The proposal, formulated at the end of July by the French President during his trip to Cameroon, to set up a commission made up of historians from the two countries in order to write a report on their common past, accompanied by the promise to open French archives on the subject, was not to the liking of a certain number of African intellectuals. Gathered around the Cameroonian writer and academic Eugène Ébodé, several dozen of them wanted to react with a common text, which Young Africa publish here. The complete and regularly updated list of signatories can be found on the page https://www.facebook.com/eugene.ebode.
“I wish that we can have and launch together a joint work of Cameroonian and French historians. This is the proposal made by Emmanuel Macron during his July 25 and 26 visit to Cameroon to try to liquidate a colonial past that is not passing. This is a considerable liability and serious crimes committed on African nations, still painfully felt by the populations, the families of victims and humanists. France has dragged this memorial ball for more than seventy years and is struggling to get out of this quagmire honorably.
If President Macron has returned to this thorny problem, his proposal irritates more than it appeases. The facts are established, listed, known, already published. The chosen method remains just as questionable for many Cameroonians and Africans, in particular with regard to the quantified assessments of the bloody events that punctuated the end of colonization. For Cameroon alone, the toll is heavy, even if the specialists do not all agree on the figures.
A legally reprehensible and morally indefensible colonial system
Beyond the targeted assassinations of separatist leaders such as Ruben Um Nyobé, Félix Moumié or Castor Osendé Afana, the Cameroonian writer and historian Jacques Kago Lélé goes so far as to count between 800,000 and one million deaths between 1955 and 1960, during of the war of liberation, in the department of Sanaga-Maritime or in the cities of Douala, Nkongsamba, Sangmélima, Ebolowa, including 8,000 people massacred in the locality of Yogandima and some 400,000 in Bamileke country. In their book Cameroon. A hidden war at the origins of Françafrique, published in 2011, Manuel Domergue, Jacob Tatsitsa and Thomas Deltombe evoke, them, “several tens of thousands of deaths”.
Karim Amellal: “On the question of memory, the hand is extended to the Algerians”
What would the commissions of historians suggested by President Macron bring? Certainly more specific details. And, probably, the revelation of abuses committed by the nationalist camp, even of internal betrayals. That’s not the main thing.
The starting point for any action on this memorial issue should be recognition by the French State of the crimes committed in its name and the presentation of apologies to the peoples outraged by a criminal, harmful, brutal and prevaricating system. Its name is colonization and its motive is exploitation. It is, by its very nature, legally reprehensible and morally indefensible. In addition, one can doubt the effectiveness of the work promoted by President Macron because the system he proposes is non-binding.
The piecemeal work of the historian Benjamin Stora, commissioned in 2020 to write a report on “memorial questions relating to colonization and the Algerian war”, has shown the limits and flaws of this formula dedicated to small steps, to tactical and political maneuvers. In his report, submitted on January 20, 2021, Benjamin Stora spoke more about the war in Algeria than about other African countries.
Colonization in Algeria indeed surpassed in massacres, dramas, tortures and spoliations all identical enterprises, because of the particular type of colony in question – a colony of settlement –; also because of its duration, its intensity and the horrors of the system of exploitation and subjugation that the colonizer exercised in this country.
Cameroon-France: “The recognition of a historical fact does not need a commission”
But, by avoiding a global approach (at least continent by continent) to colonization, we fall into the trap set by the diplomacy of the Théodule commission or in that of the report made by a coaxed scientist. It is akin to a diplomacy of the eiderdown and borrows the paces of the “colonizer of goodwill”, as Albert Memmi would say. This colonizer admits less by conviction than by tactics the crimes of the colonial past. Above all, he seeks to dissolve this colossal misdeed in the desire to further liquidate a so-called “memorial rent”. He avoids hearing the wounded and outraged of this traumatic episode in international relations.
This eagerness is made to restore an image and repaint a flag without condemning the colonial system and its extensions. Its promoters do not aim for a frank and sincere dialogue. They seek to avoid the post-colonial trial brought by peoples crushed yesterday and despoiled forever. The idea of creating a Franco-Cameroonian committee is one of the strings from which we seek to dress in virtue an approach that only uses trickery to save time. This approach therefore appears for what it is: grotesque in its subtleties, unbearable to nations, populations and martyred families alike. To examine colonial and post-colonial crimes by segmenting them nation by nation would be blinding and a serious departure from the global truth.
Rather than setting up a new committee of historians, we must demand the opening of all the archives of European colonization and set up a committee of African intellectuals who would work there, not for one year, but five years if must. Algeria, Cameroon, Nigeria, Mali, Morocco, Angola, Mozambique, Madagascar, Comoros, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Cape Verde, Kenya, Congos, to name only these countries, expect an uncompromising recognition of the terrible damage that their caused the colonial system: massacres, violence, degradation, spoliation.
Senegal – Massacre of Thiaroye: December 1, 1944, when the French army decimated its “natives”
Emmanuel Macron would do well to say this without delay and to present, for history and not for historians alone, the sincere regrets that are essential before the global examination of the disasters produced by colonization begins. Let’s not give in to dusting, by examining the damage colon by colon, in other words, on a case-by-case basis, the logic that Mr. Macron is trying to implement and which refers to bilateralism. The extent of the phenomenon as well as the harmfulness of the colonial system require broader reflection and a multilateral approach.
It is therefore the continental level and a supranational authority that seem to us the best suited to avoid the return of colonial repression and the logic of the dominant and the dominated. They are in the best position to deal with the vast upheavals caused by the colonialist usurper and their effects, which still upset so many lives. The African Union (AU) is perfectly qualified to take up this case. It is up to it to mandate African intellectuals from the continent or the diaspora to analyze what the Berlin conference instituted, in 1884-1885, and what it produced over a long period under the logic of imperialism. and supremacist politics.
President Macron pretends to settle the liabilities to better present himself as a liberator
The AU would propose to the European Union the framework of its approach, its objectives and a schedule of work relating to “the tragedy that was colonization and the means to be mobilized for the appeasement of memories and the rest of the dead”. It is a question of getting out of an infernal cycle and the distance once established – and which continues – between the colonizer and the colonized. There is nothing in particular to expect from the isolated initiatives of Mr. Macron, because he pretends to settle the liabilities in order to better present himself as a liberator. In doing so, he only maintains doubt or, worse, distance.
Albert Memmi, in Portrait of the Colonizer (1957), wrote about the distance between the colonizer and the colonized: “To justify oneself, [le colonisateur] is led to further increase this distance, to irremediably oppose the two figures, his so glorious, that of the colonized so despicable. »
May 8, 1945: French reactions to the Sétif massacres, illustration of a vague memory
The uprising-repression pairing, which began in Thiaroye, Senegal, on December 1, 1944, continued in Sétif and Guelma, Algeria, on May 8, 1945, before spreading to Madagascar in 1947 and then to Cameroon in the 1950s left traces and traumas that are still vivid. It is time for the truly shared memory to seize on it in the hope of a lasting resolution of what remains a deep and painful fracture in the heart of the nations yesterday exploited and today sovereign. Africans are ready to make this anamnesis. And Europe? She must speak clearly. Those who want to put an end to the tragedies and the colonial past must examine this affair by placing it at the right level, under the aegis of political institutions, and by mobilizing a college of personalities chosen by the continental authorities. The time has come to do this work.
Pr Eugène Ébodé, writer, academic, Cameroon; Jean-Célestin Edjangué, journalist-essayist, Cameroon; Jean-Luc Raharimanana, writer, Madagascar; Prof. Pape Massène Sène, academic, Senegal; Gabriel Okoundji, writer, Congo Brazzaville; Pr Amadou Elimane Kane, writer, academic, Senegal; Arab Tayeb, visual artist, Algeria; Arlette Casas, curator, Algeria; Zulu Mbaye, visual artist, Senegal; Pr Juvénal Ngorwanubusa, writer, academic, former minister, Burundi; Blaise Ndala, writer, DR Congo; Fiston Mwanza Mujila, writer, DR Congo; Éric-Joël Bekalé, writer-diplomat, Gabon; Mamadou Seck, writer, senior reporter for The Observer, Senegal; Jean-Claude Tchatchouang, economist, former administrator at the World Bank, Cameroon…
The complete and regularly updated list of signatories can be found on the page https://www.facebook.com/eugene.ebode.