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Senegal: Africa according to Nicolas Sarkozy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This feeling is echoed by Boubacar Boris Diop :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

but according to Achille Mbembe :

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

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

Among the comments, one R.G. asks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 comments

  • Nicolas Sarkozy sppech reminds me of a shoter version of Karl Marx and The Communist Manifesto.

  • […] from each of these countries, and francophone Africa more generally, have long criticized Françafrique, France's neocolonial legacy of cozy relations with resource-rich, […]

  • […] presence of African armies at the Champ-Elysees was condescending and awkward at best, not unlike Sarkozy's Dakar speech. [Another speech by the French president in Grenoble this summer about delinquents of foreign […]

  • […] Champs-Elysees come segno di condiscendenza giudicandola a dir poco inopportuna, non dissimile dal discorso di Sarkozy a Dakar [c'è stato anche un altro discorso del Presidente a Grenoble, quest'estate, che ha […]

  • […] stesso spirito si ispirano infatti la Françafrique, patrocinata sopratutto da Sarkozy nel famoso discorso di Dakar, e le altre forme di neocolonialismo. La decolonizzazione non è ancora finita, come hanno […]

  • […] of having a say in our freedom, after all, he considers Africans as yet to enter history as he proudly proclaimed in Dakar in 2007. We the people, of Africa, have a simple message for the French president. Invoking current […]

  • The african indeed is a miraculous being.For someone who has not yet entered
    history he managed to get to Europe during ww1,contributed to the defeat
    of Wilhelmite Germany and thus the liberation of Sarkozy’s France.For extra
    effort he performed sentry duties in the Rhineland to ensure prompt payment
    of reparations from a prone Weimar.He did the same thing all over again during
    ww11, only this time he was not allowed to march in to Paris with the victorious
    troops because under le blanchissement only white Frenchmen have liberated
    France.,

  • The African is a mysterious being indeed.For someone who had not yet
    entered history,he managed to make his way all up to the western front and
    helped to defeat Wilhelmite Germany . He even put in an extra effort by going
    sentry duties in the Rhineland to guarantee prompt war reparations.He did the
    same thing again during WW11,thus twice securing the liberty of Sarkozy’s
    France, only this time ,under le blanchissement he was not allowed to march
    into Paris with the victorios troops because only French whitemen had
    liberated France

  • […] to what former French President Nicholas Sarkozy said in Dakar, Senegal in 2007, on the place of African men in history [en], the history of the African continent is full of rich civilizations and iconic characters […]

  • […] Σαρκοζί στο Ντακάρ της Σενεγάλης το 2007 σχετικά με τη θέση των Αφρικανών ανδρών στην ιστορία [en], η ιστορία της αφρικανικής ηπείρου είναι γεμάτη από […]

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