Like Sembène Ousmane, telling the story of Africa so that it does not disappear is the wish of Senegalese director Maky Madiba Sylla and French historian Florian Bobin of Senegalese adoption, in their documentary “Le Sénégal révolutionnaire”. Through their next documentary film “Le Sénégal révolutionnaire”, the two acolytes will not only revisit Senegalese history, but will also examine the political history of the country between the 60s, 70s and 80s by focusing on the major actors of this period. Their objective, through their production house “Linkering Production”, is to portray edifying events by revealing the underground, clandestine and suffocated history, different from the official history known and taught. Political figures like Amath Dansokho, Ala Kane or Diallo Diop who were part of the so-called incendiary group and then the founding members of the RND, the National Democratic Rally of Sheikh Anta Diop, others like Eugénie Rokhaya Aw N’Diaye who were part of the group of AND JEFF will be as many actors and actresses in their singular diversity and over several generations whose revolutionary history will be told in this unpublished documentary film. The other objective of this revision of this memory history is to allow the young generation to access this Senegalese political and social heritage. Ze-Africanews went to meet the two directors for an exclusive interview.
Ze-Africanews: Hello, can you introduce yourself?
Florian Bobin: So my name is Florian Bobin. I am a researcher in African History and I have been leading the liberation struggles and state violence in Senegal for several years now at the turn of independence and then in the post-independence periods, from 1960 to the 1970s.
Maky Madiba Sylla: I am Maky Madiba sylla, director of the documentary film ‘Revolutionary Senegal’. As Florian said so well, so it’s about left movements and struggles for independence.
Ze-Africanews: How did you come to be interested in the Senegalese revolution?
Florian Bobin: I have already spent a good part of my childhood and adolescence in Senegal. And wherever we were, I could see the prominence of history and it was by studying stories that I really realized that there was a part of the history of Senegal and more broadly of Africa that was quite unknown, it was the slope, that is to say that apart from the official history, there is a little the underground history, the underground history, a little bit of the suffocated history. And so I became more and more interested in particular through a figure Omar Blondin Diop, it was a bit my gateway on this period.
Ze-Africanews: How did your meeting with Florian go?
Maky Madiba Sylla: So Flo, Flo, we were friends on facebook. I think it’s following a comment I made about Amath Dansokho where I said that the fact that he disappeared without having a film about him was still a muse. And I would like to correct this shot and then I had noted that I wanted to make a film on this very period about Monsieur Dansokho, and on this period that is rather little known, rather little known, about Senghor, about troture during this period and it is subsequently that Flo contacted me, I read his articles and then we exchanged a lot on the subject and it was afterwards that we wanted to deepen things.
Ze-Africanews: You set up your production company? Why?
Florian Bobin: the idea behind the production house that Maky launched in 2017, if I’m not mistaken, was precisely in an effort to transmit the intangible heritage of the African continent, and really that the history of the continent is known by a much wider audience and that it is put on the screen because we know that today screens are very important. And as important as it is to write obviously but as important as it is to see the actors and actresses of this time and to see through a screen the story in movement.
Ze-Africanews: You are going to realize “Le Sénégal révolutionnaire” which are the main actors that will intervene in this project?
Florian Bobin: This project covers about a quarter of a century of history from the mid-1950s to the very early 1980s. In short, the restructuring of the French colonial empire and then the independence and all the years of the presidency of Léopold Sédar Senghor. And so the main actors and actresses will be those who lived this period in the struggle, that is to say those and those who lived underground. So we think of people like Ala Kane who was part of the African Independence Party, people like Diallo Diop who were part of the so-called arsonists and then the founding members of the RND, the National Democratic Gathering of Sheikh Anta Diop. We also really think of actresses like Eugénie Aw who was part of the AND JEFF group that went to prison and was tortured in prison. And so, it is actors and actresses in their diversity over several generations but who played a very important role in Senegal that we know today that despite the contemporary democratic excesses, the democratic achievements from 1980, If we are talking about the integral multiparty system under Abdou Diouf, it is because there were struggles.
Ze-Africanews: You want to engrave the history of Senegal, let’s say, how did you come up with the idea of making documentary films related to the history of Senegal?
Maky Madiba Sylla: Because I was actually frustrated. I was very frustrated. Because when I watch our TV programs, there’s a lot of dancing, there’s a lot of singing, but there’s very little thinking around themes that for me are fundamental. To know one’s history is to know oneself. Because it is important for the challenges of the future that Africans can understand their history or their stories in the plural. When we talk about a figure like Omar Blondin Diop, when we talk about other figures such as President Wade or Senghor or all those people who had to play a key role in the political and historical development of Senegal as well, it is important to engrave them in the film so that the young generations can know their history. This is a feeling of frustration that has been with me for a few years now, because when I look at “Arte”, I see that the whole history of France, of the Europe of the world itself ofwhich prevents us Africans from telling our own story whether in the political field, whether in the cultural field or elsewhere. It is important that the Senegalese who was born in 2000 can have a film that shows him what happened in 60. Why were the events of 1963? What led to the breakup of the Federation of Mali? So on and so on! And many other historical acts that we paint the picture of but we avoid going to the bottom. For me, when a country like Senegal, a personality, a character like Cheikh Anta Diop, if you stay forty years to have a film about Cheikh Anta Diop, it says a lot about what we are, so it’s trying to fill that gap and then be in transmission. I want to transmit through the image. The book is good, but we realize that this youth reads very little on the other hand they are very screen, they are very tablet, they are very portable, they are very TV so let’s try to bring them what they need.
Ze-Africanews: What are the difficulties in making this project “Revolutionary Senegal” a reality?
Florian Bobin: There are several difficulties. Obviously one of the main difficulties is the financial difficulty. It is not easy to have donors and even if there is one, it is not always easy to access them. Often, unfortunately, the most accessible donors, although we obviously have to put in place fairly substantial files, are international donors. So it’s the financial aspect because as much as this story is Senegalese but it’s an international story and so to tell this story you also have to come to France, you have to go ideally to Cuba, even in the sub-region in Senegal, There is Mali, Guinea Conakry, etc. There is the big issue of archives because if we want to highlight the history of the African continent through the 1960s and 1970s, at the time the national televisions did not exist and even though they had been founded did not yet have a sector and an archive section which means that the vast majority if not almost all of these archives are in European funds of which a fund public which is called the National Audiovisual Institute which asks African artists and filmmakers, African pay out to recover and screen images of their own history. To have an idea, for about a minute of archive in a documentary, it takes about 1000 euros. That is to say, for a documentary lasting between 52 and 90 minutes, if we want to put in 30 minutes of archives, we have to pay 30,000 euros, which has that money, that’s it. That’s a challenge, and it’s primarily financial. Then there are memory issues. There are issues of remobilization, shaking that memory there, it’s not an easy thing because it’s an underground, clandestine story, so it can also harm certain interests. But I think one of the main issues is really the financial issue.
Ze-Africanews: A specific message to Senegalese youth in particular in relation to what you do and then to African youth?
Maky Madiba Sylla: I will summarize your question using the famous expression of the father of African cinema who is Sembène Ousmane. Semben Ousmane tells us: “If you don’t tell us about Africa, it will disappear.”
Ze-Africanews: You who married Africa in your heart, Senegal in particular, What message do you send to the Senegalese African youth in particular through this memorial work that you are carrying out with your fellow Senegalese friend as well?
Florian Bobin: I think I realize what’s at stake here. It is often when works are made that we become aware of the importance of history, but it is on a daily basis. Just a year ago, there was the assasinat of Georges Floyd, in the United States, there were all the mobilizations against police violence both in the United States and here in France. And one realizes the pregnancy of history, also of the Afro-memorial which can be someone who walks in the street and who in that street and in the subway, sees names like Faidherbe, Bugot as Gallieni. And that here in France as elsewhere in Senegal, there are Jules Ferry streets, it was nevertheless the one who set up the compulsory and free secular school here in France but it is the one who defended in the National Assembly the supposed inferiority of the African races, of the black races in any case the hierarchy between the white and black races. And so it is to realize the importance of history and how this history continues to have an impact today and obviously to master one’s destiny, one must master one’s history and one’s past.