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Senegalese Literacy Contest Winner Turns Down French Visa in Protest

[All links forward to French-language pages unless otherwise noted.]

For several decades, African people wanting to go to France have run into problems obtaining visas, a consequence of current immigration policies.

Now, one woman from Senegal is speaking out.

Bousso Dramé, the winner of the French Institute of Senegal's 2013 spelling contest as part of their Francophonia competition, was awarded a return plane ticket between Dakar and Paris, and a CultureLab training course in documentary filmmaking at the Albert Schweitzer Centre.

But faced with the degrading behaviour of the French consulate's staff in Dakar, Dramé stood firm and refused to use her French visa – a symbolic act of defiance in the name of all the Senegalese who are denied the respect they deserve by the French delegation to Senegal, a former colony of France.

Since June 20, her open letter to the French consulate in Senegal has been widely circulated on the Internet, agitating the African community. Similarly, it aroused the indignation of netizens throughout the world.

In her letter, she described the actions of the consulate staff:

Cependant, durant mes nombreuses interactions avec, d'une part,  certains membres du personnel de l'Institut Français, et, d'autre part, des agents du Consulat de France, j'ai eu à faire face à des attitudes et propos condescendants, insidieux, sournois et vexatoires. Pas une fois, ni deux fois, mais bien plusieurs fois! Ces attitudes, j'ai vraiment essayé de les ignorer mais l'accueil exécrable dont le Consulat de France a fait montre à mon égard (et à celui de la majorité de Sénégalais demandeurs de visas) a été la goutte d'eau de trop, dans un vase, hélas, déjà plein à ras bord. … Renoncer au nom de tous ces milliers de Sénégalais qui méritent le respect, un respect qu'on leur refuse au sein de ces représentations de la France, en terre sénégalaise, qui plus est.

However, during my numerous exchanges with the French Institute's personnel on the one hand, and staff members of the French Consulate on the other hand, I have had to deal with condescending, insidious, snide, and vexing behaviour and remarks. Not just once, or even twice, but many times! I have genuinely tried to disregard this behaviour, but the French Consulate's loathsome treatment towards me (as well as to the majority of the Senegalese lodging visa applications) has proved to be the straw that breaks the camel's back. … Renouncing in the name of the thousands of Senegalese who are denied the respect they deserve by these French representatives, and in Senegalese territory on top of that.

A chronicle on channel Africa N°1 is devoted to her open letter:

In the video, the host celebrates Dramé's initiative and describes the letter as a massive middle finger salute to its former colonial power. She adds that African political leaders could learn a thing or two from the way Dramé stood up for herself and her country's honor.

In 2008, the French government had asked from its consulates in Africa that they ”pay particular attention to the issuing of visas” to African people “with occupational activities in the artistic, cultural, higher education or research sectors”. However, this did not seem to bring about much change, and in 2009, some artists created a visa committee for artists.

French visa controversies continue to be a regular occurrence in African news.

In July 2012, the denial of visas to two African personalities, Burkinabe Halidou Ouédraogo, the honorary chairman of the Burkinabe Movement for Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights (Mouvement Burkinabè des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples: MBDHP) and Senegalese academic Oumar Sankharé were splashed on newspaper front pages. Subsequently, in October 2012, Black Fashion Week was marred by visa problems.

The French Consul responded to Dramé in the media. His reply revealed that:

Le consulat traite 32.000 demandes de visas par an, chaque préposée reçoit 35 à 40 personnes par jour.

The Consulate manages 32,000 visa applications every year; each employee receives 35 to 40 people a day.
Le consulat traite 32.000 demandes de visas par an, chaque préposée reçoit 35 à 40 personnes par jour.

On his blog, Hady Ba summed up that Senegal brings in visa revenue of nearly two million US dollars to the French:

Un visa coûte autour de 30 000 Francs CFA. Cela veut dire que les visas rapportent à l’ambassade de France au Sénégal 32 000×30 000 = 960 000 000 de Francs CFA = 1 476 923, 08 d’euros.

A visa costs around 30,000 Francs CFA. This means that visas bring in: 32,000 × 30,000 = 960,000,000 Francs CFA = 1,476,923.08 euros to the French Embassy in Senegal.

He noted us that this money is not refunded when the Consulate denies someone a visa:

la plupart des demandeurs se voient refuser leur visa de manière arbitraire par un Consulat qui gardera quand même le fric.

most of the applicants are denied their visas on arbitrary grounds by a consulate which will keep the money anyway.

Carte des pays nécessitant un visa pour les citoyens français CC-BY.3.0

Map of the countries with visa requirements for French citizens – on Wikipedia. CC-BY-3.0

Although Dramé's message has generated support across borders, with people from various nationalities identifying with her because the offensive treatment of French consulates towards visa applicants is widespread in Africa, there has been some criticism deeming Dramé to be pompous, condemning the mention of her degrees in her letter:

Quelque chose me dérange: Bousso Dramé me fait penser à ces gens, habitués aux 1ères classes et qui pour rien au monde ne voudront s’asseoir en classe éco. Elle n’a pas eu besoin de ce concours pour connaitre la France (où les comportements envers les africains dans les préfectures sont encore pire que dans les ambassades)… et il est plus que certain que dans quelques semaines elle fera le tour des plateaux télés français pour expliquer le ras-le-bol de l’Afrique quant aux traitements « inhumains » de la France etc…

There is something that bothers me: Bousso Dramé reminds me of these people who, used to travelling in first class, would not go second class for anything in the world. She did not need this contest to get to know France (where the administration's behaviour towards African people is far worse than in embassies)… and it is highly likely that in a few weeks, she will be parading on French TV shows to expose Africa's discontent with France's “inhumane treatment”, etc.

Hady Ba concluded his post asserting that:

Mme Dramé contribue à redéfinir les termes de l’échange et c’est une bonne chose. Nos autorités devraient en prendre la graine.

Ms. Dramé contributes to the redefinition of the terms of trade, and it is highly beneficial. The authorities should learn from her.

To conclude, Jacques Enaudeau, a Global Voices contributor and an author for the blog “Africa is a Country”, wrote [en]:

As far as Senegal is concerned, this is all very good news and confirmation that the Nouveau Type de Sénégalais called forth by Y’En A Marre comes in all shapes and sizes. It is however a pity and an outrage that France has not yet come to terms with such a simple reality.

From July 1st, 2013 onwards, Senegal will gradually establish visa reciprocity.

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