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Achille Mbembe: "Things can no longer continue as before"

Achille Mbembe: "Things can no longer continue as before"

INTERVIEW. Solicited by President Macron to prepare his exchange with African civil society at the Africa-France summit in Montpellier, Achille Mbembe explains.

he latest news is the perfect illustration that the relationship between France and Africa is truly in a zone of turbulence. Beyond the mistrust of a certain fringe of African public opinion in theaters of operations where France is involved, particularly in the Sahel, there is a strong lack of understanding to see France supporting the Council, for example. Chadian Transitional Military (CMT) following the death of Idriss Déby . Many believe that this CMT simply carried out a coup d'état since it suspended the Constitution and created an exceptional situation which he himself described as "transition". The explanation of the need to maintain a certain "stability" in Chadto better ensure security in the region does not seem to have won unanimity among many observers, who saw in this a new illustration of the connivance they regularly denounce between certain African powers, however dictatorial, and France . In the name of realpolitik linked to the situation in the Sahel, democracy and the voice of the populations are being sacrificed, say many Africans who push their reasoning to the point of expressing doubts about the objectives of Operation Barkhane. However, in view of the latest statements by Emmanuel Macron, the support is above all for a peaceful and inclusive transition. And this is only one example of the divergent points of view which feed suspicion, mistrust and crisis of confidence between France and certain Africans. In such a context, the analysis of Cameroonian Achille Mbembe can only be welcome, especially since the philosopher, political scientist, historian, professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg will be at the forefront of the exchange that President Macron intends to engage with African civil society at the next Africa-France summit in Montpellier.

The Point Afrique: Qu 'is it may explain why the president Emmanuel Macron do appeal to you to make the exchange that it intends to do with the Socié t civil ed at the next Africa-France summit   ?

Achille Mbembe: To accompany this process, I imagine that the president wanted someone credible. Neither complacent, nor obsequious, nor cynical. Someone who would be able to draw up new observations because they are needed, but also to move from criticism to proposals, because that is what we need the most at the moment. We must not forget, moreover, that I am not going there alone. I have established a college made up of honest and impeccable women and men, whose integrity and intellectual independence are beyond doubt. Together, we are here to bear witness to an emergency. Changing the relationship between Africa and France is an eminent political cause for the younger generations of Africans. But it is also in the interest of France itself, failing which its presence in Africa will become one of the decisive causes of its weakening on the world stage.

After meeting with the students of the university e Ouagadougou in n o vember 2017, President Macron will get in front of Socié t African civil ed in this anné th 2021. Qu 'is it that justifies this urgency to share with the soci é t African civil ed now?

We are at the end of a historic cycle that will have lasted nearly 60 years. The pact supposed to govern relations between France and its former colonies in the aftermath of independence now threatens France itself with weakening and prevents it from facing new dangers or seizing new opportunities from a position of strength.

Moreover, both these new dangers and this pact are leading the African countries which have subscribed to it straight to the wall. They encourage the emergence and crystallization of fundamentally predatory powers responsible for social fragmentation, the destruction of capacities and practices of cruelty incompatible with the rule of law. On either side, things can no longer continue as before. It is urgent that we radically change objectives, approach, reading grids, forms of presence and methods of action.

What prompts you to make this observation?

I've spent the last two months listening to all kinds of people. Old, young, experts and non-experts, all professions combined. One thing keeps coming back to everyone's mouths. The continent is in the throes of a systemic crisis. This is not the consequence of a major accident. It is fomented and maintained by political and economic systems which operate with violence, excess and brutality. Thanks to neoliberalism, a new cycle of destruction began in the 1990s. The destruction of the environment, the intensive extraction of natural resources, the grabbing and wasting of colossal wealth, a debt as fictitious as it is. insolvent are the manifestations. All this leads to continuous loss of human life,

That's not all. I am surprised by the number of honest and reasonable people who accuse France of being an accomplice in this infernal logic. The majority of them are young people who have not experienced colonization. Most have only one thing on their minds, to leave, whatever the price. They dream of a different life, somewhere else, no matter where, except at home. They say that the land, the forests, the waters, the resources of the soil, the subsoil and those buried in the oceans have been pledged. Some are convinced that it is their lives that have been pledged to pay off fictitious insolvent debts that will never benefit Africa itself. The lawsuit against France is not so much for colonization as for what it continues to do the day after it. Obviously, this trial is the most virulent in the so-called French-speaking countries where a real cultural shift is underway and where, thanks to the activism of a local lumpen-intelligentsia braced on social networks, to be against France in principle. is taking on the features of a moral duty.

You say that being against France is taking on the appearance of a moral duty. What does that mean ?

When a very large part of the youth of a country and its living forces have only one idea in mind, to go and live elsewhere, then we are faced with a gigantic cultural displacement that we must know how to interpret philosophically and politically. For many activists, the fight is taking a political-moral turn in the sense that the issue of cruelty, excess brutality and the avoidable loss of African lives, is now at stake. main. Colonization contributed to the establishment of a relentless system of the world. The preservation of African lives and the continuity between generations was the least of his concerns. France is accused of working directly, and through its local relays,

Is Emmanuel Macron aware of these cultural shifts?

Like most of his predecessors, he expressed, upon his arrival at the Élysée Palace, the desire to renew relations between his country and Africa. Unlike those who came before him, he made a series of gestures. We can think what we want from these acts. Perhaps there is not, behind all of this, an overall plan. Perhaps all this lacks intellectual coherence or even method. Perhaps all of this is counterbalanced by other more powerful logics and interests, which thwart this desire for renewal and make the exercise fundamentally futile. We can also say that this is not enough, that most of these actions have not led to much, that it is tinkering, that he is only trying to save time, that it does not go far enough. Or that all this starts from debatable historical assumptions. But we cannot say that he stood idly by. It would be blindness and it would serve no cause.

Does the Montpellier summit aim to dispel these doubts?

The current exercise is an extension of this desire for renewal. We must recognize that this will encounters many obstacles on both sides, in France as in Africa. One can ask the question of knowing if it is the only fact of the prince or if it really meets the adhesion of the French political body as a whole. Moreover, to what extent is it obstructed by its own contradictions and, it is true, there are several and not the least. But at the end of the day, our reasoning must be pragmatic. Emmanuel Macron wants to take a fresh look at the relationship between Africa and France? U.S. too. So let's encourage him in this process. Let us raise the level of the debate. Let us challenge him openly, especially where his actions contradict his statements.

And because he won't be able to do it alone, let's not wait with folded arms for the manna to fall from the sky. Let's get involved on our side. Let's learn how to fully occupy the flaws and, where possible, move the lines. This is how we build a movement. Not just by invectives. In doing so, we will support the forces which, in France itself, also show a deep concern for Africa, and there are some including in the military establishment, development agencies, universities and cultural circles and artistic, even in certain business circles.

Why provide support to Emmanuel Macron and not to others?

It is about supporting a process. This approach is absent on the left, all tendencies combined. It is absent from environmentalists. I note, moreover, that nobody asks the question of knowing what would be the African policy of the extreme right if tomorrow, apparently plausible thing, it came to power. I observe the same long-term vacuum of thought on the African side, both among the forces of the status quo and among self-proclaimed anti-French activists.

How do you respond to those who consider the approach to be without substance?

Where are their proposals? It's easy to spend your time with folded arms, vilifying those with whom you do not agree, suing all-out and suspicion on everything and nothing . Objectifying the expectations of the young generations, making proposals emerge, together nurturing a roadmap for the future, you have to be cynical to see no substance in it.

And to those who think that we can only discuss with Emmanuel Macron if we have forgotten our own principles?

Above all, doing nothing, staying still and inert are not principles. A priori decry an approach that appeals to common sense, either. There are issues that Africa will have to resolve on its own, on its own, and we must help it create its own spaces of autonomy in order to achieve this. It must have its own agenda and pursue its own interests on the basis of this agenda. There are other questions which necessarily engage external actors driven by other interests which are not ours. Common issues, even disputes, we can only settle lastingly by negotiating with them or, if we have the power, by imposing our own will on them. In the case that concerns us here, I do not see any African state capable of imposing its will on France.

What might be the objectives of s exchanges being  : having remo n FOA what Africans want from them? On what they expect from the pr e French presence in public private cooperation, but also? On the links they would like to maintain with public or private actors in France? How to improve the presence of members of the diaspora for both parties   ? 

The immediate objective is to move the lines. It is to impose on the political and cultural agenda the need for a profound change in relations between Africa and France, Europe, and by extension the powers of the world. In the long term, it's about making history. You still have to know how to ask the only questions that matter. After a few centuries of common history, is there anything we really share? If so, what do we want to do together in the future? On the basis of what values? What strong proposals do we have to repair this link and rebuild a common future?

But it will be difficult to focus on these essential questions, or even on the ones you raise, if we do not resolutely address the sources of the crisis and, if we pretend to ignore, what, really, is at stake. We can continue to talk about entrepreneurship, start-ups, innovation, digital technology, all of which are crucial if we want to create wealth. As long as the essential questions are not resolved, very few, especially among the young generations without work or future, will listen. We must therefore burst the abscess by attacking the Gordian knots of a crisis which, as we can see, is no longer only political, but also moral.

So what are the values ​​at stake?

I believe it is. A new spirit of mistrust is crystallizing. If we want to defatalize the future, we must return to what Emmanuel Macron calls the fundamentals.

What are these fundamentals?

These are the values, ultimately. Without them, Africa and France have nothing to share and nothing to do together in the service of the future. Doing business, as we would with the Chinese, Turks, Russians and others, is not an ideal. I am talking about values, that is to say ideas, imperishable things like the protection of life, the concern for freedom, democracy, basic human rights. In the absence of these values, there is no proper link to fix.

The willingness ed Emmanuel Macron of exchange r with Socié t e Civil does mean awareness in Paris of the rise of anti-French sentiment in A f rica?

The anger is palpable. Resentment too, and in some cases even outright hostility. At the risk of repeating myself, part of the disavowal finds its roots in the policy of brutality, the support for tyrants, cruel men who live by the sword and die by the sword, but whom we do not hesitate to celebrate in the name of safety and friendship. Cultivating state-to-state relations has never meant appeasing tyrants seen as members of a cartel.

The other reason for anger is the repeated military interventions. They are extremely expensive. Most of the time, they are neither subject to the control of the French Parliament, let alone that of African parliaments or African regional bodies. Instead of "civilizing" the powers, to what extent do they encourage the indiscriminate use of violence in political conflicts in Africa? Why don't we invest more in conflict prevention? Because the conflicts will have been managed upstream, there will be no need to resort to armed interventions each time. All this obviously requires frank and massive support for the democratization of the continent, scrupulous respect for constitutional provisions, the protection of fundamental freedoms,

In your opinion, when did the rise of anti-French sentiment in Africa date?

Some disputes date from the time of anti-colonial struggles. The report of Benjamin Stora or that of Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy show it well. The anti-colonial struggles were nourished by anti-imperialist traditions, or those which advocated non-alignment, in the spirit of the Bandoeng conference in 1955. We cannot therefore accuse the anti-colonial traditions of being at the source of the anti-French feeling. Pan-Africanism either, especially since in its essence, it has never been the equivalent of nativism or xenophobia.

Anti-French sentiment as such began to crystallize in the aftermath of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. At the time, France was accused of blindly supporting a villainous and bloodthirsty regime, something that the Duclert report has just confirmed. Then there was the war in Côte d'Ivoire, the defenestration of Laurent Gbagbo and later the destruction of Libya. All of these events aroused enormous anger in Africa and were pivotal moments in the crystallization of feelings that were previously more or less diffuse. Since then, these passions have found many other objective points of attachment. This is the case with the CFA franc. This is also the case for anti-migration policies, treatment reserved for visa applicants and migrants,

The tendency to see the continent primarily through the prism of migratory and demographic peril has not helped. The attacks against the anti-colonial traditions of thought stemming from the continent or its diaspora only made matters worse, whereas a real intellectual and cultural dialogue based on a common language would have made it possible to build bridges.

What roles jihadism, on one side, and on the other, the Russian activism, c i nois or Turkish in this escalation?

Jihadism, Russian, Chinese or Turkish activism feed on these suppurations. But several other factors also come into play. I realize this more and more, some are totally irrational, the fruit of misunderstandings never dispelled, even of mutual ignorance, of things perfectly implausible. Added to this, since the 2010s, a whole dark background, parareligious, almost delusional even hallucinatory, which social networks readily amplify. A certain local lumpen-intelligentsia is busy building France as a perfect scapegoat, responsible for all the misfortunes of the continent. She will tell you, for example, that France supports Boko Haram and secretly terrorists, that it loots gold, uranium and rare metals from northern Mali, and that

How do you explain the fact that we do not observe the same reactions on the side of the former English or Portuguese colonies?

Obviously, there is a psycho-traumatic dimension in attitudes towards France which explains these phenomena of repulsion. It seems that a good part of the anti-French feeling is the consequence of often personal experiences of ill-treatment, of traumatic encounters in the consulates when applying for a visa, in the hands of the police during a check. in the face, during a repression at the borders, at the turn of a refused purse, of a rejected request, of a door which closes, the string of small humiliations, many failures. It all accumulates, stories circulate, the future darkens, subjective experiences crystallize, anger rises and, with it, the whirlwind of recriminations and the frantic search for a scapegoat.

But are there also objective factors?

Yes, of course, and it is not for nothing that the most significant mobilizations in recent years have focused on the CFA franc, that during sporadic riots French businesses are attacked, or that critics harsher targets military intervention and support for tyrants. Until these Gordian knots are cut, I deeply doubt that France has any chance of being listened to among the new generations of Africans. We will continue to preach in the desert if in the morning we say one thing, and in the evening we do another that clearly contradicts the first.

Doesn't severing these Gordian knots require frank and direct interference in African affairs? How to justify it?

To pose the question in this way assumes that France is neutral. What it is rightly criticized for is trampling on the principle of neutrality. It is to act as it pleases in Africa, without any control, like the leader of a cartel of tyrants with which it systematically takes the party by inevitably ratifying the successions from father to son, rigged elections, embellishment opponents, serious violations of fundamental rights. The invitation which is made to him is to abstain, to become, on the continent, a neutral power. But is she willing to do it? The structure of its relations with many French-speaking states being that of a cartel, would a position of neutrality not be the equivalent of outright scuttling? And nature abhors a vacuum,

And finally, what do you say?

The idea of ​​neutrality cannot be dismissed out of hand. It would imply not a disengagement, but retrocession and pooling, on the one hand in the direction of European bodies and, on the other hand, in the direction of African regional institutions. This would be the case in particular for everything relating to security and currency. This is the great negotiation that would have to be opened if we really want to close the page of the last 60 years. The guarantors in the two sovereign areas of security and currency, it would no longer be a State faced with a constellation of more or less deliquescent and more or less privatized powers, but strong regional institutions, operating on the principle of shared sovereignty, mutualised.

And what about jihadism in this context?

It is not an imaginary threat. She is real. You have some who dream of transforming a good part of Africa into a huge quagmire for France. It is a matter of dragging it into the sands in order to bleed it better by multiplying the points of attachment over all the areas which go from the borders of the Sahara to those of Darfur, and which include the Sahel, but also the basin of Lake Chad and the territories of Oubangui-Chari. You have others who have started to ogle the eastern side. I am talking about the maritime areas which, starting from the island of Reunion, link Madagascar and the Comoros to the Mozambican corridor. In the first case, the desert immensities are precious laboratories and training places for the wars of tomorrow. In the second, the race to appropriation of the seabed and other coastal ecosystems is in full swing. It is about the control of immense natural resources, such as gas.

But when we say jihadism, it is still necessary to know what we are talking about. Islamic zeal is not the only source of conflict in Africa. To this must be added all kinds of fractures and none are accidental, whether they are fractures linked to environmental destruction, climate change, soil depletion or the resurgence of pandemics. A purely warlike treatment of this type of fracture and the antagonisms they trigger generally only leads to the sacrifice of entire generations and the sacking of living environments. We must at all costs prevent the arc that goes from Afghanistan, and Iraq, to ​​Syria via Yemen, from extending into Africa, or that African conflicts are interpreted from prisms that apply above all to these worlds. Such wars are by definition interminable. Instead of favoring the emergence of democratic societies based on freedom and innovation, they encourage extraction, predation and trafficking of all kinds, in short an extensive militarization of social life. This is the risk that currently weighs on the corridor that goes from Darfur to the Sahara and its peripheries, with the appearance of real military markets and of a workforce whose job is to produce and instrumentalize. chaos in order to get their hands on floating resources, the gray economy. in short, an extensive militarization of social life. This is the risk that currently weighs on the corridor that goes from Darfur to the Sahara and its peripheries, with the appearance of real military markets and a workforce whose job is to produce and instrumentalize. chaos in order to get their hands on floating resources, the gray economy. in short, an extensive militarization of social life. This is the risk that currently weighs on the corridor that goes from Darfur to the Sahara and its peripheries, with the appearance of real military markets and of a workforce whose job is to produce and instrumentalize. chaos in order to get their hands on floating resources, the gray economy.

If we had to qualify the relationship between Africa and France today, what would you say   ?

There is a cartel in place. Its structure is increasingly contested and unstable. There is a realization in certain circles that in its structure and its current functioning, the cartel weakens France, and that it is necessary to pass to another mode of functioning. But there is little clarity as to what this alternate mode of operation might be. Neither the method to achieve this nor the roadmap exists. I believe that for the past few years, we have been walking gropingly, in the midst of countless contradictions. In doing so, many mistakes are made which, momentarily, work in favor of the status quo. Reforms like this must be done when you are at the height of power. Not in a weak position. With the extreme right in power in France, something quite plausible, there is a risk of filling in the breaches by reverting squarely to the colonial. But then it would only be a further headlong rush. The system is doomed for good. We have to get out of it.

Doctoral School of Thought Workshops: "Decolonizing knowledge about Africa"

What prevents getting out of it?

On the one hand, there is not an Africa that wants to get out of the colonial pact and, on the other, a France that would refuse change. This old scheme is out of date. On the French side, relations with the former African colonies are dictated by a combination of interests carried by military and intelligence circles, business circles, all kinds of brokers and intermediaries, a technostructure and a bureaucracy capable of frustrating the best intentions. What is new, however, is the slow realization that one can do business in Africa without the burden of the cartel. Moreover, the bulk of the money that France makes on the continent comes more and more from countries like Angola, Nigeria, South Africa, and soon, no doubt, Kenya or the Uganda. There are many who are calling more and more for a “defrancophonization” of Africa-France relations. faults therefore exist, which must be known how to deal with. On the African side, the masters ofstatus quo are not only the despots in power, but also their henchmen and rentier classes who profit from the unequal redistribution of prebends. On both sides, all of this makes the change singularly complicated.

The other big obstacle to change is what I call the convergence between “militarism” and entrepreneurship. Many in France are not interested in the democratization of the continent, human rights, fundamental freedoms. Some are convinced that these are concerns which, a priori, hardly interest Africans. They think that the best way to turn things around in favor of France on the continent is to continue to preach the gospel of entrepreneurship, to spread the development catechism everywhere, and above all, to give the premium to security issues. They forget that in the African neoliberal context, entrepreneurship and militarism go hand in hand. Where securitarism prevails over freedom,

In view of the continent's long history, what exit scenarios do you envision?

The history of the continent, especially in the XVIII th and XIX th centuries, shows that the great internal shifts have generally been responses to the transformations that have taken place in the relationship that African societies had with world capitalism. These shifts have occurred at the point of intersection of demographic factors and ecological and health factors, and sometimes religious or parareligious phenomena. Generational struggles have often played a decisive role in major political transformations. The big players have often been the trading classes controlling long-distance trading networks, the armed men and the owners of small cultural capitals, such as prophets, marabouts and other itinerant preachers, diviners and healers. In short,

But, in general, the gerontocratic power has always known how to tame many uprisings of the cadets and knew how to transform them into passive revolutions. Very often, instead of rising up, the dominated preferred to adopt avoidance strategies, or even to flee and establish themselves far away, rather than going towards a direct confrontation with the dominants. The only historical experiences of radical beheading of the ruling elites have been in Ethiopia, and, in paroxysmal fashion, in Rwanda. As a rule, involution has taken precedence over revolution. We have not left this historical pattern.

If the scenario of a frontal rupture is unrealistic, what about the workaround strategies?

Historically, the main form of bypass has been migration. Anti-migration policies are eliminating this option. The loss of this option could have been compensated by the extension of possibilities for lateral mobility within the continent itself. But archaic management of our borders means that the cost of lateral mobility is also increasingly high, while demographically, the curve remains on the rise. We are therefore moving towards inevitable collisions. In 25 to 30 years, Africa will have more than two and a half billion inhabitants. Fifty years later, it will be over 4.5 billion. Something will have to give way, and it will undoubtedly be the borders. In the meantime, if we do not create more wealth, if the we continue to pledge natural resources against fictitious debts and if we continue to ransack living environments, the only outlet available will be force. We will then witness the proliferation of regional markets of violence where an abundant military workforce will be recruited at low cost. Far from contributing to the birth of duly constituted military states, this proliferation will lead to the accentuated fragmentation of entities already plagued by corruption and brutality.

This is the reason why some of us are opposed to an African policy of France which would give priority to military-security considerations. Because if there is a priority, it is rather to move forward towards the de-escalation and demilitarization of politics and of social and economic life. This requires that we invest heavily not in repeated interventions, but in conflict prevention and management. However, there is only democratization to make a lasting contribution to this. Half of the resources allocated to militaries must be allocated to democratization, the strengthening of civil society institutions, the emergence of checks and balances and the promotion of new forms of regional mobility. This is how the we will succeed in reconfiguring the field of politics and creating another social base on which alternative powers could possibly be based. Such social engineering work will take at least two generations. It requires a structural involvement of the diasporas. On the other hand, repeated military interventions will only entrench armed populism, against the backdrop of intensifying predation and extraction.

What m ethodology will you implement to ensure no reflection, no theme, no concern or suction Socié t African civil ed will not be forgotten s  ? 

The methodology is simple. You have to listen to all voices, because all voices count. I am particularly interested in all voices carrying new and concrete proposals. I am also interested in what the younger generations of Africans want. They are the historic bet. They will be the real actors of renewal. Our task is to support them as honestly as possible. It is not to speak for them. I repeat, the desire of President Macron himself is that nothing is taboo.

Before the Socié t civil ed not to say, your vantage point, what are the issues that you think should be addressed politically first, then economic, social, finally, besides other plans related in tours problematic to the future of our two ent i ty s  ? 

In fact, dialogues have already started in most of the countries selected for this exercise. Several themes, which many would have considered too sensitive or beyond any discussion, are already the subject of debate: military interventions, the future of the CFA franc, democracy, etc. not just regal themes. It is also about the climate and the environment, the restitution of works of art, the Francophonie, the governance of natural resources, digital technology, equality between men and women, etc.

What are the clues from which you think you can estimate that trade between the president and Macron Socié t African civil ed will e t e fru c tueux   ?

Discussions will be based on concrete and operationalizable proposals. A roadmap will be drawn up. The usefulness of these exchanges will be judged by the degree to which the roadmap has been implemented.

Some e s critics have blended to challenge the relevance of the approach, in its form and in its bottom . D others are mê all me ed to deny you the right to accept this mission.

They are often the same ones who, after dark, come to ask me to get them an invitation to the summit.

I have ambitions and goals in my life, and I am now trying to achieve them calmly, as the name also came on my channel and website.