A Senegalese Citizen

Bousso Dramé, a young Senegalese winner of a French prize tells the organizers of a prize to shove it.

Cristian Leonardo, "Dakar." Via Flickr CC.

Bousso Dramé is a young Senegalese woman who recently won a French language competition organized by the French Institute of Senegal. She was awarded a return flight ticket to Paris and a training in documentary film-making for winning the competition. She however renounced the whole thing after finding herself on the receiving end of vexing and humiliating comments from employees of the French Institute and of the French Consulate in Dakar.

This could have ended there and nobody would have ever known about it. But unlike those who have been in her shoes before her, Bousso Dramé penned a candid and eloquent open letter to the French Consul-General in Senegal, first published on DakarActu and later republished on Rue89, that has been making the rounds of the French-speaking African net. This letter, translated in English below with her consent, explains politely but firmly why France can keep the visa, the flight ticket and the training.

She makes clear that her decision, in her own words, is “not a sanction against individuals but against a generalized system” in which visa applicants are met with suspicion and contempt before anything else, and that she renounces “in the name of those thousands of Senegalese who deserve respect”. Those words have brought her much praise from fellow anonymous visa applicants and Africans in general. They have however been met with more interrogations than approval from French readers who have been asking what she is referring to exactly.

Indeed her letter speaks volume to those who already know what she is putting her finger on but appears elusive to those who do not. She did go into more details in the interview that she gave to Jeune Afrique. More than the clerk at the French Consulate who reportedly told her “she wasn’t paid to hand out smiles” — the kind of rudeness one can face in any (French) administration no matter who you are, it is the “recommendations” from French Institute staffers that are most telling: because she would be “representing the French Institute”, she would have to “behave” and resist “shopping temptations” despite a “very generous per diem”. The concerned White man telling the little Black girl to keep clear of his world’s niceties for fear she be bedazzled into oblivion … Sounds familiar yet?

But that’s not all. What Bousso Dramé faced was not just your run-of-the-mill neocolonial paternalism, she also got a taste of the discrimination faced by many migrants applying for visas when her request to stay three days longer than the training required, to visit friends and family, was denied. “Nobody looks like a prototype of illegal migrant,” she was told, implying that anything out of the tightly controlled schedule was suspicious activity, meant to evade the authorities and remain in France.

This kind of behavior is not just morally appalling. It also goes to show how out of touch with the reality of migrations French authorities are. Despite the pervasiveness of migrant bashing in French political discourse, all evidence points to the fact that migrants contribute more to their host country economically than they receive. In other words the idea that one more migrant in the country is one less job for a French national is deluded: it is not a zero-sum game as has been proven in the UK and in the US. In fact the reason the last OECD report found that France was currently an exception to this rule is not because there are too many migrants but because, after large numbers in the 60’s, immigration declined in the 80’s, making it more difficult to pay for the previous generation. “Raising employment levels for migrants would actually increase the fiscal well-being of countries.”

Bousso Dramé represents the future of Senegal: young, highly educated and determined. It is with people like her that France and other former colonial powers will talk and negotiate ten years from now. Singing the praises of this young new African middle class generation is easy on paper, and we have seen plenty of that recently. Yet when time comes to act on it, this generation is met with the same harrowing attitude as its forebears. Except times have changed and the Bousso Dramés of the continent are unafraid to say “no, thank you” and move on without France. As far as Senegal is concerned, this is all very good news and confirmation that the Nouveau Type de Sénégalais called forth by Y’En A Marre comes in all shapes and sizes. It is however a pity and an outrage that France has not yet come to terms with such a simple reality. The letter follows below.


Open letter to the French consular and diplomatic authorities in Senegal: No, thank you.

To His Excellency the Consul-General, To the Director of the French Institute of Senegal,

My name is Bousso Dramé and I am a Senegalese citizen who, on this day, has decided to put pen to paper so that a message that I care deeply about can be heard loud and clear.

Out of interest for the language of Molière, I decided last April to take part in the 2013 National Spelling Competition organized by the French Institute as part the Francophonie Prizes. The competition brought together a few hundred candidates, aged 18 to 35, in the French Institutes of Dakar and Saint-Louis as well as the French Alliances of Kaolack and Ziguinchor. After some written dueling about an excerpt of L’Art Français de la Guerre [The French Art of War] by Alexis Jenni, which received the 2011 Goncourt Prize, I had the honor to be declared the winner of said competition. I was rewarded with a Dakar-Paris-Dakar flight ticket and a CultureLab training in documentary film-making at the Albert Schweitzer Centre.

During my short life, while being open as the citizen of the world that I am, I have never ceased to defend my pride of being a Black and African woman. It goes without saying that I absolutely believe in the bright future of my dear Africa. I am equally convinced of the necessity to put an end to prejudices that prevailed about Africans and Africa due to the colonial era and the difficult contemporary situation of this continent. It is high time for Africans to respect themselves and to demand they be respected by others. This vision of a certainly generous and open, but also proud and determined, Africa, demanding the respect that it is owed and that it has been denied for far too long, is a strong conviction of mine that enables me and literally carries me forward.

However, during my numerous interactions with, on the one hand, some staff members of the French Institute and, on the other hand, civil servants at the French Consulate, I have had to deal with conscending, insidious, sly and vexating behaviors and remarks. Not once, nor twice but multiple times! I have really tried to ignore these behaviors but the appalling welcome I have been greeted with at the French Consulate (a “welcome”endured by most fellow Senegalese applying for visas) has been the last straw that, unfortunately, broke the camel’s back.

As an authentic individual who does not know how to cheat, a difficult but necessary decision became an obvious one for me. An all-expenses-paid trip, even the world’s most beautiful and enchanting one, is not worth the suffering that my fellow citizens and myself endure from the French Consulate. No matter how exciting the training, and God knows this one really appealed to me, it is not worth the pain of enduring these kinds of behavior unfortunately widespread under African skies. As a matter of coherence with my own value system, I have, therefore, decided to renounce that offer, despite being granted a visa.

Renounce symbolically. Renounce in the name of those thousands of Senegalese who deserve respect, a respect they are being denied within the walls of these French representations, and on Senegalese soil moreover.

This decision is not a sanction against individuals but against a generalized system which, despite the ever-increasing list of complaints from my fellow citizens, does not seem inclined to question itself.

Furthermore, I find it particularly ironic that the partial headline of the training that I will not attend reads: “Is France still the homeland of human rights? To what point are French citizens also European cizens and cizitens of the world?” It would be, without a doubt, an interesting subject for a documentary shot from an African perspective and I hope that I will have the chance, by way of other means, to participate in a CultureLab training in the future.

I shall thank the French Institute nonetheless, for this competition initiative, which in my opinion deserves to continue to exist, and even to be held more frequently in order to stimulate the intellectual emulation between young Senegalese and for the pleasure of those who love the French language, among which I count myself.

To the lady clerk at the France Consulate’s visa counter – I do not know your name, but regarding that visa that I will not be using, let me tell you: no, thank you.

Proudly, sincerely and Africanly yours, Bousso Dramé.

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The Mogadishu analogy

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Kwame Nkrumah today

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