Discourses on Culture in Africa: Paradigms and Challenges


The article was first published under the title Significance and Functions of the Humanities in Africa, in: Jürgen Mittelstraß/Ulrich Rüdiger (ed): Die Zukunft der Geisteswissenschaften in einer multipolaren Welt, Konstanz, 2012, 47-62. It is here reproduced with important modifications.


Senghor, the Senegalese born writer and the first President of the Republic of Senegal published in 1988, a synthesis of his thoughts and research under the title « Ce que je crois » (What I believe). He was then 82 years old. In his book, he recalls an experience that is symptomatic not only of his aspirations and endeavor, but also paradigmatic of the state of mind of many generations of intellectuals in Africa. Senghor relates an experience in French camp, where he was kept as prisoner of war by the German occupying power, and where he was in constant fear of being shot by Germans, because he was black. But it was not the constant fear that remained central to the memory of the Senegalese intellectual, but the discovery of German Versification. Senghor, who was in charge of the library had the opportunity to learn German, to read German poetry, and he made a discovery that appeared to him even in old age as an important moment of his life. He discovered namely the German conception of poetry and of the morphology of a poem which differs fundamentally from the French view. He also noted with great enthusiasm that the categories used by the Germans for the analysis of their verses, are quite suitable to describe the songs from his Serene culture in Senegal. He thus discovered a meta-language to talk about his own culture, a discovery he experienced as an incomparable moment of happiness. This may appear strange or even incredible to many. To understand how a black man could celebrate such a discovery so emphatically, and could later even view it as a much more important event that his survival, we must put ourselves in his situation in the 1930s and the 1940 in France and Europe.

Humanities and Identity

Senghor was a soldier of the defeated French army. He had become a soldier because he was duty-bound but also out of conviction. He wanted the French victory as he demonstrates solidarity with the French nation that colonized his country and which he belong to. At the same time he was in an existential situation, which he described in 1952 as follows:

Put yourself in some of our skin: Think about how it is when you wake up one morning, black-skinned, colonized, black and nude. Being watched from the piercing gaze of the white race. We black students of the years between 1925 and 1935, we knew that the Europeans had told our ancestors three hundred years that they were for ever nothing […]They had no culture, they had thought nothing, had built nothing and had sung nothing. They were nothing, at the bottom of the abyss, in absolute despair. For how could something come out of nothing? (Senghor 1964, 133, transl. by Simo)

Senghor and his black contemporaries from Africa and the Caribbean were themselves in a situation where a culture with a universal validity claim had declared them nonexistent and banished them to a cultural and historical nothingness from which they could only be brought to life through assimilation into European and especially into the French culture. From this arose the absolute necessity for the Blacks to prove that they possessed all the cultural values, including poetry, which were seen as a condition of existence. A fellow of Senghor underscored how much this was necessary,

We are therefore poorly adapted to the new environment that welcomed us, after we had left our original environment […] the colonial student can still be damaged in his profound humanity. Among the boldest of these spiritual adventurers that we were, some committed suicide, and many lost orientation and didn’t know how to give a meaning for the life, for their lives. (Barma 1943, 3, transl. by Simo)

With the discovery of German prosody, the claimed universality of the French culture was called into question. This culture, which presented itself to the colonized as the most outstanding expression of a single European culture, turned out to be a variant of a diversified European culture. Senghor discovered that European culture is anything but uniform. In fact, from the German anthropologist Leo Frobenius he had already learned that there is a plurality of cultural expressions especially in Europe. This anthropologist had introduced him to cultural theory, in which the opposition between a French civilization and the German culture, which was at that time postulated in Germany had been raised to a universal principle. Frobenius had not only proclaimed the existence of an African culture, but the relationship between the African and the German soul, as he called it. Senghor now discovered that, especially in the sacred area of cultural expression, namely poetry, the relationship is manifested in striking ways.

Thus he has the opportunity to grasp his own poetic production and the traditional poetic expression in Africa in a known and accepted meta-language. The difference from the French cultural form was no longer an expression of deficiency or shortcomings but a sign of otherness.

To be different was not only a right and regarded as legitimate; it became not only accepted but even could be claimed as an absolute necessity. Identity became a key concept. And this identity is constructed with the available linguistic resources, and translated into the prevailing paradigm of the area. In the 19th and the 20th century, there existed in Europe alongside the discourse of universality, a discourse of cultural and racial plurality that influenced each other. Senghor and his contemporaries used this categorical framework, through which they were actually marginalized and even banished from humanity, and constructed a positive identity of the black man.

Conversion, the emergence of a new cosmology and self-rewriting

Throughout its history, Africa has been embedded in several projects of globalization that have confronted it with new universalist and theological visions. We often underestimate the intellectual challenge posed by these adventures. Several authors have stressed the anthropological desire of any group to create a symbolic order to position and orientate itself in the world. The desire to create coherence in order to escape the vertigo of the chaos compels intellectuals to continuously update the narrative of the self, its trajectory and its objectives. If a dominant narrative emerges, that ignores or marginalizes people as a group; there is an almost natural reflex to reject this narrative, or to rephrase it so as to position oneself in it. In general, the narrative of the self intends to strengthen internal consistency and establish a sense of solidarity; in situations where there is a challenge or even a total dismissal of the prevailing narrative of the self, there is an intellectual effort to spark off a debate with the new powerful dominating discourse.

Africa has gone through three major globalizing processes which dramatically integrate it into a new world order in which it finds itself relegated to the periphery. These processes are besides colonization, islamization and Christianization. It is clear that Africans have produced narratives of resistance and rejection of the new order, but they have also engendered a reformulation of the dominant discourse although they have modified it to include Africa and the Africans at a more honorable position in the new world order. The interpretation and the reformulation of African culture, history and reality using a narrative matrix borrowed from the dominant discourse are not new.

The first example is the tarikh genre which emerges in the second half of the 17th century and which is emblematic of the manuscript of Timbuktu. The documents which pertain to this new genre are “The Tarikh al-Sudan (Chrononicle of the Sudan 1653)” by Abd al Rahman al-Sadi and “The Tarikh al fattish (Chronicle of the researcher 1657-1669)” by Mahmud al Mutawakil Kati. To these manuscripts which are well known and not available, but which have been used by other African historians, for example the Chronicle of the Mande, the Chronicle of the Fulani, of Futa Jalon or Futa Toro. “The tarikh genre was centered upon the task of making historical sense of the political and social upheavals brought about by the Moroccan invasion of 1561.” (De Moraes, 2008 : 97) In a lecture delivered in Timbuktu on Islam and West-Afrika in 1997, Seydou Camara mentioned a text from the historical tradition of the Mande in which the Jabati from the centre of Kela have formulated a new history of the Mande people and created a cosmogony which mixes historical facts and myths of origins and reconstructs a history of the Mandes to integrate them into a trajectory which corresponds to the Islamic teleological vision (Badian 1997). Thus the emergence of a connective logic appears whose final objectives is to legitimize the ruling dynasty and reconcile it with the dominant order. The Senegalese philosopher Bachir Diagne writes therefore:

In the rewriting of their origins, the Mande present themselves as the descendants of the royalty from Khaybar who converted to islam after their military defeat. The function of this narrative is quite clear. First, it transforms the conversion of the Mandes to Islam into an epic which took place at the the very beginning of the Muslim religion, as part of the early Islamicsaga in the Arabian Peninsula. Second, it legitimizes the mansaya as the continuation of an ancient tradition of royality in Khaybar (a process of legitimization which is the usual role of myths). (Diagne 2008, 21).

Bachir Diagne emphasizes the overall significance of a new cosmology, which was to anchor the community in a global Islamic world through a new historical narrative, that is to say the umma which implies a new geography, new places of memory, new memory of places, a new temporality.

For Diagne, the text of the the Mande like other manuscripts of Timbuktu which mix dynastic developments, biographies, genealogies, collective developments, sociological considerations, creates a new philosophy of time, as creative movement, as the idea of becoming, in short, as teleology. Diagne quotes another Timbuktu scholar whose views show clearly that the intellectual endeavor which is expressed in the chronicles is not just a reproduction of a given narrative, but also its criticism and its modification. Ahmad Baba writes in his work “Mi’raj al-Su’ud” that “there is no difference between one race and another”. (Ibid., 26) This is an unequivocal dismissal of Islamic narratives which pretend that the enslavement of black people was a natural consequence of some curse against the descendants of Ham, one son of Noah, a narrative which naturalizes slavery and leads to “disparagingly calling black people ‘abid’ (slaves), as is even today the case”. (Ibid.)

The second example is a historiography that has developed in the 19th century with two leading scholars who created a genre that will try somehow to perpetuate. These two scholars are Carl Christian Reindorf, pastor of the Basel Mission who published in 1895 a document entitled “History of Gold Coast and Asante based on traditions and historical facts, comprising a period of more than three centuries from about 1500 to 1860”. The second author is Reverend Samuel Johnson, who in 1897 completed a manuscript that was published only after his death with the title “The history of the Yorubas: From the earliest time to the beginning of the British protectorate”. Fromthe titles it is clear that the pastors reconstruct the history of their respective peoples, the Ashanti and Yoruba. As written by Diagne, “Conversion is not only entering a new religion with its creed, dogma and rituals. As the Latin etymology indicates, to convert is to get totally turned around, that means a new self reappraisal following the adoption of a new cosmology. One visible aspect of conversions has been a radical change in the discourse of identity” (See footnote 6).

The writing of the history of people by new converts and pastors is inscribed in this logic. It aims at positioning oneself in a new trajectory charted by the new religion. Unlike the tarikh genre, the two pastors do not mix facts and myths. On the contrary, they are concerned about accuracy, authenticity and truth, all the requirements they have internalized by reading some historians, anthropologists and other observers, including Europeans who had written about their people and which they quote extensively. But they also realize the importance of the hermeneutic problems of understanding the facts. They are also aware of the difficulties of accessibility to sources and claim greater legitimacy for their own narration of the history of their people. Thus Reindorf wrote in his preface:

A history of Gold Coast written by a foreigner would most probably not be correct in his statements will be comparatively worthless, as it is the case with several accounts of the Gold Coast already published. Hence it is most desirable that a history of the Gold Coast and its people should be written by one who has not only studied, but has had the privilege of initiation into the history of its former inhabitants and writes with true native patriotism. (Reindorf 1895)

As we can see very clearly there are already in this text the different principles which will be developed by nationalist historians later. To write the history of a people becomes an act of patriotism. But unlike other approaches that are part of the resistance and rejection of the new symbolic history without questioning the new colonial perspective. The author states:

If the nation’s history is the nation’s speculum and measure-tape, then it brings the past of the nation to its own view, so that the past may be compared with the present to see whether progress or retrogression is in operation; and also a means of judging our nation by other, so that we may gather instruction for a future. (Ibid.)

The writing of the past here does not at first correspond to a desire to work out glorious ancestries, but corresponds to the presentation of a reality which has to be transformed. This knowledge seems to be serving the project of integration into the new Christian and colonial order. Even if writing history is focusing on oneself, it is already a conversation with the other and with the ongoing globalization. Patriotism is here not nativistic, that means based on the will to defend and protect the engendered values. Anyway this is how European missionaries read this text; Johann Gottlieb Christaller, a German missionary who will publish the manuscript, writes atrocities in the introductory note:

But the superstitions, cruelties, horrors and atrocities in the private and public life ofheathenish nations are also brought to view in too many instances of this history of the Gold Coast, and this ought to impress natives and Europeans with thankfulness for the changes already effected and wich the conviction of the necessity of continuing and increasing every effort to bring the various tribles more under the influence of true Christian religion and civilization. (Ibid.)

The writing of history thus brings elements of Christian legitimization for the present and future. But this writing of historyis not confined only to the development of a new teleology in which the past will be a step beyond the global goal which has to be achieved, it also reveals the existence and the presence of a history and as such is a challenge to Christian cosmology, since it intends to admit the thesis of the absent of the history and culture of this people. The requirement of accuracy and the claim to the right to tell one’s own stem from a critique of the dominant discourse. Why will people fight to restore the truth of the past if they don’t believe there is something important they have to know about it and maybe even save? In this sense, these pastors and historians are reviewing the new dominant cosmology and teleology, and it is on the basis of these revisions that Africans theology will claim later the enculturation of Christianity which means its transformation to take into account traditional cultural practices in Africa. The project which these historians engage in is a global history, since the history of the African peoples is written in comparison with the Christian history of Christiabity which provides the categories and the trajectory. It corresponds at the same time to mimicry in the term of Homi K. Bhabha, because it seems to reproduce a narrative, but in fact it transforms it to record their own intentiotionality, their own objectives and their own teleology.

Humanities, Nationalism and Liberation

While these approaches aim mainly to construct an identity, which fits into the new cosmology, without fundamentally challenging the new colonial or religious world order; there is a change in the new colonial or religious order there is change in the 1950 and 1960s.The selfinterpretation partakesin a confrontation with the colonial world order. The legitimacy of this order is called into question. Humanities develop a script that combines research with emancipation. The Cameroonian historian and political scientist Mbembe has described this script as follows:

The first ritual contradicts and refutes western definitions of Africa and Africans by pointing out the falsehoods and bad faith they presuppose. The second denounces what the West has done (and continues to do) to Africa in the name of these definitions. And the third provides ostensible proofs that –by disqualifying the west fictional representations of Africa and refuting its claims to have monopoly on the expression of human in general- are supposed to open up a space in which Africans can finally narrate their own fables. This is to be accomplished through the acquisition of a language and a voice that cannot be imitate, because they are, in some sense, authentically Africa’s own.(Mbembe 2002a, 244)

We also experienced a disciplinary shift. While with Senghor and others anthropology provided the frame, in which problems of identity were formulated, history became more important in depiction and explanation of situation.

In this period there is a tension between on the one hand a pan-Africanist conception of the African space which allows writing the history of continental integration in a long-term perspective in which the colonial episode is just an interlude that does not affect long-term history of Africa and, secondly, a nationalist vision that imposes spatial configurations resulting from the colonial division of Africa as a major object of historical research. Despite this tension around the issue of geography which African history needs, the approach of African historiography of this generation is based on the same epistemological bases.

It was interest in a story that should restore a past which could inspire the present and legitimize the liberation from colonial rule by providing worthy ancestries and exhuming ethnological knowlogical knowledge, memorial sites indigenous names etc. The writing of history is at the service of the affirmation of African civilization which legitimizes the present and the future.

In this nationalistic or pan-africanist approach, humanities are clearly conceived as part of the general political struggle. Scientist work hand in hand with politicians write essays on anthropological, historical, or linguistic issues. This relationship between intellectual or scientific reflexivity and political program comes to an end as soon as the political founding fathers are no longer engaged in anti-colonial struggle but in the consolidation of their power and in the silencing of different internal opponents to who exclude many scientists.

In the 70s and 80 s the credibility of nationalism was a strongly challenged not only politically but also intellectually. Politically, it was challenged through the assertion of regional and ethnic identities. Intellectually the nation –states were put into question because they were considered as the product of an artificial balkanisation by the colonial powers. This criticism is accompanied by a sustained epistemological discussion on scientific research and a critical questioning of historiography by writers and anthropologists (Diouf 2000). The epistemological debate questions the Enlightenment conception which sees in history a great narrative structured by two assumptions: continuity, consistency and coherence on the one hand. The criticism of these assumptions requires reading even scientific texts as narratives, constructions encompassed in a regime of truth.

The criticism of nationalism and the resurgence of local identities and ethnic fragmentation will lead to the crumbling of research objects. Research projects concentrate more and more on small groups whose history, culture and characteristics are elaborated. After the major phase of research that postulated cultural unity of Africa, or at least in the Nation-States, we enter a phase where Africa appears to be highly compartmentalized, divided in to small groups with independent trajectories. But this perspective has not changed the epistemological approach but just the scale.

If nationalism which was the driving force behind the anti-colonial struggle no longer inspires much research, the perception of the relationship of Africa to the world has not fundamentally changed. With micro-local studies, the general concern about the fate of Africa in the world doesn’t disappear. It is rather fuelled by new facts. Research in Africa is therefore generally structured by the same Marxist, dependentist and nativistic categories.

Humanities and postcolonial redefinition of the self

Humanities but also literature and other forms of Arts have worked out different forms and modes of violence at the heart of the colonial experience and the ways Africans were exploited, deprived of their land, subjugated, killed, harassed etc. Many studies focus on the way foreign rules structures African economy, society and jurisdiction. There are many novels, poems, theatre plays and essays thematizing psychological and physical suffering, humiliation, depersonalization, loss of freedom dignity and orientation due to the colonial action and exposure to the world made possible by colonialism. The history of the integration of Africa into the capitalist world economy and into the international world politic appears clearly as a history of suffering and loss. Africa and Africans appear as victims of the world. All these well documented facts and experiences have found a general discourse of victimization. This discourse systematizes historical facts and experiences and works out a fundamental logic which underlines the history of Africa in the world. Even new developments leading to what is call globalization are interpreted to confirm the general principle that Africa is not a subject of the world history but the object and the victim.

But this general approach has been criticized by many African scholars, especially those living in the Diaspora. In his very influential book The invention of Africa published in 1988, the Congolese born Mudimbe criticizes most the discursive processes in Africa as being still structured by Eurocentric categories and conceptual systems which have been elaborated by anthropology, missionary discourses, philosophy and other discursive practices and embedded in the socio-historical context of colonialism. Such an order of knowledge is said to produce permanent dichotomies between Europe and Africa, investing the latter’s society, culture and bodies with the representational marginalities or even pathologies of alterity. According to the Zambian born Historian Zaleza, Mudimbe rejects the way

African intellectuals have been reacting to European ethnocentric, epistemological orders and politics, themselves subjects to the mutations of the western material, methodological and moral grids with varying degrees of epistemic domestication and defiance in the process of which Africa’s identity and difference have been affirmed, denied, inverted and reconstituted.(Zeleza 2006,16)

Another powerful voice challenging dominant discourses in Africa is the Cameroonian born historian and political scientist Achille Mbembe. He is especially critical of the discourse of victimization. He argues that the discourse of victimization views history as sorcery. The idea of sorcery implies a conception of life where forces beyond control represent a permanent danger for ones autonomy and life. Mbembe (2002a) seems to make three critiques of this mainstream mode of self-writing and conception of the world. The first critique is aimed at what he calls the “Fixation on the past and the frenetic claim to the status of victim” (Mbembe 2002 b, 635). In his polemical approach Mbembe seems at time to criticize the historical approach and to privilege the synchronic approach of reality. But he himself constantly proceed to genetic analysis on the present reality (Mbembe 2001). He is surely aware of the ambiguity of this critique. That is why he adds a second critical point which he rather questions the interpretation of facts that is done in the discourse of victimization. Mbembe challenges the claim of this discourse to provide the only way of giving sense to past events and proposes other modes of decoding them and developing another vision of Africa. We will present and discuss this mode later.

The third critique of Mbembe is philosophical and ideological. He questions the state of mind and the type of attitude the discourse of victimization favors. He interrogates the status of the African subject when the world is decoded in such a way that the

African subject cannot express him- or herself in the world other than as a wounded and traumatized subject. What does it means if we stress that nothing is happening in Africa because history (The slave trade, colonization and apartheid) has already happened and anything more would be nothing but repetition of these originary events?” (2002b, 630).

In order to answer these questions, Mbembe refers to the concept of victimization and the “slave morality” but he postulates the proximity of both.

But this critique is excessive and does not take into the variety of responses which are given to the process of depravation and reification. Not all the discourses which treat the integration of Africa into the world economy and world politics as successive acts of violence and dispossessions have a view of history as sorcery which deprives Africa of any will, thus depicting them as victims and not actors. The establishment of what has been done in Africa doesn’t necessarily implicate a slave mentality and the consciousness that history repeats itself eternally and can’t be given new directions. This establishment of wounds inflicted by history is most the time just a dialectical moment which generates another moment, that of resistance.

Nevertheless this criticism is very important and indicates a new paradigm which is taking shape. In order to escape this dialectic logicresulting from “the uncompromising nature of the Western self and its active negation of anything not itself which had the counter effect of reducing African discourse to a simple polemical reaffirmation of black humanity”. (Mbembe 2001) Mbembe tries to define Africa as postcolony. He draws attention to two points he considers to be usually ignored in contemporary discourses: The temporal plurality and the subjectivity which make these temporality possible and meaningful. He then recollects the distinction Braudel drew between temporalities of long and very long duration, slowly cooling and less slowly evolving situations, rapid and virtually instantaneous deviations, the quickest being the easiest to detect. Whereas for Braudel time experienced in the dimension of the world has an exceptional character since it governs, depending on the period and the location certain, spaces and certain realities, other realities and other spaces remaining alien to it, Mbembe considers that this postulation of the plurality of temporalities does not account for temporary changes, especially in Africa. He doubts that there might be any zone on which world history have no repercussions.“What really differ are the many modalities in which world time is domesticated. The modalities depend on histories and local cultures, on the interplay of interests whose dominants to not all lead in the same direction. (Mbembe 2000, 260)Mbembe introduces thus the phenomenon of the negotiation of travelling patterns and models even in asymmetrical situations. He speaks of the domestication of world time by putting it to a different use. In this sense subjugated or dominated people are not considered as passive subjects on which foreign forces act and which are transformed according to the aim of dominating forces. He acknowledges the fact that Africa has been subject to different globalizing forces in the history nut he draws attention to the fact that contemporary African can’t just be explained by these projects but also by the way Africans deal with them and create multiple temporalities which evolve in multiple and overlapping directions simultaneously.

To say that colonialism or apartheid is over does not mean to negate history or to erase memory. It is simply means to be attentive ton those signs of the times which signal the entry into other configurations of human experience, hope and possibilities, or other temporalities. As we can clearly infer from everyday life examples, those temporalities almost always carry with them bits and pieces, traces and fragments of the past. These fragments are recycled and imbued with new meaning. Where in the cultural, political or symbolic realms, the African present is formed by an assemblage of signs and symbols and artefacts which are then organised around multiple central tropes that come to function as images and mirages, parables and allegories, as a result, because it succeeds in weaving onomatopoeic relations between the thing and its double, African cultural history is the perfect archive of resemblance. This is valid for the past and for the present.”(Mbembe interviewed by Christian Höller)

Through this approach Mbembe criticizes the conception of Africanity and African culture as developed by many other African intellectuals and calls for the examination of what is relay going on in the everyday life to construct African realities. African culture is not just something which existed in the past and which has been erased or is threatened to be erased by different globalization waves, but something still being invented on the basis of history, existing local culture and the interplay of different interests of the actors, some directions can be criticized from a normative perspective and other can be encouraged, but they can’t all just be dismissed as non-authentic, as expression of a wounded and traumatized subject.

This approach opens the possibility to analyse the way Africans react to different projects of universalization in which they were involved, Islam, Christianity and Colonization not only in terms of loss and depravation, but in terms of domestication, of creative re-appropriation and of inscription in new projects and perspectives. This is being done by different researchers who discover new inventions of modernity and even globalizing projects by Africans themselves.

Contemporary African cultural formation don’t emerge with people experiencing the past and the present time as a fate set in stone, but with them demonstrating their ability to treat the past and the present time both as openended and as an interlude – a negociation of those aspects or fragments of the past and necessary for life in the present and in the future (Mbembe 2002b, 236-237)

This assigns humanities in Africa a very complicated task. That of confronting the “terror visited upon us by racial imperialism as well as our own self-inflicted brutalities” (Interview), that of admitting the reality of loss and at the same time acknowledging the emergence of new culture, that of opening avenues for memorial practices but without hoping and desiring to recreate the past as the only material to reconstitute an identity, that of working out domestic forces which reinforce and reinvent and perpetuate colonial mode of power, but also those which resist it or create other political culture, that of avoiding black racial romanticism and widening the scope of cultural and political critique. Humanities are therefore oriented towards the identification of the formation of different forms of modernity and they make intelligible the trajectory of the different temporalities which constitute the reality of Africa today.

This approach is capable of elaborating the dialectic between the local and the global and to overcome some reductionist historical schemes Mbembe criticizes in the Marxist and nativistic approach. It opens the possibility to think of the relationship between Africa and the world not only in terms of dependence and resistance – and to excape a deterministic view of history. It also overcomes diffusionist paradigms which attribute to some people an active role and to others a passive role in history. It reinstates the image of Africans as active agents of their history who work out their own globalizing projects.

But it doesn’t address the question of the forms of interconnectivity, of entanglement and shared history resulting from the different globalization processes in which Africa has been involved. Mbembe therefore can’t totally succeed in dismissing world systems theory and the political economy which still provide a practicable model to explain the global power balance and the transcendental frame in which African production of other modernity takes place.


Humanities are at a crossroads in Africa. They are confronted today with new challenges and have to work out new categories to address the different pitfalls as well as the different form of cultural, political, moral, economic and political deadlock in which Africa is today. This is a very complex but central task. Despite the fact or even because “Africa get more [advice] than any other region from both friends and foes, and foes pretending to be friends”, Humanities have in Africa the heavy task to produce knowledge beyond ready made schemes and models. They are engaged in the process of interpreting what is going on in order to understand what went wrong and which internal social and cultural forces are forging alternatives to dominant tendencies. In this regard, many fields of research and reflection seem very important: 1) The question of language which has been subject to contentious and passionate discussions and which is still at the heart of debates to find out a language policy which organizes an adequate articulation between the foreign, indigenous and new synchretic languages, 2) The question of the growing urbanization and the emergence and development of urban imaginaries and especially the overlapping and tension between ethnics, national, local, global, religious, scientific imaginaries, class based consciousness, generation differentiation in habits and manner, strategies and impact of mass media etc. 3) The political imaginations, the ideologies and strategies of different actors, the logic of the constitution of habitus, the way institutions think and act. 4) The question of education, the existence or absence of a coherent philosophy of education, the aim of the prevailing system and the problems it poses, the necessity of its refoundation. 5) The question of semiosis and cultural circuits in a globalized world. How do new ideas emerge? Which are local and international drives? How do cultures reconfigure themselves in an intercultural context in the past and in the present time? 6) The politics of memories at different levels. 7) Individual and collective, artistic and popular creativity. How do literary, artistic and media meta-discourses function to organize orientate and give sense to this creativity. 7) How do other cultures in the world construct their imaginaries to confront different challenges? How can Africa learn from their successful approaches or from their contradictions and pitfalls? What is to be known of other cultures in order to be able to engage in a fruitful dialogue and in a cooperative production of knowledge with them? How are we going to organize the living together in a globalized world?

The discussion in Africa is therefore not about the question if Humanities have any significance today, but rather how to tackle all these existential topics and challenges in a context characterized by rarity of founding. Here like in other field African need support, but a support which doesn’t annihilate their autonomy.


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