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Art Gallery the Eye and the Hand


Text from the "diplomatic world" in October 1998

In economic terms, Africa figure of poor and marginalized continent. Since the end of the Cold War, it appears as an area that declassified no longer a geopolitical and diplomatic challenge for the major powers. Outside of emergencies that require humanitarian intervention, nobody is really interested in the fate of 700 million men and women who live in this part of the world. "Bankruptcy of development"? "Retard"? Or, rather, strength of African societies, refusing to be trapped neoliberal, and the emergence of alternatives to the Western model of development?

Few studies of the continent really leave room for hope: it keeps repeating that it "Africa sinks" and becomes "a repository of humanity's ills." The image of a "continent wrecked," repeated ad nauseam, seems to summarize all the perceptions of Africa that tend to be synonymous with poverty, corruption and fraud would be the home of violence, conflict and genocide. Images are projected onto Apocalypse "an impoverished Africa in the spiral of conflict." In the late twentieth century, "no continent offers such a spectacle of desolation, war and famine as Africa. (...) Slowly, the place is going to drift. "

The paradigm of "bankruptcy" is the same analytical framework of economic and social history of contemporary Africa, with an emphasis on the impasses of the so-called development. As noted by Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, "we are in a period of cumulative crisis" defined as both a crisis of development processes in the South but also in a world where interdependence is fast becoming inescapable; crisis models Development and ideologies that underpin policies and structures of states; crisis of knowledge generated by the bursting of the fields of development and lags of the theory against the realities poorly analyzed. This general observation is that of Samir Amin: "If the '60s were marked by a great hope of initiating an irreversible process of development across the whole of what was called the third world and especially the Africa, our time is that of disillusionment. The development is down, his theory in crisis, its ideology in doubt. The agreement to acknowledge the failure of development in Africa is unfortunately large. "

And yet: the decolonization of the 60s did not it make progress? The green revolution should not she put an end to famine? Aid agencies and intervention by had they intended to promote "integrated", "self-centered," "endogenous," "participatory," "community", etc.. ? How many poor regions - now large cemeteries of projects and programs that will cost billions of dollars - have seen streams of cooperating experts, technical assistants, the board in Africa having become a real industry?

But Afropessimism any political analysis of development problems. By reproducing the stereotypes of colonial ethnology, he always "fun" Western opinion. In these times of revisionism, it is certainly convenient to remove any reference to the structures and effects of domination. Yet, these things just happen at a time when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank strangle Africa to compel it to dismantle its production and its states. Balandier rightly says that "the inability of third world maintained by the inequalities and dependencies on which these countries base and maintain their power temporarily.
Resistance from companies

AS to stifle debate on the violence caused by the increasing role of money in African societies, anthropologists are going back to the old catalog of "cultural obstacles to development": if the producers of cocoa, coffee, ' groundnut, cotton and bananas are so poor is because they insist on clinging to their ancestral beliefs, while the urban managerial pressures to undergo community, through the bonds of kinship , preventing any savings and productive investment. More commonly, some go back to the climate theory to explain the "delay" or "impotence" of Africa. Others, at a time when the specter of Malthus haunting the international financial institutions, prey to the bed of the poor having too many children the woman and family become the targets of population policy. Taking into account node interaction between population, development and environment, the neoliberal discourse on the crisis of the African economy also uses the theory of "downward spiral" of poverty, which links population growth and degradation of the environment.

We prefer to forget that in Côte d'Ivoire, for example, the influence of the plantation economy has destroyed four fifths of forests in fifty years. Moreover, maintaining the illusion of "fatalism" of black laborers, and "traditionalism" of the company being involved in the ongoing struggle to maintain the repetition of their cultural forms, are dispensed to reflect on the creative potential of actors faced structural constraints that force them to redefine themselves. Like parrots are caught in the rain forests, some Africans reproduce the voice of their masters: "Africa's century will not be rational or not," repeated Axelle Kabou in a provocative book. We know that the theme of the irrational attitudes and behaviors of indigenous societies is part of a corpus of images and ideas conveyed by colonial literature, which has long ignored the endogenous knowledge.

Of course, the responsibility of the continent's ills can not be attributed solely to external factors, Africa is also "sick of herself." It suffices to mention the looting by the ruling classes, such as Cameroon, going up to make corruption a method of government. Or practices of redistribution by the state resources to his courtiers, from predation mechanisms that led to the ruin of many African countries, including, of course, Mobutu's Zaire.

But you can not hide the weight of mafia networks and various lobbies that control strategic resources and support corrupt dictatorships.

Most wars and conflicts that have continued to impoverish the continent can not be understood apart from economic and geopolitical issues that constitute the oil, uranium and copper, diamonds, cobalt, gold or aluminum that are competing for powerful interest groups. These interventions are part of appropriations and sociopolitical systems in which the ruling classes manipulate ethnicity as part of their strategy of conquest or confiscation of power. It is necessary to resort to the political economy of subsoil resources of Africa, including in the conflict dynamic of globalization. Similarly, the impoverishment of the continent is inseparable from the criminalization of the state and economy, when the IMF and World Bank use the weapon of debt to weaken the state and force Africans to convert market.

In this perspective, the so-called "failure of development" also reveals the fierce resistance of companies they are unwilling to suffer the costs of the strategies and programs that were unable to break the stalemate which broke down the austerity measures dictated by international financial institutions. In-depth analysis of the current situation requires an overall reappraisal of who refuse to question the relevance of conditions of transition to economic modernity. The African crisis inevitably brings us back to the crisis of knowledge concerning the importation of "live outside". Since the end of World War II, "development theories specific to third world countries were initially marked by external theories: those that are trained and competed in the so-called advanced societies, which are now questioned, "notes Balandier. These theories were developed from an issue of social change, rooted in the specific trajectories of Western societies that claim a monopoly on modernity. In this perspective, African societies can only reproduce the model of the societies to engage in modernization. To "succeed," we do not ask them to innovate using their own internal dynamics and guide change in the direction of their reference systems ...

If the development is "a Western belief", its bankruptcy as the bankruptcy of capitalism in black Africa. In African societies, the truly poor is he who has no family: the family spirit and the principle of reciprocity underpin economic reports in the mesh of social relations. Given the weight of social and cultural context, Africans tend to distance themselves in respect of a development model for which the socio-economic inequalities are considered one of the real engines of progress. They question an economic modernization that the destruction of social ties. Few Africans are willing to take an alienating modernity that seeks to establish a way of being and acting-centered individualism to own the modern West.

In villages and neighborhoods of the continent, in the heart of decay, anonymous actors bear testimony to the inventiveness of companies and their innovation capacity to address mechanisms of impoverishment. The failure of a single model of development must not hide the new dynamism that has appeared in many African countries since the 70's: self-organization of peasant communities, local development experiences and promote collective social movements in neighborhoods urban, local enterprises triggering bursts of industrialization speaking, creation of a private press, critical, dynamic and their societies against the State; birth and spread of communities of researchers and scientists, thinkers , writers and artists of international reputation ...

The magnitude of change requires a new look at the real economy in these societies. Thus, the schemes of analysis are inappropriate when, for example, economic actors who can neither read nor write Western languages are moving to the center of the mechanisms of accumulation of resources, as evidenced by the large Hausa traders and Yoruba in Nigeria, or the famous Nana Benz Lomé, Cotonou, Douala and Kinshasa. We know the strength of women who are investing heavily informal businesses booming in African cities and the impact that this can not fail to have on family structures.

Innovation capacity, the reinvention of tradition and the resurgence of local knowledge are the answer for these companies to tighter structural constraints and their response to violence by an unfettered capitalism. Beyond the "doing" these popular practices are concrete manifestations of a socio-economy rooted in local cultures. Thus, funds in the form of tontine appear as a system of total benefits, where the sharing not only "money and labor, but also meals, rituals, including grieving, bonds of friendship and advice. Access to economic modernity is not inconsistent with the articulation of the relationship between money and relatives.

In fact, the rebirth of associations in sub-Saharan Africa is reflected in the experiences of inclusive development. In a context where programs developed by experts based on supposedly scientific assumptions, affirming the universality of the class as opposed to homo homo economicus africanus, these experiences must be perceived as a real alternative to structuring a new barbarian economy building on the ruins of society. Forms of creativity that are deployed outside the dominant system, as a sort of "cunning intelligence," are a way of subverting the Western system development. Africans, possessed of an imagination far away from Washington consensus, and organize the rupture and disconnection with respect to the logic of violence and exclusion inherent in mind that the West wants to impose on the whole planet. These tactics and strategies multifaceted - conducted "deviant" - are a sign of vitality and revival of African societies and cultures. For these popular practices, Africa is the continent probably most resistant to the leveling world.

Africa does not reject the development. She dreams of anything other than growing a culture of death, an alienating modernity that destroyed the basic values dear to Africans. Therefore, if the continent appears in the margin, the better to assert its presence in the heart of the challenges of this century ends. Africa was seen as the continent's future. In a meaningless world, it reminds that there are other ways of seeing the world and live as the model of economy and society that locks people into the world of objects and the dictatorship of the moment, obstinately to believe that the only valid cogito is now "I sell therefore I am."

Jean-Marc Ela