Africa was a bit too frequently overlooked in the commemoration of the abolition of slavery: we wanted to make our contribution by once again giving the African creators a voice. Starting with those whose art most directly poses the question of representation: the playwrights, artists, and filmmakers. For Africa is essential in the process of memory. Contrary to the somewhat jaded expression, it is about a process, not a duty, as it is a matter of necessity, not morals. It is vital that studies go back further than the colonial period, to examine the major role the slave trade has played in the destructuring of contemporary Africa.
In a fascinating interview with Ousmane Bah in L’Autre Afrique nº 71 (9-15 Dec. 98), Achille Mbembe denounces the three major obstacles hindering research: « On the hand, a sentimentalized mode of reasoning continues to predominate, which constantly gives Africa and Africans a negative definition of themselves. On the other, an emotional and polemical approach to the world persists, which often hides behind the mask of a veneer of radicalism, and whose conservative nature needs to be recognized. Finally, a resurgence, or marked rise even, of indigenist and nativist discourses and ideologies can be observed, one of whose functions is to discriminate, to sow the seeds of hatred, and to thrust whole societies into the shadows of death. » According to Mbembe, positioning oneself as a victim, prevents people from positioning themselves as the integral subject of their destiny. It is by developing this knowledge of the self, on the contrary, that Africa affirms that share of humanity without which it would be nothing in the world.
Facing up to one’s History means stopping seeing the study of one’s own participation in the slave trade as a legitimization of that commerce. This dossier loudly and clearly declares, therefore, that the question of guilt is a false debate, that the compromises and collaboration are universal, as they are human in the light of the powers’ imposition of their hegemony, that the guilt lies with those who initiated this traffic. Although not about guilt, it is about responsibility. In the literal sense of the term: assuming one’s History to inform the present, and to pave the way for the future. For, as Goethe put it, « a people which does not reflect on its History is condemned to live it again ». Indeed, the challenge today, as Mbembe again stresses, is « to invent another imagination of ourselves in the world ».
Isn’t that what artists do above all? They help us all to embark upon that process of digesting the murky corners of our History, starting with our own limits and innermost recesses. Without relinquishing its critical perspective, Africultures has but one goal: to listen to them.
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