They ruined a way of life. They ruined a marvellous imaginary world, they ruined an ancestral wisdom.
They were wrong.
They created anguish and misery. They fed hatred. They made it more difficult to open up to others, to exchange and to share because in order to open up oneself, to exchange and to share one must be sure of ones own identity, values and convictions. Before the coloniser, the colonised lost all confidence in himself, did not know who he was anymore, let himself be overwhelmed by fear of the other, by fear of the future.
The coloniser came, he took, he helped himself, he exploited. He pillaged resources and wealth that did not belong to him. He stripped the colonised of his personality, of his liberty, of his land, of the fruit of his labour.
The coloniser took, but I want to say with respect, that he also gave. He built bridges, roads, hospitals, dispensaries and schools. He turned virgin soil fertile. He gave of his effort, his work, his know-how. I want to say it here, not all the colonialists were thieves or exploiters.
There were among them evil men but there were also men of goodwill. People who believed they were fulfilling a civilising mission, people who believed they were doing good. They were wrong, but some were sincere. They believed to be giving freedom, but they were creating alienation. They believed they were breaking the chains of obscurantism, of superstition and of servitude. They were actually forging much heavier chains, they imposed a heavier servitude because it was the spirit, the soul that was enslaved. They believed they were giving love without seeing that they were sowing revolt and hatred.
Colonisation is not responsible for all the current difficulties of Africa. It is not responsible for the bloody wars between Africans, for the genocides, for the dictators, the fanaticism, the corruption, the prevarication, the waste and the pollution.
But, colonisation was a huge mistake that was paid for by the bitterness and the suffering of those who believed they had given all and did not understand why they were so hated.
Colonisation was a huge mistake that destroyed the colonised’s self-esteem and in his heart gave birth to this self-hatred that always results in hatred of others.
Colonisation was a huge mistake, but from it was born the embryo of a common destiny. And this idea is of particular importance to me.
Colonisation was a mistake that changed and intertwined the destinies of both Europe and Africa. And this common destiny was sealed by the blood of Africans that came to die in European wars.
And France does not forget this African blood spilled for its liberty.
No one can pretend that nothing happened.
No one can pretend that this mistake was not committed.
No one can pretend that this history did not transpire.
For better or for worse colonisation has transformed African and European.
Youth of Africa, you are heir to the most ancient African traditions and you are heir to all that the West has placed in the heart and soul of Africa.
Youth of Africa, European civilisation was wrong to believe itself to be superior to that of your ancestors, but now, the European civilisation belongs to you too.
Youth of Africa, do not yield to the temptation of purity (exclusivity) because it is a disease, it is a disease of the intellect that is the most dangerous in the world.
Youth of Africa, do not cut yourself off from that which enriches you, do not amputate a part of yourself. Purity (in the sense of exclusivity) is confinement, it is intolerance, it is a fantasy that leads to fanaticism.
I want to say to you, youth of Africa that the tragedy of Africa is not in the so-called inferiority of its art, its thought, its culture. Because, in what concerns art, thought and culture it is the West that learnt from Africa.
Modern art owes almost all to Africa. The influence of Africa contributed to changing not only the idea of beauty itself, not only the sense of rhythm, of music, of dance, but as Senghor said even the way of walking or laughing of the world in the 20th Century.
I therefore want to say, to the youth of Africa, that the tragedy of Africa does not come from the idea that the African soul would be impervious to logic and to reason. Because, the African is as logic and as reasonable as the European.
It is by drawing from the African imaginary world that your ancestors have left you, it is by drawing from their stories, their proverbs, their mythologies, their rites, by drawing from all these forms that, since the dawn of time were transmitted to and enriched generation after generation, that you will find the imagination and the power to invent a future for you. A unique future that does not resemble any other, where you will at last feel free, free youth of Africa to be yourselves, free to decide for yourselves.
I have come to tell you that you don’t have to be ashamed of the values of African civilisation, that they do not drag you down but elevate you, that they are an antidote to the materialism and the individualism that enslave modern man, that they are the most precious of legacies against the dehumanisation and the “uniformisation” of the world of today.
I have come to tell you that modern man, who experiences the need to reconcile himself with nature, has much to learn from the African that has lived in a symbiotic relationship with nature for thousands of years.
I came to tell you that this divide between two parts of yourselves is your greatest force, or your greatest weakness, according to the extent to which you bring yourself to unite them in a synthesis, or not.
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