Dented Promises, Dented Lives

Moussa Sene Absa’s Yoole (Sacrifice) is enthralling from the first scene. Senegal’s ex-president Abdoulaye Wade is passionately spewing election promises at a political rally; each word well-timed and received with wild applause. A tableau of disappointed faces follow: male, female, young and old.

The documentary stems from a story about the arrival of a ship with 11 bodies on the Island of Barbados some years back; the boat was discovered to have departed Senegal for Spain. None of its occupants survived: all suspected to have died of starvation or dehydration en route Spain. In Yoole, Absa links this wave of fatal migration to Wade’s unfulfilled promises to the people of Senegal.

The film was in competition for the Etalon de Yennanga at FESPACO 2013 alongside Moussa Toure’s feature film La Pirogue. Both films deal with this issue of tragic transport in uniquely compelling ways. One of Toure’s characters shares a history similar to that of a widow who lost her husband in the real-life tragedy that is featured in Absa’s Yoole.

Also discovered alongside the bodies in Barbados was a letter from one of the boat’s occupants. It was addressed to his mother and records the different emotions the passengers experienced as they anticipated death. It is both beautiful and painful to hear this letter read at intervals throughout Yoole.

While it is indeed easy to fault Wade for not delivering on his election promises, it is harder to see any reason why young Senegalese men and women would risk their lives on dangerous voyages across the ocean for a better life than the one their homeland offers. Yoole however shows the extent to which the masses are tired of Wade’s rhetoric and grand ideas that impact on no one but himself and his kin. Any frustrated soul would easily choose the sea’s stormy embrace.

Accompanying a slideshow of newspaper clippings that underscore this theme of nepotism, the opening strains of the classical tune Ride of the Valkyries herald chronicles of the administration’s corruption. As Ride of the Valkyries reaches its crescendo, the scene changes to one of abject poverty. Absa also makes an interesting comparison when he shows unkempt school children reciting the Senegalese national anthem. There is no sign of the hope they proclaim in this montage and Absa’s cinematography portrays that effectively.

Fed up with Wade’s rhetoric and grandstanding, what do the people decide in the face of such oppression and want, apart from migrating to their deaths at sea? One is left to wonder if all the children in Yoole will not sacrifice their dreams for professional careers on the altar of the seas that lead to the West.


*Written at the FESPACO/Africine Critics’ Workshop 2013


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