Supping With the Devil

The Mouride Brotherhood and the Senegalese State, 1967–88
  • Donal B. Cruise O’Brien


It looked like defiance when, in 1973, the head of the most powerful religious organization in Senegal, speaking to the country’s greatest religious gathering of the year, cast the national government in the role of Satan. The audience, of many hundreds of thousands there in Touba and at least as many again over the radio, were certainly holding their breath. The background circumstances—of a disastrous national drought, mass starvation on a scale that is still today the worst in most people’s memory—did raise the emotional stakes. The audience wanted very much to hear what the Khalifa-General would have to say: he did not disappoint, speaking publicly in braver terms than anybody else in the country at that time. Not only did he take the holy high ground, that would have been expected, calling on Mourides to rally round their founder’s memory, let Amadu Bamba be their guide, invoking the combination of work and prayer, the promise of paradise. He did all that, but also sketched out a survival plan for the country’s peasantry, calling for a return to subsistence agriculture, asking farmers to give up the cash crop, the peanut, upon which they and the national government relied. Abdou Lahatte Mbacké was no fatalist, there was no easy talk of an unknowable divinity, it was the government that was most to blame; the finger was squarely pointed at the high state officials, always present at this annual occasion of pilgrimage and holy political rally, the Great Magal.


Trade Union Peanut Production State Marketing Sahelian Drought Mass Starvation 
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  1. 5.
    R. Bates, Markets and States in Tropical Africa: the Political basis of agricultural policies, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Peasants are for example always victims in modernization, for Barrington Moore, Jr: The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World, London: Penguin, 1991.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    On Ibra Fall, see D. Cruise O’Brien, The Mourides of Senegal The Economic and Political Organisation of an Islamic Brotherhood. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971. pp. 141–8Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    See Jean Copans, Les Marabouts de L’Arachide. La confrérie mouride et les paysans du Sénégal, Paris: Le Sycomore, 1980Google Scholar
  5. Christian Coulon, Le Marabout et le Prince. Islam et Pouvoir au Sénégal, Paris: Pédone, 1981.Google Scholar

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© Donal B. Cruise O’Brien 2003

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  • Donal B. Cruise O’Brien

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