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Past and Present

Past and Present: An Overlooked History of Tolerance


During President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Africa, he made a stop in the West African nation of Senegal. Traditionally, the U.S. press corps’ coverage of Africa has tended to focus on military coups, religious and ethnic conflicts, and the AIDS epidemic. Because of this, Senegal, a former French colony, has fallen through the cracks of American media scrutiny.

Specifically, Senegal has never experienced a military coup and has held democratically-based elections since gaining independence in 1960. Moreover, while approximately 95% of its inhabitants are Muslims, the country has a tradition of religious tolerance.

In fact, the first President of Senegal after independence was Leopold Senghor, a Christian poet and intellectual who was one of the developers of the important cultural theory of Négritude.

Similar to many developing nations, Senegal has its share of economic challenges related to building a viable national infrastructure. I’m presently involved with a commercial project that seeks to provide portable solar-powered lighting devices to villages in the Senegalese countryside. There are many parts of the country that are not on the electrical grid.

During a visit to Senegal in late Spring of 2012, I saw first-hand how challenging it will be to widely distribute this source of affordable lighting. Nevertheless, despite the obstacles Senegal faces in its nation-building process, its traditions of tolerance and cooperation should serve it well as it moves to the future.

Moreover, on a hill overlooking the capital city of Dakar is a stunning monument depicting “the African Renaissance.” This serves as a constant source of inspiration to those seeking to strengthen Senegal’s and Africa’s place in world affairs.