Systems of Governance – The Chimurenga Chronic https://chimurengachronic.co.za now-now, a pan African gazette - in print quarterly and online Mon, 14 Jun 2021 14:13:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/cropped-CHIMURENGA-LOGO-32x32.jpg Systems of Governance – The Chimurenga Chronic https://chimurengachronic.co.za 32 32 IMAGI-NATION NWAR (APRIL 2021) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/inprint_posts/imagi-nation-nwar-april-2021/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/inprint_posts/imagi-nation-nwar-april-2021/#respond Mon, 14 Jun 2021 12:24:26 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=inprint_posts&p=17867 Genealogies of the black radical imagination in the francophone world

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imagi-nation nwar – genealogies of the black radical imagination in the francophone world

de-composed, an-arranged and re-produced by Chimurenga

feat. Mongo Beti & Odile Biyidi’s Peuples Noirs, Peuples Africains; Elsie Haas, Julius-Amédée Laou; Cheikh Anta Diop; FEANF; GONG; Gérard Lockel; Glissant’s IME; Suzanne Roussi; Paul Niger; Andrée Blouin; Maryse Condé; Guinea’s Cultural Revolution; Awa Thiam; Francoise Ega; Yambo Ouologuem; Groupe du 6 Novembre; ACTAF & Revolution Afrique; Med Hondo; Sidney Sokhona; Nicolas Silatsa; Somankidi Coura; Edja Kungali; Sarah Maldoror; Sony Labou Tansi; Madeleine Beauséjour; and many, many more…

New writing by: Michaela Danjé; Hemley Boum; Olivier Marboeuf; Marie-Héléna Laumuno; Amzat Boukari-Yabara; Amandine Nana with Julius-Amédée Laou; Sarah Fila-Bakabadio; Pierre Crépon; DY Ngoy; Dénètem Touam Bona; Christelle Oyiri; Native Maqari; Seumboy Vrainom with Malcom Ferdinand; the “undercommons” collective translation workshop coordinated by Rosanna Puyol (Brook).

French/English/Kreyol


To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop,or get copies from your nearest dealer.

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RADIO MAC ON PASS – 14-21 June https://chimurengachronic.co.za/radio-mac-on-pass-14-21-june/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/radio-mac-on-pass-14-21-june/#respond Fri, 11 Jun 2021 08:32:28 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=17844 Chimurenga and Hangar (Lisbon) present Radio MAC live on PASS 14-21 June 2021, 6pm.

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Chimurenga and Hangar (Lisbon) present Radio MAC, a program curated by Sonia Vaz Borges and Monica de Miranda – live on PASS 14-21 June 2021, 6pm.

Radio MAC is a reimagining of the radio organ of the Anti Colonialist Movement (MAC) founded by students and revolutionaries such as Marcelino dos Santos, Mario de Andrade and Aquino de Braganca in 1957 in Paris, in collaboration with Neto, Cabral and other nationalists in Lisbon.

Programming consists of eight episodes on the role of radio and more broadly, sound, in the African liberation struggle against Portuguese colonialism, along with stories of migration. The constructed dialogues include music, speech, poetry, and performance.

Participants include: Raquel Lima, Telma Tvon, Carla Fernandes, Marinho Pina, Chalo Correia, Galissa, DJ Lucky, and Victor Gama – see daily program updates and detailed bios at panafricanspacestation.org.za.

Radio MAC is part of Chimurenga’s ongoing research on radio in Africa’s liberation struggles.

[Photograph: Mário Soares Foundation / DAC – Amílcar Cabral Documents]

======

Sónia Vaz Borges is an interdisciplinary militant historian and social-political organizer. She is currently a researcher at Humboldt University Berlin in the History of Education Department and is working on the project “Education for all” with a special focus on Mozambique and the FRELIMO liberation movement, and the Sandinistas revolution in Nicaragua.

Mónica de Miranda is a Portuguese artist of Angolan origin who lives and works between Lisbon and Luanda. Artist and researcher, her work is based on themes of urban archaeology and personal geography. She works in an interdisciplinary way with drawing, installation, photography, film, video and sound, in its expanded forms and within the boundaries between fiction and documentary. She co-founded the Hangar project (Artist Residency Centre, Lisbon, 2014).


Chimurenga e Hangar apresentam a Rádio MAC, com curadoria de Sónia Vaz Borges e Mónica de Miranda – a Rádio MAC é inspirada no Movimento Anti-Colonialista (MAC) fundado por estudantes e revolucionários, como Marcelino dos Santos, Mário de Andrade e Aquino de Bragança, em Paris, no ano de 1957, com colaboração de Neto, Cabral e outros nacionalistas em Lisboa.

A Rádio MAC é um projeto especulativo que repensa o papel da rádio neste movimento. A programação consiste em 8 episódios que discutem o papel da rádio, e de uma forma mais ampla, do som, na luta africana pela libertação do colonialismo português, em paralelo com histórias de migração.

Procura construir uma consciência das lutas do passado e do presente e redefinir a luta de libertação para um lugar e tempo atual, através do processo de memória, resistência e utopia. Na Rádio MAC, os diálogos desenvolvidos incluem música, discurso, poesia e performance.

Os participantes incluem: Raquel Lima, Telma Tvon, Carla Fernandes, Marinho Pina, Chalo Correia, Galissa, DJ Lucky e Victor Gama – veja as atualizações diárias do programa e as biografias detalhadas em panafricanspacestation.org.za

A Rádio MAC é parte da pesquisa em andamento de Chimurenga sobre a estética e a política da rádio nas lutas de libertação em África.

[Foto: Fundação Mário Soares / DAC – Documentos Amílcar Cabral]

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Sónia Vaz Borges é uma historiadora interdisciplinar militante e organizadora sócio-política. Actualmente é investigadora na Universidade Humboldt de Berlim no Departamento de História da Educação no projecto “Educação para Todos” onde particularmente em Moçambique e o movimento de libertação FRELIMO, e a revolução sandinista na Nicarágua.

Mónica de Miranda é uma artista portuguesa de origem angolana que vive e trabalha entre Lisboa e Luanda. Artista e investigadora, o seu trabalho é baseado em temas de arqueologia urbana e geografias pessoais. Trabalha de forma interdisciplinar com desenho, instalação, fotografia, filme, vídeo e som, nas suas formas expandidas e nas fronteiras entre a ficção e o documentário. É uma das fundadoras do projeto Hangar (Centro de residências artísticas, Lisboa, 2014).

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Chimurenganyana: Becoming Kwame Ture by Amandla Thomas-Johnson (Oct 2020) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-becoming-kwame-ture-by-amandla-thomas-johnson-oct-2020/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-becoming-kwame-ture-by-amandla-thomas-johnson-oct-2020/#respond Wed, 21 Oct 2020 10:33:31 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=17623 Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) was viewed by many during the civil rights […]

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Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) was viewed by many during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s as the dashing and eloquent heir to Malcolm X. His call for Black Power and his fiery speeches led to his ascension as the foremost symbol of black militancy. But the threat posed to white America by the triumvirate of Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X would be suppressed as the decade declined to a close. Indeed, X and King would meet death at the escort of gunmen, in ‘65 and ‘68, respectively, and in ‘69, Carmichael would board a plane bound for Guinea, never to return on a permanent basis.

But Kwame Ture lived on for another 30 years and he was as politically active as he had been in the ‘60s. At the time of his death, Ture had become perhaps the foremost Pan-Africanist of his day. He co-founded (with Kwame Nkrumah) and led the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, arguably the most significant Pan-African political party in its heyday, and he established himself as the leading black advocate for Palestinian rights. Why do we know so little about the last 30 years of his life?

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FESTAC 77 BOOK (Oct 2019) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/festac77/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/festac77/#respond Tue, 01 Oct 2019 11:40:01 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=13686 Early in 1977, thousands of artists, writers, musicians, activists and scholars from Africa and the black diaspora assembled in Lagos for FESTAC ’77, the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. With a radically ambitious agenda underwritten by Nigeria’s newfound oil wealth, FESTAC ’77 would unfold as a complex, glorious and excessive culmination of a half-century of transatlantic and pan-Africanist cultural-political gatherings.

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Early in 1977, thousands of artists, writers, musicians, activists and scholars from Africa and the black diaspora assembled in Lagos for FESTAC ’77, the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. With a radically ambitious agenda underwritten by Nigeria’s newfound oil wealth, FESTAC ’77 would unfold as a complex, glorious and excessive culmination of a half-century of transatlantic and pan-Africanist cultural-political gatherings.

As told by Chimurenga, this is the first publication to address the planetary scale of FESTAC alongside the personal and artistic encounters it made possible. Featuring extensive unseen photographic and archival materials, interviews and new commissions, the book relays the stories, words and works of the festival’s extraordinary cast of characters.

With: Wole Soyinka, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Ahmed Sékou Touré, Archie Shepp, Miriam Makeba, Allioune Diop, Jeff Donaldson, Louis Farrakhan, Stevie Wonder, Abdias do Nascimento, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Mario de Andrade, Ted Joans, Nadi Qamar,Carlos Moore, Ayi Kwei Armah, Ama Ata Aidoo, Johnny Dyani, Werewere Liking, Marilyn Nance, Barkley Hendricks, Mildred Thompson, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Jayne Cortez, Atukwei OkaiJonas Gwangwa, Theo Vincent, Lindsay Barrett, Gilberto de la Nuez, Sun Ra and many others.

And featuring new writing from: Akin Adesokan, Moses Serubiri, Harmony Holiday, Semeneh Ayalew, Hassan Musa, Emmanuel Iduma, Michael McMillan, Dominique Malaquais and Cedric Vincent, Molefe Pheto, Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, Hermano Penna, Alice Aterianus.
.

Published by Chimurenga and Afterall Books, in association with Asia Art Archive, the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College and RAW Material Company, 2019.


The FESTAC 77 publication is available for purchase through our online shop.

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WHO KILLED KABILA II (APRIL 2019) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/inprint_posts/who-killed-kabila-ii/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/inprint_posts/who-killed-kabila-ii/#respond Mon, 14 Jun 2021 12:46:49 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=inprint_posts&p=17869 So, who killed Kabila? The new issue of the Chronic presents this query as the starting point for an in-depth investigation into power, territory and the creative imagination by writers from the Congo and other countries involved in the conflict.

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On January 16, 2001, in the middle of the day, shots are heard in the Palais de Marbre,the residence of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila. The road bordering the presidential residence, usually closed from 6pm by a simple guarded barrier is blocked by tanks.

At the Ngaliema hospital in Kinshasa, a helicopter lands and a body wrapped in a bloody sheet is off loaded. Non-essential medical personnel and patients are evacuated and the hospital clinic is surrounded by elite troops. No one enters or leaves. RFI (Radio France Internationale) reports on a serious incident at the presidential palace in Kinshasa.

Rumor, the main source of information in the Congolese capital, is set in motion…  

18 years after the assassination of Laurent-Désiré Kabila, rumours still proliferate. Suspects include: the Rwandan government; the French; Lebanese diamond dealers; the CIA; Robert Mugabe; Angolan security forces; the apartheid-era Defence Force; political rivals and rebel groups; Kabila’s own kadogos (child soldiers); family members and even musicians.

The geopolitics of those implicated tells its own story; the event came in the middle of the so-called African World War, a conflict that involved multiple regional players, including, most prominently, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

So, who killed Kabila? The new issue of the Chronic presents this query as the starting point for an in-depth investigation into power, territory and the creative imagination by writers from the Congo and other countries involved in the conflict.

The issue is the result of a three-year research project that included a 5-day intervention and installation at La Colonie (Paris), from December 13 – 17, 2017, which featured a live radio station and a research library, a conceptual inventory of the archive of this murder – all documented in a research catalogue.


As this research revealed, who killed Kabila is no mystery. It is not A or B or C. But rather A and B and C. All options are both true and necessary – it’s the coming together of all these individuals, groups and circumstances, on one day, within the proliferating course of the history, that does it.

Telling this story then, isn’t merely a matter of presenting multiple perspectives but rather of finding a medium able to capture the radical singularity of the event in its totality, including each singular, sometimes fantastical, historical fact, rumour or suspicion. We’ve heard plenty about the danger of the single story – in this issue we explore its power. We take inspiration from the Congolese musical imagination, its capacity for innovation and its potential to allow us to think “with the bodily senses, to write with the musicality of one’s own flesh.”

However, this editorial project doesn’t merely put music in context, it proposes music as the context, the paradigm for the writing. The single story we write borrows from the sebene – the upbeat, mostly instrumental part of Congolese rumba famously established by Franco (Luambo Makiadi), which consists in the lead guitarist playing short looping phrases with variations, supported or guided by the shouts of the atalaku (animateur) and driving, snare-based drumming.

Similarly, to follow Ousmane Sembene’s method of using multi-location and polyphony as decolonial narrative tools, we invited writers from the countries directly involved and implicated in the events surrounding Kabila’s death (DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola, and a de-territorialised entity called AFDL) to write one story: the assassination of Kabila.

Working fluidly between fact and fiction, and featuring multiple forms of writing, the contributors – Yvonne Owuor, Antoine Vumilia Muhindo, Parselelo Kantai, Jihan El-Tahri, Daniel K. Kalinaki,  Kivu Ruhorahoza, Percy Zvomuya and Sinzo Aanza – use the event-scene of the shooting is their starting point tocollectively tell the single story with its multiplication of plots and subplots that challenge history as a linear march, and tell not the sum but the derangement of its parts.

The issue thus performs an imaginative remapping that better accounts for the complex spatial, temporal, political, economic and cultural relations at play, as well the internal and external actors, organized into networks and nuclei – not only human actors but objects; music; images; texts, ghosts etc – and how these actors come together in time, space, relationships.

This edition of the Chimurenga Chronic is conceived as a sebene of the Congolese rumba – enjoy the dance!


To purchase in print head to our online shop, or get copies from your nearest dealer.

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The Chronic: Who Killed Kabila II https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/the-chronic-who-killed-kabila-now-out/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/the-chronic-who-killed-kabila-now-out/#respond Mon, 01 Apr 2019 08:07:33 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=12556 On January 16, 2001, in the middle of the day, shots are heard in the Palais de Marbre,the residence of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila. The road bordering the presidential residence, usually closed from 6pm by a simple guarded barrier is blocked by tanks. 

The post The Chronic: Who Killed Kabila II first appeared on The Chimurenga Chronic.

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On January 16, 2001, in the middle of the day, shots are heard in the Palais de Marbre,the residence of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila. The road bordering the presidential residence, usually closed from 6pm by a simple guarded barrier is blocked by tanks.

At the Ngaliema hospital in Kinshasa, a helicopter lands and a body wrapped in a bloody sheet is off loaded. Non-essential medical personnel and patients are evacuated and the hospital clinic is surrounded by elite troops. No one enters or leaves. RFI (Radio France Internationale) reports on a serious incident at the presidential palace in Kinshasa.

Rumor, the main source of information in the Congolese capital, is set in motion…  

18 years after the assassination of Laurent-Désiré Kabila, rumours still proliferate. Suspects include: the Rwandan government; the French; Lebanese diamond dealers; the CIA; Robert Mugabe; Angolan security forces; the apartheid-era Defence Force; political rivals and rebel groups; Kabila’s own kadogos (child soldiers); family members and even musicians.

The geopolitics of those implicated tells its own story; the event came in the middle of the so-called African World War, a conflict that involved multiple regional players, including, most prominently, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

So, who killed Kabila? The new issue of the Chronic presents this query as the starting point for an in-depth investigation into power, territory and the creative imagination by writers from the Congo and other countries involved in the conflict.

The issue is the result of a three-year research project that included a 5-day intervention and installation at La Colonie (Paris), from December 13 – 17, 2017, which featured a live radio station and a research library, a conceptual inventory of the archive of this murder – all documented in a research catalogue.

As this research revealed, who killed Kabila is no mystery. It is not A or B or C. But rather A and B and C. All options are both true and necessary – it’s the coming together of all these individuals, groups and circumstances, on one day, within the proliferating course of the history, that does it.

Telling this story then, isn’t merely a matter of presenting multiple perspectives but rather of finding a medium able to capture the radical singularity of the event in its totality, including each singular, sometimes fantastical, historical fact, rumour or suspicion. We’ve heard plenty about the danger of the single story – in this issue we explore its power. We take inspiration from the Congolese musical imagination, its capacity for innovation and its potential to allow us to think “with the bodily senses, to write with the musicality of one’s own flesh.”

However, this editorial project doesn’t merely put music in context, it proposes music as the context, the paradigm for the writing. The single story we write borrows from the sebene – the upbeat, mostly instrumental part of Congolese rumba famously established by Franco (Luambo Makiadi), which consists in the lead guitarist playing short looping phrases with variations, supported or guided by the shouts of the atalaku (animateur) and driving, snare-based drumming.


The Invention of Africa by Franco & T.P.OK Jazz – Ntone Edjabe on the Pan African Space Station.



“Franco, c’est l’inventeur du sebene. Parce que… et à coté il y avait Nico Kasanda, le docteur Nico, qui lui avait plus de technique de guitare mais qui jouait très mélodique, et Luambo c’était le mec qui est vraiment le mec du quartier avec sa connaissance intuitive de la guitare il a inventé cet manière de faire des sorte de boucle rythmique. Sa manière de jouer c’est un boucle rythmique. Le même phrase rythmique qui revient tout le temps. Et c’est ça le sebene congolais. Et jusqu’à aujourd’hui nous fonctionnons par sebene. Même moi même.“


Interview on France Inter : « Le labo de Ray Lema du 16 mars 2014 »

Ray Lema shares more stories and sounds from his life in music with Bintou Simporé onboard the Pan African Space Station.
Recorded for PASS in Paris at the Fondation Cartier exhibition Beauté Congo – 1926-2015 – Congo Kitoko. For more visit http://panafricanspacestation.org.za

Similarly, to follow Ousmane Sembene’s method of using multi-location and polyphony as decolonial narrative tools, we invited writers from the countries directly involved and implicated in the events surrounding Kabila’s death (DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola, and a de-territorialised entity called AFDL) to write one story: the assassination of Kabila.

Working fluidly between fact and fiction, and featuring multiple forms of writing, the contributors – Yvonne Owuor, Antoine Vumilia Muhindo, Parselelo Kantai, Jihan El-Tahri, Daniel K. Kalinaki,  Kivu Ruhorahoza, Percy Zvomuya and Sinzo Aanza – use the event-scene of the shooting is their starting point to collectively tell the single story with its multiplication of plots and subplots that challenge history as a linear march, and tell not the sum but the derangement of its parts.

The issue thus performs an imaginative remapping that better accounts for the complex spatial, temporal, political, economic and cultural relations at play, as well the internal and external actors, organized into networks and nuclei – not only human actors but objects; music; images; texts, ghosts etc – and how these actors come together in time, space, relationships.

This edition of the Chimurenga Chronic is conceived as a sebene of the Congolese rumba – enjoy the dance!

The Chronic is a quarterly pan African gazette, published by Chimurenga.

This edition is part of a larger research project of the Chimurenga Library. It is produced with support from Heinrich Boll Foundation (Cape Town), and in collaboration with La Colonie (Paris), Cosmopolis Bienial/ Centre Pompidou (Paris), Marabouparken Konsthall (Stockholm) and Kalmar Konstmuseum.

For more information or to order your print or digital copy visit www.chimurengachronic.co.za and/or contact Chimurenga on +27(0)21 4224168 or info@chimurenga.co.za.

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The Enemy in Her Imagination: A Fable https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-enemy-in-her-imagination-a-fable/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-enemy-in-her-imagination-a-fable/#respond Wed, 09 Jun 2021 14:37:12 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=17839 Rahel first met the young, 11-year old boy, on December 21, 2006. That was the day after the war in Somalia was declared.

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Elleni Centime Zeleke

Rahel first met the young, 11-year old boy, on December 21, 2006. That was the day after the war in Somalia was declared. It was a beautiful day in the mountains, the rainy season was complete, yellow flowers still dotted the sides of valleys. You could feel all of human history in the thin air.

That evening a development worker who was driving his pick-up truck on the road between Adigrat and Mekelle, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, killed an animal that was part of a herd of draughting cattle. The cattle were being watched over by the 11-year boy who was also herding the other animals of his village. The men of the village had gathered by the side of the road where the cattle had been run over. Rahel could see in their faces that in an instant the accumulated wealth of multiple generations of farmers had been lost. The blood of cattle coursed along the roadside but the driver of the pick-up truck was unconcerned. He had left some money for the kid and moved on. He believed that the inputs of a generation of ancestors could be exchanged for a commodity to be bought on the market: a motor might be substituted for an animal. But that’s not how things worked on a plot of land 2500 metres above sea level in Tigray. How could the boy return home? What shame would he face? What role could the young boy play in the community now that he had failed at the task assigned to him?

***

The occupation of Somalia lasted for three years or was it ten? Maybe the occupation is ongoing? Rahel is unsure. In 2006, Rahel was told that the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia invited the Ethiopian troops, that the fight was against the Islamic court system then being set up in Somalia. Rahel was meant to understand that the court system was operated by terrorists, that the war was not against the people of Somalia, that there was an imminent threat of Somalia being used as a proxy for larger regional conflicts, evil forces had to be vanquished.

What Rahel does know is that until the Ethiopian government waged war against the residents of Tigray in November of 2020, the African Union peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu was historically staffed by Ethiopian troops. They say peace is an extension of the way life is organized during war or is it the other way around? Is war an extension of the way life has already been organized for peace?

When did war begin for the residents of Mogadishu? When will war end for the residents of Tigray?

***

Rahel had come to Mekelle in December 2006 to see another boy, a much older one, called Ezana, who had recently relocated from Addis Ababa to work for the French NGO, Doctors Without Borders. Ezana’s work had something to do with HIV education and outreach. During Rahel’s stay in Mekelle, Ezana would take her to meetings. One memorable gathering was at the conference hall of the Sharia Council of Tigray. She recalls the meeting because the discussion was dominated by a woman with a cross tattooed on her forehead. Throughout the Horn of Africa, women and men would historically adopt different religious affiliations according to the vagaries of war, famine and fate. What was not possible was to be without affiliation. Communities knew how to assimilate difference; individuals would know how to survive changing circumstances.

***

Ezana had grown up in Addis Ababa where he had attended the Black Lion High School. The school was so named after the patriotic rebel group that fought the Italian colonial army in the 1930s. Was this what tied Ezana to Addis? The Ethiopian wars against the Italians were primarily fought in Tigray. Eventually, the generals in those wars, who came from all over the Horn of Africa, would turn Addis Ababa from a sparsely settled area into a military encampment and then into a capital city. Was it the movement of these people that allowed Ezana to make a claim on Addis Ababa?

In 2006, these were not questions Rahel knew how to ask.

Rahel had grown up in the Kazanchis neighbourhood of Addis Ababa, well known for its bars with concrete floors covered in fresh cut grass and some version of electro-funk on the stereo. Back then, what tied Ezana and Rahel together was that they had a mutual childhood friend who used to take them drinking in the taverns of Addis Ababa. During the Christmas season of 2006 Rahel wanted to find out if the laughter she had shared with Ezana over spirits amounted to a bond stronger than alcohol. This is why Rahel followed Ezana from Addis Ababa to Mekelle. She wanted to know what other affiliations they might share.

***

Before setting out for her trip to Tigray, Rahel’s mother called to express disappointment in her daughter. To visit Tigray was to visit the enemy. Rahel’s mother described the ways the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (which was part of the ruling coalition then in power in Ethiopia) had dismantled buildings and resources and taken them from Addis to Mekelle. When Rahel arrived in Mekelle she expected to see roads paved with the gold that had been stolen from Addis Ababa. What she saw instead was just another dusty town that looked exactly like Addis Ababa once did before investors tried to reconstruct that city into a poor imitation of Dubai.

In Mekelle, animals and humans still mixed freely. It was possible to sit on a stoop, eat ful, drink tea, and watch the morning light curve the day. 

Watching the day, Rahel did wonder why the ful was so good. Fava beans are not indigenous to the Tigray region and ful is a dish one might associate with lower Egypt rather than the rooftop of the Nile river. But when you are a displaced person in Tigray you might also follow the Tekeze river across the border into Sudan and then the Nile into Egypt. The Tekeze river is a major tributary of the Nile river. During the cold war, there was also a civil war between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the central government in Ethiopia. That war lasted 17 years. The Nile river flows south to north but in return recipes for ful have flowed north to south as the refugees returned home from Sudan.

The light in Mekelle also reminded Rahel of other migrant destinations in the Horn of Africa; for example, Sana’a in Yemen. These are urban settlements built into the side of mountain escarpments. Cities in the sky. Travellers in these cities have heart attacks from the thin air and the limited oxygen supply. When a person is addressed, he or she is meant to demonstrate reticence in their expression and feeling. This is how Rahel spent her days with Ezana.

After laughter was finished sunlight filtered through the space that remained. When the friends parted ways lattice like patterns remained on the ground.

***

Independent farmers are notoriously difficult to corral into a national economy. Mekelle like Sana’a and Addis Ababa is surrounded by smallholder agriculture. The farmers in Sana’a all grow qat, a mild narcotic, for local and market consumption. But in Tigray and in the regions surrounding Addis Ababa the land is used to cultivate grains and pulses that are consumed by those growing the food. Farmers will also sometimes grow cash crops like qat or coffee alongside food items meant for immediate consumption.

Smallholder farmers feed the city when they eke out a surplus beyond feeding their families.

***

Rahel’s mother was filled with a false sense of what the world had taken from her. The fact is hardly anyone is rich in the Horn of Africa. The commodities that circulate through markets and middle men hardly ever generate the kinds of profits that could be stolen or hoarded for the benefit of one group. Where there is money to be made it is in collecting rents from NGO’s and other commercial and non-commercial development agencies. Nonetheless, the city does exert coercive pressures on the farmer. The city sells the farmer fertilizer and coordinates the price for coffee and qat, sesame and grains. The farmer accrues a debt during the growing season but when the harvest season arrives, he sells his surplus produce as fast as possible in order to pay off his obligations to a middle man. Does the farmer know the best time to sell his grain? Who profits when the farmer sells his produce too cheaply just so he can return home before the sun sets on the other side of the mountain ridge?

When Rahel returned to Addis Ababa, she wanted to ask her mother these questions. She wanted to tell her mother that the ful in Mekelle was delicious. It was an experience worth savouring. She didn’t say these things to her. She wasn’t allowed to.

***

The day after the war in Somalia was announced in December 2006, Ezana took Rahel to Adigrat, which is a town close to the border with Eritrea. Rahel and Ezana stood on a mountain cliff in Adigrat while he showed her the edge of another country. Rahel once had distant relatives in that other country. They have forgotten each other. Rahel wanted to go to Adigrat to remember those affiliations too. When she stood on the mountain cliff, she felt like things could be different; that one day she might meet those lost relatives and they would embrace.

Nurrudin Farah has said that what is at war in the Horn of Africa are “the generic and the specific as concepts”. Ethiopia is a generic term for a wide variety of different people, it’s an expansive term, inclusive, while Somali is specific. You are either Somali or you are not. Later, Farah also writes that “wars are rivers that burn.” Once war resumed between the TPLF and the central government in 2020 it was hard to know who counted as an Ethiopian or an Eritrean or even a Somali, what was generic and what was specific to a place? The capaciousness of ethnic and national categories shrinks and expands at the convenience of power. As shifts are made bodies pay the price. In 2020 the women of Adigrat paid the price when they were taken from their homes and brutally raped. The troops who committed these acts were part of the coalition of forces put together by the central government in Ethiopia. These included Eritrean troops who crossed the same border Rahel wistfully leaned into in 2006.

***

Rahel doesn’t know what the 2020-21 war is meant to achieve. Someone told her that Ethiopian unity was under threat, but was that a generic Ethiopia or a specific Ethiopia? Rahel was told that the TPLF needed to be disbanded because it acted as an intransigent force, creating a lawless federal system. Is federalism a generic or specific concept?

Between 1991 and 2019 the TPLF ruled Ethiopia with a coalition of partners through an organization called the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Many of the same people who worked inside of that government and who once spoke on behalf of the EPRDF now speak against the EPRDF regime as if they were not a part of it. Brother has turned against brother, and women are paying the price.

***

When Rahel and Ezana left Adrigrat on the evening of December 21, 2006, they went to a waterfall where the local kids were bathing in fresh water. Later, as the sun set and they drove towards Mekelle they saw even more young boys herding animals in the valley below the highway. The highway from Adigrat to Mekelle was smooth and new. It has made travel between scattered urban centres more accessible; it has connected farmers to markets, it has allowed farmers to better coordinate information and fetch better prices. The highway was part of the infrastructure projects EPRDF was well known for. The highway also makes speeding in a mechanized vehicle easy and desirable. Was this also part of the war between the generic and the specific in the Horn of Africa?

The way that Rahel tells the story, a few years after the accident, shame drove the young boy to journey along the Tekeze river, towards the Mediterranean or the Red Sea. She does not know if the boy survived the crossing. But if he did, she wonders how many languages he now speaks and what he thinks about when he hears about the war against his sisters in Adigrat.

Who then is the enemy in her mother’s imagination?


Elleni Centime Zeleke is Assistant Professor of African Studies in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. Thanks to Arash Davari, Ulele Burnham, and Emily Raboteau for reading the many incarnations of this story and for providing editorial guidance along the way.

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Who Killed Kabila I https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/the-chimurenga-library-who-killed-kabila-catalogue-now-available/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/the-chimurenga-library-who-killed-kabila-catalogue-now-available/#respond Fri, 01 Dec 2017 08:12:16 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=12558 The Chimurenga Library is a research platform that seeks to re-imagine the library as a laboratory for extended curiosity, new adventures, critical thinking, daydreaming, socio-political involvement, partying and random perusal.

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From December 13 – 17, 2017, Chimurenga installed a library of books, films, and visual material mapping extensive research that ask “Who Killed Kabila“, as the starting point for an in-depth investigation into power, territory and the creative imagination. This book catalogues all the research material produced and collected for this installation.

The equation is simple: the length of a Congolese president’s reign is proportional to his/her willingness to honour the principle that the resources of the Congo belong to others. Mzee Kabila failed.

Who killed Kabila is no mystery either. It is not A or B or C. But rather A and B and C. All options are both true and necessary – it’s the coming together of all these individuals, groups and circumstances, on one day, within the proliferating course of the history, that does it.

So telling this story isn’t merely be a matter of presenting multiple perspectives but rather of finding a medium able to capture the radical singularity of the event in its totality, including each singular, sometimes fantastical, historical fact, rumour or suspicion.

We’ve heard plenty about the danger of the single story – we want to explore its power. We take inspiration from the Congolese musical imagination, its capacity for innovation and its potential to allow us to think “with the bodily senses, to write with the musicality of one’s own flesh” (Mbembe).


The catalogue is now available for sale in the Chimurenga shop.

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Chimurenganyana: Rumblin’ by Dominique Malaquais (June 2012) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-rumbling-by-dominique-malaquais-june-2012/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-rumbling-by-dominique-malaquais-june-2012/#respond Wed, 30 May 2012 15:16:30 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=15316 A text and image reflection on the “Rumble in the Jungle”, the […]

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A text and image reflection on the “Rumble in the Jungle”, the Muhammad Ali / George Foreman boxing match held in Kinshasa in 1974. Norman Mailer started The Fight, Dominique Malaquais punched back. Artwork by Kakudji.

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Remember Glissant https://chimurengachronic.co.za/remember-glissant/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/remember-glissant/#respond Mon, 12 Apr 2021 10:04:09 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=17749 Moses März writes of Édouard Glissant, Martinican, poet and compatriot of the more celebrated Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon

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Moses März writes of Édouard Glissant, Martinican, poet and compatriot of the more celebrated Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon, who devoted his life to the decolonial project, to studying the French Caribbean predicament, and to shattering the glass globe of the “exotique” that kept his birthplace perpetually confined and in servitude to a very French construct.   

A massive glass globe has been placed over the island. Planes can enter through a window that is opened and closed at fixed intervals. The air is conditioned to prevent harmful microbes from entering. When visitors arrive, they find themselves in a tropical paradise. They are greeted by a reassuring announcement: “You have nothing to fear, there is no danger here, you can experiment and try out new things, provoke the natives to see how they react, everything is under control. We proudly present to you a colony in its original state, the way it existed since the times of the plantations. Nothing has changed, everything is completely authentic. We wish you a pleasant stay. For any further information during your stay our sociologists and psychiatrists are at your disposal.” The tourist-investigators roam about the island, questionnaires in hand, asking the inhabitants: “Do you by any chance know the names of some of the neighbouring islands?” “In which year did you decide to be recolonised?”

This nightmare, a parable told by Mycéa in the novel Mahagony, is the horror scenario against which Édouard Glissant fought. He was born on Martinique—an island in the Caribbean and a French Overseas Department—in 1928 and he died in Paris in 2011. Since the official end of slavery in 1848 and the collapse of the sugar plantation industry, any attempts to foster national autonomy have been systematically undermined in Martinique. The economic power remains in the hands of a tiny elite of white béké. Its privileged access to the Elysée Palace dates to Napoleon’s wife Josephine, the daughter of a béké family, who reinstalled slavery after its abolition during the French Revolution. As official French citizens, Martinicans receive social grants geared to absorb chronic levels of discontent and unemployment. They allow Martinicans to afford the baguettes and croissants arriving ready-made from France in the form of green-grey frozen dough—ready to be reheated in the microwave. In tourist brochures, Fort-de-France, the island’s main town, is advertised as the Paris of the Antilles. The view from the neighbouring islands confirms Martinique’s exceptional status in the Caribbean. As Derek Walcott from neighbouring island Saint Lucia wrote in his short story Café Martinique: “Across the blue channel from our island, we sometimes saw the haze that was Martinique. Civilization, French wines. Sidewalk cafés for disenchanted love. I went there briefly and saw what I had imagined.”

When Glissant began Le discours antillais, his main study of the French Caribbean predicament, with the statement that “Martinique is not a Polynesian island,” this was not only meant to assert the importance of the islands of the so-called Lesser Antilles that General de Gaulle once dismissed as “dust specks on the sea”. It was to tear down the glass globe that confined the island to an exotic tourist destination and cut it off from the surrounding world. From its neighbouring islands, with whom it shares the legacies of slavery and marronage, and the creole cultures emerging from them. From the African ancestry of most of its inhabitants, a history that was systematically erased by a colonial education system. From of the natural rhythms of single season in which everything grows, and in which the practice of importing fresh produce from more than 6,000km across the Atlantic Ocean is absurd. From the idea that there is only one civilisation, one history and one language. When Glissant wrote that “It is the poet’s task to create rhizomes between his place and the world’s totality, to diffuse the totality in his particular place”, this was not a retreat into a poetic universalism, but Glissant’s formulation of a decolonial project.

Where to begin with this work? Glissant began by inventing his own langage to describe the landscape of his island, by dreaming up the conflicts and social entanglements between maroons who fled into the hills and slaves who stayed on the plantation, and by singing the song of creolisation, not a happy intercultural mixture, but “the unstoppable conjunction despite misery, oppression and lynching, the conjunction that opens up torrents of unpredictable results.”

In contrast to his Martinican compatriots Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon, the political legacy of Glissant’s life and writing is vague at best, even to those familiar with his work. In postcolonial studies his name adds an exotic flavour, a French touch. In militant circles, few have heard of him and even fewer would consider him to have carried on the tradition of Martinican decolonial thought traced by his predecessors.

A walk through Fort-de-France suggests that this might have to do as much with Glissant’s reluctance to write in prose—his exercised “right to opacity” (“As for my identity, I’ll take care of that myself”)—as with the position Césaire occupied in Martinique and la Francophonie. The portraits of a smiling bespectacled Césaire are omnipresent on the island. The airport carries his name, a massive banner of Césaire in conversation with Georges Pompidou (“The men of good will cast a new light on the world”) covers five floors of the town hall’s main administrative building, and his former office has been turned into a museum that also houses the Aimé Césaire theatre. The Librairie Alexandre, in the town’s main shopping street, Rue de la Republique, where, according to legend, André Bréton once spotted the Tropiques journal edited by Aimé and his wife Suzanne Césaire, is permanently closed. A note with a small blue arrow on its green wooden door indicates that there is a bookstore in the shopping mall 200 metres further down. Next to the collected works of Césaire and the younger generation of creolité writers, such as Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphaël Confiant, books by Fanon or Glissant are missing.

After co-signing the laws that turned the former French colony into a French department, Césaire remained the mayor and deputy of the French National Assembly for more than 50 years. Although he eventually admitted that he was mistaken in seeing departmentalisation as a way to bring about equality between French citizens and the inhabitants a small island off the coast of Latin America in the spirit of the US civil rights movement, the decisive turn away from the Caribbean archipelago and towards the colonial centre had been made. The experience of Haiti, of freedom in poverty in the world’s first black republic, haunted Césaire and the majority of Martinicans with him. Repeatedly most of the island’s population voted against independence. Servitude in tranquillity over independence with danger. The arithmetic worked. While the most abject material issues were quickly addressed, the problems of identity and culture, of what Glissant called désiquilibre mental, and what Fanon diagnosed as the black-skins-white maskssyndrome, would not go away as easily. The rhythm of downtown Fort-de-France is dictated by cruise ships discharging hundreds of tourists into its shopping streets. Yellow, blue and red arrows lead the way: SHOPPING, INTERNET, BEACH.

After supporting Césaire’s election campaign as a 16-year-old and chanting his poems in front of the mansions of the béké with his friends of the activist group Franc Jeu, Glissant turned against Césaire’s politics after his move to Paris in 1946. Together with writer Paul Niger and lawyer Marcel Manville, he co-founded the Front Antillo Guyanais pour l’autonomie (FAGA) in 1961, following large scale protests across the island sparked by racist police violence in December 1959. At the time Glissant had already received the Renaudot Prize for his first novel, La Lézarde, in 1958. He also had represented Martinique at two conferences of black writers and artists in Paris and Rome organised by Présence Africaine in 1956 and 1959.

The FAGA was immediately banned by the French government and Glissant was confined to mainland France for four years. Paul Niger, the movement’s political leader, died in a plane crash in 1962 that bears the marks of the French states’ secret military wing, the Organisation Armée Secrète. With the official route towards decolonisation in the French Antillean effectively blocked, Glissant channelled his political project through the cultural realm. Upon his return to Martinique, he founded the Institut martiniquais d’études (IME) in 1967 as a space for critical social, historical and cultural studies by Caribbeans about the Caribbean. Former students such as Juliette Éloi-Blézès remember the place as an actualised heterotopia.

Together with family members and friends from neighbouring islands and Latin America, Glissant tried to launch a small cultural revolution with the IME, breaking with the authoritarian French pedagogical model and fostering a Pan-Caribbean consciousness through a collective research project resulting in the ACOMA journal, and a street theatre group that performed regularly at the regional cultural festival, Carifesta. Art works by friends Victor Anicet and Roberto Matta also turned the IME into an experimental art gallery. Glissant worked as director for the IME for more than 14 years, but felt his work increasingly undermined by Césaire’s bureaucracy. In the early 1980s he returned to France where he took up a job as editor-in-chief of the Unesco Courier.

Glissant’s relationship with Fanon, three years his senior at the Lycée Schoelcher, was less complicated than the one with Césaire, who initially worked as teacher in the school. In 1961 Glissant met Fanon for the last time in Rome where Fanon was on a stopover to meet Jean-Paul Sartre before flying to the US for treatment, and into the hands of the CIA. Fanon had also been in the room with Paul Niger when Glissant told Césaire of their plans to launch the FAGA in Rome 1959. Fanon sent a letter of support at the founding conference of the FAGA. Glissant had supported the Algerian struggle by signing the Manifeste 121, and intercepting Martinican conscripts into the French army, providing them with false papers and channelling them across the border between Morocco and Algeria to fight for the National Liberation Front (FLN). Glissant then travelled to Cuba where he received instructions about applying the Cuban revolutionary model to Martinique. If Fanon had lived a longer life, Glissant speculated, he would have returned to confront the Martinican colonial problem with the same ferocity.

Fanon died in 1961. Glissant’s conversation with his “brother, friend, or quite simply the associate or fellow countryman” continued. Traces of it can be found in the interactions between Mathieu and Thaël, two of Glissant’s fictional protagonists. In La Lézarde. Thaël is tasked with the assassination of a colonial agent whose house blocks the source of the island’s main river. Descending from a family of maroons, Thaël is a homme d’action, whose vocation to act on his ideas eventually lead him to fight in Indochina and Algeria. Mathieu wants to be a poet and keeps having to defend his chosen vocation to Thaël. In Tout-Monde, a debate between them takes places on a train between Le Havre and Paris.

“So you think poetry will saves us? What does that mean for you?” asks Thaël.

“First of all it won’t save us, that’s not it’s role”, responds the poet.

“And what is it’s role?”

“It is to reveal what cannot be seen, to foresee that which most people do not look for, to search the landscape, to bring together rhythms that remain unknown, like the voice’s measured tempo and the drum’s disorderly excess.”

Thaël disappears in Algeria and Mathieu lives on.

Glissant lived for another 50 years after Fanon’s death. As with the short-lived FAGA, it would be tempting to tell the story of Glissant’s subsequent political projects as a series of failures. The alternative educational approach endorsed by the IME could not be maintained for long. The ACOMA journal, named after the tallest tree of the island that is now extinct only lasted from 1971 to 1973. Thirty years later, after a detour via the US-academy, Jacques Chirac assigned Glissant with the task of setting up a national centre for the memorialisation of the slave trade in 2005. The plans Glissant drew up were rejected by the government of Nicolas Sarkozy. Instead, the so-called Musée de l’histoire de l’immigration was inaugurated in 2014, tellingly housed in the old Musée des Colonies.

A similar fate befell Glissant’s project of a Musée martiniquais des Arts des Amériques, M2A2, whose exhibition space—a vacant factory—was destroyed shortly before its first installation. Proposed in a series of newspaper articles and television appearances, another of Glissant’s projects was to transform Martinique into a pays biologique du mondeanother failure. The Institut du Tout-Monde, which Glissant set up in Paris in 2006, was initially envisioned as a grand house of creole cultures in central Paris. After Ségolène Royale lost to Nicolas Sarkozy in May 2007 the institution was relegated from the Ministry of Culture to the Ministry of Overseas France. Instead of taking over a building in downtown Paris, the Institut hosts its events at the Maison de l’Amerique latine, with a reach that remains limited to a small group of Glissant’s disciples.

Glissant’s blocked institutional projects stand in contrast to his popularity in literary, academic and artistic circles. With the translations of Le discours antillais and Poétique de la Relation into English in the early 1990s his work became quickly incorporated into the postcolonial canon, as the French pendant to Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic and Antonio Benítez-Rojo’s The Repeating Islands. The citeability of his key mantras (“The world creolises itself “, “I can change in exchange with the other without losing or denaturing myself”, “Think globally, act locally”), the compatibility of his concepts with mainstream postmodern theories, and his self-stylisation as the prophet of creolisation, turned Glissant into an easy hero of liberal cosmopolitanism.

In the heated social atmosphere of the early 2000s, when the Indigènes de la République unsettled the French political establishment with their attack on structural anti-black discrimination in France, Glissant’s moderate and reconciliatory voice met the needs of mainstream French media for a Mandela figure. The Institut du Tout-Monde’s former director,Francois Noudelmann, writes disconcertingly about this stage of his career, “An unconditional sympathy greets him in the seminar rooms and auditoriums, a respect mixed with tenderness towards this old man, coming from another century from a far-away land, delivering a message of love, even if he does not use the term, insisting on the beauty of relation and on the benefits of the encounters of differences”.

Remembering Glissant 10 years after his passing means to counter this Mandelaisation and the sense of singularity Glissant created around himself. It also means to see where the 60-year-old meets the 30-year-old Glissant and tried to carry on the decolonial struggle in a different mode. It also involves mapping Glissant in relation to other radical Caribbean intellectuals, instead of going on about his friendship with the French postmodernists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Towards the end of his life Glissant spoke about how he perceived himself to continue the tradition set out by Césaire and Fanon. Building on the work of conscientisation pursued by Négritude, and the radical break from France towards violent resistance by Fanon, Glissant was convinced that a third step would consist of exploring what he called another imaginary of the world, where big ideologies had to make way for the respect of small differences. In a 2009 documentary, which director Manthia Diawara made to make his philosophy more widely accessible, Glissant insisted that “It is the alliance of differences that creates the fabric of the living and the canvas of cultures”.

It is easy to dismiss the utopian side of Glissant’s theory of creolisation as esoteric culture talk that leaves colonial structures of power untroubled. It is also easy to get turned off by his description of the Tout-Monde as a “non-totalitarian totality”, or the definition of relation as “an awareness of all the differences of the world, without excluding a single one”. What academics who are in the business of “understanding Glissant” tend to forget is that, despite the Latin roots of the word relation, Glissant’s philosophy draws on ancient relational world views from both sides of the Atlantic that in essence oppose the Western paradigm of “I think therefore I am” with “I know as I relate” and “I am because I relate”. Glissant spoke about the shift from singularity to multiplicity as Africa’s legacy to the world: “Africa’s vocations to be a kind of foundational Unity which develops and transforms itself into a Diversity”. Despite all the unpredictable changes and transformations, the breaking of boundaries and binary oppositions, Glissant’s politics relied on a fundamental division between those who are for or against multiplicity as the forces and enemies of the living. The engraving “nothing is true, everything is alive” on his tombstone expresses this simple truth.

This is also why some of the best writing on Glissant have not been produced by academics, but by the late Jazz musician Jacques Coursil, who knew that any attempt to write about and not with Glissant is bound to fail. In his essays and talks Coursil freely improvised using some of Glissant’s favourite mantras as themes. This kind of literature must be read déyé do pawol, beyond the words, as the poet Monchoachi said. Glissant’s contribution to the struggle can then less be found in his theorisations of creolisation or relation but in his practice, his vocation to do something else and to create new kinds of communities along the way: relation-nations and federations, small communities that meet in the institutions he created, and more elusive world-communities of readers and writers that share an imagination of the world’s radical diversity. It is in affirming that the same creativity it takes to break through the boundaries of literary genres must be applied to the political realm. The same energy it takes to intuitively imagine the interactions between slaves and maroons centuries ago must be invested to dream up utopian alternatives to the living arrangements we find ourselves in.

As a footnote in Le discours antillais reminds us, the “The West is not a place but a project”. Its glass globe is big enough for all of us.


Read more on Glissant in Chimurenga Chronic: The Corpse Exhibition and Other Graphic Stories, as well as Chimurenga Chronic: Imagi-nation Nwar. Both are available at our online store.

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CHIMURENGA CHRONIC – IMAGI-NATION NWAR – OUT NOW! https://chimurengachronic.co.za/chimurenga-chronic-imagi-nation-nwar-out-now/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/chimurenga-chronic-imagi-nation-nwar-out-now/#respond Wed, 24 Mar 2021 21:52:24 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=17743 A new issue of Chimurenga’s Chronic – out now. imagi-nation nwar – […]

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A new issue of Chimurenga’s Chronic – out now.

imagi-nation nwar – genealogies of the black radical imagination in the francophone world

de-composed, an-arranged and re-produced by Chimurenga

feat. Mongo Beti & Odile Biyidi’s Peuples Noirs, Peuples Africains;
Elsie Haas, Julius-Amédée Laou; Cheikh Anta Diop; FEANF; GONG;
Gérard Lockel; Glissant’s IME; Suzanne Roussi; Paul Niger; Andrée
Blouin; Maryse Condé; Guinea’s Cultural Revolution; Awa Thiam;
Francoise Ega; Yambo Ouologuem; Groupe du 6 Novembre; ACTAF
& Revolution Afrique; Med Hondo; Sidney Sokhona; Nicolas Silatsa;
Somankidi Coura; Edja Kungali; Sarah Maldoror; Sony Labou Tansi;
Madeleine Beauséjour; and many, many more…

New writing by: Michaela Danjé; Hemley Boum; Olivier Marboeuf;
Marie-Héléna Laumuno; Amzat Boukari-Yabara; Amandine Nana with
Julius-Amédée Laou; Sarah Fila-Bakabadio; Pierre Crépon; DY Ngoy;
Dénètem Touam Bona; Christelle Oyiri; Native Maqari; Seumboy
Vrainom with Malcom Ferdinand; the “undercommons” collective
translation workshop coordinated by Rosanna Puyol (Brook).

Get your copy through our online store, or soon come at your nearest dealer.

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“The Oppressor Remains What He Is” https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-oppressor-remains-what-he-is/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-oppressor-remains-what-he-is/#respond Mon, 11 Jan 2021 11:03:15 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=17686 Why does it seem that the genocide deniers have perked up? What […]

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Why does it seem that the genocide deniers have perked up? What can we make of African indifference on this subject? This conversation between writer Boubacar Boris Diop and scholar Jean-Pierre Karegeye was first published in French in Seneplus, Beninplus, and Cameplus. In this English version, the authors extend their discussion on Cesaire’s thought.

Jean-Pierre Karegeye (left); Boubacar Boris Diop (right)

Boubacar Boris Diop: Jean-Pierre, from time to time the genocide against the Tutsi of Rwanda makes the headlines again, but only briefly. And quite often it is only for caparisoning the genocide’s importance, or even rewriting its history when a new film or book is released or a political event occurs, such as the arrest of Paul Rusesabagina. This is why, for some time now, when I talk to my Rwandan friends about their country, I want to ask them a very simple question, a question that can be summed up in a few words: “What’s going on? Why does it seem that genocide deniers, from whom we haven’t heard in years, seem to have perked up suddenly?” I would like to know how someone like you, a Rwandan intellectual who is primarily concerned with this tragedy, and who is known to have thought and written a lot about the genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda, feels about all this.

Jean-Pierre Karegeye: I would like to start with the last part of your question, the fact that I am a Rwandan intellectual. Everyone will easily understand that my perception of Rwanda cannot be that of a researcher who stands far away from the object that he is observing. That is impossible for me. I inhabit Rwanda as much as Rwanda inhabits me with its past and present, where the horrors of the genocide and the hopes of an entire people intertwine. I would even add that the destiny of my homeland haunts me and that I feel like each of my compatriots, as well as Rwanda’s soul, is in constant revival. “What’s happening?” you ask. Your perplexity echoes that of the Rwandan historian, José Kagabo, who, wondering about the legacy of the genocide, asked the following question: “Where did what happened in 1994 go?” This was in 2014, in his introduction to a special issue on the Tutsi genocide in the journal Les Temps Modernes. Linking the two questions, his and yours, we come to this conclusion: After the genocide comes the denial. I also realise that “never again” remains a pious hope, and that the world, Africa, and Rwanda’s neighbouring countries have learned nothing from this immense tragedy. What is dangerous is the hatred against the Tutsi that is sweeping through the Great Lakes region. The pyramid of hate created by the Anti-Defamation League shows a precise link between genocide and hatred.

BBD: The Anti-Defamation League was created to fight antisemitism. Can you elaborate a little more on the pyramid of hate in Rwanda specifically?

JPK: Yes, the Anti-Defamation League, created in 1913 by Sigmund Livingston, has historically fought against anti-Semitism and has since committed to justice and fair treatment for all. Its pyramid of hate or discrimination is built on five levels, starting with cultural biases and escalating with genocide at the top.

I also believe that we cannot separate hatred from genocide denial. One of the great things about this organization is its commitment to laws that punish hate crimes. For example, it was involved in the adoption of the 2009 US Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

When you deny genocide, you continue to harass survivors wherever they are. It adds insult to injury. Those that deny genocide twist the same machete into the unhealed wounds of survivors.

BBD: This leaves me sincerely and deeply puzzled. I would like to come back to this point, I mean to the genocide denial that is both unapologetic and insidious these days. Why now? And why is it suddenly openly gaining momentum again?

JPK: It is a fact that genocide denial is openly getting stronger nowadays. It is true that with the victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front and the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, that the genocidaires had to keep a low profile. In a way, they hid out while waiting for better days until they could return to the public sphere. Or perhaps we underestimated their underground work. Social media now gives them great visibility, and it shows, almost three decades later, that the world’s indifference during the genocide has remained intact.

BBD: Yet, like many people who have worked on the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda, I was certain at one point that the question regarding who the perpetrators were and who the victims were had been definitively settled… Was it just an illusion?

JPK: Not necessarily. We can say at least though that the dividing line between the perpetrator and the victim was clearly drawn. This goes back to Primo Levi, who is clear on this: “The oppressor remains what he is, and so does the victim; they are not interchangeable.” Genocide itself created the two categories. Confusion or the reversal of roles is one of the strategies of genocide denial. What remains, on the other hand, is this genocide denial that represents a shift, not a rupture, in the genocidal paradigm. Although it may seem paradoxical, genocide denial is a proof of genocide. It affirms what it denies. In other words, there would have been no genocide denial had there been no genocide. Genocide denial does not come from nowhere.

BBD: What role should research play in this awareness? What do you think of investigations and clarification work done by artists of various origins and intellectuals from various scholarly disciplines?

JPK: For me, they are first and foremost men and women of good will. They reacted to the Rwandan tragedy by placing themselves at the highest human level. Many of them played a decisive role. I am thinking for example of the project “Writing as Duty to Memory”, of your novel, Murambi, The Book of Bones, of Koulsy Lamko’s book, A Butterfly in the Hills, as well as of publications by scholars and survivors. I believe that the fictional works that resulted from the “Writing as Duty to Memory” project have greatly contributed to teaching about the genocide in European and American universities.

But the status of intellectuals or artists does not matter so much. They mainly are, above all, “human beings of good will”. Moreover, we all know that some intellectuals and artists took part in the genocide and that others became advocates of genocide denial. Léon Mugesera has a Ph.D. in linguistics from Université Laval in Quebec City and Ferdinand Nahimana, the co-founder of the sinister RTLM, the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, has a Ph.D. in history from Université Paris-Diderot. Charles Onana is now a doctor thanks to his genocide denial tropisms. He defended his thesis in Lyon in 2017 on “Opération Turquoise”. There is much to be said about the relationship of, on the one hand, the genocide and, on the other, rationality, ethics and aesthetics.

BBD: The fact is, the tiniest details of the 1994 genocide ended up being known by almost everyone. And since then, the historical sequence started by the first killings of 1959 in Rwanda has revealed all its secrets to us. We can thus conclude that the massacre of more than a million human beings ended up imposing itself as a massive, undeniable reality on the universal conscience.

JPK: I sense in your words a willingness to remain optimistic about the human race despite everything. I do not share your optimism; in my opinion, the idea that humanity has finally realized the extent of the genocide of the Tutsi should be put into perspective. Awareness of the horrors of the genocide was made possible above all by the victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). This was not only a military victory. It also unveiled the lies and forgeries of the genocidal ideology, forcing its theorists to remain speechless in the face of survivors’ testimonies, which came to be considered as legitimate, truthful and accepted by all. The RPF’s victory was first and foremost of the rehabilitation of meaning. At what point is this universal conscience supposed to have appeared? When the genocide in Rwanda was officially recognized and an International Criminal Tribunal was established? It was, once again, after the victory of the RPF. To cite just one example, universal conscience has never challenged us about the Herero genocide in Namibia by the Germans. But I do not lose hope. Universal conscience towards the genocide is formed, like other things, through education on values just as much as through the common fight against genocide denial.

BBD: What are the different forms of denial of the Tutsi genocide?

JPK: There are several. At least five. The first form of genocide denial is expressed through the notion of inter-ethnic war. It is a theory that considers genocide as a violent confrontation between communities. This theory aims to invalidate any idea of planning. It also erases the dividing line between victims and executioners, which leads to arguments such as: “There are not victims on one side and executioners on the other.” This is also the explanation given by those who planned the genocide. Denying the facts allowed them to deny their obvious responsibility.

The second form of denial explains everything that happened after the plane crash of 6 April 1994, with a genocide denial syllogism. We operate here by substitution and analogy in the following statement: “The RPF killed President Habyarimana. The death of President Habyarimana is the cause of the genocide.” Therefore “the RPF is responsible for the genocide”. It angered the people, and many wanted to get revenge on the executioners, meaning the soldiers of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and by extension all the Tutsi. This form of denial does not necessarily deny the genocide but looks for culprits elsewhere.

The third approach to genocide denial compensates for the limits of the second. Faced with the recognition of the Tutsi genocide by the international community, genocide denial subtly redefines itself through the inflation of genocides, which we see in statements of “double genocide” or multiple genocides. This is why Louis Bagilishya speaks of an “ecumenical genocide”. The fourth form of genocide denial is ideological and institutional. It is deployed in institutional spaces. It is, for example, the realpolitik that prevented the Clinton administration from using the word genocide for fear of feeling obligated to intervene in Rwanda after the death of sixteen American soldiers a few months before in Mogadishu. That is the famous Somalia syndrome. French governments continue to deny the responsibility of the French state. A more serious case is that of the Catholic Church. There are those who believe that the church is the symbol of all human virtues and that it cannot have been directly responsible for anything. Accepting its responsibility would go against the idea of the holiness of the church. Fortunately, it is possible to recognize the sins of the church through its followers without questioning the holiness of Christ. I think that John Paul II and Pope Francis were very clear regarding the sins of the genocide. Finally, there is an extension of denial that consists of denying Rwanda success story or attacking Rwanda and Rwandans where it hurts: denying the genocide.

BBD: What strikes me is that, among other things, we are dealing with a kind of paradoxical genocide denial that affirms the reality of the horror much more than it denies it. It does not say that genocide did not happen; on the contrary, it argues that everyone has killed everyone, which makes the tragedy a zero-sum game. And, of course, out of vanity, we invoke freedom of speech, the courage to say out loud what others mutter to themselves. It is disturbing to note that genocide denial is easily expressed in places where it should be condemned instead.

JPK: It’s exactly that, unfortunately. A Catholic priest involved in the genocide, who has become a genocide denier, still says mass with no qualms; politicians in the countries neighbouring Rwanda compete, not in presenting  social projects, but by denouncing  Tutsi population from their countries in portraying them as “harmful and foreigners”, in the hope of being re-elected; western universities welcome genocide denial theories; the so-called mainstream media starts denying the genocide again, which happened for example when BBC broadcast a despicable documentary.

BBD: This documentary by BBC, Rwanda, the Untold Story, made the year 2014 a landmark date. Like it or not, this channel has the reputation of being objective, which is an image that it has always tried to preserve. Yet, it had no problem insulting more than a million dead Africans. But it does not matter in the end that BBC has shown, through such a vile production, the extent that certain media reputations can be overrated. The only thing to be remembered, alas, from the broadcast of this senseless film is the liberation of the “denier” word, the fact that it is increasingly inviting itself into families. You remember, by the way, that we both joined the protest started by Linda Malvern to bring BBC officials to their senses, without success, of course, because these people have nothing to fear from a small African country. Six years later, the texts and events show us that this media episode was far from being insignificant. In fact, it announced what we are witnessing now, that genocide denial has become almost politically correct in the minds of some.

JPK: Yes, Rwanda, the Untold Story, is the synthesis of genocide denial, and it is not the first time BBC has done this. What shocked Rwandans the most was this documentary’s excessive contempt. President Kagame, who generally opposes contemptuous silence towards deniers, reacted with words that come back in several of his speeches with a few variations: “With each challenge put in our path, we become stronger, not weaker. Our body may become weak, but our spirit will never be weak.” It is also a way of saying that those who ended the genocide will not be so easily discouraged. Coming back to this film though, what Jane Corbin did was disgusting. She has desecrated the memory of the genocide, which the United Nations considers to be an important means of genocide prevention. Just one example! “Murambi” is the title of your novel because, I imagine, it is impossible for you to feel indifferent about the history of this school. Jane Corbin visited the same site for her documentary. She was accompanied by a genocide survivor who knew nothing about the journalist’s denial plan. The survivor began to give evidence of the genocide by showing the remains of children and women killed after being raped. As a remark, Corbin began to complain about the grim and strange presence of the victims’ bodies. Was she expressing her compassion and the need to see the remains of the bodies buried and treated with dignity? The survivor did not hear it that way. He explained that there were people who still doubted the reality of the genocide and needed to see what had happened in 1994. Corbin’s “moral” comment to the survivor and in such a place was a beginning to the denial of the genocide. Indeed, she used the remains of Murambi’s victims, among others, to express doubts about number of victims.

BBD: You spoke a moment ago about the intellectuals who throw themselves body and soul into falsifying the history of the Tutsi genocide. I can mention Reytjens in Belgium, Erlinder in the USA and a certain Philpot in Canada. The list is unfortunately not exhaustive. I see in their attitudes a clear refusal to learn the lessons of history, which is quite the opposite of Brecht who made the choice to warn humanity after the Nazi defeat and to declare, in a sentence that has become famous, that one should not “cry victory out of season” before adding, to be more precise: “for the belly is still fertile from which the foul beast sprang.” The “foul beast” designates, of course, all Nazism, all the logics of extermination. Personally, I think that this hatred that is never disarmed is an enigma. A Rwandan friend V. told me that a few months after the genocide, when Kigali was still a distraught and wounded city, she came across a gentleman in the street, an old acquaintance, who whispered to her in an icy tone laden with contempt: “What did you expect, then? That we were going to hesitate to go all the way like the other times?” Through this incident, we see how the defeated feel powerless and how their resentment is multiplied tenfold by the defeat, but also by their obsession with the final solution, the fear of not having dared to “go all the way”.

JPK: That is exactly right. All these people blamed themselves for not having been able to kill all the Tutsi in Rwanda starting from the first 1959 massacres. For 35 years, up until 1994, they lived with the feeling of unfinished business. Thinking about the final solution, does it not suggest that the crime is already banal, and therefore invisible? Brecht, who you just quoted, had already written this in 1935: “When crimes begin to pile up, they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable, the cries are no longer heard.” History seems to repeat itself over and over again.

What your Rwandan friend told you is absolutely spine-chilling. You can only imagine what my country would be like if the genocidaires were in power today. Or rather, we do not even dare to imagine it!

BBD: What do you think about the phenomenon of western deniers that I just mentioned?

JPK: You mentioned a few but there were many others afterwards, like Judi Rever. Why this relentlessness against Rwanda? For now, I will only point out that the literature that these western academics and journalists have on the genocide is based on ordinary racism, which is part of what Professor Alexandre Kimenyi calls “the trivialization of genocide” or what Brecht calls “invisible crimes”.  Why Rwanda? Well, it is simple: because Rwanda is in Africa. That is not all, of course, but it is unfortunately one of the main factors.

BBD: They also see themselves, I believe, as valiant knights, almost as martyrs of freedom of speech. If the subject were not so serious, we would laugh at these claims. But there is a red line that their love of freedom of expression will never make them cross. I mean, real courage would be to take the Holocaust at face value, and they will never risk that. In the world as it is, the slightest sentence that would downplay the Jewish Holocaust, and I am not even talking about denying it, would be problematic. And they know this only too well. Spitting on the bodies of a million Tutsi because there is no risk in doing so—that is called cowardice.

JPK: On this point, Aimé Césaire was very clear. He observed in Discourse on Colonialism that what Europeans do not forgive Hitler for is not the extermination of the Jews in itself: “It is not crime in itself, the crime against man, is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India and the blacks of Africa.” He could have added that organizing this crime within the West itself is a little more damaging to the image that the West wants to present of itself.

Of the Holocaust, I think various Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention programs abroad help to contain denial narratives and anti-Semitism.  

In the case of Rwanda, your general observation on Africa applies to the reception of the genocide against the Tutsi: “Being black and African remains an aggravating circumstance.” One should not be surprised, therefore, by the extreme indifference and contempt of European deniers when it comes to something that is not a part of their own space. The freedom to write absurdities that seem knowledgeable regarding Africa is also part of the famous “white man’s privilege” that is much talked about these days. This almost exclusively formed the base of the speech they had when they “discovered” and “invented” Africa according to their fantasies and bias. Therefore, the Europeans have more respect for the victims of Srebrenica or for those of the two great wars than for the dead of Rwanda. François Mitterrand knew he was not risking any credibility when he supported the Habyarimana fascist regime and went so far as to declare: “In these countries, a genocide is not important,” when talking about Rwanda in particular, and Africa in general.

BBD: This extraordinary sentence by Mitterrand, reported by journalist Patrick de Saint-Exupéry, has never been denied. For me, it is the French equivalent of Donald Trump’s “shithole countries”, and when you think about it, it is much more serious. Coming back to Césaire, this sentence from Discourse on Colonialism earned him attacks of extreme virulence and accusations of anti-Semitism, but, sadly, his book remains as topical as it was in 1954… When the Law on the Positive Aspects of Colonization was passed in France, Césaire himself publicly invited the deputies of the Palais-Bourbon to reread Discourse on Colonialism. Interesting, isn’t it?

JPK: Regarding these accusations against Césaire, a clarification is needed. The Martinican poet never left room in his thinking for the slightest ambiguity about the Holocaust. He spoke of colonial practices. He also had a universal understanding of the condition of the Negro. In Notebook of a Return to my Native Land, while asserting himself as a profound Negro, he identifies with all the victims all over the world: “I would be a Jew-man, a Kaffir-man, a Hindu-man-from-Calcutta, a Harlem-man-who-doesn’t-vote.” In another stanza, he wants to be “a pogrom-man”. I think we have to reread Césaire bearing in mind that his starting point as well as his guiding principle are based on the condition of Black people, racism against Blacks. His condition of “fundamental negro” opens him to the misfortunes of others. In 1998, he declared: “The negro is also the Jew, the foreigner, the Native American, the illiterate, the untouchable …”. He thus understands the Jewish question well. Rather, he shows that Europe has never repented its crimes and that the Holocaust is a culmination of the thousand-year history of the West. By the way, Frantz Fanon reminds us of Césaire, in his Black Skin, White Masks, when he declares: “Anti-Semitism touches me in the flesh”. He also speaks of the Jew as “a brother of misfortune”.

That said, I am tempted to add that the West often evokes the Holocaust as if the crime had taken place elsewhere. Do you know, for example, that the Christian West has long accused the Jews of being a deicidal people? Long before the Holocaust, from the 7th century until 1959, the Catholic Church would pray every Good Friday for “the perfidious/infidels Jews”.

BBD: Would you say today that reading Césaire has given you a better understanding of the mechanics of genocide?

JPK: Here is what I would say. Césaire is important for analysing the colonial genocide and for establishing the link between the genocide against the Tutsi and the Negro condition. Césaire also allowed me to understand the “pseudo-humanism” of the West and to realise that it has learned nothing from the genocides that are rooted, among other things, in the dogma of a pure race. It is also in Césaire’s work that we find some instances of dialogue between the Holocaust and the Tutsi genocide. Apart from Césaire, the Holocaust literature and the history of anti-Semitism are, in my opinion, essential for understanding the mechanisms of genocide.

There is another point that I would like to insist on, and it concerns researchers like Filip Reyntjens, who are part of the old school of thought and do nothing but recycle the “colonial library”, to quote Mudimbe here. As surprising as it may seem to a rational mind, the Tutsi extermination project was based on the ethnological narratives of the last centuries that have established the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa as inert objects of scientific research. This isn’t obviously all of it since some were at their best with the Habyarimana regime. One must again mention the Reyntjens who co-wrote the Rwandan Constitution, which was as vile as the one written by the supporters of apartheid in South Africa. Defeating such a regime also means deconstructing the condescending colonial thinking that gave genocide ideological support. Old-school intellectuals such as Reyntjens do not accept that the wheel of history has turned against them. This new Rwanda in which they have lost all their privileges is simply unacceptable for them. Many journalists and researchers exist only through their ludicrous “invention” of Africa. Judi Rever, Robin Philpot and a few others know perfectly well that without their denial of the genocide, they would not exist. If the word “Rwanda” were to be removed from their writings, nothing would be left of them. They invent themselves by inventing Africa. Who still talks about Pierre Péan and Stephen Smith?

BBD: Nobody, of course. There is already nothing more to say about these people. Let us now turn our attention to the study of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda by African intellectuals. Shouldn’t we talk, in their case, about silence–an awkward silence—rather than active genocide denial? By this I mean that if we leave the countries directly impacted by the tragedy aside—Rwanda, DRC and Burundi—almost no African intellectual has anything to say about the subject. “Rwanda, Writing as Duty to Memory”, that you mentioned, is an exception, which should be put into perspective in many respects. In truth, even today, almost 30 years later, when I speak of the genocide of the Tutsi in African universities, the younger ones have absolutely no idea what it is all about and their professors only vaguely remember some television footage of the 1994 massacres, nothing more. How can such an indifference be explained? I often refer, out of desperation, to what Mongo Beti calls “the habit of unhappiness”. It makes sense, but it is not enough. I believe that the shortcuts of Afro-pessimism are for many in the image that Africa reflects to the world. Whatever happens on the continent is blamed on Africans’ congenital flaws and almost never on specific social and political mechanisms. The Tutsi genocide is thus read as a story of Black people killing each other “once again”, for no other reason than an atavistic taste for blood. This means “nothing new under the sun”.

JPK: Your observation of African intellectuals is important because we have our share of responsibility, if only because of our silence during and after the genocide. I am not one of those who thinks that “saviours of the savages” are the sole cause of all our problems. You also just repeated what you wrote in Africa Beyond the Mirror, namely—and I quote from memory—that “among the rare cries of indignation heard during the genocide, hardly any came from Africa”. According to Eboussi Boulaga, this silence from African people is because we are not used to valuing our own lives. Many African people have a disembodied reading of events that happen on the continent. What do African intellectuals pay attention to the most? A speech by Macron on Francophonie or on Africa, or a tweet by Trump on electoral fraud in the United States. These challenge them much more than topics like genocide denial, the religious extremism that is striking several African countries, the Anglophone question in Cameroon, the current war in Ethiopia.  And I am only mentioning the conflict zones.

BBD: In Rwanda specifically, how is the reconciliation process going?

JPK: After its political and military victory, the RPF never gave in to the slightest idea of revenge. The fight against genocide denial and genocidal ideologies is one of the pillars of Rwandan reconstruction. One thing, for instance, that is not talked about much is the abolition of the death penalty in Rwanda in July 2007. Everywhere in the world, such a step should be hailed as a victory for humanity; in the Land of a Thousand Hills, after a genocide, it is simply exceptional. The profoundly humanistic and reconciling message is the following: extremists justified the extermination of more than one million Tutsi by the death of a single individual, President Habyarimana. The 2007 law, on the other hand, simply means that even the extermination of one million innocent people does not allow the killing of a single genocidaire.

I am proud to see the Rwandan people defying fate like they are and echoing President Kagame’s fundamental choices, including the three principles he listed at the 20th Genocide Memorial: “to stay together, to be accountable to ourselves, and to think big.”

We can live together and forgive without erasing the past because, as George Santayana so rightly says, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it and make the same mistakes”. Commemorating the genocide is also a way to prevent it from happening again. I like the Sankofa image that comes from West Africa, I believe from the Akan culture. This mythical bird that walks or flies with an egg in its beak and keeps its head stubbornly turned towards where it comes from. It is a sublime symbol of the dialectical relationship between the past and future.

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Jean-Pierre Karegeye has published extensively on francophone African literature, the Tutsi genocide, child soldiers and religious extremism. He recently co-edited a book, Religion in War and Peace in Africa (Routledge, 2020).

Boubacar Boris Diop is the author of several novels including the acclaimed Murambi, The Book of Bones, about the Tutsi genocide, a topic on which he has also published many articles over two decades.


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Your Own Hand Sold You: Voluntary servitude in the Francafrique https://chimurengachronic.co.za/your-own-hand-sold-you-voluntary-servitude-in-the-francafrique/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/your-own-hand-sold-you-voluntary-servitude-in-the-francafrique/#respond Mon, 28 Dec 2020 11:07:33 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=8683 In the CFA franc, the French colonial mission in West Africa found a way to ensure a paternalist and pernicious stranglehold on the economies of a vast region of the continent.

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In the CFA franc, the French colonial mission in West Africa found a way to ensure a paternalist and pernicious stranglehold on the economies of a vast region of the continent. Critics are vociferous and persistent in decrying its catastrophic effects on the socio-economic development of 150 million people in 15 countries over more than seven decades. French corporations and African elites are the few beneficiaries of CFA-zone machinations. Historically, those who opposed the currency risked alienating the metropole and were on the receiving end of its intransigence and outright violence. Not much has changed, writes Moses Marz, and a significant shift in the mindset of the French bureaucracy is the only likely remedy for monetary servitude in the Francafrique.

On 7 January this year, the Front Anti CFA organised by NGO Urgences Panafricanistes for a demonstration at the Place de l’Obélisque, a plaza commemorating Senegal’s 1960 independence from France. A set of plastic chairs is arranged in a circle. Kémi Séba is standing at the centre, wearing a tightly cut purple boubou with an Africa symbol over the pocket. About 50 people are sitting or standing around him, listening to his rant against the CFA franc, the currency that Charles de Gaulle created in 1945 for the Colonies Françaises d’Afrique, only renaming it into Coopération Financière en Afrique after the wave of formal decolonisations in 1960, but still used in order for France to remain in control of its former colonies. Séba tells his listeners that de Gaulle adopted the CFA from the Nazis’ occupation of France and that during slavery the French also told them that they were better off as slaves, that they would get food every day and that liberation would be too risky. Hulo Guillabert, who is in the audience, responds: “No, we don’t give a shit if it is risky. We don’t want this CFA anymore. If that means we’ll die, we’ll die!” Gaïnde, also in the audience, explains: “If there are only a few of us here today, it is because we are already in the future. We no longer live in the past. We are the thinkers and actors of the avant-garde. We are already sovereign. We are already independent. Now we need to spread this message to get a critical mass.”

For Séba, the founder of Urgences Panafricanistes, it is clear that the struggle against the CFA cannot take place on a national level and needs to move gradually from sensitisations to mobilisation and to a boycott of French products. The franc zone includes a population of 150 million people across eight countries forming part of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo), as well as seven Central African countries forming part of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (Cameroon, DR Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic and Chad) and the Comoros. The demonstrations on 7 January take place simultaneously in Abidjan, Bamako, Bohicon, Bologna, Brussels, Casamance, Dakar, Haiti, Kinshasa, London, Ouagadougou, Ouidah and Paris, a new pan-African map that, for now, mainly exists in online discussions among university students.

On 14 December 2016, Ali Laidi interviews Kako Nubukpo on his France 24 TV-show Intelligence Economique. Since his dismissal as minister in the Togolese government, Nubukpo is a frequent guest at talk shows and round tables on the CFA, promoting his new book Sortir l’Afrique de la servitude monétaire – A qui profite le franc CFA? (Freeing Africa from Monetary Servitude – Who profits from the CFA franc?) When he lists the negative aspects of the currency, one after the other, a disarming smile accompanies what must be a delicate topic for the audience. Preferring to speak of servitude instead of neo-colonialism and diplomatically calling for greater flexibility instead of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”, Nubukpo quickly convinces the moderator of his views. Towards the end of the show, Laidi himself ends up referring to the currency as an “incredible absurdity”.

A year earlier, at the occasion of the 55th anniversary of Chad’s independence in N’Djamena, Idriss Déby, Chad’s president since 1990 and graduate of Qaddhafi’s World Revolutionary Centre, announced unexpectedly that it is time to “cut a string that is preventing Africa from developing”, calling for the creation of a proper African currency that no longer relies on postcolonial mechanisms of domination. At first no one knew what to make of this statement by a Françafrique faithful. Was he trying to threaten French authorities because they did not support his 2016 re-election campaign? Was this connected to his country’s war against Boko Haram? Déby repeated his claims in a Jeune Afrique interview in February 2017, stating that “a revision of the terms of cooperation is absolutely necessary and unavoidable”. His pronouncements hover in the background of the ongoing discussion as a broken taboo, and an indication of the possibility of a change of mind in the current generation of African politicians.

What at first looked like the annual rehearsal of anti-CFA rhetoric has taken another discursive dimension after the currency’s 70th anniversary in 2015. The unlikely confluence of interests between Nubukpo, an economist-turned-academic, Déby, the autocratic ruler of Chad, and Séba, a professional pan Africanist with links to the Nation of Islam, has combined the technical and symbolic anti-CFA arguments to move the debate away from discussions about the possible effects of another devaluation – a concern that preoccupied the debate before – towards a complete abolition of the currency.

Kémi Séba’s anti-CFA project has been more successful than any other of his previous organisations, two of which were disbanded by the French government for anti-Semitism and inciting racial violence. Fashioning himself as a black radical in the line of Malcom X and Cheikh Anta Diop – with books such as Supra-Négritude and Black Nihilism – and having recently changed supremacist views for what he calls ethno-differencialism, Séba moved from France to Senegal to benefit from greater levels of freedom of expression.

Before his contract with the Togolese government, Kako Nubupko worked for the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) for three years before posts at business schools in Lyon, Oxford and Princeton. He has experienced the power and intellectual laziness of bureaucratic routine first hand. He is confident that a change of mentality is taking place – at least in the French administration. His talk about the strategies of the Asian Dragons, the disjuncture between South Korea and Senegal’s monetary policies, and the Millennium Development Goals, at times neatly fits into an African Rising discourse and has pushed the level of attention in French media significantly higher than the academic works of Nicolas Agbohou and Moussa Dembélé, who carried the discursive torch on the CFA franc up to 2014.

Around these figures, a larger conglomeration of politicians, artists, technocrats and activists has gathered across different continents, including people as diametrically opposed as the French right wing politician Marine Le Pen and Mamadou Koulibaly, former Ivorian Finance minister in Laurent Gbagbo’s government.

Currency Can Get You Killed

Historically, going against the CFA franc has come with a high price in Franco-African relations. Sylvanus Olympio, the first president of Togo, was assassinated in 1963 shortly after announcing his intention of creating his own currency. In the hours leading up to his murder, the French and American ambassadors to Togo exchanged phone calls, essentially extraditing him to Gnassingbé Eyadéma and the group of soldiers around him that was demobilised by the French colonial army and wanted a space in the new Togolese army. Eyadéma eventually became president in 1967 and, backed by France, remained in power until his death in 2005. Olympio’s death sentence was pronounced as early as his first meeting with Jacques Foccart, the “shadow man” of France’s Africa policy from Charles de Gaulle to Jacques Chirac. After their talk at the Elysée, Foccart simply said about Olympio: “He is not one of our friends”.

Half a century later, in 2011, the assassination of Muammar Qaddhafi is also, in part, linked to the CFA. The recent Wikileaks of Hillary Clinton’s emails revealed that Nicolas Sarkozy’s motivation for the military intervention in Libya was to prevent Qaddhafi from launching his own pan African currency backed by his reserves of 143 tons of gold and silver, prospectively ridding France of its dominance over francophone Africa. Laurent Gbagbo’s anti CFA stance, since his election campaign of 2000 to the bombing of his residence in 2011, eventually lead to his ICC detention in The Hague – the West’s current preferred means of political elimination of inconvenient African rulers.

In the context of Françafrique, the mafia-like network of French and African elites that grew out of Foccart’s network and still works to maintain France’s geopolitical, military, cultural and institutional dominance in its former colonies, the monetary system of the CFA functions as the cement holding these different spheres together. Although the CFA underwent several adjustments over the last 70 years, its main goal has remained the same: to preserve the value of the currency – by all means necessary.

The tools used for this include, in official economist language, a fixed exchange rate between the CFA franc and the euro set in stone at the equivalent of CFA655.957 to €1; the centralisation of 50 per cent of foreign exchange reserves at the French Treasury, to guarantee “unlimited convertibility” in France; the freedom of transfers within the area and the fixed parity between the two African sub-regions part of the CFA zone. A last unofficial principle holds that the French Central Bank has the veto right in all management decisions by BCEAO, based in Dakar, and the Bank of Central African States (BEAC), based in Yaoundé. The integration of the French franc into the eurozone in 1999 did not affect this arrangement at all. The CFA continues as an enclave in the new system as if nothing happened, like in colonial times when the metropole’s imperative was to import cheap primary resources from the colonies under the auspices of normal economic practice.

Protests against the CFA are not new. They have been around since its inception and resurface on a regular basis. Over the last seven decades, dependency theorists, liberal economists, Marxists and pan Africanists have created a canon of articles and books devoted to the critique of the CFA. Osendé Afana’s L’Economie De L’Ouest-Africain (1966), Pathé Diagne’s Pour l‘unité ouest-africaine (1972) and Joseph Tchundjang Pouemi’s Monnaie, Servitude et Liberte (1980) form part of that tradition. Nubukpo’s Sortir l’Afrique de la servitude monétaire is only the latest contribution forming the analytical background to the current protest.

In these works, the CFA still stands for a lack of sovereignty for the African member states. A state or a federation of states that cannot decide on its own when to raise or lower the value of its currency, to adjust to new developments by changing course, is devoid of any political capacity and has no way of bettering its economic position. It is, for example, a common-place notion that it would benefit Malian or Beninese cotton producers a great deal if the CFA franc were no longer overvalued through its tie to the euro.

In terms of hard socio-economic results, any economist would struggle to disprove the fact that the 15 countries that make up the franc zone are part of the poorest of Africa. In the terms of the UN data of reference for international organisations, seven out of eight UEMOA-countries (West African Economic and Monetary Union) are classified as “least developed countries,” with nine out of 10 people living on the equivalent of US$2 a day. Ivory Coast, the only exception and the largest contributor to BCEAO making up to 40 per cent of its resources, was a “heavily indebted poor country” according to the IMF before Alassane Ouattara, formerly of BCEAO and IMF, and the guardian of Françafrique, became president and received a debt cancellation gift from his former colleagues in New York.

Despite being in existence for seven decades, the CFA franc has done next to nothing for the regional integration of its member countries. The level of imports within the UEMOA (West African Economic and Monetary Union) is less than 15 per cent of their total imports, only four per cent in the case of CEMAC, the Central African equivalent – compared with 60 per cent within the EU zone, for example. This is not surprising since in the logic of extraversion there is no space for horizontal relations. Meanwhile, in terms of legal financial flows, French companies like Bolloré, Total, Societé Générale, BNP-Paribas, Orange and France Télécom get the main state tenders through the well-oiled channels of Françafrique and can operate without the risk of depreciating currency and with easy transfers back home. In terms of illegal financial flows (IFF), the free capital movement that is part of the CFA agreement leaves member countries no power to control the sums being transferred in and out of the country. On the IFF heat map, Ivory Coast is marked in deep red and, even more embarrassingly, BEAC governors were caught by Wikileaks transferring €500 million to the Societé Générale.

Moreover, the fact that the CFA agreement dictates that African countries have to deposit half of their foreign exchange reserves with the French treasury deprives these countries of vital resources to finance their own projects. The part of the interest on this money that France transfers back is declared as development aid. In 2005, it was reported that €72 billion had accumulated as reserves in the French treasury over the last 50 years. The amount equals a coverage rate of 110 per cent – when the agreement only prescribes a rate of 20 per cent.

What makes no economic sense to the CFA-critics is a source of pride for Ouattara, the most fervent defender of the CFA. Repeatedly referring to his credentials as former governor of BCEAO, the Ivorian president proclaimed in 2016: “I can assure you that the CFA has been well-managed by Africans”, citing as the main reason that the zone is one of the few that has a coverage rate of 100 per cent.

Kaku Nubukpo reads in this behaviour by the central banks a voluntary subjugation that can be explained by African rulers’ attempts to cast themselves as “good pupils of monetary orthodoxy” – to create the impression of a credible monetary zone in what is, by financial standards, an absolute catastrophe. The extraordinary high interest rates the African central banks place on credits given to businesses and their decision to prioritise keeping inflation levels low form part of the dogma of the 1980s. By limiting inflation levels to two per cent, the same way the European Central Bank does, the BCEAO follows the simple logic of “what is good for Europe is good for us”, which is particularly absurd given that, in times of crisis, the European Central Bank is the first bank to leave monetarist orthodoxy behind.

While technocrats, importers and urban elites might benefit from the CFA, buying imported products and property that does not lose its value, for the overwhelming number of people living in rural areas it would be better otherwise.

*

The only real public outcry across the CFA franc region came in 1994 when the French government of Edouard Balladur decided unilaterally to cut the value of the CFA in half, following structural adjustment pressures of the IMF and World Bank. The news reached the African heads of state while they were discussing the future of the already financially defunct continental airline, Air Afrique. It was up to Alassane Ouattara, then prime minister in the regime of Félix Houphouet-Boigny, Foccart’s best friend in Africa, to convince all the other presidents to sign off the devaluation. The official announcement by Balladour was that the “CFA franc was devalued in 1994 at the instigation of France, because we felt it was the best way to help these countries in their development”.

What was, politically, an embarrassment for the heads of state and unmasked their neocolonial dependence on France, had even more drastic consequences for the populations of the member states. People were completely unprepared for the devaluation and had their purchasing power effectively cut in half. The devaluation marked the beginning of an ongoing recession and the end of a period up to the mid-1980s in which the franc zone states saw relatively strong levels of economic growth and greater stability than neighbouring countries, Ghana and Nigeria.

Still, although the trauma of 1994 lives on, nothing has changed in the architecture of the currency.

The neat, neoliberal separation of economy, politics, culture and history forms part of the explanation why, with all the counter-arguments in place, the CFA is still around. From the brightly lit France 24 TV studios and the amazingly local sounding RFI Afrique broadcasts, to the weekly covers of the Jeune Afrique magazine carrying the posh image of the powerful big man in a suit, there is a complete world in which a “CFA fort”, a strong currency, appears completely natural and is even a source of pride.

In this world, it also makes sense to depict the contours of France hovering over West and Central Africa like holy spirit, as on the map of the 40th anniversary of the CFA. Or for a 2005 French law to be passed by parliament that reads: “School courses should recognise in particular the positive role of the French presence overseas, notably in north Africa.” Or for François Fillon, the current Republican candidate for the French presidential election to declare, on the same subject, that France cannot be sentenced “guilty for wanting to share its culture with the people of Africa”.

Trying to make sense of France’s inability to engage its colonial past and present, academics have reverted to psychoanalytical models to explain what Achille Mbembe calls the “long imperial winter” of France, referring to narcissism, a desire for apartheid, or just that: racism. To keep the marriage with such an abusive partner alive, the franc zone cannot but maintain the practice of servitude volontaire as a kind of masochism that keeps the cooperation alive.

The illusion that money is nothing but a means of exchange, a reflection of the objects that can be bought with it, or a precious metal with an intrinsic value, has been propagated by Euroliberalists who, since the end of the Second World War, want to keep currency debates as far away from politics as possible.

Anthropologists know that money has always functioned much like a semantic system that has historically more to do with appeasing social relations between human beings and the gods, through sacrifice or payments of debt, hence the etymological roots of to pay. Money does more than establish equivalences – it contains violence and its main social function is the construction of the state and a stabilisation of norms of consumption.

The coins and notes of the CFA efface any political reference, other than those to modernity itself. The separation between planes, satellite dishes, trains, @-signs and electromagnetic waves on the obverse part of the notes, and birds, fish, hippopotami and camels on the reverse leave a distance of modern civilisation that needs to be crossed from one part of the bill to the other.

When operating in this logic it also makes sense to accept the explanation given by the Central Bank of France – flanked by representatives of BCEAO and BEAC – in a recent press conference to the question why CFA franc notes, which are after all printed in France, cannot be exchanged in France. To avoid the threats of financial terrorism and the circulation of false money, it has opted to only accept modern means of financial transactions – in other words, electronic transfers to France. At last, the number itself has out-ruled all other symbols. And who wouldn’t want to be modern?

*

There is no agreement on a way forward among the activists and economists of the Front Anti CFA. There is no evidence that opting either for single currencies or other regional ones will, in any way, be better. What is clear, however, is that lack of political will has hindered projects such as the common ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) currency, lying dormant since 2005, or a similar project by the East African Community started in 2010. The way Germany dealt with Greece in proper colonial terms – accusing it of collective laziness and unreliability – in the recent crisis is a prominent example for demonstrating that a currency needs a union of solidarity across individual national markets.

So, if a natural disaster does not strike, it looks like, again, only change among the French bureaucrats is going to bring about a change in the CFA zone. France has for a long time been good at downplaying the benefits it draws from retaining its colonial ties. Chances are that, behind the curtain, the administrators are no longer sure whether it makes sense to keep the zone in place once a wider audience finds out what happens in its African pré-carré. Its main trade partners in Africa are Angola, Nigeria and South Africa. And they are using their own currencies in any case. A sign in that direction was that, for the first time since the time of decolonisation, and in the immediate aftermath of the wave of Front Anti CFA protests, the French foreign ministry issued a questionnaire to the African students of the Paris Institute of Political Science, the reproductive machine of the French political elite, to ask them what they think about the CFA.


This piece appears in the Chimurenga Chronic (April 2017), an edition which aims to complicate the questions raised by food insecurity, to cook and serve them differently. To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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Rumble in the Nile https://chimurengachronic.co.za/rumble-in-the-nile/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/rumble-in-the-nile/#respond Wed, 10 Jun 2015 14:22:00 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=5873 The Nimeiri era remains one of the most beguiling and contradictory in the country’s history. It defined so much of what was to come.

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By Jamal Mahjoub

The first house we lived in after moving to Khartoum had an air of danger to it. There was something there that didn’t feel right. A small rock garden by the entrance held over a dozen types of cactus. Some had big flat leaves, others furry yellow spines that stuck to your fingers and were impossible to remove. We were warned not to play there – for fear of scorpions. It could have been a scorpion that killed the duck we kept in the back garden. We liked to think it had been a snake after we discovered a sloughed-off skin, desiccated and translucent, on top of a dusty packing case in the disused garage. Our cat staggered in one morning foaming at the mouth with rabies. There were dark corners in that house and it was overshadowed by the ghost of the previous occupant, a man who had managed to electrocute himself by carrying a standing lamp out onto the damp lawn one evening to read by.

It was in that house, my father told me years later, that he had spent the night with some of the conspirators who were involved in the attempted coup of July 1971. He was close friends with several prominent members of the communist party, though he was not himself involved, which is probably why they chose to stay there. They spent the night smoking and drinking, making phone calls, waiting. In the morning he drove them around town in the family car to see what had happened. It soon became apparent that the coup had failed. Nimeiri had managed to mount a counter-coup and the plotters were being rounded up. Many were executed, others fled the country or went into hiding. My father came home that day prepared for the worst. He wrote out forward-dated cheques so that my mother would be able to survive while he was in prison. How far did he go, I wonder? Three months? Six? How long did he think he would be detained? It was out of character, reckless and the most overtly political thing he ever did in his life. The episode had a profound impact on him and his health.

When Jaafar Nimeiri first came to power he seemed invincible. We watched him, young and dynamic, on our old black-and-white Hitachi television, standing up in an open car, riding on the roof of a train, waving an ebony staff, clasping his hands together in fellowship. A man in constant motion. North, south, east, west. He was everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Women ululated, men sang and everyone cheered. He was forever opening new development projects: irrigation schemes, engineering colleges, housing complexes. We saw him leaping over bulls that were laid down in the sand before him, their throats slit in sacrifice.

With the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972, the civil war in the South came to an end. Not that we had really seen much of the war. It was distant and low-key and seemed more remote than the Palestinian struggle. We were subjected to daily propaganda messages about this struggle: revolutionary songs and images of Fedayeen fighters leaping over trenches, crawling under barbed wire. Palestinian women in rags came to our door asking for food. If we didn’t eat up our lunch, we would be reminded of the children starving in the refugee camps.

The South was a world away, inhabited by the lanky men we saw working on building sites. Wearing cut-off shorts slung over bony hips, they balanced sand in square-sided jerrycans on their heads as they climbed the flimsy scaffolding. It hardly registered that these people might be at war with us for a reason, for a lot of very old reasons.

Nimeiri led a charmed life. Later on he would convince himself that this was not accidental. Once, while leading a column of tanks in the South, he climbed down from the turret to walk back to the vehicle behind him to ask for some snuff. While he was standing there a shell landed on his tank, blowing it to pieces. He was a handsome man who bore a vague resemblance to the boxer Muhammad Ali, who was a hero all across Africa and was to meet George Foreman in Kinshasa in 1974 for the famous “Rumble in the Jungle”. Nimeiri epitomised the progress of the nation. Through him we believed we were destined for greatness.

In civics class we learned how the country was developing. There were ambitious five-year plans for this and that. We memorised figures for the amounts of fish hauled from the Nile, for how many hectares of wheat and dura and sugar cane we produced. The photographs in the textbooks revealed a country to be proud of: fields of bobbing white cotton, shiny new factories. We would feed the world, become the breadbasket of Africa. We didn’t need oil. We had water and land enough to grow food for the entire continent.

A year after he came to power, Nimeiri nationalised everything in sight, beginning with the banks and foreign companies, and ending with restaurants and cinemas. He overhauled the administrative system, devolving power back to the nine provinces and away from the capital – a move that would come back to haunt him. The Addis Ababa treaty was the crowning achievement, bringing an end to a civil war that had been going on for 17 years, since before independence. The country was finally at peace with itself. Nimeiri had succeeded where all previous attempts, civil and military governments alike, had failed.

The enigma of who or what Nimeiri really was remains. When he first stepped onto the podium he was a young colonel inspired by Nasser. Like their Egyptian counterparts, the men of the Sudanese Free Officers Movement were driven by discontent. In the South they were fighting a war they could not win, while back in Khartoum the politicians bickered and quarrelled among themselves. The early years held great promise. Nimeiri had come, he declared, to sweep away all that had gone before. He signified modernity and change. Revolutionary purity would purge the system of favouritism, immorality and corruption. The old guard was replaced by new thinkers: academics, technocrats. It was to be about merit rather than personal influence, a radical notion in a society where family and tribal allegiance always trumped ideology.

The nation united behind him.

The Presidential Palace was renamed the People’s Palace. In the schoolyard we did Chinese calisthenics, raising our arms and bending our legs in time to the commands from a military man with a microphone. The nation was energised by socialism. When visiting heads of state arrived we were ushered out of class to stand by the roadside and cheer the presidential cortège. We were part of the collective spirit that united north and south, Christian and Muslim, east and west.

In those first five years Nimeiri went a long way towards setting the country on the path to achieving its potential, something we all dreamed of. He seemed like the embodiment of the promise that lay in the grand idea of a Sudan that was big enough to encompass its own internal contradictions. He came to symbolise the idea of belonging, of inclusiveness, of nationhood.

Behind the popular rhetoric, however, so much of what we wanted to believe turned out to be part of an elaborate fairy tale. Did we hear what we wanted to hear? What began as an adventure, a bold attempt to unite the nation and work towards the greater good of all, ended in pathetic failure. The broad scale of the vision was whittled down to war and starvation, to persecution, bitter recrimination, paranoia, cruelty, sectarianism and superstition.

The adventure was short-lived, but still, those early years remain a reminder of what might have been.

By the late 1970s Nimeiri had begun to believe in his own myth. He became more concerned with re-jigging his story than with making history. In a ghost-written book published in 1978, he claimed that Islam had always been at the core of his thinking. A patent lie, it was a vain attempt to realign himself. By then his health had begun to deteriorate. He suffered from arteriosclerosis and diabetes as well as liver damage from excessive drinking. Significantly, he also survived a number of coups and he came to believe divine intervention had saved his life. He had cheated death by changing his routine – it had to be more than good luck.

How quickly the euphoria of the early years evaporated. A gap emerged between the aspirations of the skilled middle classes and the opportunities available. People moved abroad, crossing the Red Sea for the oil-rich Gulf States. Islamism replaced socialism. In 1979 Hassan al-Turabi, in a move that presaged the Islamist takeover of 1989, was installed as minister of justice. State ownership gave way to economic liberalisation; liquid assets, shares, state land, petrol and gas were sold off. Corruption proliferated. Those closest to Nimeiri profited most. The Islamic banks were brought in. The great development plans vanished in a spiralling confusion of serious debt with bank loans for hundreds of millions of US dollars being borrowed at extortionate rates for projects that never materialised: refineries that were never built, cement factories that never arrived, helicopters delivered that no one had asked for.

Nasser’s death in 1970 marked the end of pan Arabism. The oil boom brought a level of wealth never dreamed of before to the Middle East. To many this new decadence was a betrayal of traditional values. Images of “oil sheikhs” at play in the West were viewed as shameful. They lent wings to a new wave of puritanism sweeping through the region. In Mecca, an apocalyptic sect of radicals seized the Sacred Mosque in a bid to redeem Islam. In Egypt, Anwar Sadat was gunned down in October 1981 by members of the Islamic Group, a radical faction guided by Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the same blind imam who later passed through Khartoum only to surface in New Jersey linked to the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre. Further afield, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and found themselves fighting the Mujahideen.

Nimeiri was ahead of the curve, already riding the Islamist wave. Twelve short years after the Addis Ababa Agreement he imposed Islam on the entire country, reignited the civil war and undid much of what had been achieved. Where he had once sought to eradicate the traditional Islamic parties, now he tried to achieve what they had never managed, what the Mahdi himself had led his followers into battle for 100 years earlier – a pure Islamic state on Earth. The coups, the ill health, everything seemed to be conspiring to push Nimeiri towards his mystic leanings. Like some latter-day King Lear, he descended into the madness of self-delusion, gradually whittling away the country’s political institutions to leave him the unchallenged master, the imam of all imams. His closest advisors were reduced to a secretive palace cabal of religious seers, magicians and soothsayers.

Under the newly imposed September Laws, a personal and brutal interpretation of Sharia, hundreds of people, many of them non-Muslims, were sentenced to amputation of their right hands or cross-amputation – where the right hand and left foot are both removed – for petty crimes. The Sudanese Bar Association concluded that the September Laws were “unconstitutional and not a true reflection of Islamic law”. It hardly made a difference. In an open letter to academics in 1983, Nimeiri likened himself to Haroun al-Rashid, the 8th-century caliph of Abbasid Baghdad. He ordered the release of 13,000 inmates from the city’s prisons. When he addressed them at Kober Prison, Nimeiri told them he had forgiven them, just as the Prophet Mohammed had forgiven the people of Mecca. In a country of saints and Sufis, the president had come to believe in his own divine mission.

In January 1984, a year before he was ousted, Time magazine summed up the state of affairs in the country. President Nimeiri had started the year, it said, by pouring a can of beer into the Nile – the first drop of five million dollars’ worth of alcohol (later estimated at 11 million). Thousands lining the river bank had cheered. Two weeks earlier, wrote the correspondent, a crowd of 500 had watched a thief have his right hand amputated. Meanwhile, only 10 per cent of the 200 million acres of arable land in the country was being cultivated. Sudan was US$8 billion in debt and crippled by shortages of goods, skilled workers, even electricity.

In the South, the war was reborn as a religious jihad. At stake was the exploitation of two natural resources, water and oil. As Khartoum went back on its promises a hostile political climate emerged. The South saw its natural resources being lifted from under its very nose. Around the Bentiu area petroleum exploration that had been going on since 1978 suddenly turned serious. Preliminary reports estimated the potential for some 50,000 barrels a day (one-tenth of current figures) which would bring in around US$250 million a year. A refinery was being planned for the northern part of the country. Again, this was not reassuring. It reinforced the impression that the oil would be siphoned out of the South as fast as possible. In March 1984 John Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army attacked Chevron’s oil installations and war returned to Sudan.

The Nimeiri era remains one of the most beguiling and contradictory in the country’s history. It defined so much of what was to come: the rise of Islamist politics, the loss of the South, the corruption, the cronyism. From bringing out the best in the nation Nimeiri left us with the worst. Of all the country’s rulers, he was the one who came closest to achieving the dream of a nation united, a nation that celebrated its diversity rather than suppressed it. Like all heroes, he was deeply flawed, convinced in the end that it was not the nation that came first, but himself. By the 1980s, age and mortality were catching up with him. In the end he succumbed, falling back on old prejudices, seeing his role as ruler as his God-given right. The decade is remembered now for the images of famine in Eritrea that turned Africa into a helpless child holding out an empty bowl. Africa was once again reduced to the notion of the continent as an unfathomable, endless catastrophe. It was a sad end.

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Chimurenganyana: When You Kill Us, We Rule! by Keziah Jones (June 2009) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-when-you-kill-us-we-rule-by-keziah-jones-june-2012/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-when-you-kill-us-we-rule-by-keziah-jones-june-2012/#respond Wed, 27 May 2009 09:53:38 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=16972 Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s Last Interview by Keziah Jones was first published in […]

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Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s Last Interview by Keziah Jones was first published in Chimurenga 8: We’re all Nigerian! (2005)

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MOLOTOV COCKTAIL https://chimurengachronic.co.za/periodicals_posts/molotov-cocktail/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/periodicals_posts/molotov-cocktail/#respond Mon, 08 Jul 2019 14:31:16 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=periodicals_posts&p=11965 First published in 2007 Molotov Cocktail initially appeared to be a contradictory […]

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First published in 2007 Molotov Cocktail initially appeared to be a contradictory mix, on one side there was its incendiary title, cover art of a hand poised to throw a lit petrol bomb, and the provocative subtitle , Dismantling the Master’s House Brick by Brick. Then this in the first editorial: “Molotov Cocktai broadly backs the principles and policies of the African National Congress. We believe that discussing the ANC with insight and generosity will be more interesting and productive than condemning the party out of ignorance.” A revolutionary magazine aimed at defending “the powers that be” with word bombs?

Partially, yes. Edited by James Sanders (initially with the help of Ronald Suresh Roberts and later alone) Molotov Cocktail captures the ambiguities of contemporary post apartheid South Africa, where despite the change of political power the majority of the media is still owned by a small white minority. As the editorial in the second issue explains, “In South Africa, many newspapers and magazines adopt a pose of neutrality that is essentially oppositional. Some of this derives from the ‘anti-apartheid’ history of the mining press but it is really a cover for a political agenda that attempts to impose an illiberal narrative onto news and politics. The print media has not transformed quickly enough and we hope to speed it along.”

With that in mind Molotov Cocktail took a deliberately intellectual approach, defining itself as, “a platform where South African intellectuals will debate issues and engage in serious discussions about the direction that our country should take.” It has featured everything from archival documents including long-lost SACP biographies and back issues of the SADF’s Paratus, to new writing on cultural schizophrenia, oil, opposition, Zimbabwe, ‘apartheid’ in Israel, meeting a Nazi in SA, polo in Plett, Post-Polokwane: the new ANC, banking, crime and succession.

It also includes news, controversial profiles, satire, political gossip, book and film reviews, detailed media analysis and some literary critique. Graphics often take the form of illustrations, posters, political cartoons, power organograms and “how to” guides, including of course, “How to make a Molotov Cocktail“.

Significantly, the magazine silenced critics who saw it as Pro-Mbeki mouthpiece by maintaining its editorial stance despite Mbeki’s electoral defeat at the ANC conference in 2007.

To date the magazine has brought out 5 issues and established itself as a one of the few independent print voices, offering alternative news, views, critique and satire that challenge the mainstream media.


PEOPLE

James Sanders, Ronald Suresh Roberts, Adam Rumball, Zanele Mashinini, Yasmin Sooka, Sindiso Mnisi, Izzy Grove, Eeben Barlow, Lancelot du Preez, Richard Gott, Peter Hallward, Piers Pigou, Eusebius McKaiser, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, Lester Sands, Adam Rumball, Nicholas Tee, Dan Mare, Jonathan Bloche, Phillip Dexter and Thato Mofokeng.


FAMILY TREE

  • Nose Week 1993
  • The Media magazine

RE/SOURCES

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A Day in the Life of Idi Amin https://chimurengachronic.co.za/a-day-in-the-life-of-idi-amin/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/a-day-in-the-life-of-idi-amin/#comments Mon, 27 May 2019 10:52:44 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=11613 The hot dry breeze is lazy. It glides languorously collecting odd bits of paper, they tease the ground, threaten to take flight, tease the ground.

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by Binyavanga Wainaina

Monday. The hot dry breeze is lazy. It glides languorously collecting odd bits of paper, they tease the ground, threaten to take flight, tease the ground. Every so often there is a gathering of force and a tiny tornado whips the paper into the air, swirls dust around, dogs lift their ears, tongues lolling, then burrow their faces between their forelegs as the wind collapses, exhausted.

Children are in school, long lines of spittle reaching their desks as they try to keep awake. From the roof of the town, the giant hum of Menengai crater, it looks as if the flamingos are a giant cloth rising from the lake in a hot shimmering line and revealing blue, and falling and turning the lake pink again.

Vishal is at the library. His brother in school. Mr Shah at work.

Idi Amin Dada is hunched over Mrs Gupta Shah like an insistent question mark, jabbing.  She is chewing hard at a bit of blue-gold and red sari, trying to keep from screaming out loud; they had put on a movie video and set it loud to muffle the sounds.

On the screen Idi can see a pouty maiden at the edge of a cliff, and a man with a giant quiff of hair and sideburns sings in a shrill voice. She leaps off the cliff, and he follows her in a few seconds. They lie draped elegantly at the bottom of the valley; their fingers touch and they die, then the Hindi music escalates in intensity, goes beyond drama, beyond melodrama, and achieves genuine Bombay Belodrama.

***

This is Idi’s room, is also Idi’s afternoon workplace. Has been for fifteen years. This morning, every weekday morning, Idi drops Mr Shah at the Nakuru Grain Millers, the family business; then he drops the petulant Maharajah at school:  The Shah Preschool Academy.

The Maharajah’s mother begs him to get into the car. Mr Shah remains silent, fingers tap the steering wheel. If Vishnu was around, he would have something sarcastic to say. You going to cry now, Maharajah? The Maharaja starts crying.

As soon as the car leaves the factory gate in Industrial Area, yes sir, afende sir, Amin smiles at Mr Shah. The Maharajah wriggles to the front passenger seat of the Peugeot 504 fuel injection, eyes dry and happy.

Once or twice a week, if they have a few minutes, Idi stops at the kiosk near General Hospital where his Ugandan friend, Simon sells sweets, and buys 10 goody-goodys for the boy.

Simon punches Idi on the shoulder and announces his fame, as the crowds of sick look on, all waiting for some kind of attention at the hospital. Or the groups of young men who wait for somebody to park a car and pick out labour for a day of heaving things around for ten shillings, or slapping cement, or digging a pit latrine. It is a good place to have a kiosk. Somebody always needs a loaf of bread, or some milk. There are schools nearby too. And a church. The nurses. The railway. The path across the hospital, past the cemetery, and into town.

‘You see this man, you see this man, you know he was the Boxing Champion of Uganda, this man.’

They would get back into the car, the boy flushed with excitement. Sometimes Idi put his mouth on the boy’s stomach and made burping noises. Rajesh would laugh, and laugh until he would start to cry with joy.

***

Piles of freshly ironed clothes sat on a boat-shaped basin next to the bed, clothes Idi had ironed the night before. Vishal’s bookshelf had been moved to this room after he left for Oxford: the top shelf was full of Louis L’Amour cowboy thrillers; the bottom shelf held a copy of Heart of Darkness, scribbled all over with A-Level notes, and next to it sat V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River.

Mrs Shah gave a low gnashing response that blew soft cardamom-flavoured wind into Idi’s ear.

He loved ironing. Every afternoon he would put on some Bollywood film, and turn the Shah family’s washing into crisp battalions of soldiers. He loved shrugging shirts into broad, identical shoulders, arranging them in wardrobes, watching them stand at attention. They were his to command. A Natural Leader, his sergeant had called him. The room was once a stable, but was now a Servant’s Quarter. At 6 pm exactly he would go to the shower, and smoke some weed mixed with loose tobacco.

Sometimes he dreamed of the embrace of a Luganda woman – sucking at his nerve endings like a fish; turning and twisting him around; smelling not of ginger but of steamed bananas and Nilo beer. Once he blew his whole salary on a woman he met at a bus-station who told him she was a sega.

***

The 1960s were full of landslides: as the British Administration screeched to a halt those that were waiting for a trajectory to come and grab hold of them were left stranded.

Everything changed for Idi. He had considered going back to Uganda, but he did not know what to do without a new commander. Sergeant Jones had died. Idi had enemies there. Akol – his junior – was close to Obote at independence. From the same village. He had hoped to get word of some opening, a friend in the right place. None had come.

In 1970, he was about to give up; was about to hitchhike to Uganda and sell illegal liquor in Arua like his mother had done, when he found a frail Indian man being pulverised by a 10-year-old parking boy outside the wholesale market, with market women cheering the boy.

He had rescued the man. Mr Shah. And he had got a job. It wasn’t bad. Mrs Shah was the same as Sergeant Jones: insistent, fanatical about time, a goddess of routine. Mr. Shah was polite. Idi had joined the army as soon as age would allow it. It was his way out of a life that seemed aimless. His mother had sold liquor, was a camp follower, had had several army officers. At thirteen, he had beaten up a thirty-year old Acholi private who had slapped his mother.

At fifteen he was six foot four, and when Sergeant Jones had seen him walking in Arua he had offered him a place in the army at once. Jones would spend hours with Idi in the boxing ring, teaching him new skills. He loved to punch Idi softly; to wipe sweat off Idi’s back; to test out Idi’s muscles. Always gruffly.

Idi loved to catch Mau Maus. One day, after winning a boxing match, he got drunk and came to the barracks with a prostitute. The sentry refused to let him in. Amin left him unconscious on the floor. Jones found him in the barracks the next morning. He slapped Idi twice. Hard.

Idi did not talk to anybody for days. Three days later, after he had won the Gilgil Barracks Boxing Crown for a second time, Jones patted him on the back, and Idi grinned widely and said:

‘Now I am the bull afande.’

‘You’re a good lad, Idi. A good lad.’

***

Mr Shah liked to spend the morning working on his novel:

CONQUERORS OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE

He was already 1 000 words into the preface: It is the only way to make a National Profit from hundreds of years of British Rule: the more territory we control, the more we can dictate the cost of raw materials, the final profit will be manned by our rupees,  our shillings and our guns. Mother India should be Lords of the Commonwealth. Why let the English carry us on their backs! Why build afresh when we can inherit what is already there? The Desais will keep the books, the Amins will manage the farms. We can take the skills the British brought, and add them to the world.

His first-born son, Vishal, is disdainful of the book.

‘Xenophobic polemic Daddi-ji. V.S. says the Indian industrial revolution is petty and private. We are greedy. V.S. says we are ‘a society that is incapable of assessing itself, which asks no questions because ritual and myth have provided all the answers, that we are a society that has not learned ‘rebellion’. Maybe you need to read some real literature before writing this. The Russians…’

Since he came back from England, Vishal had treated his parents as if they were trinkets: colourful mantelpiece trinkets who chimed once in a while, could only be treated with contempt.

Last year at a birthday party, Vishal had composed a song which he liked to sing at birthday parties to scandalise everybody (except the Marxist Habajan Singh, who liked his mettle). He sang it to the tune of a nursery school song about a Kookaburra.

Duka-wallah sit by de ole Neem tree

Merry Merry King of da Street is he

Run Dukawallah run

Dukawallah burn

Dukawallah hide your cash and flee

***

It started with small things. She would scrub her heel with a stone, until it bled. It was better when they had had the shop. Ramesh did not come home any more for lunch. He ate fruit. They took turns. Now, she woke with a surging panic, as her days could not fill up. The house extensions were finished. At night it seemed, sometimes, that the earthworms were coming. They were shifting everything, turning up the earth, dark and whispering. The previous month four families on the street had left. Ramesh would not hear of it. Start again where? Then Vishal was gone. They sat there, on her wall, the certificates. For hockey. First place in Biology and Art. Duchess of Gloucester school, Pangani.

When she was twelve, she had wrestled her bigger brother to the ground. Her mother had found her pounding his face. She had stayed in her room for days, dreaming of becoming Sally, an Air Hostess. Jane, a Trauma Nurse.

Sitting for tea at Nakuru Sweet Mart with friends some days, she pinched herself under the table, harder and harder, and a satisfying tingle ran up her back as she dabbed her tears and said, they are so strong, these onions, fresh, as they talked about ways to hide gold.

***

Between 2 and 4 pm you can find Idi Amin at Nakuru Boxing Club. For years he has been the Nakuru Boxing Champion. He is getting older now, and some young bucks are challenging. Modesty Blaise Wekea is short. Very short. It is said he once lifted a plough over his head while working as a casual in the wheat fields of Masailand. He is copper-coloured to Idi’s black. It is his speed – the unbelievable speed of those bowed legs with thighs the size of a grown man’s waist. But there is something else. When Amin first exploded onto the Nakuru boxing scene people saw a future world champion, ‘Aii Alikuwa kama myama!’ he was like an animal: the discipline of the army added to his natural ferocity to make him unbeatable.

He had no wife; many lovers: yellow Gikuyu women desperately looking for a man with some skills – they complained that Gikuyu men were disdainful of frills, saw sex as a quick efficient drill; wira ni wira – work is work. Idi’s size, his soft and gentle eyes and wicked smile.

He has a son, in Ronda. Twin daughters in Naivasha. In ’57, in Kamirithu, a woman once came to the barracks, screaming. She unknotted her baby-kanga, and put the baby on the ground. She stood at the gates, tearing her clothes off, and screaming in Gikuyu as the men laughed. One of the guards tried to stop her, and she slapped him. Where is he? Where is he? Idi was away, in Kabete Police Post, drinking. The woman walked away, leaving the baby crying. She got to the fence of the forced village, was just about to walk through the ditch that surrounded it, dug by her and other women, when she turned and ran back. She picked the baby up, and walked away, past the village probably, they speculated, to Nairobi, where the orphans, the rejected, the divorced, the accused all disappeared. The city was now sealed by barbed wire and police posts, Gikuyus all but banned, but people got in, and people got out.

After his sparring session with a nervous young man with even larger limbs than his, a young man so scared he could probably kill in fear, Idi had a soda with an old friend.

Godwin, the only fellow Kakwa in Nakuru. Godwin Pojulu was a tailor for an Indian family: the Khans. Idi speaks his language badly; he spoke better in Luo and Acholi and Kiswahili, army languages. Here in Kenya, all of them were Nubians. Sudanese were only Nubians.

But when he was six or seven his mother had taken him to Yei town in Sudan – and he had fallen in love with the mango-lined avenues.  Children were generally a nuisance in the colonial Labour Lines of Arua; in his maternal grandfather’s home, just off Maridi road, five miles from Yei was heaven. He was free to run and play as far as he wanted. Adults would swell to accommodate him – he would eat in the homes of strangers.

Godwin speaks to him about Sudan. About Inyanya 1 – the war. About old heroic days; about rumour and gossip coming from Yei town. They would eat soda and mandazi and talk till the people left their offices and the surge of workers coming from the factories set Godwin to work.

***

At five-thirty, before the last sun, Idi heads to Eunice’s for supper. He loves that walk – the railway, with its long straight one-roomed homes, reminds him of his childhood in various labour lines, near various railways stations.

One-roomed homes – with kei apple green doors looking across at each other. He arrives at Eunice’s. Clothes flap on the line directly above him, and other clothes are being washed at one tap by young girls and wives.

The buildings are very old, some of the oldest in the country, as old as the railway – the origin and spine of what we now call Kenya. Green fungi well on the open pipes, and green tears stream down peeling walls. A toy safari-rally car leans by a wall streaked with the scribbles of children: OTC =Onyango Twende Choo.

Wire is shaped into the frame of a car and held together with thin strips cut from the inner tube of a car tyre, complete with a long steering wheel for a child to grip and run in any direction, making hooting and growling sounds. Railway children make the best wire cars – crouched and snarling, with steering that makes the wheels turn; with paper mudguards, number plates and springy aerials thrust from the back of the car.

In some of the ceilings, under the old corrugated iron roof, young men keep carrier pigeons and feathers are clustered in the roof drains.

Eunice is sprawled on the grass, elbow crossed over her eyes, sleeping and her whole body receiving the sun. The smell of fish, dry fish, cooking fish, and boiling, bitter green vegetables is everywhere. Two women are getting their hair plaited on the sparse patch of grass between the parallel single-room buildings. Both their heads are held at the knee by their hairdressers, legs wide open. There is a pile of discarded pea-pods, sukuma-wiki stems and potato peels next to the tap, covered with a large web of slime. Brackish, soapy water glides out into an open drain where ducklings swim. Ducks with mossy muddy bellies wander about. The women are talking, and don’t stop when they see him standing awkwardly near the tap. Eunice is still napping.

‘I have never seen someone like that one. Chu chu chuuu…all the time. Hizo piston zake hazikwisha.’

‘Ah – huyo hana brakes.’

They all laugh.

‘He is an engineer – a Goan. He has women all over the railway line. Here he has three in Njoro, and you know this is not even a proper station. So – he was here last night, and he brought a Burnt Forest malaya here – she looked Indian or ShellyShelly. They kept us up the whole night. Chuuchuuu. Even my son woke up, and came to my bed and asked who was screaming, and I said, ah, Daddy, that’s the train screaming. Can’t you hear. Choo chooo!’

All the women laugh.

Eunice. She is not young. In her fifties even. Straight, and lean with sharp buttocks outlined against her lesso, and very short gray hair, cut like a boy’s.

Her head is the pot gently placed on a long straight neck, where it rocks slowly from side to side; chipped and fading gold loop metal earrings wobble; hips and buttocks are a pendulum of tight flesh. Her back is perfectly straight.

She catches Idi’s eye and slips past the open door, where four quarters are carefully divided by old sarongs into four rooms.

***

The only person in the household who threatens Idi’s job is Vishal. Since Vishal came back from England, with a cockney accent and black power talk.

‘Daddi-ji, you need to read V.S. Naipaul. He understands the black man. He is a Supermasculine Menial Daddi-ji. Read Cleaver.’

That night, Mrs Gupta surprised her husband by defending Vishal. She was bent over, head between her thighs, hair over her face, brushing the back of it, metres long, as Ramesh railed, ‘Are we sending him to Cambridge to become a black man?’

Idi has been with the family now for fifteen years. Two years ago he cornered three thugs and beat them all up, and left with a knife-wound in his belly.

He is afraid of only one thing. The market. Those women. Whenever he is shopping there, for the Shahs, he can see their eyes measuring, and whispers surge when he turns his back to leave. One day, he heard Thief! Thief! And he started to run. The whole market, a moment ago, was a puddle of fast-moving ants, now it was an arrow, chasing to kill, an arrow surrounded by cheering crowds. He turned into the road to Section 58, and knew himself to be safe. He could see women in saris walking, gently gossiping and laughing. The invisible boundaries of colour still stood, fifteen years after independence.

Later, he wondered whether they were chasing him, or somebody else. He sends Godwin, when Memsahib is too preoccupied to go to buy vegetables.

***

Every Monday, at 5 pm, Mr Shah stops at George Karanja’s office near the Town Hall. George is an old friend. Karanja’s father arranged shelves for the family shop for many years. Ramesh’s father paid George’s school fees for primary school. George and Ramesh studied at Kenya Institute of Administration together. Ramesh left afterwards, to study economics in England. George entered the civil service.

They have tea, and talk about the old days. Kenyatta’s portrait is on the wall, red eyes burning and a flywhisk in hand. He leaves an envelope with the secretary, with four thousand shillings. George is a sleeping partner in the business.

They say George meets with the Mzee every Sunday, in that pavilion that faces the flamingos near Lake Nakuru, that place Kenyatta likes so much. Old women sing and dance for him, and he watches the sunset every Sunday. Ramesh does not know whether it is luck or George’s intervention that has kept his stock coming through the port, his business running, nobody walking in to claim it all. He does not ask.

They will rule this country one day, he thinks, those old Gikuyu market women, the singing women, with their coin-counting ways, so frugal.

‘In a subsistence economy,’ his father had once said, tugging his long beard, behind the shelf of the shop, as he received as barter a tin can of milk from an old Tugen man, who took away some tobacco and a tin whistle, ‘you can save everything you earn. Keep your spending subsistent,’ he said, ‘and your earning modern. Do you know what brought them all to the shops? Sugar. Sugar and tobacco. The missionaries used to give them free tea with a lot of sugar. They left home to look for work, first, to afford sugar, and tobacco.’

***

It had started recently with Memsahib.

Idi was on his way from the kitchen with a big mug of sweet tea, and had caught her wailing in the living room, a day after Vishal had gone to Oxford. He had tried to slide backwards slowly out of the room; but she had leapt at him and grabbed him and wept on his shoulder, leaving long snail-trails of snot on his khaki shirt. Her mood had changed abruptly, and she had attacked him: teeth and nails; her body incoherent.

This change, this new erratic thing to deal with troubles him. Most times, he does not mind being a House Boy.


This piece was first published in Chimurenga Volume 14 – Everyone Has Their Indian (April 2009). To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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LAMALIF https://chimurengachronic.co.za/periodicals_posts/lamalif/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/periodicals_posts/lamalif/#respond Mon, 08 Jul 2019 14:24:46 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=periodicals_posts&p=11961 Published in Morocco in 1966, Lamalif took its title from two Arabic […]

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Published in Morocco in 1966, Lamalif took its title from two Arabic letters that form the word “la”, meaning “no”. This sly wordplay encapsulated the magazine’s objective. Launched after the defeat of the Moroccan opposition (Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires) by the monarchy, Lamalif was a form of challenge. “The goal in this tragic situation was not to lose hope, to build an alternative,” explained the founders, Zakia Daoud and Mohamed Loghlam.

Throughout its 22 years existence, Lamalif was characterised by its intellectual rigour and radical political stance. Covering social, cultural and economical issues, all from a political perspective it established itself as “a space for reflection and a force of significant challenge.” Its ideological debates amongst journalists, economists, academics, politicians and revolutionaries became global intellectual references and proved seminal in the development of many of Mocrocco’s best thinkers and writers. Its focus on arts and culture was equally influential. Lamalif‘s covers frequently featured work by artists and its writings on film contributed to the rise of Moroccan cinema in the 1970s.

Lamalif was however never exclusionary and it soon established a wide and diverse readership. Ironically it was this success that led to the publications ultimate demise. Its popularity and outspoken stance soon attracted the ire of the authorities and it didn’t take long before Daoud was “regarded as Public Enemy.” After years of threats, censorship and seizures, Lamalif was finally forced to shut down in 1988.



traduction française par Scarlett Antonio

Publi au Maroc en 1966, Lamalif a pris son nom des deux lettres de l’alphabet arabe qui forment le mot “la”, signifiant “non”. Ce jeu de mots malin résumait l’objectif du magazine. Lancé après la défaite de l’opposition marocaine (Union socialiste des Forces Populaires) par la monarchie, Lamalif était une forme de défit. “Le but dans cette tragique situation n’était pas de perdre espoir, de construire une alternative,” expliquaient les fondateurs, Zakia Daoud et Mohamed Loghlam.

Pendant ces 22 ans d’existence, Lamalif était caractérisé par sa rigueur intellectuelle et sa position politique radicale. Reportant sur les problèmes sociaux, culturels et économiques, d’un point de vue politique, il s’est affermi comme “un espace pour la réflexion et une force de défit considérable.”

Ses débats idéologiques parmi les journalistes, économistes, académiciens, politiciens et révolutionnaires devinrent des références intellectuelles mondiales et ont prouvé être fructueux dans le développement de nombreux écrivains et meilleurs penseurs marocains. Son intérêt sur les arts et la culture était également influents. Les reportages de Lamalif mettaient fréquemment en vedette le travail fait par des artistes et ses articles sur les films ont contribué à l’essor du cinéma marocain dans les années 1970.

Lamalif n’a néanmoins jamais été exclusif et s’est vite établi une place parmi un grand nombre de lecteurs différents. Ironiquement, ce fut ce succès qui mena les publications à leur ultime fin. Sa popularité et sa position de franc-parler attira la colère des autorités et il n’a pas fallu attendre longtemps avant que Daoud soit “considéré comme l’Ennemi Publique.” Après des années de menaces, de censures et saisies, Lamalif fut forcé de fermer définitivement en 1988.


PEOPLE

Jean Gourmelin, Abdellah Laraoui, Paul Pascon, Abdelkebir Khatibi, Abdallah Laroui, Fathallah Oualalou Oualalou, Abdelaali Benamour, Habib El Malki, Khalid Alioua, Bruno Etienne, Mohammed Jibril, Mohammed Tozy, Aboubakr Jamai, Salim Jay, Najib Boudraa


FAMILY TREE

  • Almaghrib(1937)
  • Jeune Afrique (1960)
  • Al Mouharrir(1962)
  • Addoustour(1963)
  • Souffles (1966)
  • Anoual
  • TelQuel (2001), which founder Ahmed Reda Benchemsi initially wanted to call Lamalifin tribute.

RE/SOURCES

  • Lamalif on Wikipedia
  • Zakya Daoud, Les Années Lamalif, Tarik Editions, 2007
  • Laila Lalami, “The Lamalif Years”, February 15, 2007
  • Abdeslam Kadiri, “Portrait. Les mille vies de Zakya Daoud”, TelQuel, 2005.
  • “An interview with Zakia Daoud”, APN, March 9, 2007
  • “Rétrospectivee : Il était une fois la presse”, TelQuel

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THIRD CLASS CITY https://chimurengachronic.co.za/third-class-city/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/third-class-city/#respond Mon, 05 Oct 2020 10:24:01 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=17587 South Africa thinks that India owes it one for putting Gandhi through revolution school; India thinks South Africa owes it for sending him over to show the natives how it’s done.

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by Achal Prabhala

I prayed for laughter, a life without hunger. I was answered with paradoxes.

It remains an enigma how it came to be that I was born smiling.

— Ben Okri, The Famished Road


In August 2005, Special Assignment ran a story on how corrupt police officers in Johannesburg were making the daily life of African immigrants pure hell. Newspapers gave the story breathless coverage, top police officials exploded under the ensuing media scrutiny and the city let out a collective gasp of disbelief – African immigrants! Police brutality! Here? My…God.

Concerned journalists quickly informed us that Nigerians were human beings too, some savvy Congolese gents informed the South African Parliament that foreigners wanted nothing more than to proselytise entrepreneurship. And then, almost as quickly as it had emerged, the cottage industry of righteous indignation was displaced to make way for that man of the masses Mr. Zuma and his black, bullet-proof Humvee.

Possessing a somewhat better memory than the South African Broadcasting Corporation, I remember another Special Assignment show from last year: the “degradation” of Port Elizabeth. It was a typically ambitious story, covering everything from decaying buildings to loud nightclubs to congregations of people in public places, and crowned by urbanology’s favourite symptom – “drugs.” Without so much as a blush, it confirmed that when good cities go bad, there’s usually a simple explanation: Nigerians.

As a subcontinental Indian once resident in South Africa, now back home, I can confirm that gushingly reproducing this thesis is not the favoured pastime of South African media alone. New Delhi’s leading organ, the Times of India (once a respectable newspaper, now one long advertorial) is filled with stories of drug busts – involving the invariable gang of Nigerians and an occasional Kenyan. Its not that I doubt Nigerian involvement in the drugs trade, yet I’m left indignant by headlines such as “Nigerian, 2 others held for drug peddling” – especially when the “2 others” happen to be Indian, and their approximately one thousand unnamed customers happen to be rich Indian kids.

But Delhi is not generally known for its sensitivity. Bangalore, the city I call home, is a lot more laid-back. It counts a population of about seven million, and hogs considerable column space as India’s Silicon Valley. Lately it’s become a pretty common noun. From Nebraska to New York, “Bangalored!” is the manner in which unemployed Americans describe the predicament of outsourcing. India’s middle-class English press loves to play this up. Hacks and hackers alike thrive on the colony-gives-it-back sentiment, and local politicians adore Kerry for saying, “If Bangalore can be completely wired, then so should all of America.”

I suppose billionaires make better role models than beggars, never mind that something like a third of Bangalore’s population lives in slums. Faced with abject poverty, the only thing that gets street children wired is a furtive sniff of glue. With all that campaign money, one would think that Kerry could have bought better information.

Thankfully, there are other stories here – like the foreign student, a longstanding fixture on Bangalore’s social scene. With its evidently temperate climate, its apparently temperate people, and an abundance of college seats, the young and the restless come from Palestine, Iran, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria. In the early 1980s, in the thick of an import-substitution economy, when “foreign” meant making the impossibly expensive one-hour journey to Sri Lanka, African and Arab students were gaped at with admiration for their Western ways and blue jeans. African modernity hit its highest note in Bangalore when Osibisa rolled into town, drums, afros, and world peace in tow, sending the city into a delirium that would last several years.

That was then. Now, Bangalore is the nerve centre of the world’s economy and boarding the plane to Sunnyvale, California is about as exotic as driving a Toyota Corolla. But in its eagerness to accommodate the sudden influx of high-income foreigners, Bangalore’s middle-class seems to have misplaced a somewhat lowlier cosmopolitanism that always existed. Last December, I noticed an article on hair braiding in The Hindu, the staid newspaper beloved by South India’s old left. It harked back to an era of blasé worldliness, before we started treating the 15 Swedish families resident in Bangalore as a media event. The article – “Curious Curls” – explained the process and suggested options for young African women on the lookout for a compliant hair salon. It was written by John Patrick Ojwando – from Kenya, I would learn, and a PhD student in neighbouring Mysore – whose byline continued to appear regularly, on articles that had nothing to do with African students or braided hair.

The foreign student isn’t the story anymore. He is writing them. My friends told me that the city’s most sought-after yoga instructor was an Iranian Muslim. This was very civilised, and my ensuing happiness, somewhat rational. What was not quite explainable was my secret delight at seeing African names and faces pop up in society columns, or the mesmerised stare I levelled at a bevy of female African models who descended on a quiet bar that I went to last week, or the fascination I have with Hanes underwear, which (inexplicably) uses middle-aged African models in their Indian advertisements.

However, the truth is that African students still face plenty of hostility wherever they study in India, and the fact that the average South Indian complexion is not unlike its African counterpart means not very much – this is, after all, the largest regional market for Unilever’s “Fair and Lovely” skin cream.

And up there in the geopolitical trapeze, the Indian government is swinging about hoping to catch a Euro-American rope. Once, Nehru and Nyerere were ideological allies for an alternative planet, but the days of the Non-Aligned movement are over. Frontline magazine sums up the current state of Indo-African relations: “In recent years, African sensitivities have been repeatedly ignored by India as it single-mindedly seeks a power profile. No senior minister from the government turned up to sign the condolence book at the Sudanese Embassy after the death of John Garang. The previous National Democratic Alliance government was no better. Nobody bothered to turn up at the Tanzanian High Commission after the passing away of Julius Nyerere.”

Which basically means that we now treat other third-worlders with the contempt that they deserve. “Immigrant communities have always been open to unashamed pigeonholing and haranguing from the media, the state and its citizens,” writes Sonia Faleiro in Tehelka, a weekly newspaper that looks and reads like South Africa’s Mail & Guardian. In one of the few articles that actually asks Nigerians, Iranians and Nepalis to tell us how they’re treated here, Faleiro also finds out what we think of them: “Nigerians are drug peddlers, Nepalis will rob you in your sleep, Russians will sell their bodies for the right price and Bangladeshis are slum dwellers.”

An Indian surgeon who travelled to Durban for a conference wrote an article in The Hindu, lamenting that Gandhi’s former home in Phoenix is “neglected and unvisited,” finding its state of disrepair a huge disappointment. South Africa thinks that India owes it one for putting Gandhi through revolution school; India thinks South Africa owes it for sending him over to show the natives how it’s done. Now, as an admirer of Gandhi who feels no need to be apologetic about it, I’m wondering if the local reluctance to claim Gandhi as a struggle icon has anything to do with a complaint he made in 1896 – that Europeans in South Africa were equating Indians with the “raw kaffir, whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”

“We are all in the gutter,” Oscar Wilde said, “But some of us are looking at the stars.”

And doing it indolently and nakedly to boot. Bangalore wants to be Singapore when it grows up. Johannesburg wants to be San Francisco, London and Tokyo, all at once (this is not my imagination; it’s the city’s Vision 2030).  Both yearn to become hubs on the international conference circuit, though liberation has them confused about the profile of their ideal visitor: fat wallets a must, dark skin a plus. One thing I know for sure. Neither Bangalore nor Johannesburg wants to become like the other. Both cities are transfixed by the idea of being “world-class.”

And when citizens and city-planners from Johannesburg and Bangalore hop around the world for inspiration, the very last place they will think of visiting is Lagos. But this will be their loss. As Johannesburg frets about how to keep the slums where they are, faraway from the glittering malls, and Bangalore worries about how to move its slums so that it can build glittering malls, I imagine that master-planners in both cities are tossing in their sleep with a shared nightmare: the prospect of Lagosification. 

Of course, one wonders what it is exactly about Lagos that makes Johannesburg sweat. Safer streets? Less gun crime? Abundant services? Cheap food? Public transport? A thriving informal economy? A vibrant film industry? Bangalore’s fears are entirely different, since, strictly speaking, Lagos is a familiar city. What we don’t quite have is precisely what Lagos oozes from every pore: attitude. It’s why we say the word empowerment very softly – shhh, or people might actually realise what they can do.

For the record, I don’t live in a slum, and like most slum-dwellers, I wouldn’t want to if I could afford not to. I don’t like traffic jams, whether in Bangalore or Lagos, and when I’m away from Johannesburg, I frequently dream of its smooth highways. And occasionally, I like to shop in a controlled environment. But that’s it. Otherwise, I’m grateful I grew up in a city where I couldn’t escape the very poor, even if the authorities are doing their best to change that now. And I think it’s healthier to live with an acknowledgement that the world isn’t all middle-class, clean and aesthetically pleasing and never will be; that roads reek of urine because some people have no choice; that streets crowded with cyclists and buses are a good thing, for it means that people who can’t afford air-conditioned SUVs have the power to move.

The world-class city is a daunting prospect: it sounds like a club that won’t let me in without the right shoes. I prefer third-class cities, the kind you can feel stirring in Ajegunle, Yeoville and Shivajinagar. They’re shabby, comfortable places, equally welcoming of the poor, the rich and the alien; they shrug off the idea that they’re necessary evils with an easy grin. They lack that inflated sense of place that deludes the world-class city into taking itself seriously.

I can’t imagine that Bangalore will ever become as spatially segregated as Johannesburg is today, and I can’t see the Johannesburg status quo lasting forever. As one city wills itself into becoming London, and the other trips over itself to catch up with Singapore, I like to think that both cities might end up looking a lot more like each other, malls, stalls and all.

And partly responsible for this discomfiting democracy will be the Lagos germ – travelling undetected in conversations, slipping into cities through the imagination of its people, manifesting itself as a constant itch under the skin of a well-scrubbed world, inducing a condition that is as unpleasant, uplifting, disturbing, enjoyable and inevitable as necessary.


This article first appeared in print in Chimurenga Magazine 8 – We’re All Nigerian (December 2005).
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Islam between Françafrique and Afrabia https://chimurengachronic.co.za/islam-between-francafrique-and-afrabia/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/islam-between-francafrique-and-afrabia/#respond Tue, 09 Jun 2015 22:50:56 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=5851 Needless to say, Françafrique was not the only constellation of capital and culture on offer at the time of African political independence.

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By Wendell Hassan Marsh

Upon his invasion of Egypt in 1798, Napoleon had a message for those Muslims suffering under Ottoman dominion. He would liberate Egypt and Islam and make them liberal, modern. Using rhetorical formulae and forms of argumentation put together by his army of Orientalists, Napoleon superficially provided the material that his critics at home would use to argue that he had strayed from Christianity (and that some Muslims use today), that Ali Bonaparte had converted to Islam and placed the Islamic message at the centre of the republican idea. This reading fails to grasp the instrumentalisation of Islam that would characterise French imperial policy for a long time to come.

As historian David Robinson has argued, this instrumentalisation of Islam for the purpose of governing Muslim subjects is precisely what transformed France into a Muslim power over the course of the 19th century. Algeria was the laboratory in which the techniques and technologies of this instrumentalisation were worked out. Non-binding legal decrees were used to legitimate French rule and the sharīʿah in general was systematised so as to be useful to a rationalised colonial administration. Khalil’s Mukhtasar, an important guide to the dominant Maliki legal school, was translated into French and used by colonial administrators. In fact, an entire complex of translation through the training of interpreters and teachers was critical in making colonial control complete. Beyond language and law, France supported and sometimes organised a range of Islamic institutions that connected religious practice in its colonial possessions with the so-called Islamic heartlands, in order to make possible the kinds of relationships that could be beneficial to it while limiting others that were not. Finally, networks of clerics and religious associations in the form of Sufi brotherhoods were used to distribute state resources and serve as a general buffer between people and the colonial state.

This model of Islamic governance à la française was pioneered in Algeria, but it did not come into its own until the French incorporated West Africa into their sphere of Muslim possessions. Here a careful balance was kept between the administrative unity of north-western Africa and the political fragmentation that resulted from the construction of racialised concepts of Black Islam and Moorish Islam that developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This kept Islam, as much as the universalist religion would allow, local, vernacular, and administrative, that is, apolitical.

The forms of political violence that invoked the name of Islam during the recent attacks in Paris signal deep continuities with French imperialism. I do not mean this in a “chickens come home to roost” kind of way, but the political use of Islamic idioms and institutions were in many ways pioneered by the French and the strands of Islamism imbued by the neoliberalism of the day have as much in common with Western faith in the market as it differs. As Michel Houellebecq’s novel Soumission, which depicts the electoral victory of a moderate Islamist party on the masses of children of imperialism in 2022 France, the prospects of a liberal Islam are not so unimaginable. In fact, it has long been imagined by Africans, Arabs, and many of the French in between.   

Françafrique and Afrabia

Colonialism, as theorised by the likes of Samir Amin, meant the extroversion of African economies and societies, an orientation that left the periphery dependent on the centre.  On top of the material interests in exportation of raw resources and the consumption of refined products was also a trade in a corresponding veneer of specific ideas and cultural forms accumulated through the trajectory of Europe’s historical experience. While there was an important movement of migratory labour that would eventually provide antagonistic forces from below in both France and Africa, the most important movement of people that would result in the dominant ideology within French West African countries was the movement of would-be intellectuals from the colony to the metropole for their education and training. Their education in the French language and indoctrination into republican ideals made them a comprador managerial class that could do little to claim their own autonomy. In a way, the implicit deal was that in exchange for its wealth, Africa could claim to be part and parcel of the civilisation of the universal. It too could decorate its halls with Greco-Roman motifs and sport coats of arms reminiscent of mediaeval crusaders.

“Françafrique” has been used as a term to describe a particular kind of privileged relationship that tied France to its former colonial interests in Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. What does privilege mean between the subject and its coloniser, if not a euphemism used to smooth over structures of subordination and dependency that characterised the uniquely neocolonial moment in the 1960s and 1970s? Senegal enjoyed this dubious privilege more than any other former colonial possession, that is, except its primary competitor, the Ivoirian exception. In Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal alike, the colonial enterprise has famously been understood as a civilising mission. Embedded within the privileged relationship are the effects of a missionary activity that sought to impose modernity, a secularised Christianity. Unlike Côte d’Ivoire and its form of settler-colonialism – which saw the direct importation, application and appropriation of French civilisational frameworks, institutions and language – the administration of Senegal required that colonialists do something with the millennium-long presence of the civilisational content associated with Islam.

Senegal’s first president, Léopold Senghor, both embodied and enacted this relationship, this fusion of France and Afrique. Taken prisoner-of-war for the sake of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity à la française during World War II, Senghor maintained French citizenship and French interests while serving as the country’s leader for 20 years of nominal independence. It was in this position, situated between the French mainland and its dispersed former subjects, that Senghor advocated for a Frenchness that transcended territory in the form of the Francophonie, the French-speaking world. He would eventually be named an “Immortal” by the French Academy, an eternal protector of the French language and culture. A Catholic by conviction, Senghor dealt with Islam and its language, Arabic, as ambiguously as the colonial authorities that preceded him. Like the French, he used Islam and Arabic to mediate between the state and the hard-to-represent peasant masses outside of the civil society of the four communes of Dakar, Saint-Louis, Gorée and Rufisque, while being cautious of the risks of transnational linkages that Islam could help to channel and encourage.

Françafrique describes much more than a life history or even the ideology of a comprador bourgeoisie situated to profit from the preservation of structures of subordination; rather, it describes an orientation, an entire series of central references, political commitments, standards of value, idioms of expression, forms of action. Alternatively, or additionally, we can describe it as a circuit through which economic, political, and cultural capital flows. The orientation of francophone Africa is often discussed in the secular terms of republican laïcité and thus has often not had to consider the place of Islam, in the singular or plural, in the maintenance or resistance of that orientation. But is secularism not disenchanted Christianity? The French military re-entry into the Sahel after the Mali crisis, and its other adventures in the Muslim world, beg the question: what is the relationship of a so-called Islamic civilisation to the secular (Christian) modernity of Françafrique?

Needless to say, Françafrique was not the only constellation of capital and culture on offer at the time of African political independence. While the bureaucratic and intellectual elite ran through these well-established circuits between France and its colonies and neo-colonies, there have also been different circuits between African countries and Arab countries within Africa and in the Middle East that have long been developing and now achieving critical mass. Some circuits have had deep historical precedents, as “seeking knowledge” and pursuing trade have rendered Muslims, no matter their ethnic composition, highly mobile. This mobility was feared and suppressed during the colonial period even as French and British powers relied on Muslim intermediaries, thus creating isolated and vernacular articulations of Islam. These circuits transformed and multiplied after independence through funding, sending and receiving teachers and students, and establishing institutions. These forms of direct collaboration intensified with the oil boom of the 1970s and have exploded since the liberalisation of pseudo-socialist African countries in the 1990s and the hatchet jobs against African states by the Bretton Woods organisations.

Scholar Ousmane Kane has called these Africans who have received Arabo-Islamic education in their home countries and in Arab states, “non-Europhone intellectuals”. The growth of this body of educated people, often more comfortable in Arabic than in French and more faithful to Islam than committed to the articles of secular faith, has presented a challenge to a social structure and economy that privileges a relationship with the francophone world. Upon their return, former students have often had an orientation to the Arab world that has not been limited to ritual prayer. Scholars such as Réné Otayak have suggested this group might constitute a counter-elite that could lead people in a different direction with a critique of the West founded on a certain Afro-pessimism. It is true that many students returned resentful of the experience of racism and disillusioned with the worldly realities of once idealized Arabs living in society. But many of those returnees have nevertheless come back as nodes in networks that run through the Arab world more than the francophone one. While many so-called experts identify this elite as a vector of radicalisation, it is highly fragmented and its precise relationship with the local masses, the mainstream elite, and external actors in the Middle East and the West is highly differentiated and at times contradictory.

Since the decade of decolonisation, the world has indeed seen dramatic changes in its political economy. The ideological defeat of state socialism, which had dominated African politics until the end of the Cold War and the neoliberal onslaught in the early 1990s, meant political and economic liberalisation, that is, the multiplication of actors outside the state. That moment was also characterised by a Western willingness to launch incredible displays of force in the Middle East to ensure flows of oil. It was in this context that Ali Mazrui saw the strategic imperative to conceptualise a geographic orientation that would turn the Middle East and Africa away from the West and towards each other in order to produce a new ideology. The result was Afrabia, Mazrui’s critical geography in which Africa, or at least the large part of it for which Islam has been a part of its historical experience, is oriented towards the Arab and Islamic world and not the West, and serves as an intermediary for the non-Muslim parts of Africa in their relations with Arabs.

As a concept, Afrabia is neither without precedent, nor without historical basis. African and Arab intellectuals throughout the 20th century have been making arguments for natural, cultural, and political unity. Indeed, pan African theorists such as Edward Blyden and Dusé Muhammad Ali understood and argued for the connection of “the darker races of the world”, citing Islam as a sort of civilisational glue that could hold things together. Also, the tricontinentalism of the Bandung moment encouraged Afro-Arab solidarity along with many other anti-imperialist geopolitical configurations. Gamal Abdel Nasser famously saw Egypt as the centre of the three concentric circles of the Arab world, the Muslim world, and the African one that drew Egypt close to other nations in those configurations. The struggles of decolonisation in Africa had vital ties and networks of support in Arab countries. Furthermore, African states have tended to side with the hallmark Arab cause of Palestine. And as late as the mid 1980s the Arab think tank, the Centre for Arab Unity Studies, held a major conference and published an extensive report that tried to exhaust the “Africa question” for the Arab nation-states.

The problem that this theorisation has always run into, however, has been twofold. The first is that its reliance on the history of African and Arab interaction as proof of future possibilities is as weak as it is strong. This history includes as many lows as it does highs. For every proof of racial equality in a supposed Islamic history, there is a proof of paternalism and exploitation. For every Mansa Musa, there is a Zanj revolt. For every claim on an African Muslim empire, there is a claim of Arab conquest of that empire. The second, and most damning problem, is that the logic of these ideological configurations accepts the idea of civilisational difference and implicitly a hierarchy established on the basis of those differences. That hierarchy goes something like the following: the West is the best, Islam is next and Africa is what’s left. Just like the European thinkers who defined the overall framework for knowledge in the 19th century, Afro-Arab thinkers saw Islam as a civilisational mediator between the African and the modern. Islam itself was a channel that brought Africa forward. This framework of civilisation itself ensured the perpetual negation of Africa and continued contradiction between historical arguments and the means to make those arguments, thereby causing a fundamental ambiguity of political potentiality.

Mazrui, in an often cited essay on Africans and the Arabs in the “New World Order”, argues that there is a demographic imperative for a future reconciliation between Africans and Arabs, pointing out that the majority of the world’s “Arabs” live on the African continent, that the largest Arab countries are African territories, and that Africa is becoming a Muslim-majority continent. Mazrui uses the slippages and overlaps between these categories (African, Arab, Muslim) to effectively bolster his argument. He takes for granted the categories themselves and is uncritical of the contradictions that have emerged from a racialist organisation of modern knowledge. Hybrid ethnicities and languages that have materialised from histories of intense Afro-Arab interactions serve as the most important element in his argument for bridges of solidarity where barriers of modern geography have been thought to hold sway. While Mazrui’s preoccupations with blood and culture in the search for historical legitimacy are deeply problematic, the attempt to make the argument when he did in the early 1990s is interesting in the way in which it tries to generate an ideology with which to make emergent circuits of capital and culture between Africa and the Middle East meaningful.

Islamic liberalism and the Francophonie

The Muslim public intellectual and new voice for today’s Islamic liberalism Tariq Ramadan loves Africa, and has done for a long time. He has called it a horizon, a breath of air, an abode of roots and most of all of memory and tradition. His several speaking and organising trips to Senegal since at least 2012 have touched on such themes as Muslims in global capitalism, tolerance of homosexuality, and breaking ties of influence with neo-traditional religious leadership. One of his most documented visits was during the 2013 Colloque International des Musulmans de l’Espace Francophone (CIMEF). CIMEF is a biannual event that brings together Muslims from the French-speaking world, and has always been held in different French-speaking countries in West Africa since its inaugural event in 2000 in Côte d’Ivoire (the event has also been held in Bénin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo and Mali). The organisation around the conference ensures that it is conspicuously moderate, an Islam that the West can embrace. Neither fundamentalist nor less-than-orthodox Muslims are welcome. The Islam on offer is more a public Islam for liberal democracy than a political Islam that appears to contest it.

That the Swiss national of Egyptian origin would have so active a project in a former French colony is not so preposterous, considering the tradition from which Ramadan comes. Muhammad Abduh, one the most influential figures in the hall of fame of Muslim reformers, was an unapologetic liberal and a fan of France. It is said that after his travels to Paris with his mentor Jamal al-din al-Afghani he said, “I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam.” Coincidently, he saw this at the moment of France’s peak expansion as a Muslim power. Abduh was responsible for some of the first attempts to fuse Enlightenment ideas central to liberalism such as individual rights, rationalism and religious tolerance with Islamic faith, placing significant emphasis on accommodating technological progress through law. Reform was so critical, in Abduh’s opinion, because the Muslim world had to compete with Western capitalist imperialism. The choice seemed to be become modern on your own terms by making the Islamic tradition a resource, or become modern by poorly copying the West.

The discourse in Dakar and other parts of francophone Africa has not been all that different. During the 2013 CIMEF conference, the theme was the contribution of Islamic thought to the understanding of ethics, governance and power, and peace and security. Panels on ethics and “Islamic economics” and on bioethics and Islam, in particular, are touchstone topics for those reformist Muslims who take up a liberal discourse.  The conference theme is not so surprising when you consider that the organisation that sponsored the event is the Qatari Centre for Islamic Legislation and Ethics, the director of which is none other than Tariq Ramadan. Working within the tradition of liberal reform, Ramadan has made Muslim Africa an important sphere of activity for its expansion. The relationship of a Qatari funded Islamic liberalism to France and the Francophonie is up for further analysis. But it is important to mention that Qatar, an Arab gulf country with no history of French anything, has somehow managed to join the Francophonie. Perhaps we can describe it as an ideology with its constituting geographic poles in France and in the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf.

An Afrabia that takes Qatar as its centre of Islamic anything is only one of many orientations that are currently competing for dominance. To be certain there is a resistance to this configuration. In autumn 2014, a different conference on Islam and the French-speaking world was held as part of the activities associated with the 15th summit of the Organisation of the Francophonie.  “Francophone Muslim Religiosity in the World” was organised through a collaboration of the Centre d’Étude des Religions at the Université Gaston Berger in Saint-Louis, the Institut Supérieur d’Étude des Religions et de Laïcité at the University of Lyon 2 and 3, and the University of Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar. Though the two events seem to be more or less the same, the difference in circuits of support, collaboration and flows of initiative tell quite a tale.

CIMEF, organised by an Emirati organisation, took French to be simply the medium of reflection and exchange, focusing on specific problems of the ethical bases of law for Muslims. The 2014 conference’s primary thematic focus was the French language itself, proposing that French is a language of Islam, to borrow the wording of one of the lead organisers, Senegalese scholar Abdul Aziz Kébé. The first seems to have been more programmatic whereas the second seemed to be more of a local initiative within the French neocolonial framework. It’s hard to tell whether or not the former encouraged the latter or if there was any other form of relation between the two. But the differing themes, rosters of participants, and sources of support and collaboration suggest that the two conferences were opposed in some way. CIMEF used the French language to facilitate new circuits of the flows of economic and cultural capital whereas the francophone Muslim religiosity conference seemed to affirm old ones.

Modernisation theory supposed that religion would eventually disappear in the world as the global South became more developed and the liberal message of capitalism found its way into the hearts of people all over the world. The ideological alternative of socialism posed some challenges for the bourgeois ideology of liberalism, but was largely in agreement with it on the diminishing returns of religion. Paradoxically, the dominance of liberalism in the world today has encouraged a return to religion in political organisation and expression. This development is seen most vividly in Africa, where religious differences and their corresponding geopolitical orientations seem to substantiate Samuel Huntington’s thesis on the clash of civilisations and its bloody borders. But as we have seen, capitalism is ultimately indifferent to religion and can actually subsume religious differences in order to support its own expansion. Islam, whether a faith, a legal system, or a tradition, has functioned as both a mediator and a source of idioms and forms for diverse modern projects of differing ideological formations. The differing orientations of Françafrique and Afrabia are not symptomatic of a civilisational conflict, but rather configurations of different circuits vying to be the centre of capital and culture. Any conflict that emerges from that is not a civilisational one but emerges from the crisis internal to capitalism.


This article first appeared in print in Muzmin, an Arabic edition of the Chimurenga Chronic (July 2015).
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