The Place du Souvenir, Dakar

Dr. Joanna Warson is currently in Senegal working at the BBC Service Afrique Dakar bureau. In this post, she describes her recent visit to the Place du Souvenir.

Last week, I visited the Place du Souvenir in Dakar. Located on the busy Route de la Corniche Ouest, right next to the modern Sea Plaza shopping mall and the upmarket Radisson Blu hotel, I found on my arrival an unexpected oasis of tranquillity amidst the hustle and bustle of life in Dakar. Senegalese flags fluttered in a cool ocean breeze. Palm trees, exotic plants and ornamental fountains adorned the area, with the vast Atlantic Ocean providing an impressive backdrop.

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Admittedly, my first impressions were probably a bit skewered by my decision to walk the short distance to the Place du Souvenir along the busy Corniche road in the midday sun. I arrived hot and a bit bothered. In the space of less than 15 minutes, I had to wave off numerous taxis drivers trying to give me a lift to my destination. (In Dakar, you can’t walk far without a taxi beeping at you, slowing down and waiting expectantly for you to get in!) So, the largely deserted Place du Souvenir was a very welcome sight…

The Place du Souvenir was opened in 2009 as part of a cultural project launched by former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade. In keeping with the project’s aim to pay homage to historic figures from Africa and its diaspora, information posters in both English and French are located around the Place du Souvenir, providing snippets of African history.

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The most impressive feature of the area, however – and the one that best encapsulates the Place du Souvenir’s objectives – is a gold sculpture of the African continent. Situated on the Ocean’s edge, the sculpture appears almost to be floating above the Atlantic. The gold of the sculpture provides a striking contrast against the blue of the sea and the sky, conjuring up an image of a strong, vibrant and forward-moving African continent.

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Whilst at the Place du Souvenir, I visited Librairie Athena, a bookstore owned by a trio of Senegalese writers: Felwine Sarr, Boubacar Boris Diop and Nafissatou Dia Diouf. The store sells everything from business studies textbooks to crime novels to children’s books, but its real specialism is African writing. This is underlined by the fact that Librairie Athena is also the main base for Editions Jimsaan. Sarr, Diop and Diouf launched the publishing house in May 2013 with the aim of giving greater visibility to high quality writing coming out of Africa.

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As with many places in Senegal, work on the Place du Souvenir is still on going: electrical cabling lies across the paths, the fountains didn’t appear to function and workmen are still on site. None of this, however, takes away the loveliness and tranquillity of the Place du Souvenir. The impressive setting, striking sculpture and presence of a bookstore-cum-publishing house at the forefront of African writing combine to make this the perfect site to reflect upon Africa of the past, present and future. It is also an excellent place to escape the heat and hubbub of Dakar!

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