Going down the Senegal River, a life story

From human beings in business to human beings close to nature; from high-level positions in France to helping the poorest in Senegal: Yves Barou has had an incredibly rich and atypical career, whose common thread is a commitment to others and to social justice. Today, he is an author-photographer and, with his friend and peer Djibril Sy, pays a vibrant tribute to the Senegal River and its guardians in their joint book Daande Maayo. For Living with Rivers, he serves as a guide to discover the river, the true umbilical cord of West Africa.

Ibrahima, le gardien de la source du fleuve Sénégal dans les montagnes du Fouta Djalon © Yves Barou

A graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique and a doctorate in economics, Yves Barou spent the first part of his professional life in the senior civil service, at the Ministry of Employment and Solidarity, then in human resources in large French companies, until he became president of the National Agency for Adult Training (AFPA) and created the European Circle of the Human Resources Directors.

Then came the encounter with Africa, and Senegal in particular, and a life henceforth divided between the two continents. Following this, a new way of transmitting, through images and words, was born, by becoming a photographer and writer. A long time actor engaged in social issues, in private companies so that to be more human and in the society so to no longer be a machine to exclude, it is naturally the human being that he privileges in his photos.

Le Pekaan © Yves Barou

From children to artists, the human in the center

His first book “Children of Senegal – from the street to hope” (Des îlots de résistance publishing company) appeared in 2018. It focuses on the already heavy journey of these children, taken out of the street and exclusion, thanks to the association La Liane, which welcomes and accompanies them.

The following year, he turned his lens towards 80 artists, representatives of the city of Saint-Louis, in order to present their daily life and the know-how that must be perpetuated. In “Effervescences africaines: artistes de Saint-Louis” (Tohubohu Publishing), we still find this need to bear witness but also the ambition, through his words, to describe the ills of modern African society. The singularity of the city of Saint-Louis, at the mouth of the river, with a long colonial history and “world capital of melting-pot”, lends itself to this. Yves Barou describes the inexorable rise of the sea level which endangers the Langue de Barbarie and certain districts of the city, but also the lives. He also describes the fate of migrants, beggar children and the new generations who are turning their backs on the identity of their city, even fleeing to Europe.

Saint-Louis © Yves Barou

Along the water, down the Senegal River

In October 2020, Yves Barou signed with Djibril Sy, photographer for the press, artist and teacher of fine arts, the book “Daande Maayo – down the Senegal River”. His love for Senegal is inextricably linked to that of its river, which drains life throughout West Africa.

Djibril lives in Saint-Louis, where he has set up his photo studio. Together, they traveled the 1,800 km of the river, in search of atmosphere, stories, and colors. A journey daande maayo (along the water in Peulh), in pictures and texts: from Fouta Djallon – the water tower of the region, in Guinea, where the Senegal River has its source – to its mouth, in Saint-Louis, passing through Mali and Mauritania. “We wanted to see what’s along the river, starting with the source, which is a bit mysterious and far away,” says Yves.

On a voulu voir ce qu’il y a le long de ce fleuve, en commençant par la source, un peu mystérieuse, lointaine.

Yves Barou

This book questions the history of the river, its current issues, from energy to navigation, through climate and development. It is open to the testimonies of local residents, village chiefs, farmers, etc. and to the explanations of experts they have called upon. “We needed guides to go beyond the words of the people we meet. The photo is subjective, personal. To understand it, we need to go further thanks to historical, geographical, climatic insights…”.

As for Djibril, he wishes to offer this book to young people as an invitation to an inner journey, in this native country of which they are unaware of the richness and which they are leaving for promises of a better future: “the images that I make must make them dream and show them that there are perspectives here. Thanks to the river, they can travel inside the country and discover things instead of losing their illusions.”


Les chutes – ©Yves Barou

Le barrage – ©Yves Barou

Bafing et Bakoye – ©Yves Barou

La recherche de l’eau – ©Yves Barou

Au fil de l’eau – ©Yves Barou

Tokomadji – ©Yves Barou

Morphil – ©Yves Barou

Podor – ©Yves Barou

La Langue de Barbarie – ©Yves Barou

L’embouchure – ©Yves Barou

Daande Maayo, par Yves Barou et Djibril Sy

This book is sold for the benefit of the NGO La Liane, an international solidarity association based in Saint-Louis that welcomes young people in difficulty and women. More information.

Find the selection of photos that Yves prepared for Living with Rivers on our Instagram account: places, people met while traveling down the Senegal River, and their stories.

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