Guinée : Occidentaux, Asiatiques, Maroc

Réunion du Groupe de Casablanca, rival du Groupe de Monrovia. De g. à dr.: prince héritier Moulay Hassan (futur Hassan II), Gamal Abdel Nasser, Kwame Nkrumah, Ferhat Abbass, Sékou Touré, Modibo Keita, roi Mohamed V. Casablanca, janvier 1961.
Réunion du Groupe de Casablanca, rival du Groupe de Monrovia. De g. à dr.: prince héritier Moulay Hassan (futur Hassan II), Gamal Abdel Nasser, Kwame Nkrumah, Ferhat Abbass, Sékou Touré, Modibo Keita, roi Mohamed V. Casablanca, janvier 1961.

La question d’un éventuel trosième mandat du président Alpha Condé revient fréquemment sur le Web. C’est là une autre manière de  noyer le poisson dans l’eau. La présidence d’Alpha Condé se déroule  à son avantage, certes. Mais elle s’exerce au détriment de  la Guinée, où la pauvreté s’aggrave. L’embêtant pour M. Condé, c’est qu’après Sékou Touré (26 ans) et Lansana Conté (24 ans), le pays ne peut supporter un autre quart de siècle avec le même dictateur. Sur le site Africaguinee on lit le passage suivant :

« A l’occasion d’une session des assises sur l’eau au Maroc, le dirigeant guinéen a parlé de « continuité » citant en exemple le royaume chérifien, les pays asiatiques et occidentaux. »

Et Guinee7 renchérit :

« Pourquoi les pays occidentaux n’ont jamais demandé aux pays asiatiques de limiter les mandats », s’interroge Alpha Condé au Maroc.

La question est ridicule et hors-sujet. Car il ne s’agit ni des pays cccidentaux, ni de ceux asiatiques. Eux, ils se  conforment à leur Constitution et ils appliquent  leurs lois. Ainsi:

  • François Hollande n’aura exercé qu’un seul mandat. Une ultra-nationaliste comme Marine Le Pen pourrait bien lui succéder.
  • Les USA viennent de remplacer Barack Obama par Donald Trump.
  • La Corée du Sud vient de destituer une présidente, la fille d’un ancien président-dictateur, pour arrogance et corruption.

Monsieur Condé ne se rend pas compte combien il est naif de comparer la Guinée à des pays fonctionnels et prospères, d’Europe et d’Asie. Il devrait se concentrer sur l’Afrique, ne serait-ce qu’en sa qualité de président en exercice de l’Union Africaine pour 2017-18.
En attendant, son admiration pour la stabilité ou la « continuité » marocaine indique son inculture historique et politique. Car l’histoire de cette dynasite est marquée tour à tour par la continuité, la dépendance et les conflits internes.

Anciennete et continuité de la monarchie chérifienne alaouite

Selon Wikipédia la dynastie alaouite :

« règne sur le Maroc depuis la seconde moitié du xviie siècle. Venus du Hejaz2, ils s’installent au Tafilalet, les Alaouites deviennent sultans du Maroc à la suite d’une période d’instabilité ayant suivi le décès du dernier sultan de la dynastie des Saadiens en 1659 et durant laquelle le pays est morcelé en plusieurs États indépendants, l’autorité centrale échouant aux mains des Dilaïtes. Moulay Rachid, troisième prince alaouite du Tafilalet, réunifie le pays entre 1664 et 1669 et réinstaure un pouvoir central, marquant ainsi le début de la dynastie alaouite du Maroc, qui est toujours à la tête du royaume de nos jours. »

Impérialisme français et Protectorat français

« Mis en place par le traité franco-marocain conclu à Fès, le 30 mars 1912, entre la Troisième République française et Moulay Abd El Hafid2, éphémère sultan marocain, il était officiellement nommé Protectorat français dans l’Empire chérifien dans le traité de Fès, publié quelques mois après dans le premier bulletin officiel du pays, qui avait pour en-tête : « Empire chérifien : Protectorat de la République française au Maroc ». La fin de ce protectorat, dont l’arrivée fut annoncée au Maroc par le sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Youssef — futur roi Mohammed V — lors de son discours du trône du 18 novembre 19553 (date retenue pour la Fête nationale de l’indépendance), fut actée avec la Quatrième République française le 2 mars 19563.
Parallèlement, fut instauré un protectorat espagnol au MarocN 2 à compter du 27 novembre 1912, sur la base d’une convention franco-espagnole, et le retour à la souveraineté du Maroc fut officiellement reconnu par l’Espagne près d’un mois après la France, le 7 avril 1956. »

Conflits internes

C’est donc seulement en 1956 que le royaume du Maroc redevint souverain. Sous le règne des deux premier monarques — Mohamed V et Hassan II — un agent de la France, le général Mohamed Oufkir, joua un rôle de premier plan. Consultons Wikipédia :

« En 1950, (Oufkir) est “détaché au cabinet du général commandant supérieur des troupes du Maroc”, le général Duval au côté duquel il devient un spécialiste des services de renseignement français. »
« En 1955, les autorités françaises l’imposent comme aide de camp du roi Mohammed V dès son intronisation au lendemain de l’indépendance du Maroc. Son rôle est de réduire l’influence de l’armée de libération nationale marocaine (ALN), d’atténuer le plébiscite autour de la légitimité des partis nationalistes, notamment l’Istiqlal et l’UNFP, et de construire les structures policières et de surveillance officielles (notamment les FAR Forces Armées Royales) et parallèles. »

Général Oufkir dirige ainsi la répression contre “le soulèvement du Rif entre 1957 et 1959 (cette répression exécutée avec zèle lui vaut le surnom de ‘Boucher du Rif’, le ‘complot de juillet’ que le régime attribue en 1963 à la gauche marocaine et les émeutes de Casablanca du 23 mars 1965 où, à bord d’un hélicoptère, il tire à la mitraillette sur la foule.”

En 1965, Oufkir et le roi Hassan II sont impliqués dans la disparition de Mehdi ben Barka, enlevé et assassiné en France. “La justice française  condamne Oufkir par contumace … aux travaux forcés à perpétuité.”

Peu importe. A Rabat Oufkir continue de monte en flèche. Il devient commandant en chef des Forces armées royales et ministre de la défense en 1971. C’est fort de cette position qu’il tente successivement de liquider le roi Hassan. Son premier coup d’Etat date de 1971. Il échoue. Pareil pour celui de 1972. L’échec de cette deuxième tentative entraîne sa mort : suicide,  exécution ?

Alpha Condé et la Guinée

L’interrogation plus haut est ainsi superflue. La vraie question est  plutôt la suivante:

Pourquoi ne pas respecter  la Constitution guinéenne, qui limite le nombre de mandats présidentiels consécutifs à deux ?

La réponse est claire. L’autocratie et son corollaire, le narcissisme, ainsi que la cupidité et sa compagne, la corruption, conduisent monsieur le président-commis voyageur à mépriser son pays au point de laisser circuler des spéculations sur un troisième mandat. Alors que sa politique inarticulée, brouillonne a — en 10 ans bientôt — ruiné  l’économie et enfoncé le pays davantage dans la pauvreté.

Qu’il n’oublie pas cependant que la république et la monarchie sont des systèmes différents. Et que la république de Guinée n’est pas le royaume du Maroc. S’il existe de vagues ressemblances, il n’y a, par contre, pas de correspondance entre les deux pays.

Deux mandats consécutifs sont suffisants pour un président intègre, rassembleur et travailleur. Dix mandats sont insuffisants pour un dictateur assoiffé de pouvoir pour soi. En conséquence, la Guinée doit fermement appliquer le principe de l’alternance, qui est nécessaire et indispensable à l’exercice de la démocratie, même électoraliste.
Elle doit le faire par-delà les plans machiavéliques et les manoeuvres sournoises du président Alpha Condé. Qui voudrait s’accrocher indéfiniment et futilement au fauteil.

Tierno S. Bah

In Memoriam Fily Dabo Sissoko (1900-1924)

Fily Dabo Sissoko (1900-1964)
Fily Dabo Sissoko (1900-1964)

L’article intitulé “Le bâton et le caïman, ou Fily Dabo Sissoko et la France” est extrait d’Etudes africaines : offertes à Henri Brunschwig (Paris : Editions de l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences sociales, 1982). Le document est désormais  accessibles sur webAfriqa, de même que “Les armées peul de l’Adamawa au 19e siècle”, dont l’auteur est l’historien Thierno Mouctar Bah, et que j’introduis séparément.

Henri Brunschwig (1904-1989)
Henri Brunschwig (1904-1989)

Remarquable ouvrage, Etudes africaines : offertes à Henri Brunschwig est le fruit d’une préparation experte par des spécialistes de grande renommée : Jan Vansina, C. H. Perrot, R. Austen, Yves Person, et al.

Biographie de Fily Dabo Sissoko

Sous la plume de P. Brasseur l’article sur la carrière enseignante et politique de Fily Dabo Sissoko (1900-1964) est fouillé et riche. Fily fut l’un des premiers instituteurs d’école  dans l’Empire Colonial de la Troisième République (1870-1940).
Sous le régime du Front Populaire (1936-1938), il fut nommé chef de canton de cercle. A l’avènement de la Quatrième République (1946-1958), il inaugura — avec Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Lamine Guèye, Yacine Diallo, Léopold Sédar Senghor, etc. — l’ère de la politique partisane en Afrique Occidentale Française.

Dans Le congrès de Bamako, ou la naissance du RDA Pierre Kipré fait un compte-rendu partisan et  subjectif sur Fily. Il passe notamment sous silence la fin tragique et ignominieuse de cette grande figure sous la dictature de Modibo Keita, président de la République du Mali (ex-Soudan français).

La contribution de Paul Brasseur fourmille de détails sur le parcours de combattant de Fily Dabo Sissoko. Ce faisant, elle contre-balance le  jugement coloré et l’opinion réductrice de Pierre Kipré.

On est reconnaissant à l’aréopage d’intellectuels européens qui ont redigé et édité ce livre. D’une pierre, ils font plusieurs coups. Au prime abord leur travail  honore Henri Brunschwig, historien lucide de l’Afrique coloniale et post-coloniale. En même temps l’ouvrage dégage la personnalité et restitue partiellement l’action, l’oeuvre et la mémoire de Fily Dabo Sissoko.

Bibliographie de Brunschwig sur l’Afrique :

  • La Colonisation française, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1949.
  • Histoire de la colonisation, Paris, SDMOM, 1953.
  • L’Expansion allemande outre-mer du xve siècle à nos jours, Paris, 1957.
  • Mythes et réalités de l’impérialisme colonial français, 1871-1914, Paris, Armand Colin, 1960.
  • L’avènement de l’Afrique noire, Paris, Armand Colin, 1963.
  • Brazza explorateur. L’Ogooué 1875-1879, Paris, Mouton, 1966.
  • Le Partage de l’Afrique noire, Paris, Flammarion, “Questions d’histoire”, 1971.
  • Ed. : Brazza explorateur. Les traités Makoko, 1880-1882, Paris, Mouton, 1972.
  • Noirs et Blancs dans l’Afrique noire française, Paris, Flammarion, 1983.
  • L’Afrique noire au temps de l’impérialisme français, Paris, Denoël, 1988.

Tierno S. Bah

Jeanne-Martin Cissé (1926-2017)

Jeanne Martin Cissé et Sékou Touré, circa 1970
Jeanne Martin Cissé et Sékou Touré, vers 1970

Sous la plume de François-Xavier Freland Jeune Afrique reprend la nouvelle de la mort de Jeanne-Martin Cissé (1926-2017). Reflétant diverses sources d’information, l’hebdomadaire évoque, en quelque 532 mots, la vie de cette compagne de Sékou Touré.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 ?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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”.
  7. 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)
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Tierno S. Bah

The Trial of Mamadou Dia, Dakar 1963. Part I

Senegalese paratroopers guarding the street leading to the Palace of Justice during the trial of Mamadou Dia. Dakar, december 1962. (Photos courtesy Dakar-Matin, Senegalese Ministry of Information, and Photo Bracher, Dakar) — BlogGuinée
Senegalese paratroopers guarding the street leading to the Palace of Justice during the trial of Mamadou Dia. Dakar, december 1962. (Photos courtesy Dakar-Matin, Senegalese Ministry of Information, and Photo Bracher, Dakar) — BlogGuinée

Whereas the coups d’etat plague affected the African political landscape for decades, Senegal has avoided state takeover and government downfall, whether military-staged or civilian-led. As a result, it has gained the reputation of a beacon of democracy on the continent. However, the republic of Senegal was not immune from the domination of single-party rule.  Indeed, the Parti démocratique sénégalais (PDS) remained firmly in control, again, for decades, despite challenges from opponents like Abdoulaye Wade. Worse, in 1960 (the collapse of the Mali Federation), and in 1962 —discussed here—, the political class experienced deep, but non-violent crises. In the second case, irreconcilable differences broke out between the three main political leaders: National Assembly President Lamine Guèye, President Leopold Sedar Senghor, Prime minister Mamadou Dia. The dissensions led to the arrest and trial of Prime minister Mamadou Dia along with three of his cabinet members (Valdiodio Ndiaye, Ibrahima Sarr, Alioune Tall), on charges of attempting a coup d’état. The late American anthropologist and political scientist, Victor Du Bois, was present at the trial. He gives us a first-hand account of the court’s proceedings. In the end the Haute Cour de Justice convicted and sentenced Mamadou Dia and his three co-accused to heavy prison terms.

Read also The Emergence of Black Politics in Senegal: 1900-1920

Tierno S. Bah


Victor D. Du Bois
The Trial of Mamadou Dia. Part I: Background of the Case.

American Universities Field Staff Reports. West Africa Series, Vol. VI No. 6 (Senegal), pp. 1-8

Dakar, July 1963

On May 7, 1963, the trial of Mamadou Dia opened in Dakar.
The former premier of Senegal and four of his ministers were being tried on charges arising from an attempted coup d’état last December 17. On this day the Avenue Pasteur leading to Dakar’s starkly modern Palace of Justice was crowded with chattering, gesticulating Senegalese making their way in small groups up the sun-drenched street. Lines of cars, sleek Citroëns and Mercedes, crawled toward the waiting soldiers who guarded all approaches to the building. Cars with the “CD” plates of the diplomatic corps were waved through; the others were stopped until their occupants produced the red invitation cards to show that they, too, had been invited to witness the drama which was to unfold that day.

For the foreign observer, already cynical about the quality of African justice, the sight of hundreds of soldiers with Tommy guns slung over their shoulders was not reassuring. Their presence seemed to detract from the claims of the Senegalese government that this would be an open and impartial trial worthy of a free democracy.

Running the gantlet of troops that lined the corridor to the courtroom, visitors were asked again and again to show their red cards. The final test came at the door of the courtroom itself, where a Senegalese lieutenant scrutinized each arrival’s credentials.

Inside, the situation was a little better. The 50-odd soldiers, grouped in a solid phalanx at the rear of the chamber, somehow did not seem quite so conspicuous. On one side of the long rectangular room-where the jury would sit in an American court- were members of the press, a majority of them foreigners. Opposite sat representatives of the diplomatie corps. In the middle were about 40 rows of seats for the witnesses and for grave-faced functionaries who were important enough to have been invited to the trial.

At the head of the courtroom, well elevated, stood a horseshoe shaped table of polished mahogany behind which were high-backed leather chairs for the judges. Sorne five yards in front of the judges’ table stood the symbolic bar of justice; behind it were the benches for the accused; and behind them, were desks from which the defense attorneys would plead their case. Far to the rear of the room, back of the soldiers , crowded two hundred or so ordinary citizens of Senegal.

It was strange to see Mamadou Dia sitting on the prisoner’s bench. It was difficult to believe that this man who had been a leader in Senegalese politics for the last 14 years and had held the second highest office in the land was on trial for an attempted coup d’état.

How did it happen and why? Origins of the Conflict

The reasons are as complex as Senegalese politics itself. Vested financial interests, local power rivalries, and entrenched privilege all played a part. The conflict, at least initially, was not so much between Dia and President Léopold Senghor as between persons lower on the political scale—men who used Dia and Senghor as shields behind which to fight their private battles and to defend their own interests.

Central to the conflict was Dia’s plan for the gradual socialization of the economy and the institution of reforms in the social sector. Both programs threatened established interests. A more immediate cause, however, was the growing estrangement over the past year between members of Mamadou Dia’s govemment and certain deputies in the National Assembly who were critical of Dia’s policies. This estrangement reflected a deeper crisis: the alienation of party from parliament.
Although in theory Senegal is a multiparty state, in fact the ruling Union Progressiste Sénégalaise (UPS) holds such preponderance of authority that it is the only real power in the land.
Of the 80 seats in the National Assembly, the UPS controls 79.
The deputies to the Assembly are nominated by the party and as such are theoretically its agents in parliament. However, many of the present deputies are men of substance whose positions of prominence date back to the colonial period. These men feel relatively little obligation toward their party. They feel even less obligation toward the younger party militants, who today occupy many positions of authority in the party’s lower echelons and who are eagerly waiting to replace them in their jobs .

These younger rnembers of the UPS are the most dynamic element in the party. They are also the group most desirous of pushing the economie and social changes in the direction envisioned by Mamadou Dia. The parliamentarians, on the other hand, are allied with the conservative interests in the country: the urban bourgeoisie, the European business community, the Marabouts (Muslim religious leaders), and local oligarchs. Many, with important financial intere sts in the sale and transport of peanuts (Senegal’s principal crop), have much to gain from keeping economie and social conditions as they are now. Viewing any change with misgiving, they have tended to act as a brake on the socialist programs advocated by Dia and by the younger party militants.

Differences between party and parliament were evidenced by their taking opposite sides on the issue of socialisrn and on the role to be accorded private enterprise . These differences were also manifested in frequent and sometimes bitter struggles in regional politics and over political appointments at every level. Each side sought to reinforce its standing by placing as many of its own men as possible in positions of power.

Aware of the dissension within the party, President Senghor tried to mediate between the two sides. But his role as arbiter was impossible to maintain, for neither side was willing to accept it. Senghor’s own position was ambivalent. Though sympathetic with Dia and his aims, he was impatient with Dia’s reluctance to stamp out corruption in high places, particularly among some of his own ministers.
Moreover, Dia’s attempts to curb the influence of the powerful Marabouts threatened to jeopardize the President’s own cordial relations with this important element of his political support.

Thus dragged into the controversy, the President unwittingly became the symbol of the anti-Dia forces. Although he had not summoned them, around him rallied all the conservative elements in the nation. Against the wishes of both opponents, it became a contest of Dia vs. Senghor .

Prelude to the Attempted Coup d’État

The National Council, highest organ of the UPS met at Rufisque on October 21, 1962. Several days before, rumors of an open rift between President Léopold Senghor and Prime Minister Mamadou Dia had circulated widely, but a communiqué issued at the end of that meeting categorically denied any such rift. A certain malaise was nevertheless felt to exist within the ranks of the party, and it was decided that special delegations should be sent to various subsections of the UPS to allay it.

On November 12, 1962, Mamadou Dia reorganized his government. The most important innovation was his assumption of the Ministries of Defense and Security.

  • Valdiodio N’Diaye, former Minister of the Interior, became head of Finance
  • Ibrahima Sarr, former Minister of Public Functions, became Minister of Development
  • Joseph M’Baye, former Minister of Rural Economy, replaced Alioune Tall as Minister of Commerce
  • Tall was named Minister of Information.

On December 14, 1962, the real crisis began. On the afternoon of that day, Théophile James, a deputy, deposited with Lamine Gueye, President of the National Assembly, a motion of censure against the Dia government signed by himself and 40 of his colleagues. Accompanying the motion was a statement by the deputies denouncing the “fetters to the free exercise of parliamentary prerogatives” which, they claimed, the Dia government had fastened on the Assembly. They declared that the “state of emergency law,” which had been in force in Senegal since the breakup of the Mali Federation in order to better assure national solidarity, had become an excuse for suspending the provisions and defeating the purposes of the Constitution and “an instrument of blind repression.” The signatories where therefore withdrawing their support from the government.

Because of the impending governmental crisis, an extraordinary meeting of the Council of Ministers was called on Saturday, December 15, 1962, to discuss the impasse between the government and the Assembly. But no solution was found acceptable to both sides. The cabinet itself was split over whether, in view of the state of emergency still legally existing in the country, the deputies had the right to file a censure motion at all. Part of the cabinet supported Prime Minister Dia’s view that the deputies could not do so; the rest of the cabinet sided with the Assembly, arguing that they could. Because it was impossible to reach agreement, Prime Minister Dia suggested to President Senghor that the Supreme Court be asked to decide the issue. Senghor rejected this proposal.

The next day (December 16, 1962), the party’s Political Bureau (the UPS’s highest executive body) met in an effort to resolve the crisis. But again no compromise was reached between the Dia government and the parliamentary group sponsoring the censure motion. It was decided, therefore, to convoke a special meeting of the 300-member National Council of the UPS at Rufisque on December 20 to settle the issue. In the meantime, the Political Bureau ordered the deputies to withdraw their censure motion, and President Senghor, approving the Political Bureau’s decision, personally appealed to certain influential deputies to withdraw their signatures. The deputies, however, fearing that they would not be backed by the National Council, yet equally certain that they could carry the censure motion in the Assembly, refused to obey the Political Bureau’s orders.

The Events of December 17, 1962

At 9:30a.m. on December 17, the heads of the various commissions of the National Assembly met to set the hour at which the Assembly should convene to consider the censure motion. At this meeting the Dia government was represented by lbrahima Sarr, Minister of Development. It was decided that at 10:00 a.m. there should be a meeting of the Political Bureau of the UPS and the parliamentary group sponsoring the censure motion.

10:00 a.m. First Mamadou Dia, then President Senghor arrived at the National Assembly for the proposed meeting. Dia explained briefly to Senghor that he saw no point in remaining, since the deputies had already decided to disregard the Political Bureau’s orders and proceed with their deposition of the censure motion. Dia then left; President Senghor himself departed a few minutes later.

Shortly thereafter gendarmes and police arrived and ordered the heads of the parliamentary commissions to leave the building. Lamine Gueye, President of the National Assembly, insisted that the parliamentarians’ debate should not be disturbed, but his protest was disregarded. Again the deputies were ordered to evacuate the Assembly at once. In the meantime the building had been surrounded by gendarmes, presumably taking orders from Dia. As the deputies filed out of the building, four of them, including Fofana Abdoulaye, a former minister, Ousmane N’Gom, Vice-President of the Assembly, and two others active in pressing for the censure motion, were arrested and taken to central police headquarters . The other deputies followed Lamine Gueye to his home near the President’s palace. Once there, Lamine Gueye, as President of the Assembly, dispatched a message to the President of the Republic reporting what had taken place. He asked the President, as “guardian of the Constitution,” to authorize the Assembly to hold an extraordinary session in his house to consider the censure motion.

Meanwhile, Dia forces had taken control of Radio Senegal and of the Administration Building, seat of the national government.

10:00 a.m.-12:00 a.m. President Senghor, forced now to choose between backing Dia and supporting the Assembly, decided on the latter course. He authorized the Assembly to meet at Lamine Gueye’s house. He also issued a requisition order, assuming direct command of the nation’s armed forces. A company of parachutists stationed at Rufisque was summoned to Dakar to protect the President’s palace.

1:00 p.m. Prime Minister Mamadou Dia at this time seemed still to have the upper hand. The Dakar police and gendarmerie had put themselves under his orders . Even the Senegalese Chief of Staff, General Fall, declared that he would respect Dia’s authority as Minister of Defense (in effect, disregarding the President’s requisition order).
Alioune Tall, Minister of Information (and a Dia supporter), announced over Radio Senegal that measures had been taken in agreement with the Secretary-General of the UPS (i.e., President Senghor) to prevent certain deputies (signers of the censure motion) from subverting the government. Tall promised that at eight o’clock that evening, the Prime Minister would address the nation.

The parachutists from Rufisque had now arrived in Dakar and surrounded the presidential palace, displacing the police and gendarmes previously sent there by Dia. It was announced shortly afterward that General Fall had been stripped of his command and replaced by Colonel Alfred Diallo, chief of the parachutists. By this time Dia and his ministers had barricaded themselves on the ninth floor of the Administration Building. Outside, Dia’s gendarmes continued to mount guard.

By 3:00 p.m. the Administration Building was surrounded by parachutists under the command of Colonel Diallo. Both the gendarmes and the parachutists, anxious to avoid bloodshed, held their fire. Left to themselves while their officers conferred over the situation, the troops within a remarkably short time were smiling, snapping their fingers, and patting each other on the back.

At 5:00p.m. the deputies convened at the house of Lamine Gueye. Some 40 members of the National Assembly were present, among them five ministers who had chosen to resign from the Dia government rather than follow him. All those present, including Boubakar Gueye, sole deputy of the opposition Bloc des Masses Sénégalaises (BMS), voted in favor of the censure motion, which was carried. The Assembly then proposed to authorize the President to submit a constitutional amendment to popular referendum. The amendment would do away with the office of prime minister and establish a presidential regime. This proposal was unanimously approved and President Senghor was immediately notified of the Assembly’s action.

At this moment it was announced to the deputies that parachutists had surrounded Radio Senegal in Dakar. In the meantime the radio station at Rufisque had passed into the hands of President Senghor’s paratroopers. Under orders from Joseph M’Baye, Dia’s Minister of Commerce, all telephone lines leading from the President’s palace were cut. Senghor, fearing that the direct confrontation of the opposing forces might lead to bloodshed, ordered the paratroopers to withdraw from the Administration Building, where Dia and his ministers still remained barricaded.

At 8:00 p .m. President Senghor attempted to address the nation. After a few minutes his voice was cut off the air and that of Mamadou Dia was heard. Then Dia, too, was cut off. It was evident that within Radio Senegal itself there were partisans of both sides.

By 3:00 a.m. of the following day (December 18, 1962), the entire capital had learned of the Assembly’s vote and of Colonel Diallo’s appointment as commander of all forces in the Dakar-Rufisque area. It was now clear that the coup d’état had no chance of success. Accordingly, the chiefs of the gendarmerie and of the Dakar police went to the President’s palace and placed themselves under his direct orders. Mamadou Dia, abandoned by the few forces that earlier had supported him, left the Administration Building. With the four ministers still loyal to him, he returned to his home in the Medina. Throughout the early hours of the morning, Radio Senegal, now firmly held by Senghor forces, broadcast the full text of the President’s earlier message.

At 9:00a.m. the deputies returned to the National Assembly Building, which was restored to them. Now numbering 55, they voted unanimously in favor of the amendment, filed with the Assembly the previous day, which would abolish the office of prime minister. They also granted Mr. Senghor full powers to govern the country pending the change-over to a presidential form of government.

That afternoon President Senghor broadcast from his palace an appeal to the Senegalese people to maintain their national unity. In the evening, a detachment of paratroopers went to Mamadou Dia’s house in the Medina with an order for his arrest issued by the High Court of Justice . Warrants were also issued for the arrest of the four ministers who had stuck by Dia. When Mr. Dia heard that the warrant for his arrest had been signed by Doudou Thiam, his former Minister of Justice, he at first told the arresting officer that he refused to follow him. But Mr. Tall, Dia’s Minister of Information, pleaded for a moment to talk with the Prime Minister. He succeeded in convincing Dia that further resistance was futile and that he owed it to his people and his friends to go along peaceably. The Prime Minister consented, thus averting a possible tragedy, and the five men were taken to a private villa where they were put under guard. Mamadou Dia’s contest of power with the National Assembly had failed.

Next, The Trial of Mamadou Dia. Part II: The Proceedings in Court, May 7, 1963

The Trial of Mamadou Dia, Dakar 1963. Part II

From left to right, former Prime minister Mamadou Dia and Ibrahima Sarr, his former Minister of Development and a co-defendant at their trial by the Haute Cour de Justice. Dakar, 1963. (Photos courtesy Dakar-Matin, Senegalese Ministry of Information, and Photo Bracher, Dakar) — BlogGuinée.
From left to right, former Prime minister Mamadou Dia and Ibrahima Sarr, his former Minister of Development and a co-defendant at their trial by the Haute Cour de Justice. Dakar, 1963. (Photos courtesy Dakar-Matin, Senegalese Ministry of Information, and Photo Bracher, Dakar) — BlogGuinée.

As explained in the previous article, Senegal’s political class was unable or unwilling to settle their differences within the legal framework. Back then, in December 1962, the country was still ruled by emergency laws stemming from the collapse of the Mali Federation in 1960. In a winner-take-all struglle for power, two rival camps faced each other. On one side stood the president of the republic,  Leopold Sedar Senghor, backed by the president of the National Assembly, Lamine Guèye. The  rival camp was headed by the Prime minister, Mamadou Dia. He lost his case and was arrested. Accused of plotting a coup d’état, he stood trial—along with his four co-defendants— before the High Court of Justice in May 1963. This paper continues the series of three articles published by Victor Du Bois, who attended the hearing.

Read also The Trial of Mamadou Dia. Part I: Background of the Case.

Tierno S. Bah


Victor D. Du Bois
The Trial of Mamadou Dia. Part II: The Proceedings in Court, May 7, 1963.

American Universities Field Staff Reports.
West Africa Series, Vol. VI No. 7 (Senegal), pp. 1-13

Dakar, July 1963

At nine o’clock in the morning on May 7, 1963, the trial of the former Senegalese prime minister, Mamadou Dia, got under way. The defendants were Dia and Ibrahima Sarr, Valdiodio N’Diaye, Joseph M’Baye, and Alioune Tall, former Ministers of Development, Finance, Commerce, and Information respectively in the Dia government.

A command barked out by a sergeant at arms called the soldiers in the courtroom to attention. The audience stood as the judges of the High Court entered the chamber.

Of the seven men sitting as judges only one, Ousmane Goundiam, a member of the Senegalese Supreme Court, who presided, was a magistrate. The others were deputies designated by the National Assembly to serve as judges in the present trial.

The state’s case was argued by a specially appointed procureur général, Ousmane Camara. Dia and the other accused were defended by French attorneys, who flew in from Paris, and by three Senegalese, among them, Abdoulaye Wade, the brilliant head of legal studies at the University of Dakar.

Three of Dia's codefendants: from left to right, Valdiodio N'Diaye, Alioune Tall, and Joseph M'Baye, respectively former Ministers of Finance, Information, and Commerce in the Dia government. Behind them are seen four of the French attorneys for the defense. (Photos courtesy Dakar-Matin, Senegalese Ministry of Information, and Photo Bracher, Dakar) — BlogGuinée.
Three of Dia’s co-defendants: from left to right, Valdiodio N’Diaye, Alioune Tall, and Joseph M’Baye, respectively former Ministers of Finance, Information, and Commerce in the Dia government. Behind them are seen four of the French attorneys for the defense. (Photos courtesy Dakar-Matin, Senegalese Ministry of Information, and Photo Bracher, Dakar) — BlogGuinée.

The Case for the Prosecution

The charges against Mamadou Dia were seven:

  1. That he had ordered the expulsion of the deputies from the National Assembly Building
  2. That he had ordered the arrest of four deputies without legitimate cause or warrant
  3. That he had had the telephone lines to the President’s palace cut to prevent the President’s fulfilling his constitutional functions
  4. That he had ordered an attack on the President’s palace
  5. That he had sought to raise an armed band
  6. That he had assumed unauthorized command of the armed forces against legitimate authority and in disregard of a requisition order signed by the President under Article 24 of the Senegalese Constitution 1 and
  7. That he had perpetrated acts against the liberty of individual citizens.

Two separate but related issues, crucial to the substance of the charges, occupied the attention of the prosecution during the trial. The first concerned Mamadou Dia’s violation of the Constitution; the second, the thorny issue of party-government relations. Ultimately, the latter reduced itself to the basic question: “Which was the higher authority in the land—the party or the Constitution ?”

The prosecution’s position on the first issue, namely Mamadou Dia’s violation of the Constitution, was quite clear. In ordering the expulsion of the deputies from the Assembly, arresting four of their members, and cutting off telephone communication with the President’s palace, Dia had exceeded the limits of his constitutional authority and had trampled on the rights of parliament. His isolation of the palace clearly impeded President Léopold Senghor‘s exercise of his constitutional functions.

To the prosecution, Dia’s countermanding of President Senghor’s order requisitioning the nation’s armed forces and his issuance of another requisition order, placing the nation’s armed forces under his own command, constituted usurpation of presidential prerogative and illegal assumption of military authority. Furthermore, Dia’s continued exercise of command over the gendarmerie and the Dakar police force, even after his government had been officially overthrown by the Assembly’s vote of censure, amounted to raising an armed band against legitimate state authority (i.e., the President).

The charge of perpetrating arbitrary acts against the liberty of individual citizens was based on Dia’s arrest of the four deputies and the detention by his followers of the head of the central telephone exchange, an action taken to facilitate isolation of the President’s palace.

Much more complex was the second issue, whether the party or the Constitution was the higher authority in the land. Yet this issue had to be raised by the prosecution, for the defense’s entire case rested on the claim that Dia’s actions were both legitimate and understandable in the light of the doctrine of party supremacy supposedly in force at that time in Senegal.

The prosecutor challenged the validity of this doctrine. He did not hesitate to point out that the Senegalese Constitution nowhere spoke of the party, much less accorded it the supremacy now imputed to it. What was more, the rules of the UPS themselves did not claim for the party a position superior to that of the nation’s Constitution. “How can you claim that any law or doctrine can be put above the Constitution, the source of all legality in the country?” he asked the defense. The point was difficult to refute.

The prosecutor emphasized that although deputies are in theory agents of the party, inasmuch as it is the party which names their candidacy, they also as deputies have obligations to the Constitution. “The question,” he said, “adds up to this: ‘Does one have the right to violate the Constitution if one has permission from the party?’ Or, looked at another way: ‘Can deputies respect the Constitution without the express permission from the UPS ?‘” “If the party is really supreme,” he inquired, “why is it that it did not change the Constitution and specifically make the state and the party a single entity? Since it did not change the Constitution, the party should now respect it.” Insistently, the prosecutor contended that the Senegalese Constitution could not be changed at will to suit the particular circumstances of the moment. It must be accorded a genuine inviolability.

The High Court of Justice which judged Mamadou Dia. Seated at the center of the judges' table is Ousmane Goundiam, President of the High Court; to his immediate right, Théophile James, the deputy who authored the vote of censure against the Dia government. Dakar 1963. (Photos courtesy Dakar-Matin, Senegalese Ministry of Information, and Photo Bracher, Dakar.) — BlogGuinée
The High Court of Justice which judged Mamadou Dia. Seated at the center of the judges’ table is Ousmane Goundiam, President of the High Court; to his immediate right, Théophile James, the deputy who authored the vote of censure against the Dia government. Dakar 1963. (Photos courtesy Dakar-Matin, Senegalese Ministry of Information, and Photo Bracher, Dakar.) — BlogGuinée

The Defense’s Reply

The defense’s reply to the prosecution’s charges rested mainly on the assertion that Mamadou Dia had not attempted a coup d’état. His actions had been warranted by the political tensions at the time. They were “conservation measures” (“mesures conservatoires”) aimed solely at preserving the status quo until the party’s National Council should have an opportunity to express its judgment at the Rufisque meeting scheduled for December 20, 1962. Mamadou Dia emphasized that it was he, not Senghor, who had asked for the meeting of the National Council.
“Had the Council backed the deputies who wanted to present the censure motion,” he said, “I would immediately have tendered the resignation of my government.” On such a crucial question, he insisted, the party had a right to express its view; and the deputies, as its agents, had an obligation to respect it. But the deputies were unwilling to wait for the Rufisque meeting. They refused to withdraw their censure motion even after the party’s Political Bureau had asked them to do so. lt was this obstinate refusal on their part to acknowledge the primacy of the party and submit to its discipline that prompted him (Dia) to have the deputies expelled from the Assembly. His only intention was to prevent them from filing a motion of censure until the party had had a chance to discuss the matter.

The defense further contended that the deputies had no legal right to file a censure motion because Senegal technically was still in a state of emergency and governed by emergency laws in force at the time, under which no motion of censure of the existing government could be proposed. Under the same emergency laws, the defense continued, the Prime Minister had the legal authority to arrest anyone suspected of subversion against the state, even deputies and other officers of the national government. And Mamadou Dia’s testimony before the court indicated that subversion was what he saw in the deputies’ censure motion:

Yes, I took certain measures once I was informed of the development of the political situation. When I heard that the censure motion was about to be taken in abnormal conditions, I found myself confronted with a plot directed against the government. It appeared to some persons to be absolutely necessary to change this regime. The plot was directed more against our institutions than against our government. This plot was aimed at destroying the party. It was organized subversion.

Dia declared that once it had become clear to him that President Senghor would side with the deputies on the question of the propriety of the censure motion during a state of emergency, he had requested the Supreme Court to rule on the legality of this motion. But the President refused to refer the matter to the Court, even though the Senegalese Constitution specifically provided for such arbitration in cases of conflict between the government and the Assembly 2. According to Dia, Senghor preferred instead to have the party’s National Council decide the question at the Rufisque meeting. Thus, it was the President and not he who had violated the Constitution.

The defense insisted, moreover, that the testimony of the witnesses indicated that President Senghor had requisitioned the paratroopers from Rufisque before 10:00 a.m. on December 17, that is, before the deputies had even been expelled from the Assembly. Under the Constitution then in force, it was the Prime Minister as chief executive who was responsible for the armed forces, especially since Mr. Dia was also acting Minister of Defense at the time. Again, therefore, it was Senghor who had overstepped the limits of his authority.

To disprove the prosecution’s charge that Dia really intended to overthrow the government, the defense pointed out that Dia sympathizers had control of the radio stations at Saint-Louis and Ziguinchor but did not use them to incite the people to rebellion. No attempt was made to raise an armed band against the President. Although numerous messages of sympathy from various parts of the interior reached Dia, none were broadcast over the national airwaves, even on December 17 and 18, 1962, when the Dia forces had effective control of radio facilities in Dakar. Dia said:

« I had a majority of the armed forces on my side, but I did not use them because I wanted at all costs to avoid a direct confrontation of force. It was to keep Senghor from so doing (i.e., ordering such a confrontation) that I had the telephone lines to the palace cut. What I asked, what I begged of God that day, was that Senegalese blood not be spilled. My prayer must have been heard for no Senegalese blood did flow. »

Speaking not so much for himself as on behalf of the four ministers who were being tried as his accomplices in the alleged coup d’état, Dia insisted that they were merely obeying the orders of their Prime Minister, and therefore should not be held at fault at all:

« I am not going to plead. I am going to explain. For six months we have heard only one version of the facts in the press, the radio, etc.—that of the accusers.
I am not a plotter . Consequently I have no accomplices. The friends who are around me are men who were faithful to their Prime Minister. They are men who are faithful to an ideal, a program we entered into with others…
When one undertakes a coup d’état, one does not let the chief of staff go off on a tour of inspection 3. One does not take three days to discuss the political situation with the party. One does not undertake to speak with the nation’s chief magistrate in an effort to find a peaceful solution to political problems…»

Dia spoke at length of the harmony which heretofore had existed between the party and the government because the primacy of the former had always been tacitly accepted. He said:

« If it were to be done over again, I would do the same thing to protect the party, the nation’s institutions, and the country. »

Then a murmur ran through the courtroom as Dia, looking directly at the judges, said:

« You do not have the real plotters before you.… »

The Prosecution’s Closing Statement

The prosecutor’s summation before the Court was brief. He recapitulated the events of December 14-18. Next, he conceded that the evidence brought out at the trial did not warrant retaining the charge against Dia that he had ordered an attack on the President’s palace. Accordingly, that particular charge against the defendant would be dropped.

Further, evidence of direct, overt complicity on the part of Ibrahima Sarr in the attempted coup d’état was so insubstantial that the prosecution was willing to withdraw all charges against this defendant.

Even so, an attempt against the security of the state had still been made. In expelling the deputies from the National Assembly and ordering the arrest of four of them, Mamadou Dia had flagrantly violated the Constitution. Yet the prosecutor recognized an element of innocence in Dia’s actions:

« I do not doubt that the former Prime Minister acted completely in good faith even when he committed the crimes against the Constitution for which he is being tried here today. At the time, he thought he was doing the right thing. But between what he thought was right and the law there was a gap, and what he did constituted a grave crime. »

Citing the words of Lamennais that “the holiest of causes becomes impious when one resorts to crime to make it triumph,” the prosecutor nevertheless felt that the High Court should consider extenuating circumstances in judging the former prime minister :

« During a certain time it seems that by a curious combination of factors due to his own personality, and the influence of those around him, the accused thought that the party, the nation, and Mamadou Dia enjoyed such intimate communion that one could not touch one without disturbing the others. In his soul and in his conscience he must have thought, “How can one be a good Senegalese when one is against Mamadou Dia?”

The Defense’s Final Word

The measured, dispassionate tones of the prosecutor’s presentation were brought into relief when the attorneys for the defense entered their final plea. In tones ranging from the theatrical gravity of Me. Badinter, Valdiodio N’Diaye’s lawyer, to the quivering Zola-like tones of Me. Baudet, Dia’s attorney, the defense attempted alternately to deny that a coup d’état had been attempted, and to justify the attempt on the rather untenable ground that “it was all a tragic mistake.” Coming on the heels of a hard-hitting, give-and-take debate with the prosecutor during four days of testimony, the lofty words of the French attorneys
defending Mamadou Dia and the four other accused had a hollow
ring.

The defendants themselves were of little help in the final battle. Valdiodio N’Diaye seemed to be the only one genuinely concerned with saving himself from conviction. The other defendants, Dia, Sarr, M’Baye, and Tall, all seemed solely concerned with justifying their actions for posterity. Sarr, apparently disappointed that the prosecutor was willing to withdraw charges against him, in stentorian voice called upon the Court to consider him as the equal, in innocence or guilt, of Mr. Dia. Just to make sure he was driving his point home, he launched into a diatribe against the Senghor government, calling it a police state; but to his chagrin he was cut short by the presiding judge, Joseph M’Baye, when his turn came to speak before the bar, shouted at the judges that he was proud to be at the side of Mamadou Dia during this crisis. Alioune Tall remained as inconspicuous in the final plea as he had throughout most of the trial.

When Mamadou Dia came before the bar he said simply:

« I have only to await calmly the judgment of the High Court. I consider that the charges which have been made against me are unjustified . However I affirm that if my condemnation will serve my country in that it prevents it from falling into ridicule, then I am ready to accept this condemnation now. But I hope that at least my friends will be spared. »

The Court’s Verdict

After an hour and a half of deliberation, the seven judges filed back into the courtroom. In precise tones, Ousmane Goundiam, President of the High Court, read to each of the accused the various charges which had been retained by the Court against him. After each charge, he read the Court’s decision 4.

Mamadou Dia was found guilty on five counts:

  1. Ordering the expulsion of the deputies from the National Assembly
  2. Ordering the arrest of four deputies without warrant
  3. Cutting the telephone lines to the President1s palace
  4. Usurping and illegally retaining military authority
  5. Perpetrating arbitrary acts against several citizens in violation of the Constitution

Ibrahima Sarr was found guilty of complicity on all counts accepted against Mr. Dia.

Joseph M’Baye was found guilty of complicity in the cutting of the telephone lines to the President’s palace.

Valdiodio N’Diaye was found guilty of complicity in the usurpation and illegal retention of military authority.

Alioune Tall was found guilty of complicity in ordering arbitrary acts against several citizens in violation of the Constitution.

The Sentence

Mamadou Dia was condemned to life imprisonment in a military fortress.

Ibrahima Sarr, Joseph M’Baye, and Valdiodio N’Diaye were
each sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment.

Alioune Tall was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and the loss of civil rights for ten years .

Reflections on the Dia Trial

The trial of Mamadou Dia was a difficult experience for the young state of Senegal. It would perhaps have been better if it had never taken place at all; that way the nation might have been spared the agony which this trial inflicted on everyone, and Senegal would not have lost the services of one of its ablest men. But the train of events on December 17, 1962, was such that in the end the trial was the only logical conclusion to a series of actions which had gained a momentum of its own. Once Mamadou Dia took the drastic steps of expelling the deputies from the National Assembly, arresting four of them, and then barricading himself in the Administration Building, he could not retreat. And once Senghor ordered the arrest of Dia and his ministers, the only thing left was to bring them to trial. Thus the two men precipitated a chain reaction which, once started, neither could stop. Yet one cannot help pondering the “ifs” of this case. What might have happened if Mamadou Dia had allowed his government to be voted out of office and then had gone before the National Council at Rufisque on December 20 to present his case to the party; or what the situation would have been if Senghor had agreed with his Prime Minister that a motion of censure was unreceivable during the existing state of emergency.

To a foreigner witnessing this trial there were certain disturbing elements. The quality of justice, embodied in the presiding magistrate’s concern for proper respect for procedure, declined sharply after the first day. Defendants and witnesses were allowed to argue interminably with one another, with but scant attention to the Court to whom they were supposed to address all their remarks. On numerous occasions during the trial, attorneys for the defense interrupted the prosecutor’s discourse, not to express an objection to a point raised, but to deliver orations of their own. Rarely were they called to order or even given so much as a slight reprimand from the hench. At such moments one became sorely aware of the judge’s lack of a gavel.

More disturbing still were the several anomalies arising from the trial itself. With the exception of the presiding magistrate, all of the men who sat in judgment on Mamadou Dia had voted to depose the Dia government; one of them, Théophile James, was himself the author of the censure motion against Dia. Of the 39 deputies who had not participated in the censure vote, not one had been named to serve as a judge. Attempts by counsel for the defense to effect a change in the make-up of the High Court were rejected—by the High Court itself.
Thus good reasons exist for doubting the impartiality of the Court.

Then, too, there was the severity of the sentences — sentences pronounced in spite of the prosecutor’s own moderate closing statement asking the High Court to drop all charges against Sarr and to consider extenuating circumstances in judging Dia and the other defendants. Evidently the Court wanted to make absolutely sure that Dia, Sarr, Valdiodio N’Diaye, and the others would be removed permanently from the Senegalese political scene. Had the death penalty still been in force in Senegal, there is little doubt that an even harsher fate would have been meted out to Dia and perhaps to one or two of the ether defendants.

In view of these facts, it is not surprising that many who were present asked themselves, “Was this a real trial whose object was to search for the truth and then to deal justly with that truth? Or was it a bogus trial—another show trial designed for the gallery and for the foreign press— intended to prove to the world that Senegal was a free and liberal democracy? Was it simply an attempt to discredit Mamadou Dia and throw a mantle of legitimacy over malodorous political acts perpetrated by men who, afraid of Dia, wanted him out of the way at all costs? Men who, certain in advance of the outcome, were willing to stage a public trial to gain their ends ?”

These questions, in all fairness, cannot be answered by a simple “Yes” or “No.” Certainly there were disturbing aspects of this case which would have aroused the doubts of any thinking person about the quality of the justice administered. But there were also other aspects that spoke highly for the Senegalese. No one who attended the trial could fail to be impressed by the openness and conscientiousness with which such basic questions as the validity of the doctrine of party supremacy and the relations between party and government we re discussed. The defense was given every opportunity to express its point of view, frankly and without hindrance, on every pertinent issue and to cross-examine all witnesses. And it availed itself fully of this right—indeed, so much so, that at one point during the defense’s closing plea, one of the attorneys, Omar Diop, used the occasion not so much to defend his client as to deliver a slashing attack against the Senghor administration. Moreover, much to the credit of all of the Senegalese parties concerned, colonialism—the favorite whipping boy in African political trials—was never once so much as mentioned during the five days of the Dia trial.

In a part of the world where passions are easily aroused, where a trial of this sort ran the very real risk of setting off strife between different segments of the nation’s ethnic and religious communities, and where at any given moment anti-government demonstrations might have been inspired, the decision even to hold a trial took a great deal of courage on the part of President Senghor. For those of us foreigners who witnessed it, the trial of Mamadou Dia may not have fulfilled our own private notions of what constitutes justice. Nor, as far as the Senegalese themselves are concerned, may it necessarily have established the right of constitutional law over the doctrine of party supremacy. But one very important thing did emerge from this trial: a principle that even the highest personalities of a nation may be called to answer for their actions before a court of law. For an African country, groping to find its way toward a genuinely liberal democracy, this is a step ahead—a stumbling step perhaps, but also a brave and hopeful one.

Notes
1. Article 24 of the Senegalese Constitution stipulates, among other things, that “The President of the Republic is the Chief of the Armed Forces” (paragraph 7).
2. Article 48, paragraph 2, of the Senegalese Constitution, in force at the time, reads: “In the case of disagreement between the Government and the Assembly, the Supreme Court, at the request of one or the other, gives a ruling within eight days.”
3. The reference here was to General Fall, who had been away on an inspection of military posts in the interior a week before December 17.
4. The High Court’s decisions were in all cases taken by the vote of an absolute majority of its members, determined by secret ballot. The exact vote count on the various charges retained by the High Court against each of the defendants was never made public.

Next, The Trial of Mamadou Dia. Part III: Aftermath of the Trial