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Presentation of the Légion d’Honneur to Mamadou Diouf

Published on September 24, 2014
Speech by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development¹

New York, September 22, 2014

Monsieur l’Ambassadeur de France aux États-Unis,

Monsieur le Consul général,

Monsieur le Conseiller culturel,

Dear friends,

I am delighted to welcome you tonight to celebrate three men, Professor Mamadou Diouf, Michael Barker, and Tom Bernard, who will receive the highest distinction of the French government, the Légion d’honneur.

As the oldest and most prestigious French award, the Legion of Honour was created in 1802 by Napoleon and is awarded to those who have exceptionally represented French values and to whom France is particularly grateful.

Dear Professor Diouf, Michael Barker, and Tom Bernard, from African studies to the septième art, your achievements are diverse, but we owe you the same gratitude. These awards acknowledge your contributions to French-American friendship.

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Dear Professor Diouf,

From Dakar to Michigan to New York City, you have invigorated African studies and enlightened generations of scholars. For more than 20 years, you have changed the way we approach African history and African studies. You are the leader of a new generation of scholars who are no longer interested in studying and understanding African history and society solely in relation to the colonial state. You investigate Europe and Africa in a continuous dialogue, in a process of adjusting to each other.

Your interdisciplinary approach led you to investigate the urban, political, social and religious aspects of African societies. I wish I could pay tribute to each of your works individually, but allow me to mention the most recent, Tolerance, Democracy, and Sufis in Senegal, a collection of 10 articles on democracy in your native country. That anthology offers a rich and nuanced historical ethnography and illuminates Senegalese democracy while reflecting on the structure of postcolonial and modern societies.

Your own commitment to training a new generation of African studies scholars is exceptional. From the Sorbonne in France, where you obtained a PhD in history, to the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Senegal, where you became a history professor, you have been nurtured by different sources of knowledge. You later joined the prestigious Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, where – as Director of the Research, Information and Documentation Department – you shaped the institution to become the premier African social research centre.

You then came to the United States – to Michigan and New York – attracted by the new American approach to African studies. You have now been a professor in the United States for over 14 years, first at the University of Michigan and then at Columbia.

At Columbia you created the Joint African Studies Programme with Professor Richard Banégas, a transatlantic initiative between Columbia, Paris I, and Sciences Po. It combines French and American approaches to African studies and creates a unique international education. With more than 40 researchers and 250 students, it is evidence of your commitment to create educational opportunities across borders.

Cher Professor, as Director of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia and Leitner Family Professor of African Studies and History, you have shaped the university’s global leadership in the field of African studies. Your appointment in 2007 as the head of the institute marked a turning point for its endeavours.

As an intellectuel engagé, you have disseminated your expertise worldwide and have become a key player in the academic relationships between French, American and African universities.

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Professor Diouf, your insight into the challenges of the world is what makes you such an effective teacher and inspiring mentor. Through your commitments, you forge connections between France, African countries and the United States. The intermingling of diverse minds from across continents, oceans and times produces a body of new knowledge. Cher Professor, I am honoured to award you the Legion of Honour as a heartfelt mark of our gratitude.

Professor Diouf, au nom du président de la République et en vertu des pouvoirs qui nous sont conférés, nous vous faisons Chevalier dans l’ordre de la Légion d’honneur./.

¹M. Fabius spoke in English.

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