By Dr. Ebrima Ceesay
ARTICLE 19’s Regional Director for West Africa, and Gambian National, Mrs. Fatou Jagne-Senghor was, on Thursday 12th April 2018, awarded the prestigious honor of Knight of the National Order of Merit (Chevalièr dans l’Ordre National du Mérite) by the President of France.
The National Order of Merit is one of the esteemed honors bestowed by the French Republic and one of the notable African recipients of the award was the late poet, cultural theorist and former President Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor.
The presentation ceremony took place in Dakar last Thursday and was made by M. Christophe Bigot, the Ambassador of France to Senegal. Fatou was honored, in recognition of her outstanding commitment, perseverance and courageous human rights work in the Gambia, as well as “her contribution to the democratic transition that began in the country at the start of last year”.
In sum, the award is a testament to Fatou’s tireless and fearless work in documenting gross human rights violations in the Gambia during the rule of former President Yahya Jammeh in particular, but also for her persistent efforts in strengthening human rights, democracy and the rule of law throughout the West Africa Sub-Region more generally.
As ARTICLE 19’s West Africa Regional Director, she played a pivotal role in expanding the democratic space in both the Gambia and Senegal. She was a thorn in former President Yahya Jammeh’s side and formed alliances of human rights groups in Dakar and all over Africa to oppose unlawful actions of Yahya Jammeh in the Gambia. And in the face of many threats made against her life by supporters of ex-President Jammeh, Fatou was not deterred. She demonstrated her courage and commitment by continuing to speak out and kept human rights under Jammeh at the centre of the public and political discourses nationally and internationally.
With more than 18 years experience working on human rights in Africa, she began her human rights career in the Gambia in 1999, as programme officer, at the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA). Later, she co-founded the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in the Gambia; set up after the April 2000 killings of 14 students who were protesting peacefully in the Gambia by the Gambian security forces.
Previously, she worked as a freelance producer and French News presenter at the Gambia National Radio and Television Services (GRTS). She joined ARTICLE 19 in February 2002 as a contributor to the Africa Program, and until 2004, worked at the office based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Currently, she is based in Senegal, from where she directs the activities of ARTICLE 19’s regional office for West Africa, which she established in 2010.
Never fazed by what is thrown at her, Fatou is regularly invited throughout Africa and Europe to contribute to seminars and conferences focusing on human rights, democracy, freedom of the press and freedom of information. A highly-respected expert in the law of media and communication, she has appeared both in the National and International media: TV, radio and press – defending and promoting freedom of expression and freedom of information all over the world. Her work extends beyond continental Africa to the United Nations and the world.
Born in Banjul, The Gambia, Fatou spent her childhood travelling between Senegal and the Gambia, having a father (Senegalese) from the former and a mother (Gambian) from the later. Attending nursery in The Gambia, she later moved to Senegal for Primary school before returning to Gambia for her High School Education at Lycée Senegalese de Banjul.
There she obtained her Baccalaureate Serie A in 1991. From there, she studied law at the University of Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal, between 1991 and 1992, qualifying for a scholarship from the Senegalese Ministry of Education. From there, she attended the University of Toulouse Capitole completing Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in International and European law, finishing in 1997. She then studied economic and communication law (Diplôme d’études approfondies – DEA) under a scholarship from the President of the university. This was undertaken at the Institute for Communication and Space Law – again at the University of Toulouse.
In 2000, the French government agreed to fund her PhD programme although her significant wider commitments forced her to delay completion of that programme, which she has now resumed. Fatou is married to Alasan Senghore, a Gambian National, who is currently the Head of Delegation and Permanent Observer of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to the United Nations. They have two children.