The presence of colonial symbols in Africa is still a sensitive subject. The recent controversy about the statue of former colonial leader Louis Faidherbe in Senegal is a good example.
A few weeks ago, heavy rains in the city of Saint Louis in Senegal caused some damages, including the fall of a statue. The story could have stopped there, but it didn’t.
Instead, it sparked a controversy because it is not just any statue. It’s the statue of a former colonial leader: Louis Faidherbe (French governor of Senegal in the 1800s).
When the statue fell, many Senegalese people saw a positive sign and said that it should be replaced with a monument paying tribute to a local historical figure.
Despite protests, the Ministry of Culture of Senegal reinstalled the statue a few days ago claiming that the city of Saint-Louis was a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the statue was thus part of Senegal’s heritage.
And this story shows that the presence of colonial-era symbols is still a sensitive subject. And these symbols are scattered across the continent, it’s not just statues.
The names of countries and cities for example. Some countries have decided to change their names inherited from colonization. This is the case, for example, with Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe or cities such as Leopoldville, named after the King of the Belgians, who became Kinshasa.
In English-speaking countries there are relics of British colonialism in the courts. With funny blond wigs (symbol of the English legal system) still worn today by judges and lawyers in countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe or Nigeria.
So in this rather passionate debate, there are those who think that some relics of colonization are offensive and must be removed. And on the other side, there are those who feel that this colonial history, however painful it may be, can not be erased.
It is the opinion of historian Doulaye Konaté, president of the association of African historians. According to him, a solution could be to give more acknowledgment to national historical figures, but above all to better teach colonial history.
And this debate on colonial or slavery symbols does not affect only Africa. Western countries are also concerned.
Remember a few months ago in Charlottesville in the United States there were demonstrations of white supremacists. They were protesting against the city’s decision to withdraw the statue of General Lee, a warlord who was in the camp of the slave-owners during the American Civil War (from 1861 and 1865 the northern states of the United States who wanted to abolish slavery fought against the southern states that wanted to maintain it).
Sethembile Msezane is a South African artist. Her country is full of monuments paying tribute to personalities that have played a role in creating and maintaining apartheid. And this artist had had enough to find these symbols in her daily life. She wanted to protest in her own way by posing as a living statue. She aimed to create a debate on all these apartheid monuments in public places in South Africa.