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State Dinner - Senegal

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State Dinner hosted by His Excellency Abdoulaye Wade,
President of the Republic of Senegal

Dakar (Senegal), Thursday, April 15, 2010

I would like to start by saying how delighted I am. Delighted to be with you here today as I begin my third big trip to Africa. Delighted to once again find myself in the land of my ancestors, where I made my first State visits as Governor General of Canada in 2006, traveling from coast to coast, from Algeria to South Africa, passing through Mali, Ghana and Morocco.

I returned in 2009 to Liberia, at the invitation of the first female president in Africa, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, to take part in the International Colloquium on Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, Peace and Security, during which I also had the pleasure of meeting with you, Excellency. And I am looking forward to picking up our conversation where we left off, this time more attuned to the beating heart of this country and to the people we care about.

I have not come alone. The delegation accompanying me and I are especially pleased to be here this year, the fiftieth anniversary of Senegal’s independence. Thank you for the warm welcome you have given us.

To all the Senegalese people—the children, the youth, the seniors—who crowded the sidewalks along our entire route, and who blessed us with their smiles, their songs, they dances and their presence, we would like to say thank you for the very sincere “Téranga.” The people of Senegal are so kind-hearted, as we quickly learned on our first day here. 

Canada’s first State visit to Senegal is a wonderful opportunity to emphasize the strong ties of friendship and collaboration our two countries have established since Senegal attained independence in 1960, under the presidency of Léopold Sédar Senghor, poet, academician, and one of the founders of the international Francophonie. 

We must celebrate the precious ties that unite us, remembering that Senghor so rightly defined Negritude as an openness to and about others.

He explained that it was first a matter of rooting yourself in the virtues of black people, then of growing and flowering before opening yourself to the fertilizing pollens of other people and civilizations.

I must say, this idea comes to mind every time I visit Africa, as I believe it is the expression of a great desire for the emergence of a world in which Africa’s unique and diverse contribution is finally recognized.

I am proud to say this here in Senegal, and in front of you, Excellency, a pre-eminent figure on this continent teeming with desire for a renaissance.

Africa is a continent whose promises—great, but still misjudged—clearly contradict the Afro-pessimism to which people often try to confine this generous land—the cradle of humanity—and its energetic, determined children.

I have come to once again applaud each step forward, each accomplishment. I have come to once again fill up on these promises, rich in the vision of the elders, rich in the relentless work of the people, rich in a generation of young people who are the leaders of today and tomorrow, young people who must be given every possible mean to succeed and play an active, confident role in what Senghor called the civilization of the universal.

President Wade, in your speech to the nation this past New Year’s Eve, you stressed the importance of not abandoning youth to “adventure” or the ravages of predators who traffic children, exposing them to the devastation of drugs and endless danger. These numerous predators criminally exploit children and their labour, leaving them at the mercy of the streets.

We share your conviction that we must let the light of knowledge guide young people’s journey.

I would like to take this opportunity to applaud the daycare concept and initiative, like the one I visited earlier today.

Young people are a vital and irreplaceable resource.

It is in that spirit that Canadian aid to Senegal concentrates mainly on basic education, technical and vocational training, and literacy, especially for girls and women.

Canada is also Senegal’s largest donor in terms of the important sector of education.

The Canadian International Development Agency is working hard with its Senegalese partners to help ensure food security, to implement a sustainable agri-food industry, to adapt financial services to the needs of small producers in rural areas, and to make it easier to deliver government services at the local level.

This is our way of helping to ensure that Senegal achieves food self-sufficiency, which is your greatest wish, President Wade.

Central to the values Canada and Senegal share are the rule of law, the respect of human rights, democracy and freedom of expression—values both our countries promote within multilateral organizations like the United Nations and the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, which President Senghor helped to found, as I said earlier, and of which former President Diouf is the current Secretary-General.

Canada also appreciates our effective military cooperation, as well as Senegal’s important contributions to peacekeeping missions Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In addition, trade between our two countries is expanding. Canada is proud of the success of its companies in Senegal and would like to ensure that economic development does not take place to the detriment of social responsibility, or to the detriment of local populations or to the detriment of the environment.  

Over the next few days, the delegation accompanying me and I will have the pleasure of meeting with dynamic members of Senegal’s society, especially young people and women, without whom Africa’s present would be unbearable, and its future unthinkable.

I will also have the privilege of going to Gorée Island, where I will take part in a discussion with Senegalese women who are committed to the advancement of their communities and the world.

After Elmina Castle, in Ghana, which I visited in 2006, I will be there where women, men and children left in shackles, dispossessed of their culture, of their language, of their name—of their humanity—and were reduced to slaves.

I will think of the approximately eleven million Africans who were deported to European colonies in the Americas and the Indian Ocean over nearly four hundred years.

I will think of our Haitian sisters and brothers—who are suffering so greatly these days—whose ancestors freed themselves from slavery, a decisive move for all of humanity.

I will also think of your sincere wish, President Wade, of making slavery a crime against humanity and of turning this wish into reality.

Thank you, our Senegalese friends, for putting culture at the heart of every important social debate and for making it essential to civilization for all of us.

I want you to know how happy we are to be here with you, not only to celebrate the friendship between our two countries as we mark the fiftieth year of Senegal’s recent history, but also to take stock of the work that still needs to be done so that we can say—along with Senghor—that for us, humans are both the means and the end.

This is the real revolution currently affecting the entire world, and we must undergo it together.

Long live the friendship between the people of Senegal and the people of Canada!

Long live an independent, increasingly strong Senegal!

Long live the beautiful and tremendous diversity of La Francophonie, which Senegal and Canada both ardently defend!