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Critic of Africa’s dependency on aid dies

Senegal’s leading film maker and author Ousmane Sembène, who was a staunch critic of Africans taking aid from the West, is dead.

His films and books often touched on issues of colonialism and Western racism but his subject always focused on what Africans need to do for themselves.

“The one theme running through all his work was that Africans need to stand up and take responsibility for their actions,” Gnilan Ndiaye an authority on Senegalese culture told IRIN on Monday.

Sembène’s most outspoken film about Africa’s dependency on western aid, ‘Guelwaar’ (1992) equates it with prostitution. In one scene in the film African leaders are seen applauding Western donors for giving them free food aid until the protagonist embarrasses them by saying, “You are applauding your own shame.”

The food is later sold to profit the leaders and the protagonist dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances.

At his funeral a female relative turns up who is a prostitute. “She is looked down on by the people at the funeral but Sembene shows us that she at least is only selling herself while the African leaders are selling out their whole nation,” said Ndiaye.

Some of Sembène’s films were banned in Senegal as well as in France.

Born on 1 January, 1923 in southern Senegal’s Casamance region, Sembène had little formal education, starting work at age 14 as a fisherman and auto mechanic. He was drafted by the French Army in World War II then worked as a dockworker in Marseilles after which he wrote ‘Le docker noir’ the first of his many acclaimed books. He also became a trade unionist and member of the French Communist Party until 1961 when he went to Moscow to study filmmaking.

Sembène was influenced by the Marxist-based ‘dependence theory’ which was popular in the years following Africa’s independence. The premise of the theory was that wealthy nations need Africa to remain impoverished as a way for them to sustain their wealth.

Dependency theorists lobbied African governments to block foreign investment and imports and to promote domestic industry. While the theory was largely superseded by liberal free-market policies, Sembène’s death comes at a time when Western aid policies are under intense scrutiny.

Former World Bank director Paul Collier recent stated in his book The Bottom Billion, that foreign aid has kept countries locked into a cycle of underdevelopment. Former International Monetary Fund official, William Easterly, has published many scathing attacks on multilateral development policies.

Sembène advocated for Africans as individual to stand up for themselves and as a feminist said that the liberation of women was key to the development of African society. In Ceddo (1977) a story set in pre-colonial times, a Senegalese princess is the only person in the community willing to resist Islamic and western domination.

Sembène’s last film ‘Moolaadé’ (2004) tells the story of African women fighting against the practice of female genital cutting.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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