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I Am Not Discouraged:Leopold Senghor, former President of Senegal

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Léopold Sédar Senghor, 77, the former President of Senegal (1960-80), is a poet, a philosopher and one of Africa’s most respected elder statesmen. He is among the few Africans ever nominated for a Nobel Prize, and last year was elected to the prestigious French Academy for his contributions to politics and literature. Senghor is also a member of an even more exclusive group: he is one of three African leaders who have relinquished power voluntarily.* In an interview with TIME Correspondent John Borrell in Dakar, he discussed Africa’s past and how it has shaped the present.

On Independence. In the 1950s and 1960s it was natural to be romantic and believe that independence would solve all our problems. Then we were too optimistic; now we often tend to be too pessimistic. In reality, the colonizing powers did not prepare us for independence. Today we need to think methodically and formulate an economic and social development plan on both the worldwide and national levels.

On Africa’s Economic Problems. In spite of everything, I am not discouraged. We have started a dialogue with the rest of the world. We need each other, and we can complement one another. We are beginning to make progress through associations like the one that links the European Community with more than 60 African, Asian and Pacific countries. Perhaps more needs to be done in the future about population growth. For us it is not an easy problem to solve. We love large families. But some progress is being made.

On East-West Tensions. As long as France and Britain had colonial empires, the [cold] war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. could not be waged here. Since then, the struggle between capitalism and Marxism has been transferred to Africa. Mostly it is the Soviet Union’s fault. Its most dynamic representative is [Libya’s Colonel Muammar] Gaddafi, who is responsible for a lot of the trouble in many parts of Africa.

On Human Rights Abuses. One should not look at the problem in racial terms and say, “Well, naturally, they are blacks.” Let us take South America. The majority of the population is white, and yet South America, be it politically or economically, is hardly more advanced than we are. There are dictatorships in South America, and the prisons are full.

On Coups. They are the result of the perversion of the colonial system, which encouraged us to keep the personality cult and the spirit of dictatorship. That was the nature of colonial power. The frequency of coups in Africa is the result of the backwardness in civilization that colonization represented. There are indeed many, many dictatorships. But there are exceptions: look at the Ivory Coast and Cameroon, just to name two. I am concerned about the frequency of coups. We are too docile, allowing ourselves to be influenced by the Americans, the Soviets or even the French and the British. What we should all be fighting for is democratic socialism. And the first task of socialism is not to create social justice. It is to establish working democracies.

* The others: former President Ahmadou Ahidjo of Cameroon and Nigeria’s former military leader, General Olusegun Obasanjo.

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