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Ibrahima Gueye, the division chief overseeing birth records in Saint-Louis, will not show reporters Mr. Wade’s birth certificate, or even comment on it. But he says it’s no secret that the colonial-era records usually don’t state authentic dates of birth.

“It’s well-known that this is what parents did. They reduced the age of their kids. It’s not even anything extraordinary,” said Mr. Gueye. “It’s not specific to Wade. It’s specific to Senegal.”

Before independence in 1960, most Senegalese only sought a birth certificate when their children needed to enroll in school.

Elementary School No. 1 in Kebemer has not changed much in the eight decades since its most famous student passed through its halls. Its children still learn to read in classrooms that are rectangles of cement.

The register listing the names of former students is locked away inside a rusting filing cabinet. Its pages are disintegrating, and when you leaf through the book, pieces of brittle paper fall to the ground.

Mr. Wade appears in the book’s alphabetical section under V - for “Vade.”

But the page stating his date of entry into the school, which could be used by someone to deduce his date of birth, has been ripped out, explains headmaster Badary Diop, showing reporters the missing section.

Before and after it, the names of his former classmates appear. Nearly all of them are dead.

Among those still alive is Pape Souleye Aw, who attended first grade with Mr. Wade and remembers playing with him on the school’s grounds.

Horse story

Mr. Aw lives not far from the school and needs to be pulled up by one hand to sit up in bed.

He says his parents waited until he was around 10 to send him to school. For him to be admitted, they needed to reduce his age on his birth certificate, and so they registered him as being born in 1928.

“It was like that. When you enroll for the first time, your age is reduced, because you need to give the age that the school wants to hear,” says Mr. Aw, who stops talking several times to cough into a handkerchief.

“I don’t know when I was born. But I think they reduced my age by five or six years.” Meaning that he was actually born in 1922 or 1923.

He says he doesn’t know if Mr. Wade’s parents did the same, only that the two of them were in the same class - and that it’s his impression that they were the same age.

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