“The tragedy of Africa is that the African man has never really entered history. The African peasant has known only the eternal renewal of time via the endless repetition of the same actions and the same words. In this mentality, where everything always starts over again, there is no place for human adventure nor for any idea of progress” – Nicholas Sarkozy, the new French president in a speech to Africans in Dakar, Senegal, on 26 July 2007.
This might appear late in the day, but, due to our annual mid-year break, our last issue (Aug/Sept) missed Nicholas Sarkozy’s arrogant speech at the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar on 26 July. Sarkozy is a new president indeed! How else would a man of his standing exhibit such impudence on African soil and still think he can get away with it? But if you equate new with inexperience, elementary, even childish, you begin to feel sorry for a man who exhibits such low educational acumen as Sarkozy did in Dakar. But let’s leave the French man for a while and move to other things first.
In early September, my attention was drawn to an article on a new book on President George W. Bush. “Bush tells biographer: ‘I do tears’, was the headline of the article. Ah, these Americans, they have a way with words. George W does tears! Well, we can send him more empty barrels to hold his tears, considering how many people his bombs have killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, not forgetting the suffering and death that his country’s (and its allies’) political and economic policies (via the IMF, World Bank, WTO, UN, etc) have done to many countries. He surely has more tears to shed. Plenty more, to fill a few Iraqi oil barrels!
According to the article, Bush told his biographer, Robert Draper: “I try not to wear my worries on my sleeve” or show anything less than steadfastness in public, especially in a time of war. “I’ve got God’s shoulder to cry on. And I cry a lot. I do a lot of crying in this job. I’ll bet I’ve shed more tears than you can count, as president. I’ll shed some tomorrow.”
Poor God! How can he lend his shoulders to a man such as George W to cry on? With all the cavalier treatment of other people by George W and his country, he doesn’t deserve anybody’s shoulder to cry on, let alone God’s. Yes, God welcomes sinners, but this sinner hasn’t repented. But, I suppose, as a “born-again Christian” or so he claims, George W can hang on to God’s shoulder for as long as he desires – if only to appease his torn conscience. But may the Good Lord not have mercy on him! Because mercy is not a word spoken in George W’s power elite. Their bombs and economic sanctions and austerity policies do the talking.
Talking about conscience brings me to the unveiling of Nelson Mandela’s statue in London on 29 August. Ken Livingstone, the London mayor, who was instrumental in getting the statue erected at all, told Mandela: “Long after we are forgotten, you will be remembered for having taught the world one amazing truth; that you can achieve justice without vengeance. I honour you, and London honours you.”
Britain’s new prime minister, Gordon Brown, added:
“[Mandela] is the leader who became the liberator, who always chose reconciliation over revenge, who, when he left his country’s prisons to become his country’s president, led South Africa away from dictatorship, and a multi-racial democracy was born.”
So they know that “you can achieve justice without vengeance” or choose “reconciliation over revenge”? Do George W and his country and their allies know that? Why then haven’t they ever done it? Why have they, forever, sought vengeance and revenge as a way of seeking justice? As their forefathers did, so do they! The same inconsiderate attitude that saw their forefathers annihilating native peoples all the way from Canada through USA and the Caribbean, and through South America to Australia and New Zealand, and to Southern Africa, just so they could seize the land and live fat on it while the rightful owners lie in the grave, has not changed much (sorry, a jolt). Just look at their use of global institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, WTO, UN, etc.
And then they turn round and praise Mandela “for having taught the world one amazing truth; that you can achieve justice without vengeance”. All of a sudden, the days when they gave their “kith and kin” in the apartheid government the technology to produce nuclear weapons – to be used on Africans when necessary – are forgotten. Give them more lessons, Madiba!
Now, let’s go back to “our friend” in Paris. Yes, Nicholas Sarkozy says he is “a friend of Africa”. Imagine – a friend who comes to your home and insults your grandmother for the sake of it! When I saw the English translation of Sarkozy’s Dakar speech, I couldn’t believe my damned eyes. “Did he really say that?”, I asked. “And he is the president of an important country like France?” Well, you may want to read a bit for yourselves:
“The colonials,” Sarkozy began, “came and looted, helped themselves, exploited, took resources and wealth that did not belong to them. They stripped the colonised of their personalities, of their freedom, of their lands, and of the fruits of their labours.” Good start, but don’t jump for joy yet.
“They took, but I would also like to say, with respect, that they also gave – they built bridges, roads, hospitals, chemists, schools. They made virgin soil bear fruit, they invested their concern, their labours and their knowledge. I want to say it here: the colonials were not all thieves, they were not all exploiters.
“There were bad men among them, but there were also among them men of goodwill, men who thought they were carrying out a civilising mission… They thought they were bringing freedom when they were feeding alienation. They thought they were breaking the chains of obscurantism, superstition and servitude. In fact, they were forging far heavier chains and imposing a far more onerous form of servitude, one that weighed on spirits and souls…
“Colonialism is not responsible for all of Africa’s current difficulties. It is not responsible for the bloody wars that Africans fight against each other. It is not responsible for genocides. It is not responsible for dictators… It is not responsible for corruption and prevarication… Colonialism was an offence that destroyed the subjects’ self-esteem and gave birth in their hearts to that self-hatred that always ends up being turned on other people. Colonialism was an offence but in this offence was born the embryo of a common destiny. This idea is particularly important to me.
“I have come to tell you that you should not be ashamed of the values of African civilisation, that these values do not drag you down but elevate you. That they are an antidote to the materialism and the individualism that enslave the modern man, that they are the most precious of inheritances in the face of the dehumanisation and homogenisation of the world.
“I have come to tell you that the modern man who feels a need to reconcile himself with nature has a lot to learn from the African man who has lived in harmony with nature for millennia. But I have also come to tell you that there are within you, youth of Africa, two inheritances, two wisdoms, two traditions that have fought each other for so long: that of Africa and that of Europe. I have come to tell you that this split between the African and the European within you forms your ruptured identity.
“I have not come, youth of Africa, to preach. I have not come to moralise. But I have come to tell you that the European part of you is the result of a terrible act of arrogance on the part of the West, but that this European part of you is not unworthy. For it calls you to freedom, emancipation, justice and equality between men and women. For it calls you to universal reason and consciousness.” What a daft statement!
And he went on: “The tragedy of Africa is that the African man has never really entered history. The African peasant who for centuries has lived according to the seasons, whose ideal is to be in harmony with nature, has known only the eternal renewal of time via the endless repetition of the same actions and the same words. In this mentality, where everything always starts over again, there is no place for human adventure nor for any idea of progress…
“This man never projects himself into the future, it never occurs to him to break free from the repetition and invent a destiny for himself. This, if you will allow a friend of Africa to say it, is Africa’s problem. Africa’s challenge is to enter history more fully…Africa’s challenge is to stop forever repeating and going over things, and to free itself from the myth of the eternal renewal. It is to realise that the golden age that it always harks back to will never return, for the simple reason that it never existed.” Really?
“Africa’s problem is that its present is permeated with nostalgia for the paradise lost of its childhood,” he continued. “Africa’s problem is that it judges the present according to a wholly imaginary notion of original purity that no one could ever hope to revive. Africa’s challenge should not be to invent a past, however mythical, to make the present more bearable, but to invent a future with the means it has at its disposal… For Africa has a right to be happy just like all the other continents of the world.”
Well, I don’t know about you just now, but I am doing my utmost to calm down! For we are dealing here with a confused man with a confused speech. Africa has no glorious past? What were our ancestors doing in Egypt then? And Nubia? And all those glorious empires of yore right across the continent? When our ancestors had built the great pyramids in Egypt and Nubia (today’s northern Sudan, in fact Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt), Sarkozy’s European ancestors were still living in caves. They didn’t know what a window was! And he has the temerity to insult us and our ancestors?