Achille Mbembe. Your book of correspondence with Aminata Traoré is marked by the French intervention in Mali. Since then, there has been a new hexagonal military operation in Central Africa, which is the fiftieth since independence. What is it that inspired you?
Boubacar Boris Diop. The account is quickly made: a military intervention per year for half a century, it is a unique situation: Great Britain never assembled an operation in its former colonial empire under the pretext of saving such or such countries from its own demons. One could say the same about Portugal and Belgium. All these old European powers understood that the colonial fact has an end and that it is necessary to know it and to take note of it. The French exception and their refusal to decolonise, should encourage them to wonder: Why are we the only ones thinking like this?
Don't let me know that I am in the process of discarding France, I know very well that we; the intellectuals and politicians from the francophone Africa, are completely responsible for what is coming to us. France does not dare to trample the sovereignty of its old colonies in North Africa nor in Asia and if it behaves thus with us, it is because we are letting it happen.
Aminata and I very often reconsider the incredible spinelessness of the elites from francophone Africa in this book. Our generation failed, we failed with it; Aminata and myself, but we have in heart to help the young people to take measures against the brainwashing which transformed us into zombies and led our countries to ruins.
AM. Do you consider young Africans are ready to free themselves from all the vaults?
BBD. What can I possibly say? It isn't like there is one continent where people are ready to be free and then another where they aren't. For me it is like when for instance, one look at the history of resistance in Latin America, one then can give reasons to hope, not so long ago this part of the world was almost entirely controlled by the CIA. When it comes to speak about Africa in general it is necessary to be wary. We are mistaking a francophone evil for an African one.
I even dare to say it is a sub-Saharan francophone evil instead of a continental one. I consider that the African countries at anglophone spaces tend to deal better than us the colonial legacies... In any case, in relation to the question about the sovereignty which is not explicit, I say it in the book: the ex-ambassador for Great Britain in Senegal told me that during the seven years he was on duty in Nigeria, if he had ever speak about what he witnessed the then French ambassador doing in our country, he would have never come out of Lagos alive.
AM. La Françafrique is not necessarily what it was at the times of Jacques Foccart, nevertheless it was replaced by no other alternative policy, and France continues to play an ambiguous game while still intervening in Africa.
BBD. Certainly we aren’t at the Mafiosa times of Jacques Foccart; the military putsches and the cases of reassigned money with the French presidents by their African counterparts. Françafrique knew how to evolve intelligently, it now wears a fancy bowtie of preoccupation with dignity but, in essence, nothing really changed. And yet, each new tenant at Le Champs Élysées makes the solemn announcement that La Françafrique, c’est fini! as a matter of consent, a way of recognising that this system of domination is immoral and indefensible. But If it loses Africa, France won’t have any reason to keep the Conseil de sécurité. I would then look at France in the same way I look at Italy and Spain… Nobody would then speak about the Franco-deutsche Liaison!
AM. In Mali, in the tread of l’opération Serval, the Malians applauded the French intervention. In Central Africa, during the month of November in 2013, everyone on the spot, from simple citizens to high politicians, stated their wish for a foreign intervention; Isn’t this disconcerting?
BBD. It is more than disconcerting, it is very shocking. The young Malians who applauded the soldiers of Serval were sincere, they had just been delivered Jihadists. But these cheers didn’t last long, something which did not seem to have included many French journalists who tympanized us with their blah-blah. I made fun of them at the time by saying that in their place I would still have said that the bride was too beautiful; Tant va la cruche à l’eau qu’à la fin elle se casse.
The limits, dangers and ambiguities of the operation in Central Africa should have also alerted the proper authorities. France made the law in Bokassa and it doesn't even manage to make the police in Bangui to respect it… It is obvious that the 1,600 soldiers of Sangaris will never be able to control a country of more than 600,000 kilometres square. They just managed to fuel the conflict, everyone sees that the situation has never been so serious.
Moreover, in both cases, Mali and Central Africa, the picture is almost always caricatured: the Africans kill each other, as usual, and white soldiers arrive and separate them because they are civilized. It is of an outrageous over-simplification.
Unfortunately, the important role of the Chadians in this war 1 allowed to re-legitimise Idriss Déby. There was the same feeling when the father Georges Vandenbeusch was released in Cameroon: François Hollande multiplied the supported thanks with Paul Biya, who is just another dinosaur of the Françafrique which one wishes to see leaving the scene anytime soon.
AM. You are, moreover, very critical in your book against the African intellectuals, which seem to address mainly foreign audiences rather than their own fellow citizens. But is it really just a lack of thought and ideas, or is it due to the absence of public forums in Africa?
BBD. There are plenty of places for debate. For example, two writer friends and I recently set up a publishing house and took over a bookshop in Dakar, where there is much discussion, the press is free in Senegal, and the counter-powers, parties and unions are working as well ... However, the phenomenon of brain drain can not be denied. It is indeed from abroad that some of our best intellectuals, at least the most listened to, speak of an Africa they have sometimes left very young. And it is to strangers that they speak of it, not to our compatriots. We must add that all this information about Africa is so lacunar and oriented that the discussions remain very superficial and vague. It is for example via RFI and France 24 that we know what is happening in the continent, even at the border countries. And that leaves inevitably traces. The intellectual balkanisation is such that even if we always speak of Africa as a single country, you will never see a Senegalese newspaper titling on Blaise Compaoré 2.
AM. The time of the writing of your work corresponds in part to that of the Arab Spring. I think you have a very critical look at these events. How do you justify that?
BBD. I'm a little reserved about that, but yes. I was living in Tunisia when all that arrived, and that provided me keys to read these events. While western media were excited over the Arab spring, I was posed by all kinds of questions. There was in all this agitation an air of dejá-vu. I remembered that after the speech of Baule de Mitterrand, there were popular uprisings and national conferences in French-speaking African countries at the south of the Sahara. Dictators like Mobutu, Bongo and Eyadema had to compose, for the first time in their life, with their people.
AM. You noted in your book that South Americans have retained a certain resentment, an instinctive mistrust against the United States which dominated them for decades, whereas Francophone Africa continues to look upon France with benevolence, despite the pain and the misdeeds of colonisation.
BBD. Above it all, I deplore our feeble capacity for indignation. The memory of the South Americans is rich; for instance the struggles of Sandino, Bolivar and Che Guevara, but also the suffering of those who were tortured in Argentina or the martyrdom of Allende in Chile... These memories continue to nourish a multifaceted resistance against American imperialism in the region.
However, who doesn't remember in the Francophone Africa the fights of the Cameroonian people and the terrible massacres the French army committed in Bamileke? One speaks of course about Thomas Sankara, Amilcar Cabral and Lumumba, but they are not useful to us as much as one would need it reference mark for the reflection and the action.
à propos de La Gloire des Imposteurs
Achille Mbembe in conversation with Boubacar Boris Diop
Translated by Ismael Ogando
First published at Le Témoin.
1. Seven French soldiers died in Mali against several dozen Chadians.
2. President of Burkina Faso.