Senegal’s 90-Year-Old Ex-Rifleman Oumar Dieme to Carry Olympic Flame in Paris

Author: No Comments Share:

History meets the spirit of the Olympic Games as, Oumar Dieme, a former Senegalese rifleman, will carry the Olympic flame as part of the opening ceremony for this summer’s Paris Games. At over 90 years old, Dieme’s selection is a poignant reminder of a nearly forgotten chapter of history.

Under the shade of mango and silk-cotton trees in his village of Badiana, in southern Senegal’s Casamance region, Dieme reflects on his time as a member of the “Senegalese tirailleurs.” This corps of African infantrymen fought for France during both world wars and in various decolonization struggles. Dieme’s traditional boubou, adorned with medals, speaks of his service in French Indochina and Algeria, as well as the comrades who never returned.

“Many colleagues stayed behind. Others came back mutilated or are no more,” Dieme shares, his blue cap displaying the sergeant’s rank. From his village, 20 men served in the tirailleurs, a corps disbanded in the 1960s. Dieme considers himself fortunate to be the sole survivor. “It was a miracle that I was chosen,” he says, surrounded by family and crumbling buildings.

Dieme’s role as a torchbearer was proposed by the Parisian department of Seine-Saint-Denis, where he lived before returning to Senegal in 2023. “The choice of Oumar Dieme contributes to the essential work of remembrance, because the Senegalese riflemen have been forgotten for too long in our collective memory,” said Stephane Troussel, president of the Seine-Saint-Denis department.

Despite never having heard of the Olympic flame before, Dieme eagerly accepted the honor. “Given my age, I would like to be accompanied by my son,” he requested.

Born in a former French colony, Dieme enlisted on March 6, 1953, after studying the Koran in The Gambia. Recruiters gave him the birth date of December 31, 1932, making him 20 at the time, though he believes he was at least two years older. Dieme volunteered to fight in Indochina, inspired by the decorated veterans he had seen. His company suffered heavy losses, and he narrowly missed the decisive defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

Dieme later fought in the Algerian War and was repatriated just as Senegal gained independence in 1960. He re-enlisted in the Senegalese army, retiring at 36 to work as a security guard and bank courier until 1988. Dieme eventually settled in Bondy, northeastern Paris, where he and other former riflemen fought for their rights with the French state, ultimately securing French nationality and a pension without residency requirements in 2023.

Returning to Senegal, Dieme now splits his time between his village and Dakar, where he enjoys the company of his family. “I’m very happy to be with my family. In France, I was confined to a 17 square meter room. I didn’t see anyone. In this village, everyone loves me,” he says with a wide grin.

Dieme’s participation in the Olympic torch relay symbolizes the efforts of Aissata Seck, a local councillor in Bondy and president of a group commemorating the tirailleurs. “It’s a beautiful symbol, even more so today with the extremely difficult current situation and the trivialization of racism on social media. It shows the richness and diversity of France,” she said.

Previous Article

Celebrating Nigerian Literature at the International Literature Festival Dublin

Next Article

Africa’s Biggest Tech Showcase to Debut in Nigeria

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *