Achille Mbembe’s violent attack on Emmanuel Macron

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Achille Mbembe’s violent attack on Emmanuel Macron

University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and the W.E.B. Dubois Research Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University has responded. 

Africa’s « civilisational » challenge, its 7 to 8 children per woman, which does not allow the situation to be stabilised: Emmanuel Macron’s answer to a journalist asking him about a « Marshall Plan » for the African continent, on the occasion of the G20 in Hamburg, shocked. For Achille Mbembe, professor of history at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and at the W.E.B. Dubois Research Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University, the response was.

There was the suit business: « You don’t scare me with your T-shirts, the best way to afford a suit is to work. » « But I dream of working Mr Macron … All the unemployed want to work, » the striker replied.

An accident? That was before the election

Shortly afterwards, this definition of a railway station came straight out of the managerialist catechism and its division of the world into two camps, that of those who have succeeded and that of those who, having failed, have only themselves to blame: « A railway station is a place where you come across people who succeed and people who are nothing. Because it is a place where people pass by. Because it’s a place where you share.

There is something about Africa that prevents restraint
But as we know, Africa is the ultimate revealer. There is something about Africa that prevents restraint and encourages us to give free rein to our darkest impulses: « Oh no, the kwassa-kwassa is in Mayotte… But the kwassa-kwassa doesn’t fish much, it brings in Comorian fish, it’s different.

Or again: « In countries where there are still seven children per woman, you can spend billions of euros, you won’t stabilise anything. »

Words from a disciple of Paul Ricoeur? Unless we admit that the great thinker of history, memory and forgetting was a nanoracist.

In Politiques de l’inimitié*, nanoracism is defined as « that narcotic form of colour prejudice which is expressed in the seemingly insignificant gestures of everyday life, in the bend of a seemingly unconscious word, a joke, an allusion or insinuation, a slip of the tongue, a joke, an innuendo and, it must be said, a deliberate malice, a deliberate trampling or tackle, an obscure desire to stigmatise, and above all to do violence, to hurt and humiliate, to defile the one we do not consider to be one of us » (81-82).

Since Paul Ricoeur was never a nanoracist, what is the point of these statements? What explains why, when confronted with the African fact, even the best minds lose their minds so easily? Is there anything we could do together to ensure that, as far as relations between Africa and France are concerned, the small window opened by the election of Macron means something other than the repetition of the same old thing, in these times of brutality, numbness and flaccid paralysis?

« Land of opportunity », for whom?
No, there is nothing to be done together if, for many, the Continent is nothing but a burden – a land of failed states, aborted democratic transitions, trafficking of all kinds (drugs, cultural goods, human beings and other rare species), irregular immigration, violent fundamentalism, terrorism, and uncontrolled demographic growth. The solution? More militarism.

No, there is not much to do together if for others (and sometimes the same ones), Africa is seen only as a ‘land of opportunity’. Opportunity for whom, indeed?

Like most of his predecessors, Macron is trying to reconcile the two strategic orientations that have governed Franco-African relations since colonial times: militarism and mercantilism.

He is impatient with those who question the existence of the franc zone: « If we don’t feel happy in the franc zone, we leave it and create our own currency as Mauritania and Madagascar have done.

He is right. But why do we always want to add a particle in front of these otherwise indecipherable signs: « du Comorien », « le Madagascar »?
Getting out of the swamp of militarism and commercialism
We want to believe that things are complex. We want to believe that in the cases we have just mentioned, it is nothing more than verbal indiscipline. But it could also be that these remarks are symptomatic of the intellectual vacuity and cynicism that has governed France’s African policy since the end of the Second World War.

We need to get out of the swamps of militarism and mercantilism if we want to relaunch a true Afro-French dialogue. The possibilities of this revival are there, outside the meanders of the Francophonie. As the work of the intellectuals gathered around the Dakar Workshops indicates, Africans are in the process of writing an Africa-World that is the antithesis of the clichés on which the vision of French and African elites is based. In France itself, French intellectuals are rewriting the world history of a country whose cultural borders go far beyond its geographical boundaries.

But such a dialogue needs one or two major concepts. The first is the reality of the planetarisation of the African question and the fact that, basically, part of the future of the planet is likely to be played out on this continent. The second is that humanity will only be able to truly face up to the new global challenges if it works together to bring about a civilisation of circulation.

If Macron were to speak in this language – rather than in the language of the billions of euros that should not be given to Africa because of « countries that give birth to seven children per woman » – he would be helping to open up new horizons for the whole world.