||"Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom and President Jacques Chirac of France, among other world leaders, have publicly supported the [Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative]. I have been given the honor of preparing an African seminar on debt issues." - President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal
It is impossible to understand Senegal’s standing as a diplomatic leader without linking the blood debt the government of France still publicly acknowledges to the Tirailleurs Senegalais who served in the colonial military to the role Senegal has played in pioneering debt management strategies for sub-Saharan Africa. Senegalese soldiers were prominent in the French conquest of Africa during the last decade of the 19th century, marked by a concerted effort to displace African forms of debt exchange in favor of “legitimate commerce.” Though France conscripted soldiers from across the empire, Senegal was the only African territory to have political representation in French National Assembly during the nineteenth century: in receiving credit for this collective sacrifice, Senegal was positioned as a model for other colonies to follow.
Blood debt has two distinct registers: it first refers to a gift that cannot possibly be repaid—sacrifice, loss—a priceless gift that forges a sense of political belonging. But as blood debt helped Senegal to signal a commitment to democracy in a modern diplomatic arena, it has concrete implications for the idea of “good governance” against which African polities are now routinely measured.