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Senegal: Africa according to Nicolas Sarkozy

Francophone Africa was awaiting anxiously the newly elected French President's arrival. Nicolas Sarkozy's reputation certainly preceded him in Africa. He was minister of the interior under Jacques Chirac and was responsible for quenching the revolts of disaffected youths (ones he referred to as “racaille” (scum)).
Today Africa is still reeling from the speech Sarkozy made at the Universite of Dakar, named after Cheikh Anta Diop, a Senegalese historian and anthropologist whose theories “put emphasis on the human race's origins and on the study of pre-colonial African culture and its connectedness to the rest of the world”. Cheik Anta Diop is also one of Africa's most prominent historians.
GV Author Lova Rakotomalala already wrote a post on the Open Letter authored by Malagasy writer Jean-Luc Raharimanana and published in French daily newspapers “Liberation”. But other influential Francophone African intellectuals are making themselves heard through blogs, among them Cameroonian historian Achille Mbembe, whose specialty is post-colonial Africa, and who is now a research professor in history and politics at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and acclaimed Senegalese novelist Boubacar Boris Diop. Alain Mabanckou's blog reproduces Achille Mbembe's reactions and one can read Boubacar Boris Diop's at Kangni Alem's.

Boubacar Boris Diop bitterly wonders whether Sarkozy's speech could have been made elsewhere than Francophone Africa.

“Un président étranger faisant, du haut de son mètre soixante quatre, le procès de tous les habitants d´un continent, sommés d´oser enfin s´éloigner de la nature, pour entrer dans l´histoire humaine et s´inventer un destin.”

“A foreign president, looking down on us from his 1.64 m high, judging inhabitants of an entire continent, demanding that they finally get away from nature, enter human history and invent themselves a destiny”

“Sarkozy n´est pas naïf au point de s´imaginer que la voix de son pays porte aussi loin que Johannesburg, Mombasa ou Maputo. Si les intellectuels de cette partie du continent ont, pour une fois, prêté attention aux propos d´un président français, c´est parce qu´on leur en avait préalablement résumé le contenu. Depuis quelques jours, ils le découvrent par eux-mêmes avec stupéfaction en même temps que les réalités de la Françafrique.”

“Sarkozy is not so naive to believe that his country's voice will be heard as far as Johannesburg, Mombasa or Maputo. If intellectuals of this part of the continent have, for once, paid attention to the speech of a French President, it is because it has been previously summarized for them. For several days, they have been discovering with astonishment the realities of Francafrique”

Achille Mbembe lashes out at Nicolas Sarkozy and other contemporary French politicians for using an outdated approach:

“…l’armature intellectuelle qui sous-tend la politique africaine de la France date littéralement de la fin du XIXe siècle.”

“intellectual framework supporting African policy (that) literally dates from the end of the XIXth century.”

This feeling is echoed by Boubacar Boris Diop :

“Ce manque d´humilité d´un homme que l´on dirait encore choqué d´avoir si aisément atteint son but l´a amené à aligner, devant un auditoire particulièrement averti, les plus désolants clichés de l´ethnologie coloniale du dix-neuvième siècle.”

“This lack of humility, from a man apparently still in shock for having so easily reached his presidential goals, has led him to make in front of an especially apprised audience a speech full of all the unfortunate clichés of XIXth century colonial ethnology.”

” « l’homme africain » de notre président ethnophilosophe est surtout reconnaissable soit par ce qu’il n’a pas, ce qu’il n’est pas ou ce qu’il n’est jamais parvenu à accomplir (la dialectique du manque et de l’inachèvement), soit par son opposition à « l’homme moderne » (sous-entendu « l’homme blanc ») – opposition qui résulterait de son attachement irrationnel au royaume de l’enfance, au monde de la nuit, aux bonheurs simples et à un âge d’or qui n’a jamais existé.”

“The African man” of our “ethno-philosopher” president is mostly recognizable to what he does not possess, what he is not, or what he has never succeeded to achieve (a dialectic of loss and failure), or to his opposition to “modern man” (“white man”) – opposition which would result from his irrational attachment to the kingdom of childhood, the world of darkness, simple pleasures and a golden age which never existed.”

For Mbembe, the speech shows France's willful ignorance of Africa : rejecting the blame of slave trade on Africans themselves, and then asking Africans to make the difference between the good and the bad colonizers.

“Les nouvelles élites dirigeantes françaises prétendent jeter un éclairage sur des réalités dont elles ont fait leur hantise et leur fantasme (la race), mais dont, à la vérité, elles ignorent tout.”

“The new French leaders pretend to understand realities which they dread and fantasize about (race), but which in fact they are ignorant about.”

Boubacar Boris Diop, whose last novel was on the Rwandan genocide, is particularly incensed about the attempt at downplaying the importance of the Rwandan genocide.

“L´implication de la France dans le génocide des Tutsi du Rwanda est si avérée que l´on sent parfois chez certaines autorités de l´Hexagone comme une tentation de passer aux aveux”

“France's role in the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda is so proven that one sometimes feels in some authorities of the Hexagone a temptation to confess”

“Pour se tirer d´affaire, on essaie d´accréditer l´idée que le Rwanda n´était, tout bien considéré, qu´un génocide africain de plus et qu´on aurait tort d´en faire une grosse histoire.”

“To get out of trouble, one tries to the idea that Rwanda was, if one thinks of it, but another African genocide and one should not make a big deal out of it “

Both men recognize that atonement and public regrets were not in Sarkozy's line of view.
Boubacar Boris Diop:

” On n’attendait certes pas de Nicolas Sarkozy qu’il regrette publiquement l´implication de son pays – qui ne fait plus l’ombre d’un doute – dans le génocide des Tutsi du Rwanda”

“One would not expect public regrets from Nicolas Sarkozy for his country's participation – which is out of doubt- in the Tutsi Genocide in Rwanda”

but according to Achille Mbembe :

“Nicolas Sarkozy a en outre cru devoir inviter son auditoire à distinguer entre les “bons” et les “mauvais” colonisateurs. Admettrait-il qu´un Allemand applique la même grille de lecture à l´histoire de son pays?”

“Nicolas Sarkozy felt he had to invite his audience to distinguish between “good” and “bad” colonizers. Would he allow a German to use the same standard to his country?”

Among the comments, one R.G. asks:

“L’Allemand Willy Brandt s’est agenouillé à Varsovie, au nom du peuple allemand, en repentance pour les crimes nazis. Quel premier ministre de Grande-Bretagne ira s’agenouiller un jour à Lagos, Freetown, New Delhi, etc., au nom du peuple anglais, en repentance pour les crimes de la colonisation ?”

“The German Willy Brand knelt down in Warswaw, in the name of the German people, in repentance of nazi crimes. Which Prime Minister of Great Britain will kneel down one day in Lagos, Freetown, New Delhi,.etc… in the name of the English people, in repentance of colonization's crimes?”

Boubacar Boris Diop renders a harsh verdict, but also thanks Nicolas Sarkozy:

“Il ne tardera pas à s´en rendre compte : les Africains et les Nègres de la diaspora ne le lui pardonneront jamais. La bonne vieille langue de bois aurait mieux servi les intérêts de son pays. Elle lui aurait en outre évité ces effets oratoires si empruntés qu´ils en étaient parfois un peu pathétiques. A l´arrivée on a presque envie de remercier Nicolas Sarkozy d´être venu nous apporter, bien malgré lui, la bonne nouvelle : en Françafrique, depuis le 16 mai 2007, le Roi est nul.”

“He will soon realize: Africans and Negroes of the diaspora will never forgive him. Good old doublespeak would have better served his country's interests. It would have avoided oratory effects so gauches that they were a bit pathetic. At the end one almost wants to thank Nicolas Sarkozy for having brought us, in spite of himself, good news : in Francafrique, since May 16th 2007, the King is a dunce.”

Achille Mbembe puts Africa's fate firmly in the hands of Africans and dismisses France.

“Aujourd’hui, y compris parmi les Africains francophones dont la servilité à l’égard de la France est particulièrement accusée et qui sont séduits par les sirènes du nativisme et de la condition victimaire, beaucoup d’esprits savent pertinemment que le sort du continent, ou encore son avenir, ne dépend pas de la France. Après un demi-siècle de décolonisation formelle, les jeunes générations ont appris que de la France, tout comme des autres puissances mondiales, il ne faut pas attendre grand-chose. Les Africains se sauveront eux-mêmes ou ils périront.”

“Today, among Francophone Africans whose servility towards France is particularly marked and who are seducted by the sirens of nativism and victimization, many know pertinently that the continent's fate, or its future, does not depend on France. After half a century of formal decolonization, young generations have learned that from France, like from other world powers, one should not expect much. Africans will save themselves or they will perish.”

“Pour l’heure, et s’agissant de l’Afrique, il manque tout simplement à la France le crédit moral qui lui permettrait de parler avec certitude et autorité.”

For now, France is simply missing the moral credit which would allow it to speak about Africa with certitude and authority”

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  • http://gloriapoole.com Gloria Poole

    I am glad to read that Senegalese people are writing on blogs. I think that form of citizen journalism and/or protest is powerful and obviously governments think so also or they would not be trying to suppress them and the writers of them! Keep on keeping on.Tell the world the stories of your nation and your people.
    signed gloria poole

  • Kwaku Asante-Darko

    Hannibal, the ancient Black African General, would have thought that M. Sarkozy must have been drunk when he was talking in Senegal.
    Another point is that if the French think African are stupid and backward and must be taken for granted, it is because they exploit Africa too much. 65% of Francophone Africa’s resources in French Treasury, several trouble-making french military basis on the continent etc etc. If you allow someone to exploit you so much he will certainly think that you are stupid and have neither history nor future.
    It is up to Black africans to unite politically for all the economic advantages it presupposes and drive out the French exploitation and arrogance right from Senegal right through to Rwanda and let them understand that we are not stupid. We are taking care of them, but they think we are taking care of us.

  • JSG

    Down with Sarko!

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  • ras babi

    what about the small Africa in France?

  • Rene Kamara

    When will we learn? Politicians and politics will never help the people – the people will help the people. How the current president of france views Africa should be an annoyance at best, all of this energy spent on being upset about one man’s words from another continent (and culture away) should be used for furthuring Africa’s education, medical needs and community.
    That said, West African countries should see France not as a patriarchal figure but as a developed country to be taking advantage of in regards to business and trade, always keeping in mind that Africa sets the rules.

  • Antonia Johnson-Izegbu

    The speech by Nicholas Sarkozy was racist in the extreme However this is an example of the white Intellectual European mindset. They took action in cruel and inhuman ways 500 years ago and they continue to justify their actions. They were wrong and are still wrong. Unfortunately we are still reeling from the actions they took and the attitudes they continue to have. We must gird our loins and encourage each other and keep striving for future African generations in Africa and the diaspora. We must take our former position.

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