Thinking Transnational Decolonialism: Camus, Senghor and the New Eurafrican Polity

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29.09.2021
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Transnationalist Theories, Contemporary Struggles
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© Atlas of Places – Mediterranean Sea Collection

Europe has rarely been just about Europe,

said Mark Mazower. [1]

At the same time, the idea of integrating the old Continent did not affect just the North-Shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Recently, an interesting UK scholarship (e.g. Peo Hansen and Stefan Jonsonn [2]; Kalipso Nicolaidis [3]) has stressed that European Integration in the 50s “cannot be separated from the perceived necessity to preserve and prolong the colonial system”. At the heart of this perception was a peculiar discourse on “Eurafrica” which had a longer history. It proposes that a future European community presupposed the transformation of the strictly national colonial projects into a joint European colonisation of Africa that would have ended the claim for decolonisation, granting to West Germany a new colonial influence and fixing a renewed hierarchy among European citizens and African subjects.

This was a neo-colonial discourse which, birthed in 1929 with Richard Coudenhove Kalergi, was destined to pass into the same Eurofascist lexicon as espoused by Asvero Gravelli, Georges Valois and Oswald Mosley before its acceptance in the institutional argumentation of liberal and democratic characters such as Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer, and Hendrik Brugmans [4]. According to this discourse Europe was the superior civilisation that could provide Africa with morality, technology, culture and progress. Only the Old Continent was the depositary of modernity, the land which could drive Africa – who was represented as a “primitive” reality – towards “modernity” and, a term which became always more relevant in the Fifties, “development” (but already Coudenhove Kalergi, 1923 and 1929, insisted on that) [5].

1. Eurafrica as colonial project after WWII

For all these reasons, Europe was described as the dominant part of the partnership with Africa, a solution that had been also defined as “Great Europe” (e.g. du Jonchay, 1953) [6]. A project  which would be able to face and win the challenge represented by the two new blocs arose after the Second World War: the American and the Soviet. From such an Eurocentric standpoint, Eurafrica, especially in France, was also seen as a project destined to restore the hegemony of Europe in the world. The horizon defined by this Eurafrican discourse, from 1929 to 1960, was the one of a triumphant autarchy, which would join the European expertise with the enormous African mineral and natural resources, creating new markets and exploiting the industrialization of the African continent.

It is not by chance that Frantz Fanon declared that the purpose of the Eurafrica project was to transform Africa from "France's hunting territory" into the "hunting territory of Europe" [7]. In fact, the southern shore of the Mediterranean became, inside this narration, the natural appendix of Europe, its ideal completion and its future. In a world which was becoming a globe, a context in which the word decolonization appeared (1932), Eurafrica seemed to be an answer to several fascist and liberal authors which, from Italy, Germany or France, observed with anxiety the rise of extra-European powers  [8].

With the begin of the European integration process, new narratives of Europe’s mission in relation to its former colonial territories were fuelled, namely African countries which, according to the Schuman Declaration (1950) itself , were to be the object of one of Europe’s essential tasks, i.e. ‘the development of the African continent’. By signing the Rome Treaties on March 1957, the European political elites gave birth to the European Economic Community (EEC), leaving behind the old and historic rivalries and bringing about peace and stability according to a mainstream narrative which describes the EEC as an enlightened political and economic project with no shadows.

In doing so, they were also rebuilding a post-colonial identity for Europe as a superior Self, engaged in a crusading mission to civilize others [9]. Following this narration, after the achievement of national independence, the majority of African States decided to associate themselves with the new European Economic Community. The result – defined in the Yaoundé (1962), Lomé Conventions (1975) and Cotonù Agreement (2000) – was a neo-colonial tie among this countries and the EEC, which, based on agricultural control over Africa by Europe, hindered any industrial development of the former colonial countries. Thus, in this case it is possible to speak of a neo-colonial Eurafrican discourse, which also entailed consequences on the neo-colonial path: a system that involved several African countries after national independence.

2. Senghor and the decolonial Eurafrica

It was not, however, the only discourse concerning Eurafrica. It is important to stress that in the same period a completely alternative and decolonial view of Eurafrica was proposed by intellectuals such as Léopold Senghor, Albert Camus and the same Aimé Cesaire. For “decolonial” I mean the intention to put an end not only to colonialism, but also to “coloniality” or hierarchy and domination encompassing also the fields of culture and epistemology, as shown by the “modernidad/colonialidad” approach and the perspective of the “Epistemologies of the South” [10].

Léopold Senghor, who was a poet and French Union politician from Senegal, was against any sort of European Community who did not include the representatives from the “territoires d’outre-mer” [11]. Worried by the connection among European integration and the neo-colonial project of Eurafrica, he defended the rights and the political weight of the African citizens of the French Union imagining an alternative project. In 1952, as representative of the Indépendents d’Outre Mer, he stressed that

Eurafrique cannot be created without the consent of Africans," who "will not lend their support to a union in which the overseas countries are a means and not an ends, where political and social democracy would have as its border the Mediterranean" [12]

Differently he wanted to build a polity characterized by equality on the two Mediterranean shores and in which the same rights will be shared by the European and the African side, also insisting on the necessary solidarity toward Africans in the economic and social realm. As he repeated in a 1955 book, “Europe and Africa: Two Complementary Worlds”,

Eurafrique ... can only be a marriage in which each of the partners contributes its share and its qualities – a transaction, to put it crudely... There is no privileged continent. Each has its grandeur and its misery, each developed a singular trait of the human condition [13].

In this sense Africa can strongly contribute to the creation of a common Eurafrican civilisation in which its gift would be the wisdom concerning the “art of living”, or an existential joy in living which has to be defended, preferred and sustained against the same European modern culture [14]. At the same time Europe can do a lot from Africa, but only if it renounced to its feeling of superiority:

What Africa expects from Europe is ... to illuminate its intuition by the light of reason, to guide the impulses of its heart, to realize its projects. But, to be effective, this European action requires total disinterestedness, the repudiation of economic colonialism and cultural imperialism. It also requires a certain humility on the part of Europe. It must understand that if it has a lot to give, it has no less to receive.

 [15]

According to Senghor this exchange could be rightly realized only inside a federal system composed of a transmediterranean federation – “a political system in which States are united, on the basis of equality, by juridical relations that are freely negotiated” and in which “all parties give their consent to the principle, the meaning, and the limits of federation” – which included the metropolitan state and former colonies as freely consenting overseas member states, plus the association of the former protectorates in a broader confederation. Such a federation of federations had also to have a neutral name (The Union), in order to cancel the same idea of a French or European supremacy [16].

3. Camus and the transmediterranean federalism

Albert Camus who, since 1946, was reasoning on the possibility of a trans-mediterranean and democratic federation in order to solve the Algerian problem, shared substantially the same approach and conviction as Senghor. Worried by colonialism and the risks of an Algerian nationalism, he believed it was necessary to dismantle the “régime colonial”, introducing a system based on the association among different peoples, French and Arabs, creating contamination and mutual support among the two in a system guaranteeing equality and rights to both the communities.

During the Fifties the French-Algerian writer imagined a federal system – a system which associated people “sans fondre (puisque la fédération est d’abord l’union des différences)” [17] – which would have Algers as capital and that will join different French, Arab and African communities in a sort of “French Commonwealth” which he defined as more unite, supporting, caring and democratic compared to the British one. Furthermore he imagined this system as able to change the same destiny of European integration:

L’Algérie verrait ainsi consacrer sa différence, en même temps que sa parenté, à l’intérieur d’une communauté en mouvement dont la destinée est de s’accorder un jour avec une Europe enfin unie. Ce jour-là, l’Algérie aurait fait mieux qu’obtenir son autonomie. Elle aurait conquis la dignité entière de sa personne, qui s’est toujours définie par l’équilibre d’une autonomie et du libre service à une collectivité.

 [18]

This Federation, according to Camus, would have created a new cultural, economic and political relation among communities and individuals, which would have been free from the colonial rule: as a result, these people would have  the opportunity to become active members of a new community, neither dominant nor dominated. Arabs, Africans and Europeans would equally contribute to the new polity. The firsts giving to it their “human richness” while the seconds would offer their “technical capabilities” and their economical resources.

Exactly in order to allow such an exchange, such an approach was alternative to an independentist approach to de-colonization: Camus considered this nationalist perspective as threatening for the collective and individual freedom of the inhabitants of former colonial territories. In fact, he believed that only an economic and social “reparation” could guarantee an authentic autonomy for the former colonies. In order to guarantee such a reparation, it was necessary to avoid any kind of separation among the two Mediterranean shores and to build a peculiar kind of federalism, founded on the association and the reconnaissance of different personalities. This Camusian idea, inspired by the writings of Marc Lauriol, was based on the belief that, differently from the principles of French Revolution, it was possible to have “deux catégories de citoyens égales, mais distinctes” [19].

4. The idea of a new relationship between Africa and Europe

These authors reflected on federalist and transnational forms of Eurafrican democracy that would guarantee not only economic and social solidarity, with transfers from the old centre to the new African federate and/or autonomous states/departments, but also the creation of a new cultural complementarity among different traditions and identities. The aim of these intellectuals and politicians was to found a plural “union” in which, on the basis of a shared citizenship, the different cultural souls on the two shores of the Mediterranean would open a dialogue, the ones with the others. They supported the creation of an original transcontinental and democratic polity, which would simultaneously change both Africa and Europe. Such a polity would not be wholly African, nor only European; it would have been a “métís world” that reunites complementary virtues in a dynamic symbiosis. In the words of Albert Camus, the idea was to create “une union de peuples libres et différents, sans exemple dans l’histoire du monde” [20].

The basic principles of this transcontinental union were equality – the end of any imperial and colonial hierarchy regarding individual and collective rights – and autonomy for each local member which was assured, where necessary, by economic transfers from the old imperial centre/s to the African communities. The new polity would also assure that Africans were not be excluded from the European integration process, avoiding, at the same time, the risk of a forced inclusion according to the neo-colonial “Eurafrica” project which, as we saw, was popular at that time among the protagonists of European integration. Senghor noted in 1952 that “Eurafrica” cannot be created without the consent of Africans who were ready to oppose a project in which the overseas countries are “a means and not an ends”, a project which discriminated between the two Mediterranean shores. On the European side this kind of decolonial Eurafrica would had solved the issue represented by the French colonies by just abolishing and including them as autonomous partners (or as part of a new French federation or Black transnational France) in the newly integrating Europe.

The two-step process would have created a virtuous circle: the European Union as a medium through which to realise Eurafrica, and Eurafrica as a medium through which the European Union could be realised. Thus, from this perspective the unification of Europe would occur in parallel with the institution of a new transcultural and trans-Mediterranean economic and cultural exchange founded on reciprocity. Such a project, conceived as an alternative to the Nation-State decolonial solution (today a recognized colonial and tyrannical gift) [21] and neo-colonialism, failed with the nationalist successes of the Fifties. After several decades it still has something to teach us, also beyond the necessary re-imagining of new transnational polities and new horizons for the future of the Euro-Mediterranean area.

In the moment in which anti-racist and anti-colonial struggles are becoming mainstream, it reminds us to the risks included in all the nationalist and essentialist positions which, in the name of decolonization and freedom, continue to renovate and reproduce the bulk of eurocentric and colonial thought. Thus in rethinking circular migration, new models of economic production and democracy on both sides of the Mediterranean it has to be avoided to come back to nation-state bilateral agreements or to common and asymmetric institutional frameworks between the EU and the African states (as happened with the Barcelona process). Differently it is the time to critically reconsider an unaccomplished view of the past, reopening its closed door in order to imagine another space for our future.

  • 1.Mark Mazower, Governing the World. The History of an Idea, Penguin, New York, 2012
  • 2.See Peo Hansen and Stefan Jonsson, “Bringing Africa as a 'Dowry to Europe': European Integration and the Eurafrican Project, 1920–1960”, in Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, (13), 3, 2011, pp. 443-463; Peo Hansen and Stefan Jonsson, Eurafrica: The Untold History of European Integration and Colonialism, Bloomsbury, London, 2014; Peo Hansen and Stefan Jonsson, ‘Eurafrica Incognita: The Colonial Origins of the European Union’, in History of the Present, vol. 7, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1–32.
  • 3.Kalypso Nicolaïdis, Berny Sèbe and Gabrielle Maas (eds.), Echoes of Empire Identity, Memory and Colonial Legacies, Tauris, London 2015.
  • 4.See Thomas Moser, Europäische Integration, Dekolonisation, Eurafrika. Eine historische Analyse über die Entstehungsbedingungen der earafrikanischen Gemainschaft von der Weltwirtschaftskrise bis zum Jaunde-Vertrag, 1929-1963, Nomos, Baden-Baden, 2000; Marie-Thérèse Bitsch and Gérard Bossuat (eds), L’Europe unie et l’Afrique: de l’idée d’Eurafrique à la Convention de Lomé I, Bruylant, Bruxelles, 2005; Yves Montarsolo, L’Eurafrique contrepoint de l’idée d’Europe; Le cas française de la fin de la deuxième guerre mondiale aux négotiations des Traites de Rome, Presses Universitaires de Provence, Aix-Marseille, 2010.
  • 5.Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, Paneuropa, Pan-Europa-Verlag, Wien, 1923; Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, “Afrika”, in Paneuropa vol.5, n.2, 1929, 3-18.
  • 6.Ivan du Jonchay, L'industrialisation de l'Afrique, Payot, Paris, 1953.
  • 7.Frantz Fanon, “Une crise continuée”, in El Moudjahid, n.22, 1958 in Frantz Fanon, Pour la révolution africaine. Écrits politiques, La Découverte, Paris, 2001, 129.
  • 8.See Tommaso Visone, L’Europa oltre l’Europa. Metamorfosi di un’idea nella crisi degli anni Trenta (1929-1939), ETS, Pisa, 2015 and Benjamin S. Thorpe, “Eurafrica: A Pan-European Vehicle for Central-European Colonialism (1929-1939)”, European Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 26(3), 2018, 503-513.
  • 9.See Gustavo Gozi, “Eurafrica: il paradigma dell’ordine europeo. L’Europa e l’età coloniale” in Politics. Rivista di Studi politici, n.8, 2, 2017, 21-33 and Ludovica De Castris, The civilising mission of the Communities. The hidden discourse of European integration, Master Thesis in International Cooperation and Development Sciences, Sapienza University of Rome, 2021.
  • 10.See Walter Mignolo and Catherine Walsh, On Decoloniality. Concepts, Analytics, Praxis, Duke University Press, 2018 and Boaventura De Sousa Santos, Epistemologies of the South. Justice against Epistemicide, Paradigm Publishers, London, 2014. About the peculiar approach to decoloniality that we are considering here see also Franco Cassano, Il pensiero meridiano, Laterza, Roma, 2015.
  • 11.See Gary Wilder, “Eurafrique as the Future Past of ‘Black France’: Sarkozy’s Temporal Confusion and Senghor’s Postwar Vision”, in Trice Danielle Keaton, Tracey Deenan Sharpey-Whiting and Tyler Stovall (eds.), Black France/France Noire: The History and Politics of Blackness, Duke University Press, Durham, 2012, 57-87.
  • 12.Léopold Séndar Senghor, Liberté 2. Nation et voie Africaine du socialisme, Seuil, Paris, 1971, 91.
  • 13.Ivi, 148.
  • 14.See Gary Wilder, op. cit., 72.
  • 15.Léopold Séndar Senghor, Liberté 2, cit., 157.
  • 16.See Gary Wilder, Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World, Duke University Press, Durham, 2015, 153.
  • 17.Albert Camus, OEuvres complètes IV. 1957-1959, Gallimard, Paris, 2008, 392.
  • 18.Albert Camus, OEuvres complètes III. 1949-1956, Gallimard, Paris, 2008, 1031-1032.
  • 19.Albert Camus, OEuvres complètes IV, cit., 392.
  • 20.Albert Camus, OEuvres complètes III., cit., 1068.
  • 21.See Hamid Dabashi, The Emperor is Naked. On the inevitable demise of the Nation-State, Zed books, London, 2020. For the history of such alternatives see also Frederick Cooper, “Alternatives to Nationalism in French Africa, 1945–60”, in Jost Dülffer, Marc Frey (eds) Elites and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2011, 110-137. Against such positions see Samuel Moyn, “The Fantasies of Federalism. Why did the nation-state model win out, when the alternatives were supposedly so compelling?”, in Dissent, Winter 2015 https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/fantasies-of-federalism
  • About the contributor

    Tommaso Visone
    Researcher

    Tommaso Visone is Associate Professor of History of Political Doctrines (SPS/02) at Link Campus University and Adjunct Professor of Political Thought for Colonization and Decolonization (SPS/02) at Sapienza University of Rome.

    PhD in Political Science, he has been research fellow in History of Political Doctrines at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa for four years and in History of Economic Thought at the University of Roma Tre for two years. He has also conducted research at the Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, CesUE (Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna di Pisa), A.R.E.L.A. and the Centro Studi sul Federalismo in Turin. His research interests focus mainly on the history of the idea of Europe in the 20th century, the thought of Albert Camus, the intellectual history of federalism, decolonial thought and the history of democracy.

    He has taken part in research projects and teaching activities at the Université Savoie-Mont Blanc, the University of Cyprus, the University of Cambridge, the University of Hong Kong, Universitatea din Bucuresti and the University Federico II of Naples. In 2019, he was Visiting Professor at the Université El Manar in Tunis.

    He co-directs the Teoria e ricerca sociale e politica series at the Altravista publishing house in Pavia and has been the editor of the magazine Stati Uniti d'Europa for the Critica Liberale Foundation. He is a member of the editorial staff of Euractiv.it.

    Among his recent publications: Henri Grégoire, Sulla tratta e la schiavitù dei neri e dei bianchi. Scritto da un amico degli uomini di tutti i colori, Castelvecchi, Roma, 2021 (edited by, forthcoming); Gramsci contemporaneo. Discorsi e modelli (contro)egemonici, Altravista, Pavia 2019 (edited by, with Nicola Cucchi); Ripensare l’Europa. Istituzioni, mutamenti, concetti, Altravista, Pavia, 2019 (edited by with Federica Martiny) e L’Europa oltre l’Europa. Metamorfosi di un’idea nella crisi degli anni Trenta (1929-1939), ETS, Pisa, 2015.