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My dear friends, the black child of Camara Laye on his knees in the silence of the African night will know and understand that he can raise his head and look with confidence to the future. And this black child of Camara Laye will feel in himself the two parts of himself reconciled. And he will at last feel himself to be a human being like all members of humanity.

President Sarkozy in Senegal

Address by Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the French Republic, at the University of Cheikh Anta Diop, Senegal, on July 26, 2007.

The Original Speech in French

Achille Mbembe’s "Nicolas Sarkozy's Africa"

Ladies and gentlemen

Allow me first of all, to thank the Senegalese Government and people for their warm welcome. Allow me to thank the University of Dakar that allows me for the first time to address myself to the elite of the youth of Africa in the capacity of President of the French Republic.

I have come to talk to you with the frankness and sincerity that one owes to friends that one appreciates and respects. I appreciate and respect Africa and the Africans.

Between Senegal and France history has woven ties of a friendship that no one can undo. This friendship is strong and sincere. It is for this reason that I wanted to address, from Dakar, the fraternal greeting of France to all of Africa.

This evening I want to address myself to all the Africans who are so different the one from the other, who don’t have the same language, who don’t have the same religion, who don’t have the same customs, who don’t have the same culture, who don’t have the same history and yet recognize the other as being African. Here one finds the first mystery of Africa.

Yes, I want to address myself to all the people of this wounded continent and in particular to the youth, to you who have fought each other so much and often hated much, who at times still fight and hate each other but still recognize each other as brothers, in suffering, in humiliation, in revolt, in hope, in the sentiment that you are living a common destiny, brother through this mysterious faith that binds you to the African soil, a faith that transmits itself from generation to generation and which even exile cannot erase.

I have not come, youth of Africa, to lament with you the misfortunes of Africa. Because, Africa has no need of my laments. I have not come, youth of Africa, to take pity on your fate, because your fate is first of all in your hands. What would you do, proud youth of Africa, with my pity?

I have not come to erase the past because the past cannot be erased.

I have not come to deny mistakes or crimes – mistakes were made and crimes committed.

There was the black slave trade, there was slavery, men, women and children bought and sold as so much merchandise. And this crime was not only a crime against the Africans, it was a crime against man, it was a crime against all of humanity. And the black man that eternally “hears rising from the ship’s hold the chained curses, the sobs of the dying, the noise of one of them thrown into the sea”. This black man that can’t help repeating endlessly “and this country cried that we are brutal creatures”. This black man, I want to say here in Dakar, has the face of all humanity.

This suffering of the black man, and I don’t speak here in the sense of gender, I speak of man in the sense of a human being and off course of women and of man in its general use. This suffering of the black man is the suffering of all men. This open wound in the soul of the black man is an open wound in the soul of all men.

But no one can ask of the generations of today to expiate this crime perpetrated by past generations. No one can ask of the sons to repent for the mistakes of their fathers.

Youth of Africa, I have not come to talk to you about repentance. I have come to tell you that I consider the slave trade and slavery as crimes against humanity. I have come to tell you that your pain and your suffering are ours and therefore are mine.

I have come to propose to you to look together, as Africans and as French, beyond this pain and this suffering.

I have come to propose to you, youth of Africa not to forget this pain and this suffering that cannot be forgotten, but to move beyond it.

I have come to propose to you, youth of Africa, not to dwell on the past, but for us to draw together lessons from it in order to face the future together.

I have come, youth of Africa, to face with you our common history.

Africa is partly responsible for its own misfortune. People have killed each other in Africa at least as much in Europe. But it is true that a long time ago the Europeans came to Africa as conquerors. They took the land of your ancestors. They banished their gods, their languages, their beliefs, the customs of your forefathers. They told your forefathers what they had to think, what they had to believe, what they had to do. They have cut your forefathers from their past, they have torn their souls from their roots. They stole Africa’s spell. (Could also be translated as They killed Africa’s enthusiasm).

They were wrong.

They did not see the depth and the wealth of the African soul. They believed that they were superior, that they were more advanced, that they were progress, that they were civilisation.

They were wrong.

They wanted to convert the African, they wanted to make them in their image. They believed that they had all the rights and that they were all powerful, more powerful than the gods of Africa, more powerful than the African soul, more powerful than the sacred ties that men have woven patiently during thousands of years with the sky and earth of Africa, more powerful than the mysteries that came from the depths of time.

They were wrong.


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