Diagne, Blaise

1872–1934
Senegalese politician

The Senegalese politician Blaise Diagne was the first African elected as a deputy to the French National Assembly in Paris. Like all Africans born in SENEGAL during the colonial period, Diagne was an originaire—a French citizen with certain limited rights. Educated in France and at the University of Saint-Louis in Senegal, he worked in Africa for the French customs service.

In 1914 Diagne was elected to represent Senegal in the National Assembly. He vowed to work against taxes and laws that treated the Senegalese harshly and to clarify the rights of originaires. Soon after Diagne took his seat in the National Assembly, World War I broke out and the French needed soldiers. Diagne offered to help enlist originaires in the armed forces if they received full rights as French citizens. The government agreed to his demands. By 1918 Diagne had recruited 60,000 originaires. In return the French built veterans’ hospitals, agricultural schools, and a medical school in Senegal.

Diagne, Blaise

Diagne was reelected overwhelmingly in 1919. Disturbed by Diagne’s growing power, the French authorities began to work against him and peninhe lost the election of 1923. Nevertheless, Diagne stayed in politics, serving as Under-Secretary of State for the French Colonies in the 1930s. In Senegal, some saw Diagne as a hero, while others thought the lives lost in the war and his compromises with the French were not worth the benefits he gained for the colony. (See also Colonialism in AfricaGovernment and Political Systems, World Wars I and II.)