Contemporary French philosophers typically characterise modern Western thought as an egocentric assimilation of the Other by the Self, Similar to Western thought's reductive relationship towards alterity, the relationship between Europe and Africa is, more often than not, seen as an asymmetric one of Europeanisation. The ethical dilemma being addressed in this essay concerns a possible way of interacting with the Other without necessarily violating or reducing its alterity. An ethical appeal demands a response, for ignoring the appeal and remaining silent amounts to "murdering" the Other. However, a response necessarily amounts to a violation. A critical analysis of two discourses on postcolonial Africa is conducted to address this dilemma: a political and urbanistic discourse. The first is that of the South African president, Thabo Mbeki's briefing on the implementation of the Millennium Africa Renaissance Programme (MAP) at the World Economic Forum held on 28 January 2001. The urbanistic discourse is a study on the Nigerian city of Lagos performed by "The Harvard Design School Project" (HPC). Using a "comparative methodology" these two discourses are critically analysed in an effort to find an alternative African modernity, an ethical alternative that leaves the alterity of the Other intact.
Kontemporere Franse filosowe tipeer moderne Westerse denke as 'n egosentriese beweging waarin die Self die Ander assimileer. Soortgelyk aan Westerse denke se reduserende verhouding tot andersheid, word die verhouding tussen Europa en Afrika meestal beskou as 'n asimmetriese betrekking waarin Afrika geeuropeaniseer word. Die etiese dilemma wat in hierdie essay aangespreek word het betrekking op 'n moontlike wyse waarop die Self kan omgaan met die Ander sonder die noodwendige geweldpleging teen andersheid of verskraling van verskil. 'n Etiese beroep vereis 'n antwoord, want om die beroep te ignoreer en stil te bly beteken om die Ander te "vermoor". Terselfdertyd kom 'n antwoord noodwendig altyd neer op 'n geweldpleging. Om hierdie dilemma aan te spreek word 'n kritiese analise van twee diskoerse oor postkoloniale Afrika uitgevoer: 'n politieke en urbanistiese diskoers. Eersgenoemde is die Suid-Afrikaanse president, Thabo Mbeki, se voorligting oor die implementering van die Millennium Africa Renaissance Programme (MAP), gelewer op the Wereld Ekonomiese Forum, op 28 Januarie 2001. the urbanistiese diskoers is 'n studie oor die Nigeriese stad, Lagos, uitgevoer deur"The Harvard Design School Project" (HPC). Met behulp van 'n "vergelykende metodologie" word hierdie twee diskoerse krities geanaliseer ten einde 'n alternatiewe moderniteit vir Afrika te probeer vind, 'n etiese alternatief wat the andersheid van the Ander ongedeerd laat.
Outsider! Trespasser! You have no right to this subject! ... I know: nobody ever arrested me. Nor are they ever likely to. Poacher! Pirate! We reject your authority. We know you, with your foreign language wrapped around you like a flag: speaking about us in your forked tongue, what can you tell but lies? (1)
(Rushdie 1984: 23)
1 Introduction: Sketching the Scenario and Situating the Ethical Dilemma
Africa can be conceived of as a heterotopia--a heterotopia par excellence. The heterotopia is, after all, the site of violence and transgression where disparate elements can coexist as difference (Foucault 1998). (2) According to Foucault, a heterotopia has the ability to juxtapose in a single real place several emplacements that are, in themselves, incompatible (p. 181). It is a site where we can speak of the possibility of the impossibility of convergence, because a confrontation with the other necessarily means being violated. The mere awareness of the other is a violation of its alterity. And Africa has been violated. Even as we write on Africa now--as Europeans--Africa is being violated (and, as in the above quotation taken from Rushdie's Shame, we are reminded of our disputable ability to speak at all ...). But before we address the ethical dilemma at the heart of this paper, we should first attempt to construct an image of postcolonial Africa today.
1.1 Today: Envisioning an "African Renaissance"
The stage is set by the South African president, Thabo Mbeki's briefing on the implementation of the Millennium Africa Renaissance Programme (MAP) at the World Economic Forum held on 28 January 2001. According to him, "MAP is a declaration of a firm commitment by African leaders to take ownership and responsibility for the sustainable economic development of the continent". (3) Furthermore, MAP's starting point is a critical examination of Africa's post independence experience and acceptance that things have to be done differently to achieve meaningful socio-economic progress. Accordingly, this programme contains a vision for the redevelopment of Africa. These development projects are going to be negotiated with their partners in Africa as well as with the rest of the world. This partnership with the rest of the world is presented as a crucial prerequisite--especially developed countries, multilateral institutions and (global and national) private sector players are to be addressed. MAP has already, according to Mbeki, engaged Western political leaders and they feel confident with regards to their goodwill and commitment to this programme which primarily aims at countering the erroneous legacy of Afropessimism. Furthermore, MAP proposes a Global Partnership for Africa's development and inclusion in the world. In Mbeki's words,
this poses a challenge and an opportunity to all countries of the world. The continued marginalisation of Africa from the globalisation process, and the social exclusion of the vast majority of our people constitute a serious threat to global social stability.... Implementation of our programme will not only be a major step forward in developing effective global governance but also make a profound contribution to the future welfare of the entire globe. http://www.africafinancereview.com/archive/2001/02/leader.asp
By ways of problematising Mbeki's discourse, we would like to make four preliminary remarks:
1. In the very first instance Africa could be seen as a continent in dire need, and it looks towards "developed" countries for assistance. Mbeki's discourse is primarily phrased in terms of the economic. But he resorts to a very astute rhetoric wherein he simultaneously refrains from presenting Africa as an indigent continent while evoking developed countries' (as former colonisers') culpability for Africa's predicament. For example, he admits that African countries ("for a range of complex reasons") have weak states. Yet he is quick to add that the focus of the programme is not increased aid, but increased investments in viable infrastructure. The fact remains, however, that postcolonial Africa is now a "postindependent" continent.
2. This is closely related to our second remark, namely that great emphasis is put on globalisation. Africa wants to be inscribed in the global capitalistic economy as equal partner, i.e. without sacrificing its independence and (one could add) without falling prey to yet another form of colonisation by the West. But does capitalism not, by its very nature, function by melting everything that is solid into thin air, by alienating every identity and every independence? Does Africa's thirst for inclusion in the global market not undermine its intended renaissance?
3. This brings us to our third remark: Mbeki makes no explicit reference to an African cultural identity as such. What is at stake is a revival or a rebirth of Africa, but it is significant and not merely coincidental, (as he explicitly points out in his opening remarks) that his briefing on the implementation of MAP is presented at the World Economic Forum meeting. A wide variety of issues is dealt with: socio-economic progress; the development of an industrial strategy, of infrastructure and of a financing mechanism; investment in information and communication technology, etc.. But nowhere is there any mention of the re-establishment of an authentic African identity. It was back in 1996 when Mbeki made his famous "I am an African" speech to the South African parliament which set the basis of a new social movement to promote pride in being African and to catapult the continent's economic development. This suggests that the issue of an African identity is part and parcel of the renaissance dream, but which is deliberately omitted when presented to an international audience (as opposed to his "home crowd"). Might this be the indication of an underlying trauma? A trauma concerning the colonial violation of African identity, not made manifest for fear of making vulnerable that which has only very recently been regained. …