The scene takes place on October 8, 2021 in Montpellier, during the Africa-France summit. A young man with a “Senghorian” look, suit and tie, small round glasses, takes French President Emmanuel Macron to task: “Mr. President, I am a little frustrated by the fact that among these young people today who have represented the African continent, the question of restitution, which was one of the key subjects of your speech in Ouagadougou, was not mentioned”. The question is too long, the host Claude Siarr is getting impatient. The president, a little surprised, quickly takes notes, smiles, looks for him and answers him at length, with a few promises.
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Opposite, Sally Alassane Thiam holds the microphone without blinking. “I had matured my plan, he explains. I was not one of the ten hand-picked young people on the stage. I was a regular guest. But I absolutely wanted to get my message across. So I dressed up as a diplomat. I went through security, looking sure of myself, and I got as close as possible to the stage to ask my question, which I had prepared at length in my head ».
Dinner at the palace
The exchange will finally last six minutes, and somewhat annoy the Cameroonian writer Achille Mbembé at the origin of this meeting with the very framed African youth. That day, Sally Alassane Thiam bursts the screen. He has also just launched an idea directly: “The organization of a major itinerant international forum on African heritage to make culture a real lever for economic development on the continent. “Chick!” replied the French president, who pledged to support his project with Unesco.
In the process, Senegalese President Macky Sall congratulated the young applicant and immediately invited him to a dinner at the Palace of the Republic on African World Heritage Day. “He patted me warmly on the shoulder and said, ‘Congratulations on what you are doing for heritage! You are a fighter!” Since then, the idea has gained ground and the unique forum, based on the model of the world festival of black arts inaugurated by Senghor in 1966 in Dakar, with conferences and exhibitions of African art, should open its doors in December in the Senegalese capital. In private, Macky Sall is delighted with such an event which will conclude his mandate at the head of the African Union and put Senegal back at the heart of the cultural planet.
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“Africa must regain its cultural influence in the world. Not only was it looted, but we were denigrated for too long. Of all the 1,154 material sites classified by Unesco in the world in 2022, only 106 are located in Africa. However, we have an enormous potential of monuments, temples, ruins of all types, which deserve not only to be known but also protected, in order to generate a tourist economy around them, a source of employment for young people”, explains Sally with the passion of a Nkrumah.
Son of Alassane Thiam, a brilliant architect from Dakar and pupil of the famous Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer, who founded Brasilia in 1959, Sally had the chance to grow up in a supportive cultural environment. “At home, there was a library where you could find the books of Cheikh Anta Diop or Aimé Césaire as well as beautiful works on African art or great international architects”. Incumbent notably with a master’s degree specializing in digital strategy and project management, Sally likes to point out that it was built on its own: “I grew up in Senegal, as a child I kicked the ball with friends from the Sicap district, then we m sent to do part of my schooling in the village, in Ourossogui, in the far north in Pulaar country. It was very hard, because I was far from my parents, but that’s how I immersed myself in traditional culture and caught the heritage virus. »
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At 18, high school diploma in hand, Sally left Senegal. Head to France to pursue graduate studies in digital marketing. He asks his parents not to support him anymore. He does odd jobs to finance his studies. One of his closest friends, Elzo Jamdong, now a famous rapper from Dakar, has not forgotten: “We were roommates in Poitiers. He reread the texts of my songs, listened to me, gave me constructive feedback. But you had to work to fill the fridge. And Sally has always fought, not just for himself, for others first. I remember when he started an internship at the town hall of Poitiers and he met the mayor. He immediately put pressure on her to help the students more, the people of the neighborhood where we lived. He was already, a bit like me, the spokesperson for the voiceless. Sally has deep convictions, he is completely devoted to Africa”. Alassane Thiam his father, appointed by Senghor himself Inspector General of Monuments in Africa, agrees with pride: “My son is a young man of his generation, uninhibited, serious and full of vitality. He has the cultural fiber, he works for the continent. »
Today, “Monsieur Patrimoine” as some humorously call him, has already been awarded the prize for Best African Young Leader 2021. And as if that weren’t enough, Sally signs her first book this month: The revival of African heritage. A partly autobiographical essay turned towards African youth where he explains that the “African-attitude” will replace the obsolete “negritude” of his peers. “Universalism is in my blood”, he specifies, “but Africa must be part of this universe !»