Childhood & Early Life
Mamadou Dia was born on July 18, 1910, at Khombole in the Thiès region in western Senegal, to a Toucouleur war veteran turned policeman.
He received his early education from a Qur'anic school as well as at Diourbel regional school. After his father died, he moved to the upper primary school, St. Louis, in 1924.
In 1927, he got enrolled at the William Ponty School which served as the principal training ground for people of the elite community in French Africa during that period. Being from a low-caste, he was considered a remarkable fellow when he graduated from the school, fully trained as a teacher.
He became a teacher in St. Louis and Fissel and also served as the director of the Regional School of Fatick later on. He served at the post for a short while before moving to Paris to study economics.
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Before entering politics, Mamadou Dia regularly published articles in the press about the economic situation of Senegal, particularly the poverty of the peasants for whom he advocated the formation of cooperatives.
In 1943, after the collapse of the Vichy Regime, he became motivated to enter politics. He collaborated with Leopold Sedar Senghor, the rising star of politics who being a Catholic in a largely Islamic country, treasured him as a widely connected and able Muslim.
He united with Senghor to lay the foundation of a successful political party and was appointed as its first secretary-general. He supported Senghor throughout the 1950s which was a politically turbulent period in Senegal.
From 1948 to 1956, he represented Senegal in the French senate in Paris, and later headed Senegal’s government after key territorial elections for self-rule.
When Senegal achieved independence in 1960, Mamadou Dia was appointed as the first prime minister of the country, to serve along with Senghor who was made the first president.
He also served as the vice-president of the unsuccessful Mali Federation of Senegal and French Sudan until the federation collapsed in September 1960.
Over the next three years, the government dealt with the difficulty of power-sharing in young states, which was already evident by the break-up of the Mali Federation.
Mamadou Dia took control of the economy and began to implement some radical ideas, particularly in the reformation of the key groundnut sector. His ideas offended some of vested interests of the powerful religious leaders who controlled the groundnut business, and also snubbed the French who were used to Senghor's casual approach towards socialism.
This gave rise to a severe power struggle between the two former political allies, and, in December 1962, a group of dissident parliamentarians tabled a vote of censure on Dia. He responded by invoking executive powers and ordered the army to lock the assembly building before the vote could be taken.
Senghor described it as an attempted coup, in turn calling out the army, which was majorly loyal to the president. Subsequently, Dia and his ministers were arrested and tried for treachery, finally being sentenced to jail where they remained for more than a decade.
After a long period of confinement in the eastern town of Kédougou, he was first brought back to Dakar, then pardoned and was released in the mid-1970s.
In 1981, he attempted to restart his career by forming a small political party, People's Democratic Movement (CDM), but was unsuccessful in it and found little support.
Later in life, he gained respect among Senegal's fractious opposition parties as he continued to regularly write diatribes in the local press well into his old age.