BY LÉOPOLD SÉDAR SENGHOR
FIRST PRESIDENT OF SENEGAL  (IN OFFICE  1960 – 1980)

Léopold Sédar SenghorLéopold Sédar Senghor (1906 – 2001)

The following is an English translation of a speech made by Léopold Sédar Senghor at the Presidential Palace in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, at a dinner honouring His Highness the Aga Khan. The speech was reported by Dakar Matin on March 20, 1968. The translation was published in Ismailia Association for Tanzania’s weekly magazine Ismaili Crescent, dated September 8, 1968.

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“What we admire in you is that you have been able to integrate a modern outlook with religion so that religion has been allowed its true role which is not merely to provide an all-embracing explanation of the universe but also to furnish the fundamental solutions of the problems which life poses us.” – the late President Senghor

Prince,

We are particularly happy to receive you in Dakar on an official visit because you are a friend known to us for a long time, because you are a leader of the Muslim religion and finally because you are a modern gentleman.

Yes, it was ten years ago when first we knew you at Chantilly. Already on leaving adolescence behind, you had the seriousness of a man called upon to bear responsibility. But you also had — and you have not lost it — “Smile of a Prince” of which Saint Exupery speaks, ‘that smile which comprises all that is most important, that smile which is the expression of friendship’.

However, that we are receiving you here officially and not just as a friend because you are an important leader of the Muslim religion. The members of your faith are counted in their millions. In a sense, therefore, Senegal is your home.

That we are honouring you as a religious leader above and beyond differences of sect and faith is because since culture has been for us the beginning and the end of development, religion as its highest expression must also be so.

What we admire in you above all is that you have been able to integrate a modern outlook with religion so that religion has been allowed its true role which is not merely to provide an all-embracing explanation of the universe but also to furnish the fundamental solutions of the problems which life poses us.

(tribute continues after photo)

19610407_Aga Khan and President Senghor at Senegal Independence Day Celebrations in DakarThe Aga Khan and President Senghor pictured in Dakar  on Senegal’s Independence Day celebration on April 7, 1961. Photo: Ismailimail.

It does not surprise us that your renowned personality is so great in Africa, that heads of state everywhere south of the Sahara greet you as a friend and counsellor. Even before Independence, you were equal to your responsibilities as a religious leader. In our peaceful struggle to recover our liberty, you, though an Asian or rather because an Asian, were always at our side.

I know that Islam, a universal religion which preaches brotherhood and equality overriding distinctions of race, caste and class has helped you here. But you also asked the member of your faith wherever they were to be found — and this again was long before Independence — to join us, to be ‘Africans with Africans’.

And once we had recovered our liberty, you recommended them to become active citizens of the countries which had given them hospitality. You have done more. Everywhere you have helped works of charity to flourish. You have done further. Whenever you could, you have favoured those productive investments which alone makes a modern state.

Prince, tomorrow, you are going to leave us. We have but one regret, not to have received you as we would have wished. I do not talk of material things, I speak of feeling, of attentions, of smiles, these things which constitute the truest hospitality.

Believe me, on leaving Senegal, you will leave behind only friends, only regrets and each time you have an occasion to visit us, you will be received as a great friend.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I call upon you to raise you glasses of drink to the health of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, to the prosperity of Ismaili community, and to the co-operation of monotheistic religions throughout the world.

Date posted: March 18, 2017.

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Léopold Sédar SenghorLéopold Sédar Senghor (9 October 1906 – 20 December 2001) served as the first President of Senegal after the country gained its independence in 1960. He was re-elected to the office on 3 occasions in 1963, 1968, and 1973, remaining in office until his retirement in 1980.He achieved major success as a poet, politician, and intellectual, and had a truly unique identity among African leaders. His development from tribal member in Senegal, to scholar in France, to head of the government back in Senegal made him a symbol of Africa’s shift from colonial domination to self-determination. He was born in Senegal’s predominantly Islamic province of Joal, and was raised as a Roman Catholic. He died at the age of 95. (Profile adapted from http://www.africansuccess.org).

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