Remembering May 1968

Celebrating the 45 Year Anniversary of the May ‘68 Student Uprising in Dakar

Dr. Yanco, WARA Director, addressing the audience

Dr. Yanco, WARA Director, addressing the audience

The various people who, on this day, took the floor to give testimonies on their May 1968 experiences are now household names in Senegalese and West African politics and civil society.

From Ousmane Camara, former minister and former president of the Senegalese Supreme Court to Magatte Thiam, Iba Der Thiam, Mbaye Diack, Birahim Diagne, Abdoulaye Bathily, Dialo Diop, Mamadou Diop Decroix—all of them lived the events of May 1968, either as students and student movement leaders or as officials in the Senegalese government of the period.

All of them, in their respective testimonies, concluded that:

  • the May ‘68 uprising at the University of Dakar was not simply a spillover from students’ unrests elsewhere, particularly in France;
  • the time was ripe for the Senegalese population to openly voice their disagreement with the policies implemented by the Senghor government of the period;
  • the Senegalese people were crying for more democracy;
  • the country was officially independent but French influence was still too important
  • local entrepreneurship and economic ventures were stifled by French economic interests.

The above, according to the May 68 actors were sufficient arguments to justify the unexpected and violent demonstrations which nearly toppled the Senghor regime.

The May ’68 event drew a large and very engaged crowd

The May ’68 event drew a large and very engaged crowd

The event, which was made possible thanks to the efforts of an organizing committee led by a May ‘68 actor, Oumar Dioume, attracted a huge crowd of no less than 160 people. The WARA Director, who was present in Dakar, also addressed the audience and thanked them for their interests in initiatives and activities conducted at WARC.

Among all the testimonies given, the one sent in writing by Professor Mbye Cham (Howard University), the former WARA Board President, capped it all. Here is what this May ‘68 veteran writes about the May ‘68 developments:

I received the announcement for tomorrow’s event commemorating 1968 at WARC. Waaw, I wish I was there to put in my bit. I recall vividly certain moments leading up to the soldiers coming into campus to haul us on trucks to Camp Archinard where we spent two days before being released at sent back to our various countries.

I was there at the university with a number of students form Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria on a French gov’t sponsored language and civilization program for Anglophone West African students. We were housed in one of the then newly constructed dorms on the other side of the main blue and white dorm, and I recall attending many of the evening meetings/rallies of the various student groups (mostly Senegalese) in that area next to the dining hall wing of the main dorm. Batchily was one I remember as a firebrand, and I recall Moustapha Niasse as one of the leaders of the PS students (or at least, his name was always invoked in relation to the group that was allied to the PS.

The day the soldiers came into the campus (they were camped outside for a couple of days before actually being ordered in) we gathered outside the main corniche entrance, and the moment they started moving in we took off toward our respective dorms. I will never forget this huge Senegalese soldier who barged into our dorm room (I was sharing a room with a Gambian friend,  now deceased – who later became our Minister of Foreign Affairs briefly under Jammeh – and a fellow from Benin) and grabbed me (as match stick skinny as I was) and tossed me onto the truck along with the others. The supervisors of our program, Mr. Pujos and Mr. David showed up while we were all on the military truck, and started to plead with the soldiers that we were foreign students and had nothing to do with the movement. “Ils n’y sont rien, Messieurs, je vous assure,” Pujos kept shouting to the soldiers as the trucks started moving! In vain! We spent two days at Camp Archinard in Ouakam, and afterward we the Gambians were put on a military truck to escort us back to Gambia and the others were repatriated also. They allowed us to collect whatever remained of our stuff in the dorm rooms before leaving for Gambia. One thing I lost that I treasured a lot was my collection of music albums of James Brown, Percy Sledge, Diana Ross, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and others that a friend of mine had sent me from the US. I’m still looking for thet huge Senegalese solider who I’m sure made off with them!  We learnt later that some of the Senegalese students were put into the army.

During all the time that the Senegalese students were rising up, debating and holding rallies, we the Gambians were fully with the Batchily camp. In Gambia at the time, students were already radicalized as a result of our exposure to Nkrumah and Stokely Carmichael and Miriam Makeba who actually came to the Gambia around the same time. In fact, Gambian students protested the visit of Senghor to Gambia around the same time (there are many newspaper stories of this).

 

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