Guy Ossito Midiohouan
National University of Benin
He walks blindly, following the order that is given,
From Niger to the Congo, from column to column,
Ragged and pugnacious,
Across Africa he journeys,
Good-natured and even-tempered
(Louis Barot-Forlière, 1920.)
The West's greatest ability in its relationship with Africa has consisted, each time its interests so required, of turning the Africans away from themselves, from their historical responsibilities, in order to get them to fight, by fair means or foul, for the West's cause and often against themselves. Thus it was that our kings hurled their armies into the slave forays to supply the slave traders. Thus it was that, between 1914 and 1918, whilst some parts of our continent were still smoking with the blood of the ravaged civilians and others were dressing the wounds of a brutal "pacification", thousands of Africans left for countries very far away, beyond the seas, to fight beside the invader in a war they had nothing to do with and the ins and outs of which they knew nothing about. The good people of France made no mistake at all when they gave those mercenaries the name of "Senegalese infantry" (although they did not come only from Senegal). Thus it was that, between 1939 and 1945, the hard experience of triumphant colonisation did not prevent the Africans from giving up their lives - "just like the poor man giving up his last piece of clothing", it would be written later by way of eulogy - to save the threatened "Motherland". They didn't wait for the beginning of hostilities, moreover, to send mainland France a cablegram expressing undying affection, on the basis of which Léon Gontran Damas, having read it in the newspapers and being irritated by such servility, unawareness and irresponsibility, conceived his poem, "Et caetera", published in Pigments (1937):
More and more examples can be given, but these few are enough to show that in the history of our relationship with the West, we have too often been mistaken about the battle, as is still unfortunately the case today for the French-speaking world with which the era of the neo-African infantry is beginning!
For these neo-African infantry, the French-speaking world is not at all a new form of colonialism; it was not designed to serve a battle of supremacy waged by France against the American giant and the Commonwealth, using "French-speaking" Africa as a field of manoeuvre for this; contrary to what its "leftist, sectarian and backwards-looking" detractors think, it is an essentially dynamic idea, a new form of international cooperation based on egalitarian relations and reciprocal benefits. Inspired by the official declarations, the neo-infantry are inviting us to take the French-speaking world for what it claims to be henceforth: a network covering fields as diverse as agriculture, energy, culture and communication, scientific and technical information, and the language industry. Thus they assert unanimously:
Mixture and disorder are features characteristic of francophone thought. Thus, Aimé Césaire can be shown as a poet of the French-speaking world in the same way as the French academician Léopold Séder Senghor; "elective affinities between Francity and negritude" are discovered and everyone seems to agree on the fact that any man who speaks French in any way, whatever his origin and whatever that language represents for him, must first and above all be defined as a francophone. Which means that francophony denies that it is an ideology that could be scrutinized, analysed, contested, and tries to pass itself off as an indisputable fact, which smacks once again of an ideological approach.
Really, the French-speaking world, contrary to the Commonwealth, has a tyrannical dimension to which attention should be drawn. In its promoter's minds, it is a unique chance that should not be denied to the African countries and which they should not refuse. To be considered "French-speaking", it suffices that you come from a country "where French is spoken", even if, personally, you do not use that language. Your country is "French-speaking", even if 90% of its population does not know French. In vain can you denounce the ideology of being francophone, you are a poet of francophony from the moment you express yourself more or less correctly in French. One belongs to the French-speaking world in just the same way as one belongs to the party in a one-party state. No-one needs your opinion, that's just the way things are!
To show that the francophony is not a manoeuvre towards hegemony on the part of France but rather a regrouping of equal partners, French-speaking worlds or even francopolyphony are sometimes referred to. Paradoxically, however, that only highlights even more the Africans' state of alienation in what some ludricously call "France's lingustic harem". For it is precisely this "franco", placed invariably and with effrontery at all the gates leading to the outside world, that represents the castrating agent, charged with branding us with the sign of our membership, so that no-one can ignore it. This "franco" has practically become our foremost reality, the palpitating heart of our cultures, the living source of our energies, the sublime crucible of our identities. Here we are, forever confined within the wall of French. No further possibility of defining ourselves in relation to ourselves. To move towards others, and to move towards ourselves, francophony is the road we have to take.It is our present and our future. It expects from each "French-speaking" African country in Africa that it should feel closer to France than to any "non-French-speaking" African country, that it should feel that solidarity within "French-speaking space" is stronger, more effective, more concrete than African solidarity. Yes, francophony expects from each "francophone" in Africa that he should proclaim painlessly at all times and in all places: "My Motherland is the French language".
As can be seen, for us Africans, it is truly a matter of denial.
So are we going to spend our lives, from generation to generation, defending the interests of others, fighting for others, sweating for others, dying for others, dying to our own selves? Are we condemned to be eternally the resources of others, the foot soldiers of others? The duty to put an end to such a fate is incumbent upon our generation.
If France, which has always thought itself to be, as Guy Hocquenghem tells us, "the legitimate centre of the universe", finds out with bitterness that certain less deserving foreign nations have stolen first place in the world from it and decides to fight to preserve its prestige, is that really our business? Extolling the allurements and delights of francophony in order to prevent the spread of English, is that really what ought to be mobilising our energy nowadays?
We must realise that in Africa we are first and foremost not French speakers as they are trying to convince us, but Africans.
As Africans, our situation in the world imposes specific duties on us. Our countries continue to be economically dominated, politically weak and unstable, dependent on outside aid, under-developed. Our current history requires us to define our own battle ourselves, to look for the solutions to our problems ourselves, to find in ourselves the principle of our unity and the foundations of our solidarity.
It will not be of any use to us to adhere to plans conceived by others so long as we have not become aware of ourselves, our strength, our weaknesses, our interests. As Frantz Fanon, who conceived of great ambitions for our continent, wrote, "the national consciousness (...) is the only one that can give us an international dimension". Our motherland is Africa. It is she that we must strive to build, patiently, tirelessly, all together. The rush towards francophony can be explained only by our feeling of dereliction faced with our divided continent, the daily sight of our countries in the grasp, the dead end, of stagnation, mediocrity, horror. Our task is firstly to contain and turn back this heart-break, to give us back confidence in ourselves, to create of our own accord the conditions that will allow us to leap up.
(Translated by Linda Pontré)
|Guy Ossito Midiohouan teaches in Cotonou at the National University of Benin. He combines the task of Professeur of literature, literary critic, essayist et fiction writer. His recent publication includes Bilan de la nouvelle d'expression française (Cotonou: SPU, 1994); Aimé Césaire pour aujourd'hui et pour demain (Saint Maur: Sépia, 1995); Maraboutique (Cotonou: Editions du Flamboyant, 1996); and "Les 'tirailleurs dahoméens' ou la dignité des esclaves" Africultures 11 (octobre 1998), pp.20-24. In 1999, he also coordinated the literary exhibition "Le Bénin littéraire : 1980-1999".|
|See also: Guy Ossito Midiohouan "La nouvelle négro-africaine d'expression française entre 1971 et 1980" Mots Pluriels 9 (1999).|