President of France, King of Africa?

Why should it be a big deal if a French president gives a speech in Dakar? Lots of reasons. Rarely does anyone walk softly and carry a big stick in quite the same way that François Hollande did earlier this month. Hollande was walking softly—even talking softly—while in Dakar. Some five years after Nicolas Sarkozy’s infamous speech asserting that “the African man had not sufficiently entered into history,” Hollande seemed to be both pandering to and hectoring Senegal’s National Assembly in his address before it. Africa was the continent of the future, he insisted—young, with a growing economy, forward-looking. But Hollande also looked backwards, recognizing that Senegal had given a great deal to France in the past, whether voluntarily or not. Blaise Diagne took a seat in the French Parliament in 1914, he noted; Léopold Sedar Senghor helped to write a new French constitution in 1958. Democratic lessons keep coming—there are more women in parliament in Dakar than in Paris. The debt is deep, Hollande said, and it passes through the slave trade, recruitment into the world wars, the massacre of mutinying soldiers at Thiaroye in 1944, and so much else. Continue reading