Reflecting on the past to be active in the future: two writers who went to Kigali prolong the echo of the Rwanda 2000 symposium with a topical, uncompromising overview of Africa’s position in order to outline the perspectives of a renaissance. A manifesto which launches the debate.
« Writing in duty to memory », this was the theme of the artistic and literary symposium recently held in Rwanda on Fest’Africa’s initiative. Six years after the genocide of the Tutsis and the massacre of moderate Hutus, we were invited to think about this catastrophe and to try to heal the wounds opened by this tragedy. After the attempt to exterminate the Tutsis, that is to say, after one of the major calamities confronting human society born out of its own dissoluteness, writers, artists, and historians from different horizons shared their analyses and put fiction at the service of the fight against oblivion. Le Monde newspaper covered the event on 8 June, and we thought it useful to prolong its echo.
For all of us who discovered Rwanda this Spring 2000, we harbored some fears about the situation in the country and the region of the Great Lakes in general. We expected Rwanda still to be tetanized, crushed by the weight of genocide. We imagined the population to be haggard, tripping over the mass graves and the piles of bodies. We thought of the innumerable traumatisms inevitably engendered by such a tragedy, and we were thus wary of reading the dispatches concerning the fighting in the Kivu or on the Ugandan border. We were overwhelmed by the idea of an impossible reconciliation in a Rwandan nation ridden with supposedly irreversible age-old antagonisms which caused many specialists to see the country’s future only as divided. But, what did we see?
We saw an astonishingly active Rwanda, even if still convalescent. The rebuilding of trust between Rwandans will remain fragile and slow, but it exists. We found a society willing to fill in the chasms of fear, and thus to surpass the desire for revenge. We were tormented by the idea of finding ourselves at the heart of a conflict with complex ramifications but in which all forms of mediation seemed to be in vain. We got the impression from afar that the judicial machine was completely paralyzed. We saw lawyers and people concerned about the normal administration of justice, who also wanted the mechanisms of traditional law to find their rightful place in the penal process again. In an effort to execute this need for justice and to make it practicable, we indeed saw lawyers propose that the old Gacaca (pronounced Gachacha), that is, a form of customary court, enable justice to be rendered within acceptable time limits and conditions. This did not lift the questions concerning the impartiality of the thus constituted courts, or the ambiguities surrounding the system of appearance of the accused which would be adopted. Grey areas also remain concerning the trial proceedings, the application of sentences, and the protection of the victims. Are they not at risk of finding themselves in a minority and in difficulty before their executioners of yesterday on these hills where the weight of the divisions remains in spite of everything? But it has to be hoped that these courts or customary tribunals will conduct the investigations for the cases at hand and will scrupulously seek out the truth in the name of public interest and of the outrageously martyrized people. In the longer term, it will be necessary to tend to putting into action the process of surpassing the ethnic question, and hence the genocidal temptation whose seeds it bears.
In Rwanda, we met a people amongst whom the spirit of dialogue is re-emerging slowly but surely. So, should we be optimistic or not? This does not strike us as being the major question with regard to Rwanda or, more generally, the future of the African continent. It is first of all vital to recognize not the complexity of Africa and the diverse issues concerning it, but the multiple and ancient contributions which have made it the concentration of the tragedies to which humanity has been subjected or has invented over the last thousand years: the slave trade, colonization, alienation through work and its other forms of drudgery, the exploitation and shameless use of its natural resources, genocide, the senility of the rulers and elites, the treason of clerics incapable of producing original communal codes or of promoting an ethic which commands respect, the apathy of the populations themselves before their tormentors, the leaders’ encouragements to these same populations to adopt a unique posture: the posture of victim.
The visual floodgates, spewing forth their endless scenes of horror drawn from the apparently bottomless reservoir of stupidity and stunted attitudes, alerts and tells us that Africa is done for. From Algeria undergoing an acute identity crisis to Zimbabwe, which is disintegrating and sliding into the sordid a little more by the day, via the two Congos, both collapsing under the weight of ethnic and mafiosi misdoings, from the Indian Ocean, where the Comoros are finding it hard to surface out of political banditry, to Madagascar, that oh so impetuous and admirable country, none of these States are sheltered from the irreparable and from upsurges of popular anger or versatility. No one can deny that all that exists. Africa and its false friends have both made a mess of its entry into modernity, and lost the roots which used to give the community meaning.
As for education, the key elements of the transmission of knowledge and of African history in general have been corrupted. A dual venture has combined forces, resulting in a calamitous lamination of African culture: the griots have specialized in the fabrication of false biographies. Aren’t these latter the delight of tourists from Bamako to Bandiagara (that Mecca of Dogon history)? This, to us, is a cheap exoticism which transforms the authentic guardians of ancient history into performers appointed by the third market, throwing these proletarians of the globalized economy a few measly crumbs, fostering the deceitful perspective that a luxurious existence is available to all in the kingdom of money. But, we can also note that Africa has turned its back on its own spirituality, abandoning itself to imported metaphysics alone. Does it have only hypocritical pity to offer the universal consciousness? It is hardly surprising that, after having swept away the Yoruba and Ogoni rituals – to cite just those – Nigeria is currently undergoing a « spirituality crisis », which has become a terrifying religious time bomb. It is ready to explode, to crush, and to massacre. In the masterful book, Death and the King’s Horseman, Wole Soyinka already warned the West: « This is another error which the people of your kind commit. You believe that we have learned all that is sensible from you. » African metaphysics unceremoniously brushed aside in the past has left the Africans open to this unhinging which, in Rwanda, allowed horrors and indescribable savage acts to be carried out in churches and places of worship. Yet, in that country, the ancient cult to Imana (God), that « Ray of rising sun », refutes the commonly disseminated idea according to which an Africa sick with animism in turn needed to enter the universe of monotheism and a single God. On quite another level, which historian remembers today that the Africans made several attempts to explore the globe before Christopher Columbus’ voyage to America? Who tells the world that the Malian king Aboubakari II, Kankan Moussa’s predecessor, organized a sea expedition towards America in the thirteenth century? This dissolution/dissimulation of history is not simply a fault, it is also part of the collective amnesia in which the African continent itself wallows. It is for this reason that we insist again that Africa’s own history must first of all be restored if Africa is to be desirable.
There is also clearly a dearth of political thought. We are observing the institutional agony of a continent that has proven itself to be scarcely inventive and inapt at finding an original democratic path, a social organization compatible with its own rituals and rhythms. Who can legitimately uphold, for example, that there is no hope for Rwanda beyond the bland veneers of constitutions made in Sorbonne (for the French-speaking zone) or sadly photocopied in the campuses of the Commonwealth? It is, on the other hand, highly positive that the Rwandans protect and strengthen the use of their communal language, Kinyarwanda, whilst elsewhere, these are dying out. The organization of African societies in the third millennium needs a compromise between the lifestyles born out of the African traditions, and those that exogenous contributions, from an open society, have brought. We have to break free from the « political science-ish » theories of the two-chamber system. We have to extirpate ourselves from the seduction of rationalized parliamentary government, which simply maintains a handful of false clerks, of forgers of democratic hope. While all democratic aspirations ought not be refuted on the grounds that Africa has not benefitted from it, it is rather the States as they stand which, controlled by a handful of individuals, have proven to be predatory and useless. They have not instigated any credible action in the interest of the public. This could have been the way, notably, of confining the clannish antagonisms which dangerously retard African societies.
Other forms of constitutional sluggishness have prevented a forthright adhesion to a system capable of fusing the traditions and acceptable democratic procedures. It would have been useful, for example, to have foreseen a Council of chieftaincies alongside the legislative houses elected by universal suffrage. Their function would have been to perpetrate local knowledge, to safeguard the wisdom of the elders, and to work towards the peaceful mediation of conflicts. It could have been made indispensable to consult the latter over all regional decisions. This Council of chieftaincies would have also contributed to encouraging the resigned population, convinced that all hope now only resides in fleeing to the overpopulated, chaotic, soulless and mediocre urban centres, to stay on its increasingly depopulated lands. These disoriented populations hope to find salvation in Lagos, Abidjan, or Cairo. As the capitals turn out to be incapable of providing the means of survival, these populations then dream of exile to the West. And, little by little, the flux of harassed people, torn from their lands, swells in the outskirts of the European metropolises. Behind the scenes, bargaining is common and the candidates for the journey are ready to pay a high price. Too bad if the road of destiny turns out to be not so much an endless trap as an infernal trap, as one recent event concerning illegal immigrants tragically reminded us. So what if the suburbs which welcome the luckiest only have an assignation to a forced residence at the foot of vile tower blocks to offer them. By choosing immigration, we have to recognize that the candidates for departure exhaust themselves denouncing the negligence of the tired and tiring African leaders. Worse, obviously, is the silence which hides their bitterness. Worse is the traffic in human organs into which the candidates for immigration fall. The traffickers are capable of the worst, and will happily use glowing colour to paint young people a place in the Western sun. In central Africa, when it doesn’t involve kidnapping children in the towns, the trade in human organs at times leads to veritable killings in disguise.
If Africa is to find itself again, it really has to construct its own way of thinking that is both desirable and desired by its populations. They need to relinquish the myth of the Western Eldorado. Africa also needs to be desirable for those who depict it from this side of the Mediterranean as if it can no longer shake off the domination of the crime multinationals camouflaged behind oil companies, the out-and-out deforesting enterprises, the companies exploiting diamonds and other precious stones. It also needs to rid itself of the exponential growth of sects.
If Africa is to become desirable again, its elites, who must also relinquish the traumatic dogma of the intangibility of the borders created by colonization, need to reshuffle the State cards. The 1885 Berlin conference has had its day. It is time to reconsider the interdependencies between the African nations and to renegotiate their overseas cooperations. The people, on their feet at last, have to demand that the management, exploitation and commercialization of natural and mining resources be revised. All these riches, which most of the time are in the hands of gangsters, will only become part of a normalized economy which benefits the population if they are a common regional heritage. We need, therefore, to move towards a regionalist perspective. This will lead to the creation of Councils for the supervision of local development. These authorities, whose members will be elected for a limited number of mandates, will guarantee the « correct management » of the exploitations. They will decide how to allocate the investments made possible by the oil or diamond manna. The elected members will have influence, will be able to freeze management whilst intervening in the distribution of the fruits of the substrata’s riches. The geography of conflict will thus give way to a renewed geopolitics. To put it briefly, we maintain that « regionality » should replace nationality in the intermediary period prior to the ultimate perspective: African citizenship. The ambiguous notion of development needs to be clarified and rethought outside the obsolete and corrupt frameworks of the States. Finally, we need to dare raise the question of borders, and not to be terrorized by the idea that this would lead to the generalization of wars. No, it is more a question of surpassing war and of rupture with an old colonial legacy.
If Africa also wants to take planetary preoccupations into account, it has to tackle questions concerning nature conservation. It is not just a case of calling for the protection of elephants and the preservation of their ivory (deeming the threats they represent for houses and people to be negligible). It is urgent, rather, that African public opinion at last rails against the frenzied deforestation, the pollution of rivers, and the outright devastation of farming lands which tends to accelerate the massive use of fertilizers and the adoption of intensive farming. A counter-culture, which resolutely turns the page on out-and-out productivity, needs quickly to take over from the deceit and one-way domination exerted by the market today.
In order for Africa to be rid of the pity and the clichés, it needs to reconsider not what ethnic group means and entails, but what new stakes, new social, ethical and political behavior shared citizenship holds in store. We consider that the countries of the Great Lakes region can innovate by proving themselves to be bolder than the politicians here and there have, politicians who were only willing to brandish the idea of a confederation or a federation of States out of opportunism. We need to reshuffle the geographic cards fast to regenerate and strengthen African democracy.
Eugène Ebodé and Jean-Luc Raharimanana are writers.
Eugène Ebodé has just published Le briseur de jeu, Editions Moreux.
Jean-Luc Raharimanana has published several works, including Rêves sous le linceul, Editions Serpent à plumes.///Article N° : 5462