Bard College, New York & Simon's Rock College, Massachusetts
I have been thrilled by the number and the quality of the reactions to my piece 'Clearing the horizon, science, social sciences and Africa'. I read them all very carefully and came to the conclusion that this exchange was not in vain. For the sake of initiating the debate, I have to admit that I may have been somewhat excessive in arguing that researchers working in Africa in the field of the humanities - or should I say the social sciences - were by and large rehearsing variations on old themes: those that have been explored a thousand times since our various countries became independent. But I am pleased to say that the non-specialist of the social sciences that I am - and with me hopefully many others - was able to catch, in these reactions, glimpses of answers, or a re-framing of some of the questions raised in my essay that were re-formulated in a better way than my own. In any case, from historians to geographers, literary critics to sociologists and philosophers, all their texts bear witness to that 'quivering in the renewal of thought' that had escaped my attention when I wrote that I could not perceive it in the work of African and Africanist scholars engaged in the social sciences. My only regret is not being able to answer individually every contribution short of producing an essay as long as the first. Nevertheless, without coming back to the argument proposed in my original submission, I would like to make a few comments on some of the issues raised in many texts.
I still continue to believe that the 'truth' defined by the social sciences prevails over that of hard sciences. It does not mean that one is superior to the other: it cannot be. Just what I mean by that is that it is the vision proposed by the social sciences that influences most Society's big choices, including the priorities of scientific research. President Thabo Mbeki's ideas on HIV/AIDS, in spite of their scientific futility, prevailed over the views of South African scientists; so too the Pope's ideas on the use of condoms by practising Roman Catholics. The political 'truth' of President Bush has prevailed over that of the American Physical Society that officially registered its doubts with regard to the effectiveness of an anti-missiles shield of the 'Star Wars' type. Researchers in the fields of the social sciences should not shy from their responsibility.
Also, perish the thought that a scientific researcher has no ethics. Whereas the scientific method is amoral - a Nazi and a Communist will follow the same protocol in order to analyse the spectrum of nuclear magnetic resonance - the scientific researchers are social agents. Thus they have ethical and moral obligations, not only toward their profession - i.e., honesty and rigour in their observations - but also vis a vis their social milieu. They have to be active participants of the civil society in which they live. The decision to embark on research on biological weapons rather than HIV/AIDS, as is using stem-cells for therapeutic ends rather than human cloning are political choices and not scientific ones. Dr. Woutter Bason holds as much responsibility as Pieter Botha: African scientists who accept passively to work on projects harmful to the population hold the same responsibilities as the political decision-makers.
The issue of inequalities confronting women in Africa is real. To consider this situation as a major problem is not 'an imposture and a trick used by imperialism to widen its influence'. Angele Bassole's piece strengthens me in this conviction.
Professor Mukherjee is right in reminding us that 'Provincializing Europe' is the title of a book by the Indian historian Dipesh Chakravarty. As it were, it is from this pioneer of 'subaltern theory' that I borrowed the term. She also writes that 'there is is so much of the West already within us': How true that is ! The first step in the 'africanisation of Africa', or rather her 're- africanisation' after centuries of dispossession, is first to assume the double conscience evoked by W.E. Dubois in relation to the African-Americans; a point echoed so adequately by Ambroise Kom when he reminds us that we are Africans deeply scarred by Euramerica.The trap to avoid is of course to define our new paradigms by ignoring our relationship to the West. The result would be either an essentialist and reactionary withdrawal into ourselves (remember Mobutu's 'authenticity' and some of the lunacies of Afrocentrism), or a systematic and regressive denial of the contributions of the West to humanity. If neither China nor Japan display the same sharp schizophrenia as Africa (and India), it is due to the fact that their relationship to colonisation has been different from ours, as suggested by Professor Balusabramanian. In this debate, it is good to know that Senghor's message on metissage is still relevant.
As the reflections on epistemological issues raised in some of the texts lie somewhat outside of my interpellation of the social sciences, I will not comment further except to say that, of course, today's science works on complex systems: for a chemist, Prigogine's work comes to mind and provides a good example; Yet, one thing remains for sure : scientific methodology continues to rest on the good old Cartesian method and the principle of Ockham's Razor.
Better than the 'great answers' I requested, one of the rewarding outcomes of the exchange was to find an appropriate answer to my questions related to the meaning of modernity in Africa. To me an appropriate answer - perhaps conditioned by my work as a chemist - is an answer that is operational in accordance with its simplicity and its clarity. Modernity in Africa is only and quite simply what da Silva defines in his text as 'full access to water, electricity, education and health care to all people who live in the various political and special units we have come to know as Africa', complemented by Mukherjee's 'belief in human equality (regardless of gender, race, caste, class), faith in the rule of Law, implicit acceptance of dignity of labour'.
Beyond our rhetorical idiosyncrasies and quarrels, isn't it the common goal of our work, all of us, writers, social scientists and researchers in the hard sciences ? The rest will only follow once these basic achievements are reached as - to quote da Silva again - 'Great ideas, great themes are more likely to germinate in the minds of healthy, well-fed people'.
Some may argue that this notion of modernity - that I give the impression of only discovering now - gained currency long ago and that my ignorance is due to the fact that I am only now making my first faltering steps in the world of the social sciences: Exactly ! And that's precisely what I take issue with. Researchers in the social sciences have to open up and stop conversing among themselves in small closed circles, thriving in the jargon of their specialised publications.
If the physicists and the biologists have managed to bring to the attention of the general public such esoteric ideas as relativity time theory (Stephen William Hawking), evolution theory (Stephen Jay Gould), or even the complex DNA molecule (James Dewey Watson), than social scientists can also democratise the newly emerging paradigms of their recent work. It is essential that they popularize their ideas in order to include them in the field and preoccupations of day to day politics and economics. Until now, their failure is to have abandoned African youth with the idea that their continent is the victim of fate and that there are no alternatives, no way out except for that imposed by the West, the World Bank and the IMF.
Emmanuel DONGALA was born in 1941; his mother hailed from Central Africa while
his father was from the Congo. Emmanuel Dongala taught at the University of
Brazzaville where, for a considerable time, he also carried out the duties of
Director of Acadameic Affairs. He was forced to leave the Congo during the
civil war which ravaged the country in 1997. Today, he is Professor of
Chemistry at Simon Rock College, Massachusetts, U.S.A. as well as Professor of
Francophone African Literature at Bard College, New York. He has published five
books : Un fusil dans le main, un poème dans la poche (novel,
1973) Jazz et Vin de Palme (short stories, 1922) Le feu des
origines (novel, 1987) Les petits garçons naissent aussi des
étoiles (novel, 1988) and Johnny Chien Méchant
(novel, 2002). In 1999 Emmanuel Dongala was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship
and in 2003, he was the winner of the prestigious Fonlon-Nichols Prize 2003 for
literary excellence. His works have been translated into a dozen different