Writers To Sarkozy: Don’t Rewrite History

On July 26, French president Nicolas Sarkozy gave a speech in Dakar, addressed not to his Senegalese hosts, but rather to “African youth” in its entirety. The speech was a bizarre mix of neo-colonial clichés and passionate promises of help. The trouble in Africa, as in the Middle East, has always been the sheer number of people so eager to help, and all out of altruism, of course.

Among other things, Sarkozy said that slavery happened, but it’s all in the past; that he did not want to speak of repentance, but of the future; that colonialism was not all bad because the French built schools, roads, and bridges. (Whenever someone claims that the French built schools in Morocco, I always like to point out that in 44 years of their presence in my homeland, they managed to graduate fewer than 50 people from university; so enough about the ‘benefits’ of colonization already.) Sarkozy then claimed that the African farmer knows only the “eternal beginning of time, marked by the endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words.” (Three guesses as to who will help Africans enter, at long last, into history.) He added that France would help all African nations who wish to have democracy. And then he went on to meet with Omar Bongo of Gabon, one of the oldest dictators in Africa. (40 years and going!) It was, in short, the kind of speech that really made me wonder how French imperialism, both military and economic, is not talked about in the West to the same extent as, for instance, British or American interventions.

Needless to say, Sarkozy’s speech was severely criticized in Senegalese newspapers, and in the African press at large. His speech drew a response from the African literary community, as well. In Libération last week, Raharimanana (of Madagascar), Boubacar Boris Diop (of Sénégal), Abderrahman Beggar (of Morocco), Patrice Nganang (of Cameroon), Koulsy Lamko (of Chad), Kangni Alem (of Togo), and Jutta Hepke (of Germany) addressed an open letter to the president, in which they ask him to “stop fraternizing with the gravediggers of our hopes” and invite him to have a true debate.