Conversation between Africa and the world

Dialogue of religions, commercial exchanges, circulation of slaves, mobility of knowledge, relationships of pilgrimage and thought, colonization, resistance, crolitism: everything connects Africans to the rest of the world.

Here is a book that is remarkable in every way, for its successful ambitions, for its size and its price, and of course for its originality in the precision and elegance of its writing. Although the authors are relatively numerous (13) and of different nationalities, including African, everything is harmonized and reads pleasantly. This book offers an interactive history of Africa and the world. The bet is held.

Submission as a relationship to the world

Africa exists because of the world, and the world thanks to Africa. We never stop remembering that the pasts of Africa, African societies and Afro-descendant communities have always been present to the world. (p. 7). This is why the introduction insists on the idea of ​​this story as a conversation almost uninterrupted between Africa and the world.

obviously, in less than 500 pages, it is not a question of telling everything; studies on African history are now so numerous that it is no longer worth it. The choices are generally synthetic, both precise and selected, in all times and historical data. We avoid the eventful story, without depriving ourselves of the opportunity. Chapters can be regional, general or localized, wisely.

One model among others is that of colonization, being-in-the-world of Africa (p. 229-252), which manages to give in a few pages the essentials of the timing, of the imposed compartmentalization multiplying the contact areas and of insubordination as a relationship to the world, densification authorized by six pages of precise notes. It's a little tour de force, from the end of the XIXe century to the years 1960-1970 (Pascale Barthlmy).

There are others, the first being the African archives of the world which address fossil imprints, languages ​​and stories of prehistory (Franois Bon and Franois-Xavier Fauvelle, p. 17-44), highlighting the cultural mosaic. The following chapter immediately begins the essential part of this commune house: Commercial circulations and religious interactions from 2500 BCE to 1500 CE (Marie-Laure Derat, p. 45-71): Egypt, Aksum, from the Mediterranean to the broker states of the interior, elephants, slaves and the beginnings of religions monothists, everything goes.

This will nevertheless allow, and it is a bit of a shame, to return relatively little later to eastern and southern Africa, therefore dealing mainly with the earlier period. There is a relative preference for Atlantic Africa, which is quite normal for a vision which is primarily aimed at readers in the West. Although nothing is forgotten: Islam and West Africa are treated from the inside (Souleymane Bachir Diagne, p. 73-88), before, during and after colonization in intellectual history.

Without forgetting neither slavery nor the religious connections between Christianity and Islamization. Circulations of trade, pilgrimage and thought which will overlap with commercial exchanges, while putting all Africans in connection with the rest of the world. The construction of the Atlantic market marks the definitive junction between the African market and the global market, XVe At XIXe century (Anne Ruderman, p. 91-122).

This also makes it possible to affirm the links between the Atlantic market, the internal market, the Mediterranean market with multiple ramifications, again supported by a remarkable number of current references (as are also the others).

From the Renaissance to the future

We move on to a final series of new and welcome chapters, which aim to show African cultures at work in the world. First in the Atlantic world: circulation of slaves, knowledge and know-how, talents and works, art of ivory and gold since the XVe century, to which is added the demonstration of African influence in the colonial baroque and in theperformance art.

Included are the maroons, these communities of escaped slaves who formed a society in the mountainous or forested hinterlands of the colonial territories, without forgetting the crolits which developed on African soil.

This creates a stylization of existence in an immeasurable space, since it is about Africanity in diaspora, inventive, both diverse and common, which will largely contribute to anchoring a feeling of belonging causing a mythical land of origins to emerge across the world: Africa. This fascinating chapter is illustrated by a whole series of representative images (Anne Lafont, p. 123-171).

The reader is then invited to move on to the corollary of this multiple diaspora: the history of Pan-Africanisms (Sarah Fila-Bakabadio, p. 173-198), which will lead to its antithesis: Getting rid of the smell of the father For imagine the future from Africa from the African Renaissance.

But the work does not promise a bright future: it shows all the obstacles, but also the tools available. It begins with an observation of the predation in paradise: the way in which the view of others (explorers, conquerors, collectors, whoever they may be) made Africa nostalgia and the ecological laboratory of the world of XVIIIe At XXIe century (Guillaume Blanc, p. 199-228).

We arrive, by plant colonialism (p. 205), the construction of the savage and the poacher, Western conception of the human being that the West needs to build itself. African fauna and flora become the object of all predations. Lisbon, Paris, Brussels, Berlin and London are adorned with lush, exotic botanical gardens. This conservation goes hand in hand with predatory violence in the first decades of the XXe century.

It is here, a little late, that we see Afrikaner violence appear, notably through the example of the history of expropriation of the South African Kruger Park (p. 213) where politicians and scientists walk hand in hand to prohibit silvicultural and agro-pastoral practices of the unworthy actions aimed at excluding them from National parks. This colonial violence multiplies everywhere in the form of compulsory cultivation and, finally, with the idea that Africa is one to protect its own inhabitants.

All this is correct, but there is an obvious explanatory element missing: demographic evolution, somewhat evoked by its misdeeds during the slave trade, but nowhere since the intervention of the demographic boom itself caused by the colonial conquest from the beginning of the XXe century in South Africa and since the 1950s in tropical Africa. The current galloping demography is an element often alleged elsewhere, without explaining the (colonial) causes or the possible solutions. This would have deserved constructive development, especially since it is this moment in the presentation that the colonial question is addressed, which also makes no mention of it.

Fixing History?

The last three chapters are perhaps the most original. They deal with sources and methods that are still too neglected concerning essential witnesses to the contemporary history of Africa. First, photography: how to write African histories of photography on the continent while respecting their diversity and multiple scales? Who writes them, for which audiences and from which archives? (ruka Nimis and Marian Nur Goni, p. 253-281).

There are fragments, there are smugglers, there is the need to relearn the European canon and to practice visual self-writing to find singular lives beyond the colonial uses of photography. The sources of this chapter are reflections on the instruments of power and counter-power of the image. Then comes an original character of African cultures: Beyond writing and speaking, speech as a political model (Jean Godefroy Bidima, p. 283-311): speech and palaver have always played, and continue to play, an important political role, constructive or destructive. Because it is also a clay whose shape can be modified according to the symbolic needs of our societies (p. 306). Despite the invasion of current communication techniques, we cannot not put aside orality.

The conclusions of the book, Black memories around the world (Ana Lucia Araujo, p. 313-335) and the epilogue THE XXIe century, can we repair history? written by the two responsible for the work (p. 337-345), pose questions from the point of view of Africans, their way of shaping memories, particularly of slavery, their presences and their absences, from militant action to official recognition. It is emphasized (a little late) that the slave trade, in particular the Atlantic slave trade, was founding event of anti-black racism in Africa, Europe or the Americas (p. 331).

It is therefore highly legitimate to address current issues of restitution of objects and repairs. One regret: allusion is made to the compensation paid by France in 1848 to former slave owners, but nothing is said about the exhaustive calculation carried out on the compensation paid by the British to their planters, while these equally fabulous sums were mainly used to finance the industrial revolution then underway in Great Britain. This is one of the rare bibliographical gaps in the work. It nevertheless achieved its objective:

Access to African societies by all means of history is obvious and a necessity, contrary to the received idea of ​​a pre-modern immobility which would have been specific to the entire African continent, and which would have made it exclusively intelligible via traditional ethnography (p. 338).

This evidence is splendidly demonstrated, not by an exhaustive study, but by a series of very up-to-date and clearly presented developments and syntheses, the equivalent of which does not exist elsewhere in French-language literature. In short, it is a book that I really liked and that I read without skipping a line, all African history specialist that I am.