College of the Holy Cross, Worcester
The main thing for me was above all to achieve reflection on the conditions for the appropriation and legitimation of knowledge in Africa at the dawn of the third millennium. My colleagues' reactions have well exceeded my expectations. Each of them felt challenged and wrote from a specific point of view, taking their own preoccupations into account. Along the way, I was the subject of several labels that I have difficulty in acknowledging. Overall, however, this is not important.
The subject of the debate is Africa, no matter who is speaking about it. On that level, fortunately, we are all almost in agreement. For all sorts of reasons, the continent's countries are not in good health and a rethinking of the discourse concerning them is urgent. I must admit that I was not very impressed by the few examples that are thought to be the bearers of hope. More than one person cited CODESRIA as a model of an "authentically" African research structure. To be sure, CODESRIA is directed by Africans. But who finances it? How are its research priorities defined? To what ends? What would happen tomorrow if the main financial backers were to decide, for one reason or another, to withdraw from the project? Is CODESRIA an African project or simply a research structure on African soil?
To be sure, also, the language of the Other has allowed us to create a literature which is ceaselessly renewing itself and which is being relished almost everywhere in the world. But how can one avoid the fact that, in most cases, this nice literature is being published in other countries and, often, is being read everywhere else except in African continent because Africans do not so to speak have the means to appropriate it for themselves? It needs to be thought about.
I was very sensitive to the comments from Asia because they eloquently show how countries that are truly taking their destiny in their own hands are evolving. They also show us other experiences of relationships that can be established with the Other. But let us understand each other properly. I am in no way looking for a model, keys in hand, to get Africa out of the rut. It may be a truism but, for me, knowledge has no borders and I am militating for Africans, or anyone at all who cares about the continent's destiny, to gather from wherever they need to those materials required to construct a society that measures up to us. Indubitably, globalisation is with us but why does it have to be a one-way street, with Africa always being the receptacle of declarations from elsewhere? This is what explains the questioning of the francophone corset.
In brief, I resisted starting the debate up again so as not to fall into petty squabbles. I must therefore end by recalling that "knowledge and legitimation" was inspired not only by many years of teaching and research in African institutions, but also by attentive observation of the more or less official tentacular structures being maintained on the ground by the former imperial power and the small local potentates to ensure that they have control of the meagre resources that are still available here and there. But we must turn our backs on the time of accusations!
Prof. Ambroise Kom
University of Yaoundé and College of the Holy Cross, Worcester
(Translated by Linda Pontré)