L’Afrique aux ‹noirs›

From Mondothèque

On the eve of Paul Otlet's oeuvre entering the Public Domain, éfélé re-published a 1888 pamphlet, L'Afrique aux noirs. Addressing 'his' king Leopold II, Otlet boldly suggests to 'repatriate' African-Amercian slaves to Africa, assuming that any claims to citizen rights would be impossible to obtain in the USA, even after abolition.

The crisp electronic re-edition allows an interesting shift of context, and helps to understand Otlet's naivete and Eurocentrism in relation to the universalist imaginary that colors the later Mundaneum projects.

I think that we would do well to treat Belgian immaterial and material colonial heritage in a similar way. The origins of the term “negroes”/”niggers”, “black” and “white” owe as much to the colonial past as the monuments erected for Leopold II and the Congo pioneers. In fact, the same can be said for the seemingly neutral term African as in “African woman”. For, as Ali Mazrui (1986) reminds us, we routinely differentiate between the continent “Africa”, which includes the regions north and south of the Sahara and the cultural and/or “racial” entity “Africa” which we restrict to Sub­Saharan Africa. As such, most of us will immediately equate an African wo/man with a “black” one, irrespective of the ways in which inhabitants from sub­Saharan African identify themselves. However, using too many stumbling stones risks turning a walking or reading route into a hurdle race and distracts from the original purpose. We should not deny, forget or neutralise Belgium’s material and immaterial colonial heritage any more than we should do with its history of anti­Judaism and anti­Semitism. But neither should we destroy or wall it in as it were. Instead, we can [use] little stumble blocks to remind and pay tribute to those who were subject to colonial violence in its various physical, psychological and social aspects.[1]

Following Bambi Ceuppens, I insert 'stumblingblocks' and L’Afrique aux noirs turns into L’Afrique aux ‹noirs›:

L’Afrique aux ‹noirs› ! Telle donc l’œuvre à laquelle il nous faut travailler.

A Léopold II de faire entendre de nouveau sa parole, à lui de prendre l’initiative de ce rapatriement des nègres américains. Qu’il se mette en relation avec le Moïse ‹noir›, qu’il fasse offrir des terres et des positions à ceux qu’enthousiasme la parole de ce nouveau prophète, et qu’ainsi notre Roi achève glorieusement la noble tâche qu’il s’est proposée : appeler à la civilisation le continent africain. Rendre l’Afrique aux ‹noirs› !

Cette œuvre est digne d’un cœur d’homme et de chrétien, digne aussi du souverain éclairé d’un peuple libre et travailleur.
  1. Bambi Cueppens in: Marc benoemt 's morgens de dingen (Verbindingen/Jonctions 9, 2009) http://www.constantvzw.com/downloads/marc.pdf