Death of Ousmane Sembene
A Final Homage!


With the departure of Ousmane Sembene on June 9, 2007, not only Senegal and Africa but the world of cinema and literature lost one of its most illustrious creators.

O. Sembene was both a classic of African literature, with numerous writings (novels, stories, etc.) of which his most celebrated work is assuredly ‘God’s Bits of Wood’, which has been translated into many languages. His unfaltering attachment to Pan Africanism led him to participate in the foundation of Fespaco [Pan-African Festival of Film and Television] in Burkina Faso.

O. Sembene was also a pioneer of African cinema with many productions that have achieved international success.

But, what many of his admirers are unaware of, Sembene was also a militant engaged in the struggle for the promotion of African national languages. So he also participated in the foundation and animation of the Wolof journal ‘Kaddu’ together with Pathé Diagne, Maguette Thiam, etc. His fight against Senghor around ‘Ceddo’ will remain a serious one in history.

In his literary as well as his cinematographic works, Sembene expresses an engagement in the struggle for the national emancipation of the African peoples, for social justice, against all sorts of discrimination: racial, religious, ethnic, gender. In fact, Sembene in his work often insisted on the need for the emancipation of the African woman, against polygamy, female circumcision, and the many-sided oppression of women.

This is the militant with many faces, fighting for all progressive causes, who left us at the age of 84 years.


Various outstanding dates

Ousmane Sembene was born on January 1, 1923 in Ziguinchor.

In 1942, he was drafted into the French Army and integrated into the Senegalese riflemen.

In 1946, he embarked clandestinely for France and disembarked in Marseille. He became a dock worker, joined the CGT and the French Communist Party. He fought against the war in Indochina and for the independence of Algeria.

In 1956, he published his first story, The Black Docker, which related his experience as a dock worker.

In 1960, in the year of independence, Ousmane Sembene returned to Africa.

In 1961, he enrolled in a cinema school in Moscow.

In 1966 appeared his first feature-length film, The Black …, the first ‘Black African’ feature film.

In 1979, his film Ceddo was banned in Senegal by President Leopold Sedar Senghor, under the pretext of an orthographical ‘error’ in the title of the film. According to Senghor, the term ceddo should be written with only one ‘d’ (Cedo)!

In 1988 his film, The Camp of Thiaroye, paid homage to the Senegalese riflemen and denounced the barbarous repression perpetrated by the French colonial army against the demobilised riflemen, in Thiaroye in 1944. It was censored in France.

In 2000, there opened the three-part film on the ‘everyday heroism’ of the Africans. The first two parts, Faat Kine and Moolade (in 2003 it tackled head-on the very sensitive theme of female circumcision) were dedicated to the African women. The third, The Brotherhood of Rats, is in preparation.

From Pencoo
Journal of the Workers and Popular Movement (Senegal)

Click here to return to the September 2007 index.