What do Africans think about the changing perceptions of their continent, but particularly about the much-vaunted growth that is supposed to lead to emergence? Before responding to this question, it must be emphasised that Africa’s relationship with the world is based on a set of historic landmarks and resentments whose origins lie in Europe. The continent of the former colonial powers still gives the impression of making various attempts to steer the course of Africa’s evolution.
What do Africans think about the changing perceptions of their continent, but particularly about the much-vaunted growth that is supposed to lead to emergence? Before responding to this question, it must be emphasised that Africa’s relationship with the world is based on a set of historic landmarks and resentments whose origins lie in Europe. The continent of the former colonial powers still gives the impression of making various attempts to steer the course of Africa’s evolution. One example is the structural adjustment policies rolled out in the 1980s which had a very negative impact on attitudes. It led to the rejection, broadly shared by the African peoples, of diktats from abroad which seek to inﬂuence the continent’s social, political, cultural and economic trajectory, given that all the prescriptive discourse on what Africa should be or resemble satisﬁes only certain speciﬁc interests, primarily those of the former colonial powers.
This way of dealing with Europe is conveyed in scientiﬁc publications, poems, various forms of artistic expression and political speeches. In the Cold War era, Africa was divided between two political poles. On the one hand were the ‘liberals’, which included countries such as Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, ready to cooperate with the West and to stick to the guidelines laid down by the Bretton Woods institutions, with never a hint of rebellion. On the other hand were countries which, on the contrary, were involved in periods of revolt against the West through popular uprisings, coups d’état leading to revolutions like that in Burkina Faso led by Thomas Sankara •1 or Ghana under Jerry Rawlings •2, or following a Marxist-Leninist anti- imperialist and anti-colonialist path, like Congo and Benin •3.
This bipolar conﬁguration, politically promoted at the national level, prevailed from the time of Independence in 1960 to the end of the Cold War in 1990. But from then on, the effects of the serious economic crisis of the 1980s forced them all to submit to the stringent requirements of the Bretton Woods institutions. The privations and problems experienced by the States, weakened by such austerity policies, have had a considerable impact on the way in which Africa is now handling global changes. Everywhere, and especially in the countries which did not confront the West in general and France in particular, anti-colonialist and anti-European resentments still persist. In the former French colonies in particular, there is pronounced anti- French feeling as a result of the hardships of direct colonial rule and France-Africa relations tarnished with paternalism and arrogance on the part of the “former settlers”. Moreover, the African peoples are unhappy with the way European history books have narrated slavery. Considerable anger, whether simmering or overtly expressed, is making itself felt about these chapters of history between Africa and Europe.
From generation to generation, the feeling persists of having been despised by the West, a contempt which is now expressed by the diktats on development. However, the situation is still paradoxical, because the West also offers itself as a model. Although the solidity of its democracies and its highly organised countries exert considerable fascination, it remains, nonetheless, a vector of domination through its ideas, ﬁrepower and money. The African countries, which perceive themselves as dominated, have progressively revealed their desire to demonstrate their independent existence to the world (and to themselves). In literature, African authors are challenging the European aesthetic and developing another of their own •4. “We also exist”, they
seem to say. African intellectuals want to have their own philosophy, their own literature, their own cinema and to add the adjective ‘African’ to everything shared with the West – in order to establish its speciﬁcity. Even democracy, and more recently, emergence, are characterised as ‘African’.
Already in the 1980s Japan represented an alternative model for Africa, in terms of cultural life and individual existence. There, it was said in Dakar, Lomé or Abidjan, is a country which has managed to develop without being subsumed into others, capable of maintaining its traditions and values. African popular thinking invented a Japan which developed without any imitation of Europe – which does not stand up to the scrutiny of even a cursory examination of the history of the political and economic transformation of the Japanese archipelago. Despite a lack of in-depth understanding of Japan’s history or the path it has taken, the country has nevertheless served Africa as a model, however imaginary. All that is known is that Japan is a world power, based on a form of democracy which becomes more interesting for making life difﬁcult for the West. In addition, aesthetically speaking, Japan in no way replicates the European model. The Africans are very sensitive to this particular issue, to which they devote considerable attention with debates on acculturation and the “ambiguous adventure” described by Cheikh Hamidou Kane in his famous novel, that evokes being torn between Western and African ways of seeing the world •5.
In the 1990s, China became part of the reconﬁguration of this universe in a less idealised way and now prevails as the new baseline. In the same way as Japan, it is fascinating to Africa because it unsettles Europe and offers an alternative in terms of consumer products but also in terms of access to resources to ﬁnance development. As a result, it is useful for the ‘little people’, i.e. the ordinary low income consumer, and for the ‘big men’, i.e. those who run the State. On top of that, China’s emergence into the geopolitical arena is especially important to the ‘big men’ because it opens up the ﬁeld of opportunity and helps to diminish Europe’s ‘relational power’. What is the scope of this ﬁeld of opportunity provided by these new geostrategic data? Once again, with the notable exception of South Africa, Africa is not investing in knowledge by mobilising research institutes and think tanks to study these new circumstances. In the African countries, there are practically no structured spaces for analysis on the way the world is developing and how they could beneﬁt from it. The end of the Cold War led to ‘depolarisation’ which is developing into ‘repolarisation’ unfolding under our very eyes; as Pierre Grosser makes clear in his excellent analysis •6, Russia and China are re-engineering another form of polarity as they become empowered. But all this is happening as though Africa has scarcely given any consideration or thought to the new global order under construction and as a result, Africa seems to be a continent playing it by ear, without deﬁning any strategies...
Africa needs only to realise that the emerging countries, primarily India and China, have opened up the ﬁeld of possibilities particularly when it comes to gaining access to ﬁnancial resources free of the conditions imposed by the Western nations. The Africans appear to regard such conditions, related mainly to respect for democracy and improved governance, as troublesome – they do not share the same ideas about State policy and management as their former colonial masters •7. Europe, which has a long tradition of political struggle, follows its own course in the construction of its democracies and its States. In the African countries, both the State and democracy are still products of adoption essentially imported. Some Africans are nonetheless messengers of the democratic ideal. But the way the political arena is constructed results in a clash between the interests of society and the interests of those who are running the State. Everywhere else in the world, it is expected that the State management system should be the result of a social dynamic and discussion. In Africa, the political struggles for access to, control of, or maintenance of power do not necessarily satisfy the requirements of the exported democracy that Europe deems desirable.
In Africa, the State is regarded as a political opportunity for advantage •8.To whoever is in control of it, it guarantees signiﬁcant rights: access not only to economic resources, but also to the control of legitimate violence that makes it possible to bring into line anyone who might be tempted to challenge the ruling power. Government is merely one attribute of a paterfamilias (‘the father of the nation’) who distributes through it rewards and punishments. The Head of State bestows this and that, here and there, always in the style of a gift. Through the administration, he awards payments and positions which help him to establish his power or to mete out sanctions as he wishes, sometimes on a whim •9. A person can be ‘appointed’ to and ‘ﬁred’ from his short-term sinecure, where there is always the risk of losing everything and experiencing a sudden change of status.
This view of the State justiﬁes the desire to hold on to power by rigging or circumventing where necessary the rules of democracy – prepared to challenge the prescriptions of the European countries, formulated on the basis of the famous La Baule speech •10. This signiﬁcant break coincided with the end of the Cold War: Heads of State could no longer play off the quarrels between Westerners – Russians and Americans and their respective allies – to gain access to resources. Then China and India made it possible for them to circumvent the conditional nature of aid, regarded as failing to respect sovereignty
– a word often used in attempts to challenge the common sense rules which the bilateral or multilateral cooperation agencies of the European countries sometimes try to impose. China allocates resources without making any demands in return and is skilfully positioning itself in the area of tension between Europe and Africa by offering resources at concessionary rates and less onerous conditions – a very popular state of affairs in Africa. And “The passive Western colonial serves as a Trojan horse” in this, as Tidiane Ndiaye observes •11. In short, the world is changing and giving Africa an alternative to Western pressure, which it regards as increasingly unacceptable.
Who says the poor are economically uninteresting? Europe tried to peddle that delusion towards the end of the 1990s. But China is proving the contrary, with its culture of doing business with the poor, which is proving proﬁtable for it. From Burkina Faso to Zimbabwe, it is selling its bicycles and its mopeds. In the textile sector, China has killed attempts at industrialisation with what the South Africans call fong kong – clothing sold at rock-bottom prices so that everyone can dress for next to nothing •12. If China in return gains access to the raw materials its economy needs, well, good for China is the thinking in Africa, and too bad for the ‘little Republics’ that just hand them over through corrupt practice, free of any of those annoying political conditions. It’s all good!
Nevertheless, the afﬂuence of these new emerging partners continues to be improperly understood. They are building stadiums, performance spaces and even presidential palaces. They have a reputation for building infrastructures at the lowest cost of materials and labour but at a high cost of corruption and dubious durability. Kickbacks, free trips, gifts of various kinds and other commissions paid under the table also exist between Europe and Africa, but with a limit not to be exceeded and yellow lines never to be crossed. That is not the case with China which seems to have no limits in this area •13. As far as Africa is concerned, this is not what matters: the chief advantage offered by China is that is does not behave like a colonial power – contrary to what many Europeans claim or imply •14. China comes to save Africa from the grasp of a Europe perceived as showing contempt. It enables access to comfort through the low cost of the goods and services it offers. The expanding African middle class is taking advantage of this. China is exporting to Africa decent cars not as expensive as the Japanese or European makes. In order to keep its African partners happy and comfortable, China also makes no secret of its aversion to speeches in favour of democracy, governance and human rights.
Although some research is being initiated, there have been very few studies in Africa attempting to discover just who these Chinese people are who live and trade in Africa, engage in pirate manufacturing of anything and everything, even pharmaceutical products, supply electrical equipment that cause ﬁres, etc. And the few articles to be found in the literature are almost all isolated initiatives by researchers. Most African countries do not take the time to look at how the world is changing, beginning with their own societies •15. Excluding South Africa, there are few research centres focusing on geopolitics and conducting their own examination of a changing world •16. Even in Nigeria, with its many universities, the same lack of strategic analysis is observed. One has only to examine Africa’s academic publications to realise that in 2015 it is still living and seeing the world through the lens of the way others think. The world knows what to make of Africa, but the African countries do not know what to make of the world!
Instead of publications that react to history, it would be preferable for the research institutes to focus on the future, using the present as their starting point. What is India doing in Côte d’Ivoire or in Burkina Faso? How does China negotiate its markets in Africa? Little is known about these new partners in the African countries, apart from stereotypical images. However, our relationships need to be based on knowledge of our partners. In China, dozens of researchers are focusing on Africa which they need to understand. And Africa has a lot to learn from the new dynamics at work in India; ours is the only continent in which we study only ourselves, without using others as a basis for comparison and without taking a scientiﬁc interest in our cultural and geostrategic interactions with everyone else, even excluding all ideological considerations. This is a weakness which informs the system of globalisation that the African countries in general have undergone.
To take another example, there is no research on the particular relationship that has existed between Africa and Dubai for over 20 years •17. Africa is subject to the world and remains in the various positions in which the world places it. Africa is presented as the last frontier of growth, in fashionable parlance. This growth was 4.5% in 2014 compared with 3.2% in 2013. The IMF forecasts acceleration of growth to over 5% in 2015 with continued public investments in infrastructures, a vibrant services sector and an abundance of agricultural production. This is appealing to foreign direct investors, attracted by these economies. Behind such conﬁdence-boosting talk about Africa, it is worth bearing in mind that this growth is also based on natural, mining and energy resources. At the same time as growth is slowing down in the European countries, the United States and even in the emerging countries, such an economic buzz seems to give cause for hope. With the exploitation of their natural resources, some countries are posting growth rates close to 10%. But what is the human share in such a form of wealth creation? Very small!
In the 19th century, the world knew wealth no longer came from nature but from knowledge. It was expected human capital would be the source of that growth. However, education in Africa is not in ready supply and it is through education that minds are formed that create wealth and jobs through which this wealth can be shared. Education must be the incubator of growth if such growth is to be inclusive and beneﬁt those who have created it. The fantastic growth ﬁgures in countries sometimes ravaged by war and starting from nothing which often come from the exploitation of raw materials leave us with this question: how is the little which remains from the outcomes of this growth to be redistributed? As long as Africa’s States and societies are not equipped with education and training systems deemed capable of creating skills conducive to wealth creation and sharing of revenues, this growth will continue to be fragile.
We keep on hearing emergence is the great trend. Every African country wants to be an emerging nation by 2025. But every emerging country in Asia, Malaysia, South Korea, India and China has made an enormous investment in education. In the West it was universal education which paved the way to progress and, recently, in the so- called emerging countries. The boom experienced in the last 20 years by the education sector in Africa is being driven by the private sector. The function of State education had long been to provide resources for public administration, on the basis of an initial colonial plan. Since the 1990s, the real demand for human resources has been in the private sector which State education systems cannot satisfactorily fulﬁl. The private education sector is attempting to ﬁll the gap but is operating without any real controls. These schools are run opportunistically simply as businesses, without always having a strategic vision, and most often with very high fees which impose a heavy burden on the budget of families anxious about the future of their children. In Bamako, Lomé or Abidjan, every educational establishment offers the same training in communications, marketing and ﬁnance, but very rarely in the technical areas actually needed by our economies, beginning with engineers specialising in the mining or oil sectors, for example. These private schools are not the only ones to be called into question, in a more general context of an absence of forward-looking vision and genuine development policy.
These alternative emergence models have replaced the discussion of the role of the State at the heart of the debates on development, so much so that the Bretton Woods institutions have been forced to rethink their liberal political economics and review the role the State once again needs to play. From 1990, the World Bank instituted the market as the central element of growth policies. The structural adjustment programmes (SAP) which were launched in the 1980s were designed on this basis, after the realisation of the fragility of the States. In the 2000s, the State went into deep crisis. Without it, how were growth or development policies to be organised? Consequently, the international ﬁnancial institutions looked again at the question of the institutions and governance and the State which needed to be consolidated and boosted to restore it to its role.
This new order has restored some weight to the advocates of a ‘strong State’, who believe they have every right to take back the attributes of their sovereignty. This trend has coincided with the expansion of multiple partners – China, India, but also Malaysia, South Korea, Brazil, Turkey, etc. Africa is now in a position to settle its scores with Europe by withdrawing markets from it. Its leaders are free to make their own choices and dependence has been reduced on countries such as France, which is in their sights. In short, the African countries are using the model advocated by the Bretton Woods institutions to emancipate themselves within a very subtle dynamic.
At the same time, the idea corruption is not necessarily a hindrance to development is gaining ground. Didn’t the countries of South-East Asia develop within corrupt systems? Once the State takes decision- making back into its own hands, and can choose its own partners, corruption seems to become inherent to the award of procurement contracts. The various partners ﬁnd themselves trying to outbid their rivals when it comes to the commissions that they can offer. This annoys the European and American multinationals on the African markets which realise that it is not always enough to have political leverage to win contracts. The State authorities in African countries are having a ﬁeld day, although this is not necessarily a hindrance to development if the people who tax the resources reinvest them in the economy and contribute to national capitalism. But the fact that States are staging a strong comeback helps to explain why the battles to retain or win power are so brutal. Why are so many struggles being waged in Africa? Because enjoyment of the attributes of State power is one of the rules of the social and political game for societies in which, with the exception of Nigeria and South Africa, the wealthiest citizens are not entrepreneurs, but politicians and their circle, commonly known as ‘businessmen’. The European countries with their ﬂagging economies are competing with each other on the African markets and with China whose growth is also slowing down.
Behind the rhetoric on African growth, there is stiff competition focused on natural resources. Agribusinesses are coming in to lease land, multinationals have their eyes on the forests, mines and energy
– hitherto under-exploited resources which are enabling Africa to participate in world trade ﬂows. The only problem is that very few African exports are processed products and most are raw materials. Moves towards processing these resources locally are being highlighted, the essential condition for any industrialisation process. A good example of this is the ban imposed in Gabon on exporting undressed timber.
The expected expansion of Africa also has to do with the population variable. The continent has the advantage of the youth of its population. Strategic investment must be made in education. Youth means hope and young people in Africa as elsewhere are very open to the world. They know what is happening outside their own borders. The majority of them are poor and they are not experiencing the beneﬁts of growth. Unemployment levels affecting young people are not really documented and the ﬁgures are rarely reliable. The young people of present-day Africa, connected to the rest of the world via the Internet and social networks, are aware that wealth is circulating, but that they do not beneﬁt from it. As a result, they pose a signiﬁcant political risk: when the opportunities for revolt arise, as in Tunisia, the passions of young people very quickly become inﬂamed. In Francophone Africa, the youth are beginning by lending their services to the political class, hoping to build a future through political engagement, and particularly in the “youth” wings of the different parties. In Côte d’Ivoire, the Young Patriots Movement seemed to rally in support of just one man, Laurent Gbagbo, and behind him could be felt the revolt of an entire generation •18. Similar observations can be made about Senegal, during
the riots of June 2011, and in Burkina Faso which saw a popular revolution drive Blaise Compaoré from power. Africa’s young people are less and less inclined to tolerate injustice and inequality. Many live at the expense of their families, unable to become independent. African societies are very hierarchical, governed by ‘big brother’ and seniority… A telling sign is that after years of ‘big brotherism’, in Côte d’Ivoire, the expression “little one” is being used, which relates to a form of social exclusion. The ‘little one’ is physically present, but he does not exist in social terms. Because they are totally deprived, these young people pose a social threat. In Côte d’Ivoire they have invented a space for musical expression, the zouglou, which allows them to sing of their abject poverty and anguish.
In conclusion, although there is much talk of growth in Africa, large- scale investments in infrastructures and mining and energy exploitation are generating growth that does not result in redistribution or human development. Côte d’Ivoire has been trying to get a third bridge built in Abidjan but in this capital where it is difﬁcult to move because of the trafﬁc jams, you hear a certain category of inhabitants saying: “Well, we can’t eat a bridge!”. Nevertheless the bridge is necessary because Côte d’Ivoire is 10 years behind when it comes to infrastructures, following its long political crisis. But everything is still very fragile, because stability is based on a representation of the State which is restricted to its private interests. African countries now positioning themselves as “emergent” must ﬁrst resolve one of their main weaknesses: the representation of the State, their failure to take into account the general interest and the absence of a vision for long-term development. If they do not, they will perpetuate the insoluble conﬂict between what they aspire to be and the way they are trying to achieve it with a State which never looks to the future and does not understand the environment in which it is evolving. In Africa, energies are greatly mobilised by the high stakes of taking power. Once an individual has attained power, he seeks to hold on to it.
Societies are changing throughout the world within the ebb and ﬂow of order and chaos. When stability is not dependent on a social choice, instability will prevail as long as necessary. Choices have to be made by African societies themselves. It will be difﬁcult for them to avoid violence in the course of the internal work they have to do on themselves, something they must accept. Rwanda showed that violence, when it reaches its climax, forces societies into an awareness of their weaknesses which they can choose to discuss in order to resolve them and seek within themselves ways and means to move forward. Violence is structural in the history of humanity; avoiding it involves debate and political action. When such debate is impossible, war is merely the pursuit of politics by other means. Then it is possible to move forward. African countries are undergoing this unavoidable experience and we should not be afraid of it.
(1) See Bruno Jaffré, Burkina Faso: les années Sankara – De la révolution à la rectification, L’Harmattan, Paris, 1989 (reissued 1997) and Thomas Sankara, Thomas Sankara parle – La révolution au Burkina Faso, 1983-1987, Editions Pathfinder, 2007.
(2) Comi Toulabor, Le Ghana de J.J. Rawlings: restauration de l’État et renaissance du politique, Éditions Karthala, Paris, November 2003.
(3) Mathieu Kérékou, born in 1933, former President of Benin (1972-1990 and 1996-2006), led a Marxist-Leninist one-party system from 1974 to the end of 1989. Benin was the first country to hold a national conference in 1990, followed by a changeover of power in 1991.
(5) Cheikh Hamidou Kane, L’aventure ambiguë (Julliard, Paris, 1961), Grand prix littéraire d’Afrique noire in 1962, reissued in paperback by Éditions 10/18, Paris, 2003.
(6) Alfred Grosser, Les identités difficiles, Presses de la Fondation nationale des Sciences Politiques (FNSP), Paris, 1996.
(7) Jean-François Bayart, L’État en Afrique: la politique du ventre, Fayard, Paris, 1989 (republished with additional material in 2006).
(8) Francis Akindès, lecture at the Collège de France, 17 October 2013 (http://www.college-de-france.fr/site/colloque-2013/symposium-2013-10-17-15h00.htm).
(9) Abdoulaye Wade, third President of Senegal from 2000 to 2012, appointed six prime ministers, four Leaders of the National Assembly and over a hundred ministers during his two terms of office.
(10) Speech written by Erik Orsenna and delivered by the French President François Mitterrand, 20 June 1990, at the opening of the 16th France-Africa summit, (http://www1.rfi.fr/actufr/articles/037/article_20103.asp).
(11) Tidiane N’Diaye, Le Jaune et le Noir – Enquête historique, Gallimard, Paris, 2013.
(12) Valérie Niquet, “La stratégie africaine de la Chine”, Politique étrangère no. 2, Summer 2006, pp. 361-374.
(13) In July 2009, Namibia’s Anti-Corruption Commission revealed that a public corporation with links to Hu Haifeng, the son of the Chinese President Hu Jintao, was involved in the misappropriation of funds amounting to 12.8 million dollars, initially intended for the purchase of fail-safe sensors by Namibia from China. See Pascal Airault, “Corruption: la méthode chinoise”, (http://www.jeuneafrique.com/Article/ARTJAJA2542p028-032.xml3/).
(14) Dambisa Moyo, Winner Takes All, Allen Lane, June 2012.
(15) Francis Akindès, “Côte d’Ivoire: La mémoire ou l’oubli”, in Quel monde en 2015, Alternatives Internationales special edition no. 616 January 2015. The Ivorians continue to live without confronting the causes of the descent into violence of their society.
(16) There are a number of research centres in South Africa: the Foundation for Contemporary Research (FCR) focusing on local development processes, the Biodiversity Institute, the African Gender Institute (AFG, University of Cape Town) for gender studies, the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA), the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), the South African Institute for International Relations (SAIIR, University of the Witwatersrand), as well as the new Pan-African think-tank called Democracy Works in Johannesburg, the Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA), the Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI), Wits Institute for Social & Economic Research (WISER, University of the Witwatersrand), etc.
(17) See “Dubaï s’attaque à l’Afrique subsaharienne”, L’Observateur de l’Afrique et du Maroc, 24 September 2014 (http://lobservateurdumaroc.info/2014/09/24/investissements-dubai-sattaque-a-lafrique-subsaharienne/). “Dubaï attire les commerçants africains”, RFI, 30 September 2014, (http://www.rfi.fr/emission/20140930-dubai-attire-commercants-africains-plate-forme-commerciale-mondiale-echanges-affaires-impot-export/) et “Dubaï est de retour”, Jeune Afrique, 13 October 2014 (http://economie.jeuneafrique.com/finance/secteurs/banques/23222-finance-dubai-est-de-retour-.html).
(18) Gnangadjomon Koné, Les “Jeunes Patriotes” ou la revanche des “porteurs de chaises” en Côte d’Ivoire, Les Classiques Ivoiriens, Abidjan, November 2014.
[FTS1]Note to client: This title should read “"Hountondji and Mudimde, two founders of African philosophy" which is the correct title for this document.
The word utopia is not commonly heard in Africa. It is not the subject of any particular focus in our school syllabuses. In African secondary education, philosophy is taught, but without any...
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