If there is any character in the Senegalese political history who is worthy of praise among others, then that person is Aline Sitoe Diatta, the 20-year old young woman who resisted French colonialism without fear and earned the present-day title: “La femme qui était plus qu’un homme” translated as the woman who was more than a man.
The era of colonialism was obviously one characterized by complete dominance and utmost intimidation that gave absolute control to the colonists over their subjects; a period that takes courage out of the brave due to the sophisticated weaponry and extent of power wielded by the colonists, especially the French colonial government at the time.
In such situation, the least expected of the colonies is rebellion against the French establishment which comes with dire consequences but the young female-advocate exhibited valor and blatantly disregarded the threats of the French colonizers, massed up the natives and pushed for drastic reforms to liberate her people.
Typical of the then colonial French government was the undue seizure of farm produce to aid their war efforts and the implementation of exploitative taxes that drains the locals and enrich the French financial coffers; the people of Kabrousse in Casamance, a region in South-West Senegal where the young heroine was born were not exempted from this killer taxes, confident thievery and brutish treatments.
Through her admirable courage, she managed to persuade the residents to rally behind her in her bid to fight systemic injustice and maltreatment. UNESCO’s African women, Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance noted that Diatta denounced the colonial government’s looting, and she was joined by a large part of the Casamance region in rejecting the efforts by France to enlist the men from the region to join the army.
Many attributed her ‘stubborn’ courage to a spiritual or divine motivation as historical documents have it that, Diatta was struck with paralyzes after failing to adhere to an initial dream in which she was instructed to leave her place of residence – Dakar and go and save her people; a situation which receded gradually after she did the needful by returning to save her people.
The young and fearsome Diatta was a nuisance and a target for the French to curb local rebellion. In other to prevent the evolving civil disobedience towards the colonial establishment, the French officials launched an attack in January 1943, by opening fire on Diatta’s house resulting in the death of a mistaken woman of Diatta’s complexion and stature.
Considering how torturous the follow-up attacks on the numerous locals who joined the campaign to rebel against the French government was, the unstoppable Diatta decided to sacrifice herself to save her people yet again. She gave herself out to the authorities who subjected her to torture before sending her to Timbuktu-Mali where she stayed until her death in 1944.
Present-day Senegal did a great job by keeping memories of their heroine. Diatta is considered one of Senegal’s symbols of resistance with certain edifices such as the Girls University Hostel in Dakar – Cité Aline Sitoe Diatta, a passenger ferry – MV Aline Sitoe Diatta, the main Stadium in Ziguinchor among many others named after her and an official fantasy coin issued in her honor.
Her strength as a young woman and resistance against the “powerful” French colonial government has been embossed in history and will forever be remembered.