ameliorating Woman's lot in rejecting approval by author, but not in exclusivist terms. As I have stated elsewhere (see African Literature Today, 13, 1988: 158-179), any struggle bent upon creating new conflicts and polarizing relationships will mainly work towards the destruction of the communal fabric. It will play into the hands of those more interested in personal objectives of self-promotion and survival, rather than make for the liberation of the millions shackled by a clique of robbers leading naturally blessed countries toward the abyss of impoverishment. If African women writers are to be called feminists, their Africanity must not be forgotten.

Return to Table of Contents.


by Maimouna Diallo-Seydi

L'oppression des femmes et leur exploitation en tant que travailleuses se sont particulièrement accentuées sous l'effet des plans d'ajustement structurel.

Cependant, un des aspects marquants de l'évolution de la femme sénégalaise ces dernières années est sa capacité à resister. Cela est visible tant au niveau des strategies alternatives qu'elle developpe pour accroitre le revenu familial que dans la façon dont elle utilise certaines structures sociales traditionnelles, telles que les associations feminines pour élaborer ces strategies. D'autre part, on note une mobilisation croissante de la femme sénégalaise au sein d'organisations ou se pose de manière sénégalaise au sein d'organisations ou se pose de manière plus systematique la necessité pour les femmes de s'engager davantage dans la lutte pour changer le système actuel qui les opprime et les exploite.

La situation de l'emploi et du chômage

Les statistiques montrent que la situation de l'emploi est fortement degradée ainsi qu'on peut le voir sur le tableau ci-dessous:

&$233;volution de taux activité (en %)
Total Hommes Femmes
1972/73 55.5% 59.0% 42.0%
1985 46.0% 55.2% 37.0%
1990 33.5% 50.9% 17.0%
Source: BIT - 1990

Ces chiffres indiquent clairement que le déclin de ce taux est plus marqué en ce qui concerne les femmes.

Ils sont confirmés par le Rapport des Nations Unies sur la situation sociale dans le monde, selon lequel, les femmes en Afrique, risquent deux fois plus que les hommes d'être au chômage dans le secteur structuré.

En effet, le nombre d'emplois saisonniers et jounaliers representent déjà 28.5% du total des emplois dans le secteur privè pour l'année 1983 (contre 25.4% en 1982).

Dans les zones rurales

Les femmes en tant que productrices de vivriers jouent un rôle crucial dans la reproduction de la force de travail sociale. Cependant, l'échec de la politique néo-coloniale, aggravée par les differentes politiques d'ajustement, ont des répercussions désastreuses sur le statut de celles-ci mais aussi sur la capacité du pays à se nourrir. Elles sont la plupart du temps exclues des plans de developpement. L'accent mis sur la production des cultures d'exportation implique que ce secteur les ressources humaines et les moyens techniques modernes au détriment du secteur vivrier dans lequel les femmes jouent un rôle capital. Ainsi, ces dernieres sont exclues de l'acces à la terre et au crédit. De ce fait, ce secteur est "delaissé dans des conditions d'arrieration technologique, d'insuffisance de l'investissement et de la surexploitation de la force de travail feminine qui s'offre à bon marché ou même gratuitement."

Aussi, le pays s'est trouvé incapable de subvenir à ses besoins. Il y a donc ici une correlation entre l'accroissement de l'exploitation du travail feminin en milieu rural et le déficit en vivrier dont souffrent les pays africains.

Il n'est donc pas étonnant de constater que les importations de céréales sont passées de 341,000 tonnes en 1974 à 431,000 en 1987 alors que les dons de céréales atteignent 80,000 tonnes en 1986-87 (contres 27,000 tonnes en 1974/75) selon les chiffres fournis par la Banque Mondiale dans son rapport sur le développement pour 1989.

Les migrations et leurs consequences

Le Sénégal connaît un profond desequilibre dans la repartition de sa population.

Les villes concentrent, en effet, près des 37% de la population totale tandis que Dakar, a elle seule, regroupe les 83% de la population urbaine.

L'emigration masculine a commencé surtout vers les années 1920/25. Aujourd'hui, elle s'est modifiée tant par son importance que par sa destination, plus lointaine, vers l'Europe. Ce second phenomène a contribué a une détérioration du statut économique de la femme qui va devenir la pièce essentielle assurant la survie des unites familiales profondement bouleversées par le manque de main d'oeuvre masculine.

Mais la dégradation continue de la situation économique dans les zones rurales. On conduit de plus en plus de femmes à emigrer vers les villes à la recherche de meilleures conditions d'existence. Si l'on reconnait que ces migrations touchent toutes les zones geographiques, il semblerait que les structures sociales traditionnelles jouent un role non negligeable sur les conditions de celles-ci. Les Sereres et les Diolas accorderaient plus de liberté, alors qu'un controle social très strict empêcherait les jeunes filles Peuls ou Toucouleurs d'emigrer si ce n'est pour aller retrouver leur mari.

Quoique soit la raison pour laquelle elles emigrent, les femmes profitent de leur nouvelle situation pour développer des activités économiques.

Return to Table of Contents.


by Ibrahima Ouedraogo

OUAGADOUGOU, Mar 14 The Pan-African film festival "Fespaco" ended last week with organisers congratulating themselves on a huge success. But after the hooplah comes harsh reality the very insecure world of African cinema.

From a small event first organised by a group of friends in 1969, Fespaco has snowballed into an international cultural event, which this year drew representatives from 66 countries.

Visitors to the 14th Fespaco included celebrities such as Senegalese film guru Sembene Ousmane and South African Deputy Culture Minister Winnie Mandela.

Thousands of film lovers and hundreds of directors, distributors and producers attended the week-long event making Burkina Faso's capital bubble with energy.

To mark the centenary of film, the theme of this year's festival was 'cinema and history.' Prizes were awarded to film and video productions assessed in various categories.

The Malian production, Guimba, carried off the "Yennenga Stallion," the prize for the best full-length feature film.

Set in a changing Africa in the early 1990s, the 102-minute-long feature depicts the monopolisation of power in a village.

"This film is fiction that takes its roots in today's reality on the continent, pulled apart between tyrants and democrats," explained producer Cheick Oumar Cissoko, who now has four films under his belt.

Some consider the film a satire of the regime of former Malian president Moussa Traore, overthrown in a coup in 1991after his forces killed hundreds of demonstrators demanding the end of oppression and one party rule.

Cissoko, a caustic critic of the regime at that time admitted, "politics have led me to the world of cinema."

Guimba, which cost about 1.4 million dollars, has been praised for its use of the African oral tradition, languages, clothes and actors. It won no less than nine special prizes at the festival, including a prize awarded by the Organisation of African Unity and one from the European Union.

And Guimba was not the only successful film screened here. Generally, critics agreed, the quality of the films was high this year.

But now that the festival has ended, many African film makers and fans have something of a hangover.

Many of the films screened at Fespaco may be doomed to gather dust until the next festival is staged.

African film makers are still battling for adequate distribution to gain a foothold in the Europe and American markets. Cissoko explained that he wrote to distributors in many countries to get Guimba on the screens, but "so far we have only contacts for distribution in Mali and in Burkina Faso."

"I am asking Europeans to strive to learn our culture so that they can understand our films. At school we learned their culture and that is why we accept their movies," he added.

According to some, the continent's film makers hassled with insufficient funding should opt to make video films. That way, they argue, Africa will be better able to compete with cheaper films from abroad.

"Cinema is very expensive and video seems to be the only way out for African movie makers," said Jean Maou, a French consultant. A feature film, Maou said, costs around 200,000 dollars at least, while a video can be made for as little as 7,000 dollars.

Cissoko, however, was hopeful that African film has a future without film makers have to resort to cheaper alternatives.

"Through solidarity between movie makers and regional solidarity we can do better so that cinema will survive. We have the staff for good productions, countries must now sign agreements for co- productions," he recommended.

Kenyan Director Ann Mungai suggested that African films be given preferential treatment to enhance their chances on the world market.

Her documentary Usilie Mtoto wa Africa (Don't Cry, Child of Africa) was named best television and video film. This short film shows the plight of a young street girl in Nairobi seeking her mother who has fled from economic hardships at home caused by her husband's drinking.

Opinion here was also divided over the future of Fespaco itself, as some people suggested that fespaco become itinerant in the future, visiting the continent's countries in turn.

Permanent Secretary of Fespaco, Filipe Sawadogo, strongly objected. "The French festival of Cannes or the festival of Venice will never go to another European country. Nomadism never serves a purpose."

Published by InterPress Service Harare (ipshre@gn.apc.org)
Distributed by Pan-Africa discussion list (Africa-L@vtvm1.cc.vt. edu), and reprinted here with permission.

Return to Table of Contents.

Ousmane Sembene's Camp de Thiaroye

by Jeanne Doiron, student at C.C.S.U.

Ousmane Sembene's film "Camp de Thiaroye" exposes not only French colonial attitudes but the ugliness of racism and, ultimately, the human capacity for cruelty and ignorance.

The "tirailleurs," or riflemen, are praised by the French officers for their bravery for France during World War II, but are daily debased and denied their humanity as French subjects after the war. The irony of having fought for the lives and freedom of the French people, only to come home to Colonial Senegal and be treated as sub-human, is brought out in the references and flashbacks to the Nazi POW camp where the tirailleurs were incarcerated. The French proved themselves to be as blood-thirsty and barbaric as the Nazis when they commit "the final solution" upon the tirailleurs.

The French rationalisation for giving the tirailleurs substandard housing and unpalatable food (rationed according to skin color) is that they don"t have it that good in their villages. Cheating the tirailleurs out of a fair exchange rate for the money owed to them is justified the same way. What will they do with money in huts, they ask. To further justify their racist actions, the French call the tirailleurs "communists."

Sergeant Master Diatta, who plays an important role in the film, recognises that the great "civilised" nation of France has two sets of laws-one for Blacks and the other for Whites. But the French are blind to this reality, and in the film call the Americans racist.

As French subjects the African soldiers are used, discarded and brutally eliminated when they assert their rights. The final irony is the scene of new African recruits boarding a ship destined for France, perhaps to give their life in battle for France, a country for whom Africans are no more than pawns. . .

Return to Table of Contents.

Africa and the Net

by Haines Brown, C.C.S.U. (brownh@ccsua.ctstateu.edu)

This is one of a continuing series of brief reports on Africa and the Internet that will chronicle the growth of African connectivity, take note of significant events and new resources, and occasionally reflect on its import for Africa's future. You are reminded that this and former issues of Africa_Update are archived as hypertext at:

The McBride Roundtable, which is a communications rights advocacy group, met in Tunis on 16-18 March for its seventh meeting. Some seventy-four representatives from twenty countries discussed "Africa faces the Internet."

The focus of the final report, commissioned by UNESCO, was on Africa and the Information Superhighway the implications of the next generation of information technology. In planning for it, in the absence of the motivation of superpower rivalry, "now would be the time to show honest and active solidarity with the hard pressed peoples of the continent, starting from their real needs and not from the global strategic needs of the corporate-driven North."

The McBride Report recommended in general terms that all African communications media, including texts and other books, be digitalized and integrated through Internet; that in lieu of alternatives traditional media be supported; that there be democratic accountability; and that telecommunications policy support development. The issue is not simply Africa's getting onto the global Information Highway, but to do it in a way that supports social and economic development.

This contrasts sharply with the week-long Addis Ababa Telematics symposium for Development in Africa, which ended on 7 April. The 250 electronic mail service providers gathered in African Hall focused rather on how existing resources could benefit from mounting global connectivity. They hoped that new governmental initiatives would recognize existing local systems, the past service they provided and their independence, and that new initiatives be sub-regional in scope and aim for a transition from existing levels of service, such as dial-up store and forward systems, to full IP connectivity. The delegates felt now was the time to ease national regulations and fees and to usher Africa into the "Information Age."

However, not everyone was quite so anxious to jettison state monopoly in the name of neoliberalism, arguing that in the absence of developed civil society, only the state could "take care of the social aspect of telematics development."

Return to Table of Contents.

Med Hondo's Sarraounia

by Vanessa Tralongo, Student CCSU

The film Sarraounia is set in Niger, West Africa, and focuses on European expansionism in the late 19th century. In most African films I have seen, women have not been given significant main character roles. In Sarraounia, the film centers on the courageous stance of Sarraounia, an African woman who is leader and Queen of the Aznas. It is true that in the film female roles are shown to be contradictory, but by the end of the movie, Med Hondo shows the true role of women.

In the film, Med Hondo begins much like others have, by portraying women as useless commodities, good for only one thing. An example of this is in the scene where two soldiers have been fighting, and one has had his ears cut off. The victim was accused of "screwing the other soldier's woman." The woman was said to be nothing but trouble and had run off. There is no attempt to get the woman's side of the story, and she is just immediately labelled. Another example is in the scene after the French soldiers had taken over a village. The head French soldier (an African working for the French) is going down the ranks to allot booty to each soldier. In the allotment, women are ranked alongside goats, cows, and grain. In this respect, Med Hondo"s film seems to follow the traditional stereotypes of women.

As the film continues, however, Hondo makes a quick about face, and the image of women is one of strength and power. This image begins in the French camp when the women can no longer stand the treatment they have been receiving. The women feel that, in order to secure their freedom and their dignity, they must flee to Sarraounia. Their strength is shown in their courage to aid Sarraounia by warning her of the impending French attack. They also show courage by a willingness to risk their own lives. Sarraounia's power is displayed through the French soldiers' fear of her and their reluctance to stay and fight her. The French soldiers would rather take what they had and leave than to prolong the fight and anger her. Her strength is also revealed as she leads her people, rallies them and guides them through battle, and again later when she shows them the patience needed to win victory. Finally it is a woman who first kills a French commander.

This scene sums up the African woman's real role in the film and clears Med Hondo of having stereotyped women as weak.

Return to Table of Contents.

Student Notebook

A review of Paulus Gerdes, editor, Explorations in Ethnomathematics and Ethnoscience in Mozambique (Maputo: Instituto Superior Pedagogico, Mozambique, 1994. Pp. 77)

by Rachel E. Hyland, C.C.S.U. Student

With their eyes on the 21st century, Paulus Gerdes and his colleagues at the Instituto Superior Pedagogico in Maputo, Mozambique seek educational systems more firmly grounded in traditional African experience and practice.

This collection of eleven papers ably presents the foundations of a body of historical and educational research in both mathematics and science, based upon what Gerdes himself calls the "African scientific heritage."

In his preface to the work, Gerdes emphasizes the importance of cultural compatibility in pedagogical methods, and stresses the alienation of present African educational theory and practice from the African population and their cultural identity.

The eleven essays in this volume detail some of the rich tradition of African knowledge in Mozambique in the fields of math and science, and examine several practical applications of this indigenous knowledge toward the teaching of these subjects with the end of developing a "culture-oriented curriculum."

The essays explore mathematical concepts long used in the context of handicrafts such as basket weaving, wood carving, and symmetrical metal grate patterns. There is discussion of more abstract mathematical principles such as popular counting practices, the concepts of even and odd, systems of number-words, addition algorithms, and mental arithmetic. The sciences are approached from a unique ethnic perspective as in the relationship of traditional Mozambican interpretations of Thunder and lightning as they relate to the teaching of physics. Included also are synopses of the ongoing research in the topics of ethnobiology and ethnochemistry.

Because the Instituto Superior Pedagogico is deeply involved in curriculum development in Mozambique, much of this book is concerned with teacher education and educational theory. Yet, the information is presented clearly and in a highly readable form for the general student of African history. This book proves to be a valuable resource for the growing research into the field of African science and mathematics, and cultural studies.

Return to Table of Contents.

Send comments to Haines Brown
brownh@ccsua.ctstateu.edu or Compuserve 70302,2206