[lg policy] Senegal and la francophonie

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 19 15:13:33 UTC 2009

Senegal and la francophonie

Over at A Fistful of Euros, Douglas Muir blogs about his recent visit
to Senegal. He finds that this successful west African country is far
more Francophone than recently-visited Burundi.

"Gallicization seems to run deeper here than in Burundi. No, that’s
not exactly right. More like: the European influences seems more
assimilated. In Burundi, rich and elite Burundians can seem like
wannabe Belgians, cut-and-pasting the culture of the former colonists.
Elite Senegalese seem to be more comfortable integrating the different
influences. It may just be that Senegal is a much less
desperately-screwed-up place than Burundi, and so has less of a
cultural cringe… I’m not sure.

"But anyway. Another difference is that Senegal has a small but
significant population of non-African francophones. In Burundi, this
group numbered perhaps a few thousand — perhaps a tenth of one percent
of the population. Here it’s more like a hundred thousand — Lebanese,
French, Spanish, Italian, and a scattering of odds and ends like
Greeks and Vietnamese. The Lebanese, in particular, occupy an
important social niche: there are thirty or forty thousand of them,
they’ve been here for generations, and they’re mostly merchants and
traders in the larger cities. By Senegalese standards, most are rich.
So while they keep fairly quiet politically, they have a
disproportionate impact on Senegalese society and culture.

"The French, same but more so. Some are descended from colonial-era
merchants and landowners who stayed on after independence; more are
recent immigrants and their children. Their numbers aren’t large, but
there are enough of them to support a thriving little community. A
tremendous amount of ink has been spilled on the topic of immigration
from developing countries into Europe; the flow in the opposite
direction has been almost entirely neglected. True, it’s much much
smaller — there are a hundred Senegalese trying to reach France for
every Frenchman considering a move to Senegal. But it’s not
negligible, and there are countries where its impact is surprising.
The non-African communities in Senegal play a significant role in the
country today; if nothing else, they’re helping to keep Senegal firmly
connected to la Francophonie and engaged with the wider world. Dakar
is not a rich city, but it’s a surprisingly cosmopolitan one.

"This isn't surprising given Senegal's long history with Europe;
Senegal was the only African territory caught up in the 1848
revolution. Don't forget that the country's long-time president,
Léopold Sédar Senghor, was one of the founders of la francophonie and
the first African member of the Académie française. As for the future,
in his analysis of Senegal's language policy, Jacques Leclerc argues
that while the French language is very deeply implanted in Senegal,
the fact that the majority of the Senegalese population speaks Wolof
means that the tenure of French as the dominant language of government
and media will be limited in the future. The extent to which French
may be limited is open to question, although the deep influence of the
French language and culture that Douglas has identified suggests that
it won't be too limited.


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