Public debate

ACHILLE MBEMBE — A first Africa-Europe dialogue on 7 and 8 October in Johannesburg

The proximity and historical depth of the relationship between Africa and Europe justifies relaunching the dialogue between the two continents on a multiform scale.

The Cameroonian historian and philosopher Achille Mbembe, author of a report on the new relations between Africa and France, submitted to the President of the French Republic on 5 October 2021, is now devoting himself to the Innovation for Democracy Foundation. After the launch of the Foundation on 6 October 2022, he will participate on 7 and 8 October in Johannesburg, South Africa, in the first Our Future - Africa-Europe Dialogues forum organised by the Institut français, the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and numerous African partners. This is the first event in a cycle of 9 forums, the next stages of which will be Cameroon from 1er to 3 December 2022 and Algeria at the end of February 2023. 

Updated on 26/10/2022

10 min

Achille Mbembe
© Heike Huslage-Koch, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During the New Africa-France Summit, which was held in Montpellier in October 2021, you submitted a report to the President of the French Republic entitled The New Africa-France Relations: Meeting Tomorrow's Challenges Together. Can you summarise the main points?

As soon as he came to power in 2017, the President of the Republic realised that France's relationship with Africa had to be renewed. A historical cycle had clearly come to an end. A new one had to be invented, in a very unstable global context, with Europe seeking to become a fully-fledged geopolitical player, Africa dreaming of becoming its own centre since the end of colonisation, an Asian continent happily pursuing its rise to power, and a more or less idle American colossus that could no longer count on the strength of its democratic institutions. The President of the Republic therefore wanted to rely on the vitality of African civil societies to set in motion a new dynamic that could lead to a new form of relationship. He then asked me to help him in preparing the Montpellier summit in advance.

In the same vein, he had previously asked other intellectuals from the continent, such as Felwine Sarr, whom he had asked to prepare a report on the restitution of African artefacts, and N'Goné Fall, whom he had asked to participate in the Africa 2020 season, which was also organised by the Institut français. To prepare for the Montpellier summit, which brought together African civil societies, I carried out a vast consultation in twelve countries, which involved about five thousand people, mostly young people. With the help of the committee I had set up, I then produced a report in which we made thirteen recommendations. The President immediately adopted two of them: the establishment of a Foundation dedicated to supporting Innovation for Democracy, and the construction of the Maison des Mondes Africains in Paris. Immediately after the New Summit, the President asked me to stay on board. For the past year, I have therefore been working with several other people to set up these two institutions.


Taking note of the conclusions of your report and the expectations expressed by the participants in the New Africa-France Summit in October 2021, the Institut français, the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and many African partners are proposing the Our Future - Africa-Europe Dialoguesinitiative. Why is it so important to move, as you advocate, from a relationship between Africa and France to a relationship between continents? 

States remain the privileged stakeholders in international relations, of course. We cannot do without them. But the problems we face now go beyond the borders of states and nations. They are global, starting with the climate crisis. Many of these issues require the involvement of local, regional and continental public stakeholders. They also mobilise networks of private stakeholders, large firms, civil societies, major cities, universities and research centres, in short all those who, driven by an emerging planetary consciousness, are involved in what I call general creation.  From this point of view, the proximity and historical depth of the relationship between Africa and Europe justifies relaunching the dialogue between the two continents on a multiform scale. But such a dialogue only has real meaning if it is based on truth, and on what Rémy Rioux and I call "a diplomacy of the living". Such diplomacy is different from "influence diplomacy", i.e. the kind of cynical struggle for interests that structures international relations today.  It is also different from militarism. It is about repairing the planet, a new commitment to innovation for democracy, and a bias towards the forces of creativity.

Notre futur - Dialogues Afrique-Europe / Our Future: Africa-Europe Dialogues
© DR
Notre futur - Dialogues Afrique-Europe / Our Future: Africa-Europe Dialogues

You will participate in the first Our Future - Africa-Europe Dialogues forum on 7-8 October 2022 in Johannesburg. The event is subtitled Pathways to Democracy and will bring together many figures to debate issues such as participatory democracy, new forms of citizen engagement and inclusive justice. What do you expect from these discussions? 

This Forum is in line with the consultation that we initiated before the New Summit in Montpellier. The idea is to continue these conversations here in southern Africa and soon in other cities on the continent, such as Yaoundé and Algiers. The Johannesburg forum is organised by the Institut français, in partnership with the Innovation for Democracy Foundation, which will be launched on 6 October and whose vocation is to accompany and support African youth and stakeholders who want to take back control of their continent's destiny by renewing in depth the thought and practice of democracy, by rooting the democratic project in the cultures and the long term future of African societies and their own institutions.

The idea is to start from the richness already present on the continent and then to reconsider what form the relationship between France, Europe and Africa could take. In short, to rediscover the taste for thinking together, and to draw on the different models that already exist to inform our civil societies. To create, finally, the conditions for a new mutual understanding based on a shared idea of the future. This is a long-term project, but it is an exciting one. It requires a real intellectual and cultural rearmament. 


In your report submitted to the President of the French Republic, you also speak of a "profound disparity between the political and institutional forms and what Africa is becoming socially, economically and culturally". How do you think we can get out of this rut? Which stakeholders are likely to change things in this respect?

There is indeed a profound disparity between, on the one hand, the formidable resilience of African societies, their ingenuity and multiform creativity, and, on the other hand, the entrenchment of political systems and the rigidity, even sterility, of official institutions. To this must be added the ageing of political elites and the difficulties they have in renewing themselves. Part of the continent's stalemate stems from this contradiction. Energies can only be released through further democracy, that is to say, a decisive census around the idea of life, the common good and the general interest. To achieve this, intellectual rearmament is required because the real work, the most difficult work, is to learn to rely first on shared intelligence. It means changing our ways of thinking, acting and facing the future. For the democratic deficit in Africa is also the result of a formidable intellectual and cultural crisis, which is not only affecting the continent. Without new flows of ideas and new ways of applying our intelligence, it will scarcely be possible to move the lines.

The Innovation for Democracy Foundation will encourage the spread of places of care, inspiration and imagination across the continent.

The Innovation for Democracy Foundation, which you initiated, will be launched on 6 October in South Africa, in Johannesburg. What are the objectives of this Foundation? 

We want to give impetus to the in-depth renewal of democratic thinking and practices on the African continent while helping to root the democratic project in the cultures and long history of our societies and institutions. In order to achieve this, we need to set new forces in motion. We will do this through open research workshops, debates and seminars, educational courses based on the experiences of the stakeholders themselves and on endogenous knowledge, in short, through the animation of collective intelligence. We will seek to identify and enhance African creativity in democratic innovation. The aim is to equip democratic stakeholders, to help them think together, to network them, to support projects and to help them grow over time.

We will build this Foundation together by re-enchanting our aspirations, by starting from what communities already know about themselves, by offering ourselves an intelligent tool that will function as a "network of networks" in the service of collective intelligence. The Foundation will encourage the spread of places of care, inspiration and imagination across the continent. The central idea is to work towards the advent of open systems on the continent. Culture must be the vehicle for opening up the political field to a new generation. We must therefore support all initiatives aimed at giving a voice to the most marginalised, in particular women and young people, who make up the bulk of Africa's demography. And in this way help to anchor a democratic project for the long term, on a regional scale. 

Photograph of Achille Mbembe by Heike Huslage-Koch, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons 

L'institut français, LAB