The historian recalls the day Senegal gained its independence and the hopes people held for its future.
Abdullah Bathily is a professor of history at the University of Dakar and an opposition leader. He was the minister for the environment and protection of nature between 1993 and 1998, and under Abdoulaye Wade, the current Senegalese president, he has been the minister of energy water resources.
When Senegal gained its independence in 1960, he was 14 years old and a cadet in a military school in St. Louis, the country’s former capital. He remembers clearly the last days of colonialism and the day of independence.
Like many other Senegalese he hoped independence would bring progress – economic and social advancements, more schools and hospitals – and a new beginning for the African nation.
He recalls how French rule impacted the daily lives of the Senegalese:
“At school we were not allowed to speak our own national languages. We had what they call a symbol; it was a small piece of wood on which they would draw a donkey with big ears.
In the classroom if you would speak your national language you would be given this symbol, that piece of wood and it would go around and when we came back, the master would ask who has the symbol, of course you had to say you had the symbol and they would beat you.
The donkey means in fact that if you speak your language you speak the language of a donkey. So it was a way really to despise the national language.
We were not taught about African history. The part of the African history that was taught was saying that the African leaders, that were regarded as national heroes by the people, were barbarians, they were dictators, they were people who used to kill their own people. They were considered as barbarians by the French textbook.
In the meantime they would teach us that the ancestors of the French were our ancestors, we were taught to say that, which was totally ridiculous.”