February 1, 2023

In Senegal’s Former Capital, a Colonial Statue in Hiding Is No Longer Welcome

6 min read


St. Louis, Senegal – For more than a century, the French general who shaped the former capital of Senegal has been hailed as a hero and father figure, his bronze statue triumphantly standing on a square on which His name was.

Underneath his feet, carved into a large pedestal stone, a message read: “Senegal is grateful to its Governor Federby.”

But as more and more Senegalese become aware of Louis Federby’s contradictory legacy, many are no longer so grateful. A general and an engineer, he was also a colonizer who led military campaigns in the 19th century that killed tens of thousands of people, burned villages and forced local leaders to surrender.

Federby’s statue was removed in 2020 from St. Louis, a coastal town in northern Senegal – officially a temporary measure – after being demolished and sprayed with paint. Although local officials are worried about his fate, his whereabouts remain a mystery, and many want to keep it that way.

The uncertainty surrounding the Faidherbe statue is an echo of the calculation that engulfed the West African country of 17 million people, Senegal, which became independent from France in 1960. Many St. Louis residents no longer see a colonial statue, but what to do with the remains of a troubled colonial past remains controversial.

Across Senegal, streets and squares have been renamed once dedicated to French personalities, and a nationwide project aimed at publishing a new general history of the country has mobilized hundreds of researchers.

As Anti-French sentiment Here and in other parts of West Africa, the debate over the Federby statue has heated up.

Some people want to throw it into the river, as protesters in Bristol, England did with the statue. A slave trader. Others want it in a museum, or have moved back to France.

Similar incidents have been happening all over Africa for years: in 2015, students at the University of Cape Town succeeded in removing the statue of British imperialism. Cecil RhodesIn the same year, a statue of Queen Victoria was torn down in Nairobi, Kenya. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a statue of Leopold II, erected in 2005 and removed a day later due to public protests, now stands with military guards in a Kinshasa park.

In St. Louis, Federby’s statue is just one element of the general’s legacy. The city’s main bridge is named after him. So recently there was a prestigious high school. Residents still refer to the renamed square where the statue once stood under the name Place Federby.

“So many feudal lords in St. Louis, you think he’s a god,” said Abdul Soo, a heritage professor at the city’s Gaston Berger University.

But Therno Deco, a local activist who campaigned for the statue to be removed, said Federby had a sword and a military cap, a symbol of domination that should not be displayed.

“How can I tell my son that Senegal is grateful for what he has done?” Mr. Dico, 36, asked one recent evening that his 6-year-old son was sitting nearby.

Born in the French city of Lille in 1818, Federby led brutal military campaigns in what is now Senegal, subjugating the natives and contributing to France’s bloody expansion into West Africa in the mid-19th century.

Federby also gave St. Louis its first secular school for Muslim students, a Muslim court, its governing body, and a broader urbanization plan. It was the capital of French West Africa until 1902, and the Colonial Quarter on the island in the city’s historic center, known for its pastel-colored houses and colonial architecture, was built before Mr Federer’s governorship. UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

Historians say Federer blended in well with the locals and spoke Wolof, one of Senegal’s national languages. Senegal’s first president, Leopold Cedar Singhor, will later describe him as a friend of Senegal. But that it served French interests and that the schools it built under the colonial system in a positive light is widely agreed upon. Even his hometown, Lille, is debating the future of Federby’s statue in its main square.

Fatima Fal Niang, director of the St. Louis Conservation Center, said she welcomed the light on Senegal’s colonial history, but argued that it was like St. Louis today without Federbe.

“If you remove the statue, something is missing,” he said. “It’s about the history of the city.”

Growing up, he and his fellow generals would call Mama Federbe, Grandpa Federbe.

Louis Camara, a 72-year-old writer living on the island of St. Louis, said he considered Federby a tuttler whose legacy shaped his childhood – he played hide-and-seek around the statue – and that he long For a long time, Faidherbe had reduced his crimes.

“A lot of us have overlooked the dark side of character,” he said. But it is also part of history.

But the statue that used to tower over the residents has disappeared. The official version is that it fell in 2017 due to strong winds and heavy rains. It was immediately reinstated but was removed in early 2020, officially for the renovation of the square.

Across the city, some students said they did not even remember a statue standing on the square. Others argued that regardless of his position, he had a more balanced view of the colonies than his parents.

Comba Goye, a 16-year-old student at the former Federby High School, now named after 18th-century Muslim scholar and political leader Omar Fotio Till, spoke about both the crimes and the changes that took place during the colonial period. It felt good to learn – or did he ask to get a “complete picture”. “Ignorance, somehow, won’t get us anywhere,” he said.

With or without Federby, the last visible traces of the colonial presence are being destroyed in St. Louis. Many families cannot afford the renovation of the colonial architecture for which the island is known, and the roof of Mr. Kemara’s house collapsed years ago. “I cry sometimes when I walk on these roads,” he said.

The rest of St. Louis is moving forward. Most of its inhabitants live on the east side of the city, with bustling bazaars and new neighborhoods. On the West Bank, poor fishing families are directly affected by coastal erosion. Houses collapsing due to climate change Because they have moved to temporary settlements.

On the island, local authorities have repeatedly delayed deciding the fate of the statue.

Abdul Karim Fa, a Conservative Center curator, said that in a poll conducted in 2019, a majority in St. Louis expressed frustration that the authorities were still giving so much credit to colonial figures. Still, very little is changing, he said.

He said that Senegal is unable to have this difficult dialogue. “In the public psyche, some things have to be silenced forever.”

The fate of the statue is unknown to most, but it turns out that it did not go far.

Beneath the stairs of the conservation center, it rests in a dark basement between unused furniture and other relics, covered with a dusty blanket. Federer’s trench coat and shoes have turned green, and his autumn scars from years ago are visible.

A St. Louis city official and a French official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the statue would not be re-installed in the square.

Ms Niang, who heads the conservation center but is not in charge of the statue, said she hoped local authorities would remove it soon. He said his presence there could only be a source of concern.

In the basement, there was no pedestal for Senegal’s gratitude to Federbe.



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