Open letter to His Excellency Bassirou Diomaye Faye, President of the Republic of Senegal (By Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Boubacar Boris Diop)

Open letter to His Excellency Bassirou Diomaye Faye, President of the Republic of Senegal (By Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Boubacar Boris Diop)
Open letter to His Excellency Bassirou Diomaye Faye, President of the Republic of Senegal (By Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Boubacar Boris Diop)

Excellency, Mr. President of the Republic

Allow us to introduce ourselves before getting to the heart of our discussion. We are Ngugi Wa Thiong’o from Kenya and Boubacar Boris Diop from Senegal. Both novelists and essayists, our best-known works are respectively Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (1986) and Murambi, the book of bones (2000), dedicated to the genocide perpetrated in 1994 against the Tutsi in Rwanda. What is important to emphasize, however, in view of the main motivation for this open letter, is that in addition to our literary production in English and French – the languages ​​of the former colonizers – we have published works in our languages kindergartens, Kikuyu and Wolof among which Matigari (1986) And Bàmmeelu Kocc Barma (2017).

We sincerely congratulate you on your inauguration as the new President of the Republic of Senegal. Our congratulations also go to your Prime Minister and fellow struggler, Mr. Ousmane Sonko. Through this brilliant election which was not contested by any of your rivals, the Senegalese people did not choose you as their master but as the slave of their dreams. There is no doubt in our eyes that you will be able to live up to their expectations.

We have certainly never met in person but all of Africa, in fact the whole world, knows you and we know that your very youth has brought a wind of optimism to the African continent. It is for this reason that we have taken the liberty of addressing you today as your elders, in an African way in a way, but also as two of your admirers.

If Africa is still doing so badly today, it is the fault of its political leaders who, with a few exceptions, like Kwame Nkrumah, have betrayed the African populations. Bad leaders have simply normalized the anomalies of colonialism and neo-colonialism, which is nothing other than the Africanization of the colonial system. This is why our natural resources have continued to enrich Europe and the West for so long. At a time when the gaze of these self-conscious people remains obsessively turned towards the West, we cannot fail to wonder: where are our inventors? Our engineers? Our space explorers? Africa aspires to leadership capable of igniting the imagination of its youth. But this can never be done with presidents who only know how to imitate the West, presidents who believe neither in themselves nor in their people. You, Excellency, you have the possibility of opening new paths for your people, you can give them such self-confidence that they will, quite naturally, deal as equals with all the other nations of the earth. . Keep in mind, however, that if you choose this path, you will make many enemies in the West. What Europe and the West expect from Africa is that it never stops putting its raw materials at their disposal without receiving anything in return. Do not accept such inequity. And if they demonize you for this, and they will not fail to do so, do not worry, because the only thing that should count for you is the judgment of the Senegalese people.

We would now like to share with you some brief thoughts on the linguistic question that is very familiar to us as writers. We have chosen to focus on this particular problem because, in our humble opinion, its resolution is a prerequisite for any economic, political, social and cultural revolution, and therefore for the well-being of your compatriots.

Here are a few points we would like to highlight:

1. Your power draws its strength from Senegalese citizens. You defend them, they defend you. You talk to them, they talk to you. But you can’t do it using a language they don’t understand. Isn’t that obvious, Mr. President?

2. Senegalese languages ​​must be the cornerstone of the new Senegal. Every Senegalese has the right to demand respect for their mother tongue. Avoid any hierarchy of languages. Priority therefore to the mother tongue, whether Pulaar, Seereer, Soninke, Wolof, Mandinka, Joolaa or any other language spoken in Senegal. But if a Senegalese language, for example Wolof, becomes the one which allows communication between all Senegalese, this should not pose any problem. Here is our conception of language policy: mother tongue first. Then, let’s say, Wolof. Then let’s say Swahili, French, etc. If you know all the languages ​​of the world without knowing your mother tongue, you are in a state of mental slavery. On the other hand, if after having mastered your mother tongue you add all the other languages ​​of the world, you will only be richer and stronger.

3. Encourage translations between Senegalese languages. In our eyes, this is a fundamental point. To this end, we propose the establishment of a national interpretation and translation center which would allow symbiosis and cross-fertilization between the languages ​​of your country and between these and the languages ​​of Africa and the world. Your Excellency, many Africans appreciated the fact that during your first official visit to The Gambia, you and President Barrow spoke directly in Wolof. We also know that, unlike your predecessors, you deliver most of your speeches in both French and Wolof and we believe that is exactly the right thing to do. Make your speech in one Senegalese language, then make it available in all other Senegalese languages ​​before having it translated into French. At the United Nations, speak in a Senegalese language and your remarks may be subject to simultaneous translation into the working languages ​​of this international organization. In other words, do like all the other presidents in the world, deliver your speeches in your language. When visiting France, for example, be accompanied by an interpreter and speak in Senegalese to your counterpart at the Élysée. In short, make sure that Senegalese languages ​​are respected everywhere. And that must start with repealing as soon as possible the strange and embarrassing Article 28 of the Senegalese Constitution, which requires any presidential candidate to be able to read, write and speak French fluently.

4. Organize Senegalese peasants and workers. Stimulate their creativity. They will be your strongest defenders. Do not worry about the so-called intellectual elites who, because they have so much to lose in the development of the languages ​​of your country, multiply the maneuvers and fallacious arguments to derail the train of History.

5. The works of Sembène Ousmane, in particular The Bits-of-wood-of-God, and those of other great names in literature such as Cheikh Hamidou Kane, should be available in all Senegalese languages. As for Cheikh Anta Diop, it is time for his books to be on the curriculum of all schools in your country.

6. We also hope that progressive literature from Africa and the rest of the world will be available in Senegalese languages ​​and taught in your schools and universities.

7. We know well that Senegal will be your priority. But you will then have to turn to Africa then to Asia and Latin America before thinking about Europe. And this option should be reflected in the education system.

8. Make Senegal a nation of thinkers, inventors, artisans, explorers, a nation of creators, open to all the winds of the world and capable of ensuring its vital interests are respected.

Hoping that these ideas and suggestions from two African compatriots of good will will attract your attention, we ask you to accept, Excellency, our deep respect.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Boubacar Boris Diop



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