Yoff is a fishing community on the northern coast of Dakar. It is a rather large district, but actually, the Lebous who live there used to own much more land. The founding date of Yoff is 1410 – the Lébous have been there for over six centuries! They were conquered twice by the Kingdom of Diouf and then by the French, and are today incorporated into the modern state of Senegal, but they have a legal autonomy and are known as a “theocratic republic”. They used to own vast amounts of land, including in Dakar and extending even until Pikine-Guédiawaye. When the French arrived and started planning the city, the Lebous lost most of their land. They have also lost some of their communal organization and traditions, and today overfishing threats their fishing livelihood. In the 1970s, the youth in Yoff created APECSY (L’Association pour la Promotion économique, culturelle et sociale de Yoff. APECSY is a community-based organization in Yoff that emphasizes participatory citizenship and decision-making. APECSY wanted to respect the social structure of Lebou society, which has 12 lines of heritage and a leadership structure with djaraf, saltigué, and ndeye ji rew positions, but also include young people into the decision-making process (UNESCO 2000). Entirely composed of “young people” who are less than 55 years old and thus are not eligible to participate in the traditional Lebou sociopolitical process, APECSY today directs and influences the majority of the activities in the village and has gained greater access to resources and land for the entire community (UNESCO 2000). For example, in 1997, the Senegalese government granted an extension of land to the community of Yoff, restoring a former part of the land that had been previously denied to the Lebous even though they had owned that land for centuries. This extension was due to APECSY’s intense lobbying efforts and press campaigns.
I was really impressed with how APECSY managed to empower young people in the community while at the same time respecting the opinions and knowledge of the elders. The fact that they have gained so much visibility and won some battles for the community also gains them respect in the eyes of the community as well. As we toured Yoff, APECSY showed us some of the changes that they have physically made in the neighborhood – such as the construction/spacing of new meeting places at almost every seeming corner and also the new extension.
The extension of Yoff was very impressive in its size and development, but also worrying. There were many highrises that seemed empty. Our guide told us that foreigners can also buy land in the extension and just build high-rises in order to rent to families, because modern families today live in apartments and prefer renting than buying a house.
We had lunch in Almadies in a beautiful shack right on the beach and had the rest of the afternoon free. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with some French surfer friends that I had met on the ferry coming back from Gorée. My host family actually encouraged me to invite them home for dinner, so after spending the rest of the afternoon on the beach and exploring the island of Ngor, they came back to Baobab with me. My American “host sister” had invited a friend as well, and then friends of the family were there for drinks. It was so nice to open the door to the house and see a million people crammed into the tiny living room! We had such a lovely dinner talking about life and travels and friends. It was a perfect evening.
- What are the dynamics like now between APECSY and the ruling elders in Yoff?
- Who are the foreigners buying property in the Yoff extension? How are they developing that land?
- My host family had actually commented to me that they don’t like most French people because of their attitude. Yet I invited French “tourists” to their home and they got along wonderfully. Do most Senegalese feel this way about French people visiting/working in Senegal?