Aliou was born in 1975, eleven years after Senegal was proclaimed independent. As he himself claims, ‘Senegal is the most democratic country in Western Africa’. Indeed, having an established multi-party system and a tradition of civilian rule, Senegal has been held up as one of Africa’s model democracies. Its economy, which is derived mainly by agriculture, is considered one of the region’s more stable economies. However, poverty and unemployment continue to be issues that need to be tackled. Starting with a brief description of Senegal’s history, this section of the project aims at providing historical background for Ali’s life’s journey. A journey which starts in Senegal in 1975 and moves on to France in 2001 and Spain in 2003.
3.1. The history of Senegal
The history of Senegal has been widely influenced by the presence of the French, who established their first post at the mouth of Senegal in the 17th century, thus becoming the first colonisers of the region. In 1763, Great Britain captured all the French posts and they formed the colony of Senegambia, which was Britain’s first colony in Africa. Although France regained its posts during the American Revolutionary War (1775-83), Britain captured them again during the Napoleonic Wars. Eventually, the posts were returned to France in 1815. At this time, the French presence was limited to Saint-Louis, Gorée, and Rufisque, but during the period from 1854 to 1865, Louis Faidherbe, who was Senegal’s governor at the time, extended French influence up the Senegal. In 1895, Senegal was made a French colony with its capital at Saint-Louis, hence becoming part of French West Africa. In 1946, Senegal, together with the rest of French West Africa, became part of the French Union, and French citizenship was extended to all Senegalese.
During the 20th century, many Senegalese viewed France as the ‘motherland’ and fought for France during the First and Second World wars. In fact, the French values of ‘equality and freedom’ pervaded the region and were probably the ones that triggered the fight for independence. Thus, after World War II, independence movements gained in popularity and Senegal became fully independent in 1964, with Léopold Sédar Senghor as the first president. Senghor stepped down in 1980 and was succeeded by Abdou Diouf. In 2000, Mr Diouf’s party lost power under the country’s democratic system and was replaced by Abdoulaye Wade. In 2012, Macky Sall won elections to become president of Senegal. As Aliou asserts, it is because of its stable democracy that Senegal remains the only country in West Africa never to have experienced a military coup, where the army seizes power from an elected government.
3.2. The fight for Feminism
In Senegal, women suffer from all kinds of discrimination. The image of women has been shaped by religion and traditional beliefs, which have had a major influence in the definition of the role of women in society. Thus, in order to change the precarious situation of women, it is necessary to change the traditional and religion beliefs that contribute to the marginalisation of women. However, religion and traditional beliefs are not easy to transform, since they play a very important role in the daily life of Senegal. As regards religion, the majority of the Senegalese population, a significant 92%, is Muslim. Therefore, Islam is the main religion in Senegal, followed by Christianism, which is practiced by 2% of the population. Islamic religion has had a major impact on the discrimination of women, since it has established a community that is mainly dominated by men. Senegalese women do not only suffer from discrimination, but also from illiteracy, labour exploitation, domestic violence and deep-rooted cultural prejudices. Moreover, they are excluded from the formal system of employment, where they represent less than a 10%. The work of women’s organisations aims at dealing with these forms of discrimination and raising awareness of women’s situation. However, these subjects concerning women have always been little considered by the government.
The struggle to change the traditional image of the Senegalese woman started just after the independence and has continued over the years. Senghor, the first president of Senegal, intended to modernise the role of women in Senegalese society and he established ‘Foyers Féminins’ (Women’s Centres) across the country, whose aim was to educate women from rural areas. From 1981 onwards, however, under the presidency of the former Prime Minister, Abdou Diouf, approaches to feminism within the Senegalese state began to change. The new president wanted to make his mark and turned away from the focus on black identity addressed by his predecessor. Although he was involved in the action of women’s movements and he supported the empowerment of women, he operated them remotely. During this period, and despite the fortuitous involvement of the government, some organisations were established and became the basis for feminisms in 1990’s Senegal. Moreover, after the Fourth World Conference on Women of Beijing in 1995, these groups began receiving financial and political support from international organisations. However, women in Senegal still suffer from discrimination of all kinds. For instance, women discrimination is very palpable in the political environment, since they only make up 13% of the government and 22% of the parliament. As Joelle Palmieri claims in her article ‘From institutionalisation to direct democracy: women’s movement in Senegal and South Africa’: ‘they [women’s rights activists] are recognised as animators rather than enactors of change, and their struggles are not reflected in the hierarchy of power […] women activists are ‘tolerated’ while they lead discussions, but remain marginal characters within political office.’ Nevertheless, in her article, Palmieri hints at the possibility of a better future as she claims that ‘African women are moving towards a definition of feminist citizenship.’
In the interview, Aliou tells us about his fight for feminism and equality of genders. After finishing his degree in Economics, he started working for an American NGO whose goal was to raise awareness of the rights of women. He tells us about the topics they addressed: ‘We talked about female circumcision and healthy life conditions and habits. Also, we raised consciousness to achieve equality in the working field. We tried to make people realise how women need to have the same rights as men so that, in a way, they got a more westernised vision of gender equality. Senegal is a country where Muslim religion is widespread. Women are much dominated by men.’ According to his point of view, the situation of women is very difficult to change due to the obstacles constituted by religion and close-mindedness.
Taking everything into consideration, it is clear that the fight for feminism is not over and that women’s organisations still have a long way to go before achieving gender equality. As Aliou affirms, the difficulty in this fight for feminism lays in the fact that it is a fight against religion and traditional beliefs, which are deep-rooted in Senegalese people’s minds. One of the possible reasons why they hold tight to their traditional beliefs is because these beliefs act as a barrier against westernization. However, feminist organisations struggle against this closed-mindedness and provide hope for the future of Senegalese women.
3.3. From France to Spain
In 2001, the towers of the World Trade Center collapsed after an attack by Al-Qaeda, a militant Islamist organisation. As a consequence, Aliou had to leave his job in the American NGO in Senegal and decided to move to France. In France, the president at the time was Jacques Chirac, who was in the Élysée from 1995 to 2007. Tensions arose as the 2002 presidential and parliamentary elections approached. Therefore, the year 2001 was marked mainly by the tension between the two main rivals for the presidency: Lionel Jospin and Jacques Chirac, who eventually won the election. After the elections, an important transition took place with the replacement of francs by euros, which were given way at the beginning of 2002.
In 2003, following the advice of a friend, Ali decided to go to Spain. In that time, Spain’s economy was prosperous; actually, Spain was the second fastest-growing economy in the European Union in 2003. The president at the time was José María Aznar, who was in power from 1990 to 2004. It seems that Spain’s economy reached its peak during this period and then, in 2009, it started to go down and entered recession for the first time since 1993. Thus, the economic crisis began. This constant fluctuation of economy proves Aliou’s exponential growth theory. He claims that everything is constantly evolving and that everything that reaches the peak has to go down eventually. As he explains: ‘I believe that the world has evolved. This is called exponential growth. It refers to something that is constantly evolving; it keeps going up until it reaches its highest point and starts going down. In Maths, it is called exponential growth, because it keeps going up until it has to go down. I believe Europe has reached its highest point, opportunities are at its highest. The future lies in those countries that are not exploited, like Africa and China. Opportunities are there now.’ This view contributes to the deconstruction of the African myth, since it proves that Africa has possibilities to grow and evolve. It proves that Africa is a world full of hidden possibilities, a world where new opportunities are being sowed.
Isabel Flaquer Beltrán
Sílvia Pérez Carro
Mireia Trejo Domingo
Ada Guiteras Canal
Eva Puyuelo Ureña