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Senegal: Aere Lao, the village that moved President Sall

On a recent tour of northern Senegal, President Macky Sall made a whistle-stop visit to a small village, to see…

On a recent tour of northern Senegal, President Macky Sall made a whistle-stop visit to a small village, to see the man who chose his first name. It all ended up being a moment of great emotion… ReportThe setting is as sober as the scene is touching. Macky Sall, on tour in this far remote part of northern Senegal, sits on a modest straw mat at the foot of a wooden chair covered with an old red blanket, where an old man well into his 80s was sitting. With a discreet elegance and calmness worthy of the wise patriarchs, Thierno Samba Tall represents a lot for the Senegalese president. It was he who, 60 years ago, when the tenant of the presidential palace in Dakar had just been born, chose his first name “Macky.”

The moment was so moving that the Senegalese president himself posted a photo on his official Facebook page that captured the scene, writing that he has a lot of respect and consideration for the man who named him in December 1961, in Senegal’s central region of Fatick.

On that day, Thierno Samba Tall held the hand of the future president of Senegal and prayed that God fill his life with success. This was undoubtedly the wish of his parents when they asked the revered Sheikh to pray for their newborn child.

Throughout the visit to the old man’s house, Macky Sall remained crouched down; He never looked up at Thierno Samba Tall, as a token of the great reverence he has for him.

The attitude of the Senegalese president towards the venerable patriarch did not leave his compatriots indifferent. The comments came from everywhere, invoking the “loyalty” of their president to this old man who represents a lot in his life.

The latter comes from a religious family, whose influence is very great throughout West Africa. He had established one of the strongest and largest Muslim empires in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Thierno Samba Tall is a well-known figure in this part of Senegal, also known as the “Fouta Toro,” which is very famous for its scholars in Islamic sciences and Arabic language, as well as for the bravery of its fighters. The religious leader enjoys a special status there, particularly with the family of Macky Sall, whose father and mother were, like him, originally from the region where they owned extensive swathes of land.

Macky Sall himself went to primary school in this region of Fouta Toro, to which he has remained closely attached, with a particular affection for this small village of Aere Lao.

When the Senegalese president arrived in this locality, as part of an “economic tour” of the north of the country, he decided to take a moment to delve into part of his personal history. The one embodied by this respected cleric who witnessed his arrival in this world and chose for him a name that has now become part of Senegal’s history, since his compatriots chose him as president for first time in 2012.

During this tour of northern Senegal, Macky Sall held many important meetings and rallies. But sitting on this modest straw mat at the home of the venerable Thierno Samba Tall and speaking such words to him were the most remarkable gestures of the visit. The Head of State made such a strong impression on his compatriots with this gesture that some even forgot that he had come to Fouta to discuss issues as important for the country as agriculture, self-sufficiency and food security.

The Senegalese revere religious leaders and scholars; likewise they also appreciate those who consider them. In addition, they attach particular importance to the personal relationships that link older people to younger ones.

In the comments that followed the publication by President Macky Sall of his photo with Thierno Samba Tall, reactions varied between those who praised the humility of the president and his humanism and those who praised his respect for the elderly and religious people. There are also comments that talk about the history of the village of Aere Lao, which is believed to have been built in the 11th century before being chosen later by the Almamys Abdelkader Kan and Souleimane Baal as their capital, when they laid the foundations of the Almamiya State in 1776.

The Almamy State was unique in its kind. It was the first entity to implement Sharia (Islamic law) in West Africa and to adopt the electoral system to choose its leader, called “imam.” It was also the first structure in the world to prohibit slavery and to fight the slave trade, thus anticipating the French Revolution.

For many years, Aere Lao remained the capital of this state, which made it an important cultural and scientific hub and a particular meeting point in the West African region in general.

It is from this city that the armies moved later to support El Hadj Omar al-Fouti when he laid the foundations of his empire in the mid-19th century in the Niger River basin.

Among those who responded to the “call to jihad” issued by the Tekrur leader, El Hadj Omar al-Fouti and his successors, was a man by the name of “Omar Tafru Ba,” who left the region of Fouta Toro at the end of the 19th century, when he had a son in 1890, whom he named “Mohammadu Zine Eddine,” but the child bore the title of “Son of the jihad.”

After the fall of the Tekrur Empire and the French domination of the region, the child returned to the village of Aere Lao, where he memorized the Holy Qur’an and received the Islamic sciences before commuting between the towns of Fouta Toro to receive an education according to the precepts of the Tijaniyya brotherhood. He had visited the town of Boghe on the north bank in present-day Mauritania on several occasions.

El Hadj Muhammadu Zain Eddine died in 1953 and was buried in the village of Aere Lao, so that his tomb remains an annual shrine for thousands of Muslims, especially on the occasion of the celebration of the Prophet Mohamed’s birthday.

The Senegalese president invoked this date when he announced on Tuesday the launch of a study for a project to build a university in the Fouta region, specializing in the study and teaching of “history and culture.” The world renowned musician Baaba Maal asked that the university be named “El Hadj Omar El Fouti.”

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