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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 17:50 GMT
Senegal's 'poet president' dies
Leopold Sedar Senghor (left)
Mr Senghor left a legacy of free thinking in Senegal
Mark Doyle

The founding father of independent Senegal, Leopold Sedar Senghor, has died at the age of 95.

Mr Senghor, who was the country's first president after it gained independence from France, died at home in France on Thursday, a presidential spokesman said in Senegal.

Poetry has lost a master, Senegal a statesman, Africa a visionary and France a friend

Jacques Chirac
As one of the first African leaders to allow democracy and a free press, Mr Senghor was a pioneer.

He was also one of the first African presidents to retire gracefully. In 1981 after 20 years in power he handed over to his prime minister.

Mr Senghor lived long enough to see one remarkable result of his political liberalism.

In the year 2000 in a thoroughly democratic election in Senegal, the long standing opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade, who had been a thorn in Senghor's side for many years, won the presidency.

French links

Such an event is still unthinkable in most African countries where authoritarianism is the rule.

Leopold Sedar Senghor achieved other firsts as well.

Leopold Sedar Senghor
Senghor was a respected poet

A poet and scholar when not being a politician, he was the first black African to join the elite French literary institute, the Academie Francaise.

His critics said he was too close to Senegal's former colonial power, France, and taunted him for being a black Frenchman rather than an African.

He replied that a very poor country like Senegal needs powerful friends, even neo-colonial ones.

Leopold Sedar Senghor left a legacy of free thinking and free debate in Senegal - a legacy which still marks it out as a very unusual African state.

The BBC's Mark Doyle
"He was one of the first African leaders to allow democracy and a free press"
Editor of African Analysis, Ahmed Rajab
"He was of course a politician, although a reluctant one"
See also:

20 Mar 01 | Africa
Senegal: A year of President Wade
20 Mar 00 | Africa
Senegal votes for change
23 Dec 98 | French in Africa
France - superpower or sugar daddy?
14 May 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Senegal
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