In what follows, Michele Antaki—a former UN interpreter, journalist, and translator—offers an exclusive summary of a recent speech given in French by Ernest Tigori, an Ivorian intellectual and political activist, exiled in France, and winner of the Nelson Mandela Prize for Literature in 2017. In his new book “L’Afrique à désintoxiquer” (“Detoxifying Africa”), he explains why it is crucial to lead Europe out of repentance for its alleged crimes in Africa, and lead Africa out of infantilization. He presented it to great acclaim at a recent patriotic forum in Paris. Antaki’s write-up begins:
Since the 1990s, Tigori has vigorously denounced the political class ruining his country, and the general lack of prospects compelling Africans to leave their countries in droves, in search of a better future.
Welfare Europe is a powerful magnet for the thousands who keep washing up on its shores, lured by the promises of this new Eldorado*. Meanwhile, the exodus causes standards of living to decline steadily back home, as well as human safety and the value of human life itself, often reduced to that of merchandise.
It saddens me to see the white man too emasculated to put up any resistance
Regarding Europe, Tigori warns that uncontrolled migration from the South to the North shore of the Mediterranean may destabilize it beyond repair and that ethnic wars could well be looming on the horizon.
“It saddens me”, he says,” to see the white man beating his breast over and over, too emasculated to put up any resistance to people who’ve come to threaten him on his own doorstep”. He believes that a toxic mix of guilt, “human rightsism”, political naivety and crass ignorance of History have a debilitating effect on Europeans’ capacity to fight the invasion.
He accuses the corrupt African leaders of destroying the lives of hundreds of millions of human beings in all impunity but is equally critical of the ideologues who are paving the way for them. They should stop blaming it all – slavery, the slave trade, colonialism, neocolonialism, and racism – on a forever repentant Europe, which now has to carry the burden of this mass immigration to atone for its supposed sins against Africa.
Tigori explains how the History of black Africa from the 15th to the 20th centuries has intentionally been falsified in the 1940s by Stalinist strategists and their Communist followers, whose covert aim it was to tarnish the image of Western European nations, in order to drive them out of their colonial possessions and take their place. Up until now, that is 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the lies have stuck.
He has harsh words, too, for fake humanists and do-gooders, wolves in sheep’s clothing who jump on the humanitarian bandwagon to better conceal their motives. These predators are deft at playing gullible public opinion like a fiddle, while reaping juicy profits in their smuggling rings and transnational underground networks.
The myth the author debunks is twofold. No, Europe is not responsible for the practice of slavery in black Africa, nor is it guilty of colonial crimes. And, no, Africans did not allow themselves to be enslaved or colonized as “poor hapless victims”.
He goes on to explain how the myth of Europe’s debt towards Africa is perpetuated by certain powers that have a stake in keeping it alive. This myth, born out of Cold War Soviet anti-Western propaganda, is now serving another variety of the same agenda.
Before the arrival of the first European caravel, Africa was already practicing slavery
Regarding slavery, Tigori explains that in 1324, almost 150 years before the first European caravel arrived on the African Atlantic coast, Malian king Kankan Moussa made a pilgrimage to Mecca with almost 10 tons of gold and thousands of slaves that he sold to the Maghreb, Egypt and Arabia.
Even earlier, the sale of slaves through the desert caravans made Ghana prosper until the 11th century AD.
Something else that is not always known, insists Tigori, is that at the time of the great discoveries of the 15th century, contacts between Europe and black Africa were very peaceful. To wit, diplomatic relations were established between Portugal and the Kongo kingdom; the latter got Christianized and sent its children to study in Lisbon beginning in the 16th century.
In the 15th century, Africa as a whole was still practicing slavery. America had just been discovered; it was therefore quite natural for Africa to provide the slave labour needed to build the Americas. This was seen as a great business opportunity, as much for local potentates who acted in complete sovereignty, as for European merchants. This trade lasted for more than three centuries. It bears repeating over and over until it sinks in, emphasizes Tigori, that this trade happened strictly between local leaders and European merchants, as European governments had not yet set foot in Africa. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Africa included powerful kingdoms such as Ashanti, Dahomey, Kongo, and the notion that they could have been forced by mere merchants to sell their people to slavery against their will is simply ludicrous.
Colonization ended, not started, the practice of slavery
The political claims of European states in black Africa only date back to the early 19th century, precisely at the time when Europe had committed itself to fight the slave trade.
The first thing to point out is that the generalization of colonization, at the end of the 19th century, happened with African majority support. It marked an important turning point in the history of black Africa. And if the populace was in favor of colonization, it was because it could see what Europeans had to offer, which was infinitely better than the treatment they received from their own rulers. The author forcefully and categorically debunks the myth of a colonization that got imposed upon Africa.
The second point to remember, he adds, is that colonization ended, not started, the practice of slavery, as is falsely claimed.
Thirdly, colonization set in motion the development of the African territories through the creation of hospitals, schools, the construction of roads, bridges, railways, the exploitation of the soil and subsoil, etc.
The first territories administered by the Europeans coexisted with powerful independent African states. Such was the case of the Ashanti kingdom, where life under the British protectorate was a lot preferable to the brutality of the Ashanti yoke.
Besides, observes Tigori, if slavery and colonization forever destroyed a people’s capacity for self-reliance, it would have long been known. The Slavs would have been destroyed through their many centuries of bondage; and the Mameluks would never have been able to seize power in Egypt in 1250.
If we really want to talk about the misfortunes of our peoples, says Tigori, “then we’d better concern ourselves with those youngsters who are dying today in the Mediterranean, trying to flee a continent that offers them zero prospect.”
“Criminal colonization” was an invention of Stalinists to get Africans to rise against the Western colonizer
The case he compellingly makes is that the brief colonization of black Africa by Europe, far from being a crime, brought many benefits. “Criminal colonization” was an invention of the Stalinist strategists to get Africans to rise against the Western colonizer. As in Indochina, the Communists wanted to open a front in black Africa to annihilate an already weakened Western Europe after WWII.
The French Communist Party and its followers, among whom was Jean-Paul Sartre–the existentialist philosopher–and other intellectuals, were traitors who worked for the Soviet Union and against their own country.
“It is a real pity that our perception of the slavery period should be influenced by simplistic or twisted ideological constructs”, deplores the author. “This skewed perception is a remnant of a long-gone Cold War, and it should be time for everyone to turn the page”.
Associations that claim to fight racism, xenophobia or islamophobia, aim to assault Western civilization
To understand why this hasn’t happened, he says, one must realize that the revolutionary left of the Communist era isn’t dead. It has morphed into something else but lost none of its capacity to harm. And here comes the punch line :“a great many associations that claim to fight racism, xenophobia or islamophobia, aim in fact to assault Western civilization; the revolutionary left is hiding in their midst to ensure its own survival”.
Here is why it is so important, he insists, to enlighten Africans about the realities of the last five centuries, so as to make them immune to the manipulations of these highly efficient agencies targeting them.
“European Africanists have come, ever since the 1940s, from that “self-righteous, one-track-minded and intolerant left, which views critics as reactionaries and doesn’t accept the rejection of its fatwas”, he adds. The black man has suffered so much, they claim, that the West must cut him some slack and tolerate his inadequacies and misbehavior. But this complacency had serious adverse effects, warns Tigori. Since independence, it led to covering up the misconduct of the African elites, for whom accusing the West became an easy copout. African leaders don’t even need to question themselves – they are automatically absolved by incriminating the West. “Being a leader in Africa is a gravy train, the most comfortable job around”, he mocks.
African elites, being accountable to no one, betrayed their masses. Their mediocrity reflects now in the desperation of their youths who die trying to cross the Sahara and the Mediterranean.
Africa must not accept being dictated its own narrative by failed ideologues, says Tigori, it should free itself from the sway of its European leftist masters who are condemning it to perpetual victimhood. It is an unhealthy situation; it is creating a mental block that is preventing Africa from growing up.
The author believes that it belongs to Africans to set the record straight, after reconciling with their past. Dignity can only come at the price of a confrontation with History, its dark pages as much as the shinier ones. “It is a History in which Africans, apart from the brief colonial period, have kept their sovereignty”, insists the author. Africa should not seek the repentant gaze of Europe to evade responsibility—particularly when repentance is not due. “It is about time to decolonize people’s minds”.
The problems of Africa cannot be blamed on Europe’s racism or white supremacism
To explain why postcolonial Africa is still lagging behind, racism is often cited. “Racism? Nonsense!” snaps Tigori. “Racist countries don’t open up so much to immigration. Europe is the least racist continent in the world! Why do you think Syrian or Afghan migrants choose Europe instead of joining their rich Gulf neighbors?”
Besides, he says, Africans are in no position to complain about racism in Europe when in their own countries they are tearing each other apart or engaging in tribal killings. But again, if they think they are surrounded by racists, all they have to do is go back home where they’ll find tender loving care.
Illustrating the pervading hypocrisy was a comment made by a leftist reader of the author that, although he was right, he shouldn’t say “certain things” because “the racists will seize on the opportunity!” In order words, if the truth is in conflict with the ideology, it is the ideology that must stay and the truth that must go.
Being black allowed him to better deliver his message, says the author. A white person could not have spoken the way he did about black Africa without being labelled a racist, neocolonialist, Afro-pessimist or what have you. African media circles and academia thrive on the denunciation of white supremacism on the basis of which unending reparation is sought.
The problems of postcolonial Africa, concludes Tigori, can neither be blamed on the historical myth of its colonial enslavement, nor on the present-day myth of Europe’s racism, xenophobia or white supremacism.
They should rather be attributed to its local elites who continue to betray the masses through their lawlessness, corruption, nepotism, lack of economic rationality, widespread mismanagement and more. Since 1960, he says, bloodthirsty African dictators who looted their countries have done much more harm to their people than the European colonial masters.
At independence, Africa had 9% of the world’s population and a share of 9% of world trade. It enjoyed relative wealth compared to the rest of mankind. Today, with more than 17% of the world’s population, its share of global trade has fallen to less than 2%. It is therefore postcolonial Africa that has become impoverished.
The last word is left to the author’s publisher:
Ernest Tigori stands out from the black elites who are mostly incapable of self-criticism and waste their time whining instead of being harder on themselves. His sharp analysis of realities and political courage make him a delightfully offbeat author. For the Europe-Africa partnership to regain strength, it is important that Africans get over their unaccountability and infantilization, and that Europeans get rid of their repentance.
* The expression “European Eldorado” was coined by Jean-Marie Le Pen.