“The Money Order” by Ousmane Sembène

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Our first Senegalese novel is “The Money Order” by Ousmane Sembène, a cynical but honest portrait of Dakar immediately after independence. Our eyes will be those of Ibrahima Dieng, unemployed full of debts, whose fortunes seem to be transformed with a money order …

The Money Order

Ibrahima Dieng lives on the outskirts of Dakar with two wives and seven children. He is unemployed and penniless, but a money order of 25,000 francs from his nephew Abdou arrives from France. The news is soon on everyone’s lips and friends rush to ask for help. Ibrahima borrows, promises, gives even before collecting the money. But when he arrives at the post office he remains entangled in a thousand bureaucratic quibbles and finally finds himself defeated and resigned.

The Money Order
A scene from the 1968 film

Short but dense

In just 80 pages, Ousmane Sembène offers us a ruthless portrait of Dakar and his surroundings, highlighting how little has changed with independence. Ibrahima will find himself repeatedly facing both the rapacity of his neighbors and that of the bureaucrats, a real new elite born from the ashes of the European one. The news of the money order will spread very quickly, causing various vicissitudes among the hungry population, pushing it to take advantage of it more and more.

While at the first, however fearsome, Dieng feels he can resist, he will be the second to definitively prejudice the fate of the collection. From being illiterate and undocumented, he will quickly realize the fundamental need to have “contacts”, a painful de facto condition still in force today in many places.

Dakar

Sembéle’s novel is an extremely honest and complete story of his own capital, without fear of even going to attack when needed. The text is extremely short and concise, immediately showing us the idea of the author who, just 3 years later, will draw his first entirely in wolof film. The portrait of how a small sum of money, arrived in a poor country, gets to corrupt and upset people, radically transforming everything that touches.

The Money Order
Ousmane Sembène

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