The cross : How do you analyze the strong anti-French sentiment in public opinion in Africa?
Souleymane Bachir Diagne: I note indeed that it has developed in a visible way in all the youth of West Africa. It crystallizes around the presence of the French army in countries like Mali, where it is believed that this presence does not help matters and that it serves hidden interests. And we forget that, without her intervention, Bamako would have been conquered by the jihadists in January 2013. In Chad, she is criticized for the way in which she settled the succession of Idriss Déby.
In the other countries, it is not the French army which crystallizes this rejection. I observe that it fits, rather, in an old anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism. For example, when the mayor of Ziguinchor, in Senegal, announced that he was going to rename all the streets that bear a French name, he was applauded by the youth. I observe that the issue of the CFA franc also mobilizes anti-French sentiment: in the eyes of young people, it is not just a question of changing the name of this currency but of making it truly an African currency, managed by Africans, without the former colonial power.
What difference do you see between the anti-imperialism of your youth and that of young people today?
S. B. D. : I have the feeling that it had a more international dimension. We were, for example, attentive to the war in Vietnam. While today it is mainly summed up in this slogan “France get out! » We rather said « US, go home ! » : it was the universal slogan of the anti-imperialist left, that which aimed at the emancipation of the peoples from American domination in the context of the cold war. Contemporary anti-imperialism seems to me rather to express the rejection of everything that represents the West. For example, we made a distinction between the school and France. Today, there is a fundamental movement which rejects it on the grounds that it is by nature Western. The culmination of this trend is found in Boko Haram, Nigeria.
How can France defuse the rejection of which it is the object?
S. B. D. : By being less awkward in its dealings with heads of state and African public opinion. An example: the reform of the CFA franc announced in December 2019 by Emmanuel Macron and Alassane Ouattara alone. However, this reform concerns all of West Africa.
In the Ukrainian conflict, are many African countries, including Senegal, right to adopt such a benevolent attitude towards Vladimir Putin?
S. B. D. : Macky Sall, both on behalf of Senegal and the African Union of which he chairs, recalled his attachment to the principle of the inviolability of borders. But he has a position which consists in looking at the diplomatic level which is in the interest of both Senegal and African countries.
It played the same game as the European states. The latter have expressed their indignation while modulating it according to their own interests, in particular according to their degree of dependence vis-à-vis Russian gas. On the African side, many countries urgently need grain and fertilizer blocked by the conflict in Ukraine. In responsible politics, he seeks a solution to this crucial question for the continent.
You mention a “globalization of the tribalization of minds”. What do you mean ?
S. B. D. : On the geopolitical level, I note the rise of nationalisms in the world. In terms of intellectual argument, the tendency to stick exclusively to one’s identity. Everyone now justifies their speech by summoning their identity. And that he understands the other through his own: “He says this because he is this. » It’s the end of the dialogue, of the common space where we can exchange arguments. I see it in the United States, in France, in Senegal.
In a course I was giving at Columbia, I mentioned Sartre’s preface to Wretched of the earth by Frantz Fanon. One of my students raised his hand to say: “Why did Frantz Fanon as a black man call a white man to write his preface? » I was blown away, I had never thought of Sartre in the category of “White” writing for a “Black”. This goes very far, because some are forbidden to talk about others, and vice versa. So that we close the possibility of understanding the other, of entering into their culture, of putting themselves in their place. It is the negation of the philosophical idea of a common culture, a common language, a common condition, a shared experience. Against this movement, we need a cosmo-politics of humanity which aims to give substance to this notion of shared humanity. And the challenges that are ours such as the pandemic, the environmental crisis force us to move in this direction if we want to meet them.