The Trial of Mamadou Dia, Dakar 1963. Part III


Closing ceremony of the Ouakam airforce base. Dakar, 2011. The French flag is lowered as Senegal’s flag is raised. — BlogGuinée

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

Read  The Emergence of Black Politics in Senegal: 1900-1920
The Trial of Mamadou Dia. Part I: Background of the Case
The Trial of Mamadou Dia. Part II: The Proceedings in Court, May 7, 1963

Tierno S. Bah

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 . 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 . 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.

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.

Previous articles,  The Trial of Mamadou Dia. Part II: The Proceedings in Court, May 7, 1963
The Trial of Mamadou Dia. Part I: Background of the Case

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Author: Tierno Siradiou Bah

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