Cheikh Hamidou Kane, a profile of a Fulani Philosopher.


Cheikh Hamidou Kane, born in Matam on April 2, 1928, is a Senegalese writer and senior civil servant, who notably held ministerial positions. His book L’Aventure ambiguë, which earned him the Great Black African Literary Prize in 1962, has become a classic of African literature. This book is also the main argument that will earn him his place in the 2019 edition of the Grand Prix des Patrons.

The Virtual University of Senegal UVS bears his name and becomes the Cheikh Hamidou KANE Digital University on January 18, 2023.

Born April 2, 1928, in Matam, in northern Senegal, Cheikh Hamidou Kane belongs to a large Fulani family, an ethnic group found in almost all West African countries and whose leaders were among the first converts to Islam in Africa, during the Almoravid dynasty in the 10th century. Second son of Mamadou Lamine Kane and Yéya Racine Kane, he is, like the cadets among the Fulani, nicknamed Samba (like Samba Diallo from L’Aventure ambiguë). His father, a civil servant in Louga, was known for his piety and generosity.

Destined by his father to become a marabout (Islamic scholar), Cheikh Hamidou was entrusted, from the age of 7, to the care of the Koranic master Thierno Moctar Gadio in Saldé, his mother’s native village. At the age of 9, with the support of his cousin a teacher in the region, he enrolled in the French primary school in Louga. Fond of reading, the young Cheikh Hamidou dreams of becoming a philosopher. But access to the school being reserved for the sons of white settlers, he is transferred to the school for the sons of chiefs, established in the premises of the Blanchot upper primary school, in Saint-Louis.

Determined to go to high school rather than embrace a career as a canton chief for which he was destined, Cheikh Hamidou overcomes a series of obstacles placed in his way by the colonial administration. He learns the secondary school program on his own and, to the great astonishment of the authorities, he was accepted for the first entrance exam at Van Vollenhoven high school in Dakar, where he studies brilliantly. With the baccalaureate, he enrolled in 1951 at the Institute des Hautes Etudes de Dakar, the ancestor of the Cheikh-Anta-Diop University, where he began his studies in law and propaedeutic letters with a plan to study philosophy. During this period of high school and the Institute of Higher Studies in Dakar, he continued to carry out corporate and student activities, particularly within AGED, the General Association of Dakar Students, as he continued to do so later, within the FEANF, the Federation of Black African Students in France.

The young Cheikh Hamidou continued his studies in 1952 in Paris, at the prestigious Lycée Louis-le-Grand as well as at the Sorbonne, where he obtained two degrees, one in law, the other in philosophy. In September 1956, he passed the entrance exam to the National School of France Overseas Territories (ENFOM). In 1959, armed with his degrees, Cheikh Hamidou Kane was officially administrator of France overseas and ready to return to Senegal.

Mamadou Dia, then president of the Council of the Government of Senegal and whose attention was drawn by the qualities of work of Cheikh Hamidou, immediately assigned him to the Ministry of Economic Development, then, in March 1960, a month before the independence of Senegal, appointed him governor of the region of Thiès, the test zone of Mamadou Dia’s economic plan for rural development. A year later, President Léopold Sédar Senghor promoted Cheikh Hamidou Kane High Commissioner General for Planning. It was also that year, 1961, that his novel, L’Aventure ambiguë, began in 1952, was published and which received the Grand Prix littéraire d’Afrique noire in 1962.

At the time when Cheikh Hamidou Kane participated in the transformation of the colony of Senegal into an independent state, a storm rumbled at the head of the young government. The new republic had a parliamentary regime, where executive power was shared between the President of the Republic, Léopold Senghor, and the President of the Council, Mamadou Dia. Inconvenienced by Dia’s power and worried about conflicts and conspiracies within the government, Senghor decided to put an end to the parliamentary regime and had Dia arrested, accusing him of having fomented a coup.

At the time of this event, Senghor proposed to Cheikh Hamidou Kane to appoint him vice-president of Senegal after he would have carried out a constitutional reform substituting a presidential regime for the parliamentary regime. Disagreeing with President Senghor and the way he had handled his dispute with Dia, Cheikh Hamidou declined the offer and left Senegal in 1962, determined not to return until Dia, whom he knew to be innocent, was released from prison. This voluntary exile will last twelve long years, during which Cheikh Hamidou will be hired by UNICEF, in Lagos, then in Abidjan, to direct the operations of the international organization in twenty countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

In 1974, Senghor finally resolved to free Dia. But before returning to Senegal, Cheikh Hamidou accepts the post of vice-president of the Center for Research for International Development, based in Ottawa, a position that takes him around the world, from the Philippines to Latin America via India and other southern countries.

Upon his return to Senegal in 1976, Senghor entrusted him with the management of what remained of Dakar-Marine, a grandiose shipyard project in Dakar, designed by the Shah of Iran and Senghor. Following the completion of this project in 1978, Senghor appointed Cheikh Hamidou Kane as Minister of Industrial Development and Handicrafts. Then, from 1981 to 1988, Cheikh Hamidou held the post of Minister of Planning and Cooperation under President Abdou Diouf. After thirty years of public service, Cheikh Hamidou Kane asks to be released from his duties. He is ready for retirement, but an active retirement. Indeed, for many years, he was the president of ENDA Tiers-Monde and other non-governmental associations with a cultural vocation, such as Tabital Pulaagu, an organization dedicated to preserving the Fulani heritage, or charitable initiatives such as the PARRER, working for the withdrawal and reintegration of street children.

Cheikh Hamidou is then ready to return to writing. His second novel, Les Gardiens du Temple, is published in 1995. According to the author, “L’Aventure ambiguë testifies to my life and the last thirty years of colonization. As for the Guardians of the Temple, it depicts the thirty years following independence. »

Cheikh is also ready to devote more time to his family. His first wife, Yâye Oumou, a cousin, was in fragile health and died at the age of 26 after giving him two daughters. With his second wife, Marie-Thérèse, a midwife, Cheikh Hamidou has four children, two boys, and two girls.

A man of faith, a philosopher, but also and above all a man of action, Cheikh Hamidou Kane, as Mariama Baldé writes, “invites us to dare lucidity, humility, sobriety, responsibility, love, and hope”

Literary Works

Cheikh Hamidou Kane is the author of two novels, L’Aventure ambiguë (1961) and Les Gardiens du Temple (1995), works which won him the Grand Prix Littéraire d’Afrique Noire (1962) and the Grand Prix des Mécènes. (2019). According to the author, “none of these works is fully intelligible without the other”, because “if one clearly perceives in L’Aventure ambiguë in what terms the metaphysical and cultural theses and antitheses of the problematics experienced by the Diallobé, it is in Les Gardiens du Temple that we can hear the syntheses, particularly through Salif Bâ and Daba Mbaye, resurrected figures of Samba Diallo and the Grande Royale.”

L’Aventure ambiguë (Julliard, 1961)

The Ambiguous Adventure, a semi-autobiographical novel, traces the cultural and spiritual tearing of the young Samba Diallo, son of a “knight” Diallobé, entrusted from the age of 7 to a very strict Koranic master who ensures his spiritual education. Two years later, however, his aunt, the pragmatic Grand Royale, makes the difficult decision to send the children to the new school to “learn the art of winning without being right” (p. 47), at the very risk to lose ancestral values.

As Samba immerses himself in Western culture through his studies, his faith in God wavers: “Your truth no longer weighs very heavily, my God…” (p. 139). With his philosophy studies, he recognizes that he “chosen the route most likely to lose [him]” and his adventure becomes that of all African intellectuals of the time: “It suddenly appears to us that, throughout along our journey, we have not ceased to metamorphose ourselves, and that we have become other people. Sometimes, the metamorphosis does not end, it installs us in the hybrid and leaves us there. (p. 125)

Worried about his son’s distress, the Knight asks him to return to Africa. “You fear that God has abandoned you because you no longer feel Him as fully as in the past, […] but you did not think that it could be that the traitor was You? (p. 176).

The final scene of the book takes place in the Diallobé cemetery, on the tomb of his dear Koranic master, Thierno. The madman, the only fictional character in the novel, wants Samba to pray, interprets Samba’s “no” as an answer to his requests, and stabs him to death. In fact, Samba was talking to God, promising to come back to Him. The much-talked-about final chapter is far from a suicide or what some critics have called “an easy conclusion”, for “here is the great reconciliation taking place” (p. 189) and the ambiguity is no more (p. 190). According to the author himself, “Samba Diallo, child of faith and reason, had the mission of saving God in a globalized world that was in danger of dying under the weight of triumphant materialism. The death of the protagonist, often considered a failure, in fact, announces a possibility of reconciliation between faith and reason. »

Les Gardiens du Temple (Stock, 1995)

Cheikh Hamidou Kane began writing this second novel in the years 1966-67 but did not finish and publish it until 1995. Mamadou Dia and Aimé Césaire had read the manuscript and recommended that Kane wait until Senghor is no longer President of Senegal because he would recognize himself in the character of Laskol, which could have harmful consequences. The title of the manuscript was Days of Wrath, and Mamadou Dia also appeared there, under the character of Dankaro.

The Guardians of the Temple is therefore an extension of The Ambiguous Adventure, but instead of being mainly philosophical, the message is political and social. Samba Diallo the philosopher has become Salif Bâ the agricultural engineer, a man of action (like Cheikh Hamidou Kane the Minister). The Great Royal became Daba Mbaye, who holds a doctorate in history and “learned from the new school the Western way of accounting for the past”. The Master has become Thierno Saïdou Barry, who believes that “God having made man his vicar here below, the world must be arranged at his service. Caring for men, feeding them, clothing them, and protecting them, are pious works. (GoT p. 48). These characters, as well as Farba Mâri the griot and guardian of the culture of the Diallobé, are the “guardians of the temple” and represent the modern identity of the African, namely, according to the expression of Joseph Ki Zerbo, “the return self-to-self at a higher level”.

Just as The Ambiguous Adventure described the spiritual and identity itinerary of the African torn between tradition and modernity, The Guardians of the Temple proposes a resolution of ambiguity and a way to reach the promised land announced by the Knight, this world common to all the sons of the earth. This evolution is not easy for Africa: it goes through revolts, coups d’etat, and a questioning of the administration of the colonizers as well as the leaders who followed independence (hence the presence of Laskol and Dankaro), but the infernal cycle can only be ended through dialogue between all the representatives of society. The “Guardians of the Temple” shows that one can take the path of the West without losing either faith or the strength of solidarity.

“The itinerary of the Diallobé and that of the West come together in the new world where ‘self-preservation’ passes through the balance between the place of God and that of man”.

Sources: Translated and edited from a Wikipedia Article.

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