Europe Daily Bulletin No. 12985

5 July 2022
Contents Publication in full By article 27 / 27
Kiosk / Kiosk
No. 063

Pour un monde en commun

Achille Mbembe, a native of Cameroon, is a lecturer in history and politics at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Rémy Rioux, a senior French civil servant, has headed up the French development agency since 2016. Together with Séverine Kodjo-Grandvaux, a journalist for Le Monde, they discuss Africa, Europe, humanity and the world of the living in its global dimension. History, economy, sociology, ecology and philosophy run through the interview, sketching out ideas to repair the world.

In less than 80 years, by 2100, Africa is predicted to represent 40% of the world population, with more than four billion individuals. The cradle of humanity will be home to one in every two young people and will become, at one and the same time, the continent of our past, present and future”, writes Kodjo-Grandvaux by way of introduction to the work, which affords readers a glimpse of Africa as a “metaphor for the general progress of the world and no longer as a world of its own, in its presumed exoticism” (our translation throughout). It is both a “metaphor for a world in which the climate challenge expresses itself perhaps more intensively than elsewhere, where the forces of death attempt to control the driving force of life in the Sahelian area and central Africa, where life itself is at the mercy of extractivism” and a “metaphor for a world that has reached a tipping point, where local issues come up against planetary challenges and which, after having been ‘one of the laboratories for neoliberalism in the world’, turns out to be one of the laboratories in which tomorrow reinvents itself”.

The spiralling of zoonotic infections calls for collective responses, which in turn require a simultaneous reduction of inequality in order to be effective. Our very many vulnerabilities – economic, environmental, social and therefore political – come together in a new form of geopolitics we have not yet taken the full measure of and which call into question the classifications and distinctions drawn between nations. Everything we believed we could lump together under the reassuring-sounding term ‘development’ is muted, now leaching beyond the established categories and calling into question our usual decision-making methodologies”, observes Rioux, who goes on to argue that the “developing countries have become the driving force behind global growth” and that “Africa (…) is gradually taking its turn to transform root and branch, through the weight of its demography and the progressive structuring of its internal markets, value chains and power balances”. “In fact, for the major powers as well, there can only be sovereignty where it is shared with other states, with major industrial groups, banks, cities and all manner of conglomerates and non-sovereign actors”, writes Mbembe, stating: “colonising another country, occupying it militarily or setting out to change its political regime by the force of arms is now a matter of either rudimentary idealism or complete illusion”.

Rioux affirms that “it is a new kind of geopolitics that is coming about, more complex than the binary version and arising from the rivalry between the United States and China, and in which Africa, like Europe – possibly together? – have their place”. This geopolitics calls for a diplomacy of the living, “which Africa and Europe can and must invent together”. “There is so much between our two regions to bring together and to manage jointly, in terms of demography, economy, environment and culture. And already, I believe, the seeds of going beyond our own interests”, states Rioux, adding: “as described by Kissinger and many others in his mould, diplomacy is often presented as a precise and realistic art – also a touch pessimistic – the sole purpose of which would be to re-establish balances between powers. But this memorial art, as legitimate and necessary as it is, is no longer sufficient, in view of the gravity of our contemporary crises, when it is our entire ecosystem and, with it, every power at the same time that are destabilised. We must act rather than simply maintain. We must now add long-term concerns and a rapid investment capacity to the understanding of the contexts”.

In Africa, “where the post-colonial state has, in many countries, become a machine for the destruction of means of existence, it is not a matter of retreating into localism, but of using the various local possibilities in the aim of bringing about transformations on a larger scale”, writes Mbembe, who goes on to argue that “in this framework, one of the priorities is to de-restrict the continent, to open it up as much as possible, to turn it into a broad space for movement. The spatial mapping of these possibilities does not correspond precisely to that of the official states, meaning that there is an urgent need to take the initiative, to accompany the inevitable cycle of internal mobility that will result from demographic pressure, to reopen the question of internal borders with a view to redrawing them. In other words, it is time call into question the principle of the intangibility of boundaries, a concept that has served since 1963 as the keystone to the intra-continental political architecture”. “Taken to its logical conclusion, this concept would end up with the straightforward abolition of intra-African borders”, states Mbembe, recognising that this would lead to problems and making the case instead for a “reflection on the porosity of borders and moving past them” in the framework of regional and continental groupings. “In the medium term, they would be redrawn as part of a massive programme of cross-border investments”, explains Mbembe, adding that “this should incidentally be the one and only role for an institution such as the African Development Bank (AfDB). Its funds should be allocated only to cross-border and cross-state initiatives. Helping to make Africa a vast space of internal movement should also be a central priority of a new pact with Europe”.

According to Mbembe, “Africa is (…) anchored both vertically and horizontally in several different worlds. Within this cluster of relationships, France and, beyond it, Europe, but also America and the worlds of the Indian Ocean and the Arab world, occupy a significant place”. He further argues that the “African part of Europe and of the New World and the European part of Africa are not mere words. Whether we like it or not, Africa has also been made flesh in Europe, in the Americas, just as Europe has been made flesh in Africa. This ‘co-birth’, this double begetting or reciprocal incarnation is an objective fact from which we have not sufficiently drawn all the philosophical, political, economic and cultural consequences”.

Africa has seen major progress in terms of infant mortality (reduced by a third in the space of 50 years), access to water (from 50% in 2000 to 66% in 2017) and electricity (from 29% in 1990 to 53% in 2017, in other words an extra 470 million Africans), schooling (18.5% of public expenditure in Africa compared to 14% worldwide) and banking inclusion, on the back of the success of mobile telephony (12 times more users of electronic payments than anywhere else in the world)”, stresses Rioux, who goes on to observe that “Africa now (…) has clear entrepreneurial fibre, when we consider the 7000 innovative start-ups registered on the continent, which have in turn piqued the growing interest of investors from the entire world, with two billion euros raised in 2019, twice that of the previous year”. “Africa undeniably holds the keys to its own success”, states Rioux.

The work also features many pages on racism, the crimes of colonisation and slavery, the wounds that are still raw and the vital reconciliation work that has yet to be undertaken. “How can we deactivate racism to finally engage in a dialogue of equals and build a shared narrative?”, asks Mbembe, who goes on to answer his own question: “certainly not by setting the West up as scapegoat general. Africa needs to ask itself some questions that challenge it as keenly as those that challenge others. Colonialism is just one segment in the long history of our societies. How can it be that such a brief event, a relatively short link in a far longer chain, has been fixed in place by so many lesions that it is now used as a mirror held up to every moment of our history, our horizon of immanence? What do we gain from holding onto colonialism as if, without it, there would no longer be any intermediary between us, time and language? How can it be that France continues to appear in our imagination like a phantom limb? Maybe, at some level, we need to grieve for France, that is what a true decolonisation would require”. Then, later on, he argues that “the truth alone can de-colonise hearts and minds (this is true in Africa, but also within Europe: Ed). Resolutely tackling racism will be a factor in helping us move away from it. Because the dawn of a new global conscience is impossible unless we understand that racism, in the same way as the degradation of the biosphere, is one of the most serious dangers facing the human species in general and also other species, both animal and plant”.

Rioux defines reconciliation as “firstly welcoming others, in all their singularity, putting ourselves in their shoes, moving away from the mimicry that leads to war. Reconciliation means seeking the truth, the historical truth to objectify disputes, the technical truth to define solutions. Because reconciliation is only really possible in action, by undertaking a new project that will genuinely change the lives of our children and our community. Asking forgiveness, offering reparations, is ultimately another form of separation, geared towards the past more than to the future. Reconciliation is unquestionably a harder path to travel, but it is also more promising, because it allows us to pursue and renew relationships, even the most painful and the most damaged”.

Mbembe ultimately calls for a solidarity of memory: “every human being massacred, every culture destroyed, every face wiped out and every life forgotten, including the lives of non-human animate species, involves us and calls upon us to act. What we need is not to pacify memories, but to make room for every memorial narrative, in the most radical equality, including narratives of experiences or tragedies that are not directly our own. This is how we will share in the suffering not of ‘Others’, but of all humanity. Without the two principles of equal rights to narrative for every memory and a solidarity between all memories of human suffering, we will never move away from fruitless wars of memory and identity. This is why we must stop linking the fight for memory with the fight for identity, particularly where identity is itself seen as an insurmountable difference. The only battles worth fighting today are those which aim to repair the world. This is why the politics of difference and identity must be replaced by the politics of things we have in common”. (Olivier Jehin)

Achille Mbembe, Rémy Rioux. Un monde en commun – Regards croisés entre l’Afrique et l’Europe (available in French only). Actes Sud. ISBN: 978-2-3301-6217-7. 179 pages. €19,00

Accord institutionnel avec la Suisse : retour sur un échec

In this essay, Professor René Schwok looks at the failure of the institutional agreement between the European Union and Switzerland. He points out that although the idea of an institutional agreement originally came from the Swiss authorities wishing to consolidate the bilateral relationship and to unify the joint management committees, the European Union then sought to gear the agreement more towards the institutional integration of the Confederation within the EU system. It took eight years of talks and five years of negotiation to put together an agreement in 2018, which was ultimately rejected by the Federal Council on 25 May 2021, to general dismay.

Yet the European Union was far more flexible with Switzerland than with other partners, partly due to the importance of the trade relationship (in 2020, the EU exported goods to Switzerland to a total value of 142.37 billion euros, representing 7.37% of its total exports, making Switzerland its fourth-largest trade partner, just behind the United States, the United Kingdom and China), the large number of European residents in Switzerland (1.4 million in 2019) and cross-border workers (341,000). The EU waived the automatic adoption of developments in European law by Swiss legislation, offering instead a system of “dynamic adoption” (our translation throughout). “This means that Switzerland would have been able to enjoy periods long enough to be able to continue to decide autonomously on whether to adopt each development in EU law, in accordance with its own internal approval procedures (which includes the possibility of a referendum)”, Schwok stresses, going on to note that Switzerland has been given the right to participate in the drafting of new legislation falling within the scope of application of the agreement.

However, the author observes, following an analysis of the political landscape in Switzerland, the agreement hit a unionist wall and came up against the traditional opposition of the UDC conservatives to any form of European integration, against the backdrop of catastrophising discourse. Detractors of the agreement claimed that “salaries would no longer be protected, there would be mass immigration attracted by Swiss social protection, Swiss public office would be called into question and most State aid would be abolished”, Schwok explains. Such discourse was particularly aberrant as the seconded work it targeted accounts for just 0.7% of the labour force in Switzerland, “mainly only in the sectors of construction, agriculture and tourism, in which practically no Swiss citizens work”. “The introduction of the directive (on the rights of EU citizens) would admittedly have entailed extra costs for Switzerland, but they would have been modest: from 25 to 75 million francs a year in the worst-case scenario”, the author notes, describing the figures as a “drop in the ocean of Swiss social spending (168 billion francs a year)”.

The author, who points out that in Switzerland, there is very often a misperception of the EU as incompetent, undermined by internal divisions and incapable of holding its own against third countries such as the United Kingdom, Turkey and Russia, considers that the “decision of the Federal Council reflects the degree of faith in Switzerland’s muscle in its relations with the European Union”. (OJ)

René Schwok. Accord institutionnel: retour sur un échec (available in French only). Fondation Jean Monnet. Collection Débats et Documents no. 25, March 2022. ISBN: 977-2-2967-7100-1. 66 pages. This study can be downloaded free of charge from the foundation’s website: http://www.jean-monnet.ch


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