Translating the World from Africa
By Achille Mbembe
The ever-growing waves of immigrants from Sub-Saharan countries and the fast-increasing population of people of African origin in Spain once again draw attention to the need for critical and urgent debate on our ties with the continent of Africa. Relations between Europe and Africa are certainly not of recent origin and are mainly marked by European colonialism and its effects, which continue to be felt today. Recently, however, with increased circulation of goods, ideas and people, the political, cultural and symbolic borders between Africa and the rest of the world have started to blur and a new look at the continent has become possible.
Despite this proximity and our improved knowledge of Africa and of the complexity of its history and the richness of its political, social and cultural life, the prevailing image of the continent remains largely one of poverty, corruption and violence. This stereotypical view of Africa is partly due to the predominance of ethnological viewpoints and the conviction, in the sphere of international politics, that Africa is not an independent player in the construction of the world but rather the victim of forces that overwhelm it, or a setting par excellence for humanitarian intervention.
It is with the aim of moving beyond this ‘Afro-pessimism’ that the CCCB is organising the debate “Translating the World from Africa”. Participants in the discussions will include intellectuals who are well known for the originality of their research and the debate will be held in parallel with the exhibition "Bamako 05. Another World."
The discussions will take as their starting point the belief that Africa radically concentrates some of the major problems facing humanity as a whole but also that the continent offers us some of the most innovative clues for reading and interpreting today’s world. As the title suggests, the aim is not so much to analyse yet again what Africa is or how it is different from the rest of the world, but rather to underscore the ambivalence of the African experience and to highlight the questions raised by the continent at a universal level.
The participants in the debate will reflect on the complexity of some of the problems that have particularly severe effects in present-day Africa, considering issues as radical as life and death in a time of AIDS, the classic dilemma between power and violence, and mankind’s vulnerability in the face of extreme poverty, war and the implementation of neo-liberal economic policies. What are the particular traits of the African drama and what ethical questions do they raise for the rest of the world? What room is there for hope?
However, the history of Africa is also a long account of internal and external diasporas, a tale of cultural flows and multiracial confluences that gave the continent a cosmopolitan dimension long before the advent of globalisation. The megalopolises of Africa are places of extreme mobility and an inexhaustible wellspring of cultural creativity. They are also sources of alternative ways of life, solidarity and humanity, places where experiences of peace and reconciliation abound. In our uncertain world, dominated by fear of what is different and a plethora of pronouncements on the inevitable clash of civilisations, Africa offers a remarkable laboratory for reinventing democracy and rethinking a world that, above and beyond racial differences, would accord greater value to equality as a universal principle. This is not a monographic debate on Africa but on African contributions to the rebirth of a new Humanism on a global scale.
Originally appeared in Africultures.