While one of the tallest world leaders, the former president of Senegal is celebrated for far more than his height. At seventy-eight years old, Diouf is the current secretary general of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, more commonly known as La Francophonie. Born to a postal worker in Senegal, Diouf studied law before devoting his life to civil service. As a spokesman for French-speaking nations everywhere, Diouf’s life and career has been inspirational on many fronts and his sponsorship of various causes and programs is exemplary. Diouf, in spite of his respected tenure as leader of Francophonie, has indicated he will not run for executive office again. Experts appear to agree that finding a replacement with his talent and repute will be difficult.
Diouf: The Early Years
Born in Louga, Senegal in 1935, Diouf is a devout Muslim. His mother was a Hal Pulaar while his father was a Serere. His birthplace of Louga is located in the northwest of the country not far from the coast and the coastal city of Saint-Louis. He studied as a child and secondary student in Saint-Louis before heading to Dakar, the capital and most populous city in Senegal, to follow a law degree at university. He also spent some time at the Sorbonne in Paris during his course. He graduated in 1959 and then began his career in the civil service and politics.
Politics à la Senegal
During the 1960s, Diouf aligned himself with the Senegalese Progressive Union, the ruling party. The party was led first by Ousmane Tanor Dieng and then the poet Léopold Sédar Senghor, who served as the Senegalese President. The party would eventually call itself the Socialist Party of Senegal. In 1961 Diouf gained a governorship. He served as a territorial governor before catching the notice of Senghor. In 1962 Diouf was asked to serve as Director of the Cabinet of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He continued to move up the ranks in the government and next served as Director of the Cabinet of President and then Secretary-General of the Presidency, a role he took on in 1964 and continued until 1968. He then progressed to the role of the Minister of Planning and Industry before becoming Prime Minister in 1970.
As Senghor’s protégé, Diouf was presented the role of prime minister so that he might begin to cement his personal power base. Senghor groomed Diouf in many ways so few were surprised when the president resigned in 1981 and the position taken up by Diouf. Diouf’s early period the presidency was known for its liberalism. He opened channels for more opposition parties to participate in the nation’s political scene. This turned out to be a strategic move. The opposition became increasingly fractured allowing Diouf’s party to secure a strong majority. Diouf served as president until 2000 when he peaceably conceded defeat and turned the presidency over to his long-time opponent Abdoulaye Wade. On a continent where violence accompanies a change in presidency, Diouf’s peaceful transfer of power is viewed as a model for the region and the African continent.
As a leader with immense experience on the political stage, it was a logical transition for Diouf to take the helm of Francophonie, an organization dedicated to promote all French-speaking nations. As both president of Francophonie and former president of Senegal he has also participated in important causes such as promoting AIDS awareness.
As leader of Francophonie, Diouf has worked for peace and political stability amongst French-speaking nations and their neighbours. The organisation has an integral role in promoting networking between member nations. By fostering political stability and cooperation, the organisation can also nurture economic pursuits of member countries including trade agreements.
During his career as both the leader of Senegal and Francophonie, Diouf has gained notoriety for his strides in the field of healthcare for the people of Senegal and French-speaking nations. For instance, under Diouf’s leadership Senegal became the first nation on the continent to meet the World Health Organisation’s goals for childhood immunisations. Diouf’s policies were successful in controlling the spread of AIDS in Senegal even as disease statistics ballooned in other African nations. Through concerted campaigns that promoted safe sex, Senegal was able to contain the AIDS epidemic to a little as two percent. No world leader is without critics, of course, but Diouf is widely revered for his contributions to both his homeland and the Francophonie organisation.
Who will fill Diouf’s Shoes?
At this time the only person to express an interest in serving as leader of Francophonie has been Michaëlle Jean, the former Governor General of Canada, a Haitian-born woman who was forced to flee to Quebec in 1968 to escape the Duvalier regime. She may have a difficult time in in being appointed to the role, however, as it has historically been filled by a former leader of a developing nation. It remains to be seen if Diouf will endorse anyone in particular. Many French and Creole-speaking nations are waiting to see who will have the vision and energy and skills to build on the programmes that Diouf has so successfully implemented for The Francophonie member nations.
The French language has been a key thread that has brought many nations together. Diouf has been integral in weaving this thread. As an important leader of his times and, in so many ways, a model presidential leader of a nation, Diouf has certainly earned his right to retirement. He has much to be proud of.