Dr. Ibrahima Sow épelle Koumen (en réalité Kumen) dans un article détaillé doublé d’une exégèse élaborée et originale, qu’il intitule “Le Monde Peul à travers le Mythe du Berger Céleste”. Le document parut dans Ethiopiques. Revue Négro-Africaine de Littérature et de Philosophie. Numéro 19, juillet 1979. La contribution de Dr. Sow est basée sur Koumen, Texte initiatique des Pasteurs Peuls, le chef-d’oeuvre d’Amadou Hampâté Bâ, rédigé en français en collaboration avec l’éminente ethnologue française, Germaine Dieterlen. Gardée secrète par ses détenteurs Fulɓe, la version originale Pular/Fulfulde a peut-être disparue à jamais avec la mort de Hampâté.
Dr. Sow est l’auteur de deux autres textes dans la même revue:
“Le Listixaar est-il une pratique divinatoire ?”
“La littérature, la philosophie, l’art et le local”
Ma réédition complète de l’analyse de Kumen par Dr. Sow est accessible sur Semantic Africa. J’ai (a) composé la table des matières, (b) créé les hyperliens internes et externes (c) ajouté des illustrations, pertinentes comme les liens Web.
La réflexion de l’auteur porte sur la cosmogonie, la centralité du Bovin, la religion, le divin, le couple Kumen/Foroforondu, le pastoralisme, les corrélations avec les sociétés voisines (Wolof, Jola, etc.). Le document met en exergue la croyance monothéiste en Geno, l’Etre Suprême, que les Fulɓe adoraient des millénaires avant l’arrivée de l’Islam. D’où l’interchangeabilité des noms sacrés Geno et Allah dans la littérature ajamiyya islamique, sous la plume des saints et érudits musulmans, sur toute l’aire culturelle du Pulaaku, de la Mauritanie au Cameroun. Par exemple, la treizième strophe (vers 16 et 17) de la sublime Introduction de Oogirde Malal, déclare :
Geno On wi’a: « Kallaa ! ɗum waɗataa
Nafataa han nimse e wullitagol! »
L’Eternel dira : « Plus jamais ! Cela ne sera point !
A présent inutiles les regrets et les plaintes !
L’éditorial de Béchir Ben Yahmed (BBY) intitulé “Sombre tableau du continent” offre une peinture terne et simpliste de la situation du continent. La substance de l’article prête ainsi le flanc à la critique et à l’objection sur trois points :
Les clichés et la dichotomie artificielle
Les statistiques de routine
Clichés et dichotomie
D’entrée de jeu, Béchir Ben Yahmed évoque le cliché de l’afro-optimisme, dont le revers est, on le sait, “l’afro-pessismisme”. Ces expressions équivalent certes à l’euro-pessimisme et à l’euro-optimisme. Mais la comparaison est déplacée et l’on doit admettre que l’application de ces mots à l’Afrique est plus significative. Pourquoi ? Parce que les pays européens ont, indéniablement, des économies, des infrastructures sociale et des institutions culturelle plus solides. Alors que l’Afrique, elle, ne parvient pas à se dégager de la tutelle et de l’hégémonie occidentales. Les fluctuations boursières, les contradictions politiques, etc. fondent l’optmisme des uns et le pessimisme des autres sur le “Vieux Continent”, certes. Mais les populations et les élites n’en bénéficient pas moins de niveaux de vie élevés.
Cela n’est pas le cas en Afrique, où tous les pays sont des entités à deux niveaux ; à la base se trouvent des masses paupérisées depuis des décennies, au sommet trônent des élites politiques récentes, qui, en général, sont à la remorque de l’Europe. Les sociétés africaines vivent en permanence dans cette disjonction entre dirigeants et dirigés. Un exemple majeur concrétise ce fossé ; d’un côté les populations ont “leur langue maternelle ; c’est-à-dire une langue ni écrite ni lue, qui ne permet que l’incertaine et pauvre culture orale” ; de l’autre, les dirigeants “n’entendent et n’utilisent” que les langues europénnes. Je cite ici Portrait du Colonisé par Albert Memmi, compatriote Tunisien de Béchir Ben Yahmed. En un mot, afro-optimisme et afro-optimisme sont des concepts et des expressions de l’élite africaine (francophone, anglophone, lusophone). Ces mots n’appartiennent pas au répertoire lexical et ne relèvent pas du comportement linguistique des populations. Autant dire que la distinction entre Africains optimistes et pessimistes constitute plutôt une dichotomie artificielle et superficielle.
Les statistiques habituelles
M. Yahmed continue avec une sélection de statistiques qui confirment sa son opinion présente, mais pas son parcours de combattant et sa vision originelle de l’Afrique. On relève les passages suivants :
Le produit intérieur brut du Nigeria et de l’Afrique du Sud, respectivement de 415 milliards et de 280 milliards de dollars par an.
La position économique de ces deux pays
46,7% de la production totale de l’Afrique subsaharienne
31,9% de la production africaine en général
Le poids démographique de quatre pays :
Nigéria, 184 millions d’habitants
Ethiopie : 91 millions
Egypte : 91 millions
RDC, 85 millions
Béchir Ben Yahmed évoque ensuite, sans pause ni transition, des faits d’actualité dominants au Nigéria et en Afrique du Sud. Ainsi, parlant du Nigéria, il écrit que le président Muhammadu Buhari est “malade et … ne dit rien — ni à son peuple ni aux Africains — du mal qui l’a maintenu éloigné de son pays pendant deux longs mois et l’empêche de reprendre son travail à un rythme normal”. Mais BBY aurait dû rappeler l’acte de transfert provisoire du pouvoir au vice-président Yemi Osinbajo, signé par Buhari et approuvé par la branche judiciaire (Sénat et Assemblée fédérale). De la sorte, l’équipe Buhari n’a pas totalement répété l’indécision du gouvernement de Umaru Yar’adua en 2008.
Quant à l’Afrique du Sud, l’éditorial dénonce le comportement du président Jacob Zuma “notoirement corrompu et dont l’obsession est de voir son ex-femme lui succéder au terme de son deuxième et dernier mandat. Pour se protéger d’éventuelles poursuites judiciaires”. L’article met ici en exergue un mal plus étendu, à savoir, la mal-gouvernance des héritiers de Nelson Mandela. Car avant les scandales financiers de Zuma, le pays de l’Arc-en-ciel a connu l’incompétence et l’affairisme de Thabo Mbeki. Négociateur dans le conflit ivoirien dans les années 2004-2005, il essuya la contestation de son rôle par les opposants du président Gbagbo, qui se plaignirent de son zèle à placer plutôt les produits d’exportation de son pays, et de sa partialité.
Cela dit, les économies du Nigéria et de l’Afrique du Sud sont —à l’image du reste du continent — exocentrées et dépendent de l’exploitation pétrolière et de l’extraction minière, respectivement. Pire, les deux sont loin de panser les plaies profondes de leur passé et de corriger les handicaps de leur présent. Pour le Nigeria, ce sont la guerre civile du Biafra, (1966-1970), la confiscation du pouvoir par l’armée pendant trois décennies environ, la corruption, les insurrections armées du MEND dans le Delta du Sud-est, les ravages encore plus criminels de Boko Haram dans le Nord-est. En Afrique du Sud, la libération et l’élection du président Mandela marquèrent la fin de l’Apartheid, certes, et le changement de régime politique. Mais, les rênes du pouvoir économique n’ont pas changé de main. Par exemple, citons le massacre en 2012 de 34 mineurs grévistes de la mine de platine de Marikana. Les forces de l’ordre au service du gouvernement de l’ANC commirent une tragédie qui rappelle la boucherie de Sharpeville en 1960. L’ex-couple Jacob et Nkosazana Dhlamini Zuma réussira-t-il là où le duo Bill et Hillary Clinton a échoué ? Leur plan tient-il en compte la crise endémique de la société africaine, dont certaines couches affichent une xénophobie d’autant plus regrettable que la lutte contre l’Apartheid fut soutenue par la plupart des pays africains ?
Un éditorial qui décontextualise l’Afrique
L’éditorial de BBY contient seulement le nom de l’Afrique. Il ne désigne nommément ni l’Asie, ni l’Amérique, ni l’Europe. Et pourtant l’auteur sait à quel point les autres parties du monde sont redevables à l’Afrique en matières premières. Que font-ils, au nom de la solidarité humaine, pour prévenir les dérives récurrentes ou pour aider à punir les auteurs de crimes de sang et de guerre ? L’Afrique est le seul continent à ne pas siéger en permanence au Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU. A-t-elle une chance d’en être membre un jou ? Voire.
En attendant, la pendule de l’Histoire marche sans arrêt. Elle balance entre la paix et la guerre, la prospérité et la misère, la droiture et la corruption. La stagnation et les revers de l’Afrique sont évidents. Mais en même temps l’on note des efforts de correction et de prévention. Ainsi, des magistrats du continent siégeant dans les Chambres africaines extraordinaires, (CAE), et en vertu d’un accord entre l’Union africaine (UA) et le Sénégal, ont jugé, reconnu coupable et condamné l’ex-dictateur tchadien Hissène Habré, le 9 janvier dernier. De même, sous la menace d’une intervention militaire coordonnée et d’une arrestation par les forces de la CEDEAO, Yahya Jammeh a dû céder le pouvoir à Adama Barrow, son successeur démocratiquement élu.
Il y a donc une dynamique positive que l’éditorial de Béchir Ben Yahmed ne mentionne pas. L’article réflète une vision en tunnel qui ne sied guère au fondateur de l’hebdomadaire Jeune Afrique et président du Groupe éponyme. Pis, aucune ébauche de solution n’est indiquée. Et Le ton pessimiste persiste du début à la fin. Il ne sert à rien d’énumérer les faillites du continent, si l’on ne le replace dans le contexte de son passé historique négatif, c’est-à-dire l’esclavage, la colonisation, la néo-colonisation et la perpétuation des hégémonies étrangères nonobstant les indépendances nominales, juridiques et politiques. De même, l’Afrique souffre le plus, certes. Mais les autres contients ne s’en tirent pas non plus à bon compte. Du Brésil aux USA, en passant par la Chine, l’Inde, la Russie, l’Union Européenne, le ras-le-bol des laissés-pour compter et la réprobration contre les politiciens et les élites économiques se manifestent, ouvertement, ou en sourdine.Et la mondialisation en porte la responsabilité. L’environnement global du 21è siècle est un géant aux pieds d’argiles. Sa tête (les économies avancées) est dans les nuages post-industriels et cybernétiques. Mais une grande partie de son corps (les damnés de la terre, Fanon) vit 20e siècle, voire au 19e. En particulier, l’Afrique gémit entre le marteau des hégémonies extérieures et l’enclume d’élites nationales défaillantes et dans certains criminelles. Toutefois, l’épidemie Ebola (2013-2014) a montré à quel point la fragilité de l’être humain et la nécessité de la solidarité planétaire.
Pour terminer, il est étonnant de la part de Béchir Ben Yahmed, auteur du livre Les années d’espoir : 1960-1979, d’appliquer à l’Afrique des oeillères réductrices, simplificatrices et simplistes. Engagé dans les tranchées depuis son départ du gouvernement de Habib Bourguiba en 1957, il continue de jouer un rôle prééminent dans la presse francophone. Pour ma part, je réitère ici mes remerciements à Jeune Afrique pour sa dénonciation infatigable de la dictature de Sékou Touré, président de la Guinée (1958-1984). Je compte republier sur mon site Camp Boiro Mémorial le dossier élaboré que BBY et son équipe exposèrent au public durant le « Complot Peul », qui aboutit à la liquidation atroce de Telli Diallo, premier secrétaire général de l’Organisation de l’Unité Africaine, devenue l’Union Africaine.
Ce qui manque à l’éditorial “Sombre tableau du continent”, c’est la longue expérience, la sagacité et la largesse de vue d’un acteur avéré et d’un témoin émérite de l’Afrique contemporaine.
On y relève ainsi le tableau du cadre familial au crépuscule de la vie à Conakry. Il n’y est question toutefois que des filles de la disparue, alors qu’au moins trois de ses enfants sont des hommes. L’aîné, Cheick Mohammed ‘Papus’ Camara, est un de mes promotionnaires aux lycées de Conakry et de Labé. Notre dernière rencontre, vite transformée en une longue, amicale et intéressante conversation, remonte à 2003 à Dakar.
Mais l’auteur reste vague sur la naissance, l’éducation et l’adolescence : noms et occupation des parents, un brin de généalogie, postes d’enseignement. Il néglige, par exemple, un détail important, à savoir comment peut-on naître “dans une famille musulmane modeste d’origine Soussou et Malinké” et s’appeler Jeanne-Martin ?
L’article maquille et embellit le passage sur “la célèbre école normale de Rufisque”, qu’il présente comme étant un établissement “d’élite féminine qui s’était employée à faire de ces élèves venues de toutes l’Afrique coloniale française de futures enseignantes, attachées à leur africanité.” François-Xavier Freland aurait dû mettre un peu d’eau dans son vin, car dans l’ensemble le palmarès de l’école française n’est pas du tout rose. Surtout sous la Troisième République (1870-1940) qui imposa le déshumanisant Empire colonial et l”abominable régime de l’Indigénat.
François-Xavier glisse le nom de Germaine Le Goff sans préciser qu’il est l’auteur de la biographie intitulée L’Africaine blanche (1891-1986) : Germaine Le Goff, éducatrice mythique. Il aurait dû apporter la précision, ne serait-ce que pour élargir l’horizon des lecteurs.
Certaines camarades de formation de Jeanne-Martin sont mieux introduites, notamment avec la mention d’Une si longue lettre, l’oeuvre principale de Mariama Bâ.
Le portrait matrimonial de Jeanne-Martin se limite à son mariage avec Bansoumane Touré. Cette victime du Camp Boiro fut en réalité le second époux de Mme. Jeanne. Sur les circonstances de la disparition de Bansoumane à la Prison de Kindia, lire Kindo Touré “La mort de Ban Ansoumane Touré”.
Dans sa biographie de Sékou Touré André Lewin indique, à juste titre, que le premier mari de Jeanne-Martin s’appelait Camara. Malheureusement, il omet le prénom du défunt, qui mourut victime d’un accident de circulation en 1958. Lire Ahmed Sékou Touré (1922-1984). De Gaulle à Conakry, 25/26 août 1958 (volume 2, chapitre 25)
L’article présente Bansoumane Touré comme “un des fondateurs du Parti Démocrate Guinéen (PDG) animé par Sékou Touré. Très vite, elle (Jeanne-Martin) milite pour l’indépendance et œuvre pour l’émancipation des femmes en Afrique.” L’auteur va vite en besogne et commet ici deux erreurs aussi gratuites que légères :
(a) Bansoumane ne figure pas parmi les membres fondateurs du PDG-RDA
(b) Au lendemain de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale, les pionniers de l’activité politique visaient d’abord l’autonomie interne. Le régime colonial fit la sourde oreille et traîna la savate jusqu’en 1956, date de promulgation de la loi-cadre Gaston Deferre. Mais c’était trop tard. Le Viet-Minh avait déjà vaincu des milliers de troupes françaises en 1954 à Dien Bien Phu. Cette cinglante défaite militaire ainsi que le déclenchement de la guerre d’Indépendance d’Algérie accélérèrent le cours de l’Histoire. Les protectorats du Maroc et de la Tunisie devinrent des états souverains en 1956. En mai 1958, l’armée imposa le Général Charles de Gaulle au Parlement français. Cherchant à retarder l’implosion du domaine colonial de la France, le vieux guerrier, intellectuel et homme d’Etat organisa le référendum de 1958 autour d’une nouvelle Constitution. Le projet de loi fondamentale proposait, entre autres, l’abolition de l’instable 4ème république (en place depuis 1946), l’avènement de l’actuelle 5è république, et l’instauration de la Communauté franco-africaine, en lieu et place de l’Union française, elle-même héritière de l’Empire colonial.
L’auteur effleure ensuite la carrière onusienne de Jeanne-Martin. François-Xavier Freland écrit : “… elle est désignée en 1972 au poste de représentante permanente de la Guinée aux Nations unies, et devient … même présidente du Conseil de Sécurité de l’ONU, son pays étant alors membre non permanent de ce comité.”
Lire également “Jeanne-Martin Cissé accepte une invitation de Louis de Guiringaud, ambassadeur de France auprès des Nations Unies”, A. Lewin, volume 6, chapitre 68
Aucun mot sur Telli Diallo et Marof Achkar, autrement plus efficients et prestigieux que l’ambassadrice Cissé. Silence total aussi sur le sort des proches de Madame Sow Nima Bâ, ancienne détenue du Camp Boiro et dont Sékou Touré décima la famille en faisant assassiner :
Et en condamnant à mort par contumace le frère cadet, Bâ Mamadou.
L’article cite Hadja Nima en ces termes : « Mais la période des purges l’avait rendu triste. » Peu importe que ma belle-soeur ait prononcé des mots. Le fait est qu’ils sont en porte-à-faux avec la réalité post-sékoutouréenne.
Dirigeante ddu Conseil national des Femmes de Guinée, membre du Comité central du Parti démocratique de Guinée, membre du Burean politique national et du Gouvernement, feue Jeanne-Martin fut, de bout en bout, une collaboratrice fidèle et une porte-parole aussi “impénitente et non-repentante” de la dictature de Sékou Touré que Mme. Andrée Touré.
Pour conclure, je me propose de lire La fille du Milo. Après quoi, je ferai une suite à cet article.
This is the third and final article in Victor Du Bois‘ coverage of the trial of former Prime minister Mamadou Dia and his four co-defendants, who were accused of attempting a coup d’état. Not surprisingly, the author’s account is clear and informative ; his analysis is balanced and adequate. However, it appears that the argumentation falls short on at least two points: the French military base in Dakar, and references to the country’s colonial and precolonial history and culture.
The French military presence
Du Bois accurately indicates that the 8000-strong military base in Dakar served as a shield to French economic investments in Senegal and beyond. And he underscores that those interests were never threatened, in either of the two major crises that shook Senegal in the early 1960s: the collapse of the Mali Federation in 1960 and the 1962 constitutional crisis between the executive, the legislative and the judiciary branches of the state.
But it would be naive to think that because French troops did not patrol the streets of Dakar, their officers did not participate, behind the scenes, in the eventual defeat of the Mamadou Dia camp. After all, they had all the intelligence and logistics resources at their disposal.…
Likewise, in hindsight, France’s strong military deployment in its former colonies (Senegal, Gabon, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, etc.) was a strategic response to the Soviet Bloc in the tense Cold War era. And after that rivalry waned and ended in 1990, the Dakar air force installation remained open for ten more years. In the end, located in the suburb of Ouakam, the former Colonel Frédéric Geille base 160 closed in 2011, pursuant to a bilateral agreement signed by presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Abdoulaye Wade.
Historical and cultural backgrounds
Du Bois was a dedicated field researcher, a perceptive analyst, an elegant writer, and an articulate and empathetic thinker on the subject of African politics. He observed closely and his publications deciphered meticulously the evolution and contradictions of the newly independent states. However, he devoted less focus on the historical and cultural background that embed them—then, now and for the foreseeable future. For instance, he refers only briefly to the Muslim clergy (marabouts, a French word derived from Arabic m’rabit, i.e. sufi, spiritual mystics and warrior monks organized in fortified convents). Yet, he acknowledges their role as power brokers. But he does not outline the brotherhood system they run to wield their influence in all aspects of life in Senegal: religion, economy, culture, politics. In fact, the main brotherhood—the Mourides, founded by Cheikh Amadou Bamba—is not mentioned at all. And only a footnote is devoted to Seydou Nour Tall, who “was flown to Podor to calm potential unrest.” But the article does not point out that the government asked him to intervene because he was the leader (Cheikh) of the Tijaniyya, Senegal’s second most influential brotherhood. Last, Du Bois mistakenly places the geographic location of the town of Podor in Casamance, i.e. in southern Senegal, bordering the republic of Gambia. Actually, Podor is the main city in Fuuta-Tooro, in the north of the country, near Mauritania. And the visit by Cheikh Seydou Nour Tall —a descendant of Alhajji Umar Tall—was important to his Tijaniyya followers in that region, where Tukolor (Toucouleurs) are predominant. Also known as Takruri, they form an important branch of the Fulɓe/Halpular civilization.
Victor D. Du Bois
The Trial of Mamadou Dia. Part III: Aftermath of the Trial, May 7, 1963
American Universities Field Staff Reports.
West Africa Series, Vol. VI No. 8 (Senegal), pp. 1-11
Dakar, July 1963
The trial and conviction in May 1963 of former prime minister Mamadou Dia and his co-defendants on charges of attempting a coup d’état dealt a serious blow to Senegalese national solidarity. The government had been set against the National Assembly; party unity had been shattered; the citizenry had been divided; and the army had been compromised. How did the Senegalese greet the outcome of the Dia affair? What position did Senegal’s large European population take in the controversy? What were the repercussions of the trial on internal politics? Viewed in retrospect, why did the attempted coup d’état fail? What effect did the trial have on Senegal’s subsequent reconciliation with Mali? And, finally, what new problems lie in wait for Senegal as a result of this crisis?
The Reactions in Senegal
Considering the risks which the Dia trial ran of inciting antigovernment demonstrations, the Senegalese, on the whole, accepted the High Court’s judgment with equanimity. A few hundred tracts denouncing both President Léopold Senghor and Lamine Gueye, President of the National Assembly, were circulated in Dakar shortly after the trial; but there were no riots in the streets of the capital, no mass movements in the Medina to protest the Court’s harsh sentences on the defendants 1. Senegalese went about their daily business. The Dia episode seemed to pass unnoticed by the majority of the people. Indeed, one of the comic-opera aspects of the entire attempted coup d’état was that even during its height, life in Dakar went on the same as usual. Vehicular traffic rolled on without interruption, the cafés were full, and crowds queued up to go to the cinemas.
In some circles the conflict between President Senghor and Prime Minister Mamadou Dia inevitably was given a racial and religious interpretation. It was alleged, for example, that President Senghor acted for European economic interests, that the European element in Senegal supported him while the African population of the country was overwhelmingly behind Prime Minister Dia. It was also claimed by some that Senghor, a Catholic, was interested in eliminating Mamadou Dia from power because he was a Muslim.
Actually, the situation was quite different. Although the President was generally regarded as more permissive toward European private enterprise than his Prime Minister, in reality, he shared many of Mr. Dia’s views on the need for state planning and a balance between private and public interests. Like Mr. Dia, President Senghor was firmly committed to a socialist form of government for Senegal. Ironically enough, President Senghor found his major political support not among the Catholic element in the cities, but among the Muslim population in the hinterland, whose leaders, the Marabouts, he has always courted. By the same token, Mamadou Dia derived his support not from his fellow Muslims (many of whom regarded him with suspicion because of his belief in a reformed Islam and his determination to diminish the power of the Marabouts) but from the urban African Catholic population who looked with favor on his progressive social policies.
The European Position in the Crisis
By and large, Senegal’s European population of 40,000 remained completely aloof from the crisis. Through the French Embassy in Dakar and consular offices in several other key cities, French residents were advised by letter to refrain from getting involved in the Dia-Senghor quarrel. This advice was generally followed.
Sensibly, French military personnel stationed in Senegal (about 8,000 strong) were kept completely out of the picture. During the critical period of December 17-18, 1962, they were confined to barracks by their commanders. Not so much as a solitary French soldier was to be seen on the streets of Dakar. As neither French lives nor property were at any time threatened, there was no need for the French troops to act. The French thus showed the same sound judgment during the Senghor-Dia fray that they did during the crisis of the Mali Federation in August 1960, when they also refused to take the side of either protagonist. Had they intervened, this purely intemai quarrel might have tumed into a Franco-Senegalese conflict whose repercussions would have been felt far beyond the confines of Dakar.
Although they were not directly involved, this does not mean that the Europeans did not feel strongly for one side or the other. Their prejudices increased as the time for the trial neared. Most among them, of course, were for President Senghor, whose attachment to France they well knew and appreciated. The business community, predictably enough, was solidly behind Senghor—not so much because it was persuaded of his procapitalist tolerance, as because it knew that his allies, the 41 deputies who had originally proposed the motion of censure against the Dia govemment, had interests which coincided with its own. To both, Dia’s socialism was anathema, and his removal from power was hailed as a welcome development.
Yet it would be a mistake to conclude that all of the Europeans were for Senghor. Some were for Mamadou Dia. Particularly was this so among the so-called “technocrats,” the men who had worked directly with the former prime minister in the government. At one moment during the trial the strong feeling felt for Dia was dramatically illustrated by the appearance of François Perroux, a professor of the famed Collège de France, and one of France’ s most distinguished economists. Flying from Argentina, where he was on lecture tour, to testify as a character witness, Perroux delivered an impassioned plea on Dia’s behalf, extolling his qualities as statesman, intellectual, and humanitarian. He told of Dia’s dedication to promoting tolerance and understanding between the Muslim and Christian communities in Africa. His testimony, culminating in a fatherly embrace given to Dia, visibly moved the audience in the courtroom as few other incidents had during the trial. That one gesture, wholly ingenuous, brought into relief the divided sympathies of the French. It highlighted the anguish felt by many—Senegalese and foreigners alike—at seeing so worthy a person as Mamadou Dia in such an ignoble position.
The Attempted Coup d’Etat Viewed in Retrospect
What kept many people from siding with Mamadou Dia in the attempted coup d’état was that while they esteemed him personally, they did not sympathize with the principle of party supremacy he was supposedly defending when he undertook the actions he did against the Assembly. While the “41” who originally had moved to censure the Dia government did not inspire wide confidence either, they at least had the tactical advantage of being able to pose as defenders of a principle—the rule of law—which elicited the support of many civic-minded Senegalese. Ultimately, this proved the stronger cause.
Thus one of the major mistakes of Dia’s attorneys was that they chose to justify the actions of the defendants on grounds which could not hope to compete in respectability with the prosecution’s more virtuous claim of defending the Constitution. It was not that the defense was wrong when, in near desperation, it accused the prosecution of seeking to apply in the present case legal principles (i.e., the primacy of the Constitution over the party) not in keeping with actual political realities. It was just that this argument was useless in dispelling the popular view, now firmly embedded, that Mr. Dia had gravely erred when he took matters into his own hands, had violated the Constitution, and had precipitated the crisis which had threatened to plunge the whole nation into a bloody civil war.
Another reason that this attempted coup d’état did not succeed was that it lacked one essential ingredient which any such action requires if it is to be successful: namely, a certain minimum of popular support. This the Prime Minister simply did not have. For all the admiration he quite justifiably elicited from persons abroad, Mamadou Dia was never particularly popular in his own country. Aloof, austere, contemplative, he rarely inspired the enthusiastic response from people that the far more popular President Senghor did. Though a Muslim, he did not command the following of Senegal’s overwhelmingly Muslim population.
In part, this was because he had never solicited their support on religious grounds, but it was also because he had refused to court the powerful Marabouts, the Muslim leaders, who hold the real keys to power among Senegal’s hinterland peoples.
A further reason for his lack of success was that he was the target of popular dissatisfaction. As the government’s Prime Minister, Mr. Dia had been the author of many measures which over the years had alienated him from various groups of his countrymen. Many of these measures such as the organization of the controversial Office de Commercialisation des Arachides (OCA), or the reform of Dakar’s archaic transport system, were necessary—even indispensable—in the long-range socialist plans he envisaged for his country; but they earned him many enemies . His plans to reorganize the means of collecting and shipping peanuts—Senegal’s principal crop—directly threatened the financial security of the Marabouts, and of certain deputies (among them Théophile James, one of the judges on the High Court) who had important interests in these activities.
Prime Minister Dia could not claim the support of his country’s intellectuals either. These intellectuals, especially as represented by the students in Paris and at the University of Dakar, were not any more sympathetic with Dia than they were with President Senghor, both of whom they have always regarded as little more than pro-French collaborators. Neither man, however much he talked of African socialism or négritude, had ever been invested by them with the halo of hero-worship with which they had crowned, say, Guinea’s Sékou Touré or Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, because of the latter’s extreme nationalism and vociferous anti-colonialism. Whether Mamadou Dia, in his imprisonment, will now become the hero of this militant and articulate element of the extreme left is one of the things to watch in the months ahead. But if he does, it will be for the first time. Mr. Dia fared no better among the government functionaries, although it was among this group that he probably enjoyed his greatest popularity. As Prime Minister, he was their immediate superior, and whatever improvement in social and material standing they, as a class, have come to know over these last few years, they owe primarily to him. Although many of them sincerely believed in Dia’s “Plan” for Senegal and shared his conviction that judicious planning and a careful balancing of state and private interests could raise the general standard of living of the country, in the moment of crisis they did not come forward to aid him. Considerations of jobs and security discouraged them from embarking on any such adventurous course.
The Repercussions of the Trial on Internal Politics
The most severe repercussions of the Dia trial were felt within the Union Progressiste Sénégalaise (UPS), the ruling political party in Senegal, of which both President Senghor and Prime Minister Mamadou Dia were members. Once Mamadou Dia and the other defendants were out of the way, the 41 deputies who had sponsored the censure motion quickly sought to consolidate their position. Determined to neutralize completely all of Dia’s followers, they moved first against those of their fellow deputies who had refused to go along with them on the censure vote. Aboubakry Kane and four other deputies who had defended
Dia’s actions, either in testimony before the High Court or in party councils, were expelled from the UPS. Many other deputies who had also refused to go along with the censure vote suffered a comparable fate.
By exerting pressure on local party organizations, the “41” were able to deprive most of these pro-Dia deputies of the mayoralties in their home territories which served as their bases of power. The loss of other political offices quickly followed. Within a remarkably short time the mosaic of political power in the country was completely rearranged. Twenty-nine major towns throughout the country passed into the hands of men representing the interests of the “41.”
The municipal councils of ten towns which had pro-Dia mayors were dissolved. The shift in political loyalty was especially noticeable in Senegal’s key cities. In Thiès, Ousmane N’Gom, Vice-President of the National Assembly and a key figure in the “41” clique, replaced Ibrahima Sarr, Dia’s former Minister of Development, as that city’s bigwig. In Kaolack, another “41” sympathizer, Ibrahima Seydou N’Daw, replaced Valdiodio N’Diaye, Dia’s convicted Minister of Finance, as the chief political figure. In Saint-Louis, Mayor Macadou N’Diaye, who was on his way out as a political power before the Dia-Senghor quarrel, got a new lease on life and is now firmly back in power in that important town. A similar shake-up occurred in Matam, where Mayor Fodel Kane, a Dia sympathizer, was replaced by a supporter of the “41.”
The Dia Trial and the Reconciliation with Mali
One of President Senghor’s first acts after the arrest of Mamadou Dia was to announce that Senegal wished to settle its differences with Mali. The President’s now famous remark, “Nous tendons la main au Mali” (We extend our hand to Mali) was welcomed with a sigh of relief throughout French-speaking Black Africa. It meant that at last the two former partners in the ill-fated Mali Federation were ready to close the breach that had developed between them since the collapse of the Federation three years earlier (1960).
President Senghor’s choice of this particular occasion to extend the olive branch to Mali’s President Modibo Keita gave rise to much speculation. Did it mean that Mamadou Dia’s presence as “Number 2 Man” (Prime Minister) in the Senegalese government had all along impeded the normalization of relations with Mali? Was it a move on Senghor’s part to boast his popularity at the expense of his deposed Prime Minister? Was it a reaction to internal pressures?
In all likelihood it was a combination of these three factors. At the time of the Mali Federation, Mamadou Dia was Vice-Premier to Federal Prime Minister Modibo Keita 2. Few persons familiar with the facts concerning the Mali Federation would blame Mamadou Dia any more severely than Senghor or Keita for its collapse. But in the eyes of many Malians, and in those of many Senegalese as well, Mamadou Dia was always regarded as the central figure around whom the storm broke. It was he who, as Federal Minister of Defense, had vetoed Modibo Keita’s nomination of Colonel Soumaré, a fellow Soudanese, as Chief of Staff of the Federal Armed Forces—an action which prompted Keita to divest Dia of his ministerial portfolio and even to seek his ouster as Premier of Senegal, thereby precipitating the crisis.
While Dia was very interested in and worked vigorously for a reconciliation between Mauritania and Morocco and even for a settlement between France and Guinea, he concerned himself less with the problem of righting relations with Mali. Though as an economist he was sorely aware of Senegal’s dependence on Mali, as its natural hinterland market, he sought to compensate for the loss of this market not by seeking a rapprochement with Mali, but by trying to expand trade relations with other nations.
Yet it was not Mamadou Dia’s presence in the Senegalese government that all along had impeded the resumption of normal relations with Mali. Rather it was the residue of ill-feeling and mistrust remaining between the two countries from their sad experience with the Federation that poisoned relations between them. Their conflicting stands on certain basic issues of the day, such as their membership in the rival Casablanca and Monrovia groups, their different attitudes
in the Cold War, and their opposing positions on such African problems as the Algerian War, the Congo crisis, and the existence of Mauritania, all contributed to the existing enmity. It was not the disappearance of Mamadou Dia from Senegalese politics that made a reconciliation with Mali possible. It was the resolution of these basic problems.
As the leader who initiated the rapprochement with Mali, and as the Senegalese statesman who represented his country at the recent African summit conference at Addis Ababa, Mr. Senghor, of course, will reap the benefits of this reconciliation. The settlement with Mali and the resumption of normal diplomatic and trade relations which this settlement will make possible should do much to strengthen Senghor’s position in his own country.
But President Senghor is not relying on this alone to enhance his stature, either at home or abroad. He is also taking a much more active role in African and international affairs. The strong stand he has taken on Portuguese colonialism and South African apartheid indicates a desire to prove that he can be as much a nationalist as other African leaders. His plan for organizing in the near future a form of economic union around the states of the Senegal River Basin (Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, and Guinea) points to his hope of creating a Senegalese version of the successful Council of the Entente founded by Ivory Coast President Félix Houphouët-Boigny.
Internal political considerations also made it advisable to seek a reconciliation with Mali at this time. With his own party torn from within as a result of the Dia trial, a settlement with Mali might serve as an inducement to Senegal’s opposition parties to join with the UPS in forming a sort of “national union.” The Senghor forces hope that this idea will be particularly attractive to members of the Bloc des Masses Sénégalaises (BMS) and the Parti de Regroupement Africain (PRA), two parties with which they share many political views, and which have always been in favor of mending fences with Mali.
According to a new Organic Election Law, passed on June 15, 1963, in future elections each party will put up a single list of candidates. Henceforward, the voter will cast his ballot not for individual deputies or councilors but for an entire list. Thus the party whose list gets the greatest number of votes will have all of its candidates elected to office in toto. Whatever its original intention, this scheme, enacted on the heels of the Dia trial, will work to the disadvantage of the opposition parties, none of which are allowed to campaign freely.
lt can also be expected to dissuade any of the chastised pro-Dia deputies either from forming a new party, or from joining forces with other opposition groups, as such action supposedly would gain them nothing.
Still, along with the stick there is also a carrot. The carrot in this case is that the Senghor forces are said to have offered a certain number of places for deputies and even a number of ministerial portfolios to the opposition parties if they will agree to join forces with the UPS in the December 1963 elections. This would have the advantage of presenting proof of a certain “national union,” while at the same time both preserving the dominance of the UPS and cutting the ground from under the opposition.
There is some doubt that either the BMS or the PRA will be drawn into such a scheme. Although it would unquestionably give them a voice in the government—something which they do not now have—they may feel they have more to gain by continuing to go it alone and submitting their own list of candidates in the December contests. Current dissension in the rank and file of the UPS, resulting from the Dia trial,
might just give the opposition parties the chance they have been waiting for to break the UPS’s hold on the country. In either case, the reconciliation with Mali has at least provided the opportunity for reopening the dialogue with the “loyal opposition.” It also stands as one of the UPS’s most concrete achievements since the outbreak of the Dia crisis.
The Problems Ahead
The impact of the Dia trial shook the UPS to its very foundations. The doctrine of party supremacy (primauté du parti)—the mortar which had held the party’s diverse elements together—was chipped away by the prosecution’s successful claim that this doctrine was invalid in a Senegal committed to rule by constitutional law. To what extent this doctrine, which has proved so useful in the past, can again be resorted to in the future is a key question. Having so effectively gained its repudiation at the trial, the Senghor forces may find it difficult to resuscitate it at some later date.
Equally questionable will be the UPS’ s ability to survive the bitter animosities which this trial has engendered among some of the party’s most prominent members. The severity with which the “41” have dealt with the pro-Dia deputies may have gained them their immediate goal (deposing the Dia forces from power), but it is likely that their success also carries with it the seeds of their own eventual destruction. A very real possibility now exists that the dissident deputies, unless they can be reconciled with the “41” faction, will either break entirely from the UPS to form still another party or, failing that, join forces with the major opposition groups to better challenge the conservatives who new have gained control of the party—and through the party, the country. The same holds true for many of the younger, more progressive party elements who have been alienated as a result of the Dia trial.
Recognizing that his party is faced with a major internal crisis, President Senghor’s first task must be to close the breach that has developed in party ranks since the eruption of the Dia affair. To lend vigor to his call for national unity, the President has sought to minimize the impact of Dia’s departure from Senegalese political life by keeping to Dia’s program of economic and social reforms. He hopes thereby to disprove the charge that with Dia’s disappearance from Senegal’s political scene, the country’s social revolution comes to an end. But the President’s efforts have been only partially successful, for he has shawn less willingness to openly challenge the important pressure groups in Senegalese society—the Muslim Marabouts, the transport workers, and the European businessmen—than Mamadou Dia was prepared to do to see his program through.
So long as President Senghor stays at the party’s helm, he may be able to keep the conservative elements at bay, thereby preserving something of the UPS’s progressive air. But Senghor’s popularity has also suffered from the trial. Many Senegalese hold him responsible for the Dia affair. Increasingly, he is being lumped with the “41” and becoming identified with the conservatism which this group represents.
As Senghor must now himself assume direct responsibility for such unpopular measures as the government’s present austerity program, it is only to be expected that he, too, will begin to suffer some of the slings and arrows formerly directed at Dia when he acted as the government’s chief spokesman for such measures. Hence the President’s dilemma: the greatly enhanced powers which have been conferred on him as a result of Mamadou Dia1s elimination, he owes to men whose political views and economic philosophy he does not share. Yet he now needs the support of these men just as surely as they need his and require the luster of his name. Whether a working alliance can be built up between Senghor, those of his liberal advisers remaining, and the “41” will determine how smoothly the Senegalese government will function in the days ahead.
The UPS now also faces a crisis of leadership. Thus it joins the ranks of other African states where the question of who will succeed the incumbent President poses a grave problem. The elimination from the political scene of Mamadou Dia and Valdiodio N’Diaye, two leading prospects, has significantly narrowed the range. Ousmane N’Gom, who appears to be emerging as a sort of éminence grise as a result of the Dia episode, and who therefore would seem to be a logical candidate, lacks a popular following. Moreover, N’Gom is rumored not to enjoy the President1s confidence. None of the other ministers in the present government have yet demonstrated exceptional promise. About the only real alternative to Léopold Senghor existing at the moment in Senegal is Lamine Guèye, Senghor’s once formidable political rival. Lamine Gueye still commands great respect among the nation’s electorate, particularly among Dakar’s Muslims, but his advanced age makes him an unlikely contender.
President Senghor’s chief problem at the moment is to repair the damage to national solidarity left in the wake of the Dia trial. To accomplish this he will first of all have to assert his authority over the “41” and their followers, lest he one day find that they and not he rule the country. Because of the number of people who have been alienated as a result of the trial, and because of the doubts that have been sown about the government’s willingness to pursue the Dia-initiated social and economic reforms which Senegal badly needs, a new basis of unity must be found to reconcile these individuals and to dispel such doubts. Unless this can be done, the Dia trial may not have marked an end so much as a beginning to party-government conflict.
One view which made the rounds in Dakar at the time of the Dia trial was that President Senghor wanted an open trial so that basic questions of conflict between party and government could be threshed out. If this was in fact the case, one may question the President’ s judgment in choosing a public trial as the proper means to accomplish this end. Certain political problems are more amenable to settlement in the privacy of the politicians’ smoke-filled backrooms than in the glare of the public spotlight.
We may never know just how much President Senghor himself shared the opinion of the High Court that condemned Mamadou Dia. Nor may we ever know the full story of the motives which prompted this whole sad episode in the first place. It is difficult to render justice in a political trial, and the tragedy of this particular trial was that in the end it raised more problems than it resolved. It marked an end to a fruitful partnership between two of the most brilliant leaders Africa has yet produced. If there was a winner in this trial, it was not Léopold Senghor. And if there was a loser, it was not so much Mamadou Dia as the young Republic of Senegal.
Notes 1. At its outset the Dia affair did arouse some reaction in the hinterland. Twice during the week following Dia’s arrest, the grand Marabout, Seydou Nourou Tall, had to be flown by special government plane to Podor, in Casamance, to explain to restless Tukulor followers why Dia had been deposed from office and put under detention. The Tukulors, who number about 700,000 and constitute roughly a third of Senegal’s population, greatly esteemed Dia. 2. Senghor, though he had not yet been named as such, was slated to become the Federation’s president.
Linux celebrates its 25th anniversary: a quarter-century in which it truly changed the world. Luckily for me, I was an early convert. And an adopter, if not in practice at least in mind. It was 1991, and I was living in Washington, DC, Southwest. Somehow my MCIMail account was among the recipients of a mailing list message that is likely to remain a memorable and historic announcement. It read:
From: torvalds@klaava.Helsinki.FI (Linus Benedict Torvalds)
Subject: What would you like to see most in minix?
Summary: small poll for my new operating system
Date: 25 Aug 91 20:57:08 GMT
Organization: University of Helsinki
Hello everybody out there using minix –
I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).
I’ve currently ported bash (1.08) and gcc (1.40), and things seem to work. This implies that I’ll get something practical within a few months, and I’d like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions are welcome, but I won’t promise I’ll implement them 🙂
PS. Yes – it’s free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs. It is NOT portable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that’s all I have :-(.
I don’t recall giving Linus Torvalds a technical feedback or even a broad suggestion. For I was still a UNIX newbie challenged by an entrenched industrial operating system. For a while, I looked into A/UX —Apple’s defunct version of UNIX. Next, I made unsuccessful efforts to run an Apache web server on MachTen UNIX, from Tenon Intersystems. That company’s Berkely Software Distribution (BSD)-based OS targeted Macintosh computers built on either the PowerPC, M68K or G3 chips.…
Months after receiving Torvald’s email, I had the privilege of participating in the 1992 Kobe, Japan, conference. Co-inventor, with Dr. Robert Kanh, of the TCP/IP Stack — of Standards and Protocols — that underlies the Internet, Dr. Vinton Cerf chaired the event. And I was part of a group of technologists from eight African countries (Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Kenya, Zambia, Nigeria, Senegal, Guinea) who were invited to the meeting. There, with the other delegates, we witnessed and celebrated the founding of the Internet Society.…
In hindsight — and for a social sciences and humanities researcher like me —, the early 1990s proved serendipitous, challenging and groundbreaking. As Linux began to gain foothold, I alternatively tested some of its distributions: MkLinux, Red Hat, CentOS, Ubuntu, Debian… before settling on CentOS and Ubuntu. Ever since, I keep busy managing my Linux Virtual Private Server (VPS) which hosts a fairly complex array of services, languages, utilities, applications, front-end frameworks (Bootstrap, Foundation), the Drupal, WordPress and Joomla Content Management Systems, etc. The VPS runs in full compliance with rules, regulations and Best Practices for efficiency, availability, productivity and security. It delivers rich content on each of my ten websites, which, together, make up my webAfriqa Portal. Still freely accessible —since 1997—, the sites offer quality online library collections and public services: history, anthropology, economy, literature, the arts, political science, health sciences, diplomacy, human rights, Information Technology, general topics, blogging, etc. They are searchable with the integrated Google Custom Search Engine.
Obviously, with the mobile devices onslaught, websites can double up as apps. However, beyond responsive web design stand Web 3.0 era aka of the Semantic Web. Hence the raison d’être of the Semantic Africa project. It is yet a parked site. Hopefully, though, it will evolve into an infrastructure capable of mining and processing Big Data and Very Large African Databases (MySQL, MongoDB), with advanced indexing and sophisticated search features (Solr, Elasticsearch). The ultimate goal is to build networks of knowledge distribution aimed at fostering a fuller understanding of the African Experience, at home and abroad, from the dawn of humankind to today.
Needless to say, such an endeavor remains a tall order. Worse, an impossible dream! For the roadblocks stand tall; chief among them are the predicaments of under-development (illiteracy, schooling, training, health care, food production, water supply, manufacturing, etc.), compounded by the self-inflicted wounds and crippling “technological somnanbulism” of African rulers and “elites.”
Looking back at the 2014 USA-Africa Summit in Washington, DC, I will publish additional articles about the continent’s economic and technical situation and prospects. One such paper is called “Obama and Takunda: a tale of digital Africa,” another is named “African telecommunications revolution: hype and reality.”
For decades now, proprietary and Open Source software have been competing head to head around the world for mind and market share. I wonder, though, to what extent African countries seek to leverage this rivalry. Are they implementing policies and spending resources toward balancing commercial applications with free software? Are they riding the Linux wave ? Or are they, instead, bucking the trend? To be determined!
Anyway, I share here Paul Venezia’s piece “Linux at 25: How Linux changed the world,” published today in InfoWorld. The author is profiled as “A devoted practitioner (who) offers an eyewitness account of the rise of Linux and the Open Source movement, plus analysis of where Linux is taking us now.”
Read also “A Salute To Shannon” Tierno S. Bah
Linux at 25:
How Linux changed the world
I walked into an apartment in Boston on a sunny day in June 1995. It was small and bohemian, with the normal detritus a pair of young men would scatter here and there. On the kitchen table was a 15-inch CRT display married to a fat, coverless PC case sitting on its side, network cables streaking back to a hub in the living room. The screen displayed a mess of data, the contents of some logfile, and sitting at the bottom was a Bash root prompt decorated in red and blue, the cursor blinking lazily.
I was no stranger to Unix, having spent plenty of time on commercial Unix systems like OSF/1, HP-UX, SunOS, and the newly christened Sun Solaris. But this was different.
The system on the counter was actually a server, delivering file storage and DNS, as well as web serving to the internet through a dial-up PPP connection — and to the half-dozen other systems scattered around the apartment. In front of most of them were kids, late teens to early 20s, caught up in a maze of activity around the operating system running on the kitchen server.
Those enterprising youths were actively developing code for the Linux kernel and the GNU userspace utilities that surrounded it. At that time, this scene could be found in cities and towns all over the world, where computer science students and those with a deep interest in computing were playing with an incredible new toy: a free “Unix” operating system. It was only a few years old and growing every day. It may not have been clear at the time, but these groups were rebuilding the world.
A kernel’s fertile ground
This was a pregnant time in the history of computing. In 1993, the lawsuit by Bell Labs’ Unix System Laboratories against BSDi over copyright infringement was settled out of court, clearing the way for open source BSD variants such as FreeBSD to emerge and inspire the tech community.
The timing of that settlement turned out to be crucial. In 1991, a Finnish university student named Linus Torvalds had begun working on his personal kernel development project. Torvalds himself has said, had BSD been freely available at the time, he would probably never have embarked on his project.
Yet when BSD found its legal footing, Linux was already on its way, embraced by the types of minds that would help turn it into the operating system that would eventually run most of the world.
The pace of development picked up quickly. Userspace utilities from the GNU operating collected around the Linux kernel, forming what most would call “Linux,” much to the chagrin of the GNU founder Richard Stallman. At first, Linux was the domain of hobbyists and idealists. Then the supercomputing community began taking it seriously and contributions ramped up further.
By 1999, this “hobby” operating system was making inroads in major corporations, including large banking institutions, and began whittling away at the entrenched players that held overwhelming sway. Large companies that paid enormous sums to major enterprise hardware and operating system vendors such as Sun Microsystems, IBM, and DEC were now hiring gifted developers, system engineers, and system architects who had spent the last several years of their lives working with freely available Linux distributions.
After major performance victories and cost savings were demonstrated to management, that whittling became a chainsaw’s cut. In a few short years, Linux was driving out commercial Unix vendors from thousands of entrenched customers. The stampede had begun— and it’s still underway.
Adaptability at the core
A common misconception about Linux persists to this day: that Linux is a complete operating system. Linux, strictly defined, is the Linux kernel. The producer of a given Linux distribution — be it Red Hat, Ubuntu, or another Linux vendor — defines the remainder of the operating system around that kernel and makes it whole. Each distribution has its own idiosyncrasies, preferring certain methods over others for common tasks such as managing services, file paths, and configuration tools.
This elasticity explains why Linux has become so pervasive across so many different facets of computing: A Linux system can be as large or as small as needed. Adaptations of the Linux kernel can drive a supercomputer or a watch, a laptop or a network switch. As a result, Linux has become the de facto OS for mobile and embedded products while also underpinning the majority of internet services and platforms.
To grow in these ways, Linux needed not only to sustain the interest of the best software developers on the planet, but also to create an ecosystem that demanded reciprocal source code sharing. The Linux kernel was released under the GNU Public License, version 2 (GPLv2), which stated that the code could be used freely, but any modifications to the code (or use of the source code itself in other projects) required that the resulting source code be made publicly available. In other words, anyone was free to use the Linux kernel (and the GNU tools, also licensed under the GPL) as long as they contributed the resulting efforts back to those projects.
This created a vibrant development ecosystem that let Linux grow by leaps and bounds, as a loose network of developers began molding Linux to suit their needs and shared the fruit of their labor. If the kernel didn’t support a specific piece of hardware, a developer could write a device driver and share it with the community, allowing everyone to benefit. If another developer discovered a performance issue with a scheduler on a certain workload, they could fix it and contribute that fix back to the project. Linux was a project jointly developed by thousands of volunteers.
Changing the game
That method of development stood established practices on their ear. Commercial enterprise OS vendors dismissed Linux as a toy, a fad, a joke. After all, they had the best developers working on operating systems that were often tied to hardware, and they were raking in cash from companies that relied on the stability of their core servers. The name of the game at that time was highly reliable, stable, and expensive proprietary hardware and server software, coupled with expensive but very responsive support contracts.
To those running the commercial Unix cathedrals of Sun, DEC, IBM, and others, the notion of distributing source code to those operating systems, or that enterprise workloads could be handled on commodity hardware, was unfathomable. It simply wasn’t done — until companies like Red Hat and Suse began to flourish. Those upstarts offered the missing ingredient that many customers and vendors required: a commercially supported Linux distribution.
The decision to embrace Linux at the corporate level was made not because it was free, but because it now had a cost and could be purchased for significantly less — and the hardware was significantly cheaper, too. When you tell a large financial institution that it can reduce its server expenses by more than 50 percent while maintaining or exceeding current performance and reliability, you have their full attention.
Add the rampant success of Linux as a foundation for websites, and the Linux ecosystem grew even further. The past 10 years have seen heavy Linux adoption at every level of computing, and importantly, Linux has carried the open source story with it, serving as an icebreaker for thousands of other open source projects that would have failed to gain legitimacy on their own.
The tale of Linux is more than the success of an open kernel and an operating system. It’s equally as important to understand that much of the software and services we rely on directly or indirectly every day exist only due to Linux’s clear demonstration of the reliability and sustainability of open development methods.
Anyone who fought through the days when Linux was unmentionable and open source was a threat to corporate management knows how difficult that journey has been. From web servers to databases to programming languages, the turnabout in this thinking has changed the world, stem to stern.
Open source code is long past the pariah phase. It has proven crucial to the advancement of technology in every way.
The next 25 years
While the first 15 years of Linux were busy, the last 10 have been busier still. The success of the Android mobile platform brought Linux to more than a billion devices. It seems every nook and cranny of digital life runs a Linux kernel these days, from refrigerators to televisions to thermostats to the International Space Station.
That’s not to say that Linux has conquered everything … yet.
Though you’ll find Linux in nearly every organization in one form or another, Windows servers persist in most companies, and Windows still has the lion’s share of the corporate and personal desktop market.
In the short term, that’s not changing. Some thought Linux would have won the desktop by now, but it’s still a niche player, and the desktop and laptop market will continue to be dominated by the goliath of Microsoft and the elegance of Apple, modest inroads by the Linux-based Chromebook notwithstanding.
The road to mainstream Linux desktop adoption presents serious obstacles, but given Linux’s remarkable resilience over the years, it would be foolish to bet against the OS over the long haul.
I say that even though various issues and schisms regularly arise in the Linux community — and not only on the desktop. The brouhaha surrounding systemd is one example, as are the battles over the Mir, Wayland, and ancient X11 display servers. The predilection of some distributions to abstract away too much of the underlying operating system in the name of user-friendliness has rankled more than a few Linux users. Fortunately, Linux is what you make of it, and the different approaches taken by various Linux distributions tend to appeal to different user types.
That freedom is a double-edged sword. Poor technological and functional decisions have doomed more than one company in the past, as they’ve taken a popular desktop or server product in a direction that ultimately alienated users and led to the rise of competitors.
If a Linux distribution makes a few poor choices and loses ground, other distributions will take a different approach and flourish. Linux distributions are not tied directly to Linux kernel development, so they come and go without affecting the core component of a Linux operating system. The kernel itself is mostly immune to bad decisions made at the distribution level.
That has been the trend over the past 25 years — from bare metal to virtual servers, from cloud instances to mobile devices, Linux adapts to fit the needs of them all. The success of the Linux kernel and the development model that sustains it is undeniable. It will endure through the rise and fall of empires.
The next 25 years should be every bit as interesting as the first.