Fluid partitions sparking the imagination

A platform for sharing

The Africa2020 Season is a platform for sharing questions bout the state of contemporary societies which, beyond Africa, are in resonance with France  and the rest of the world.

It was crucial, for a Season dedicated to an entire continent, to build the programme from a series of denominators common to over 1.2 billion Africans.

The General Commissioner, N'Goné Fall, wanted to associate African personalities to identify the major societal issues addressed by the Africa2020 Season. Specialised in social and political sciences, gender issues, contemporary history, theory and young creation, Ntone Edjabe (1), Nontobeko Ntombela (2), Folakunle Oshun (3) and Sarah Rifky (4) have been chosen for their critical thinking and their remarkable ability to transcend ideas.


theme portrait


Collective intelligence

Based on the principle of collective intelligence, the General Commissioner organised a workshop with these four personalities, from 25 to 29 June 2018 in Saint Louis, in Senegal. The goal was to allow an African team to reflect on Africa, its societies and their future on the edge of the Sahara, on a small island far from the hustle and bustle of big cities. Symbolically, it was important to hold this workshop on African soil, the land on which the participants were born, grew up, and still work, and from which they draw their inspiration.

During this workshop, the team mapped out the main ideas object of intellectual, scientific and artistic research and production in Africa and identified five main lines of investigation. Titles were purposefully attributed in the spirit of fluid partitions sparking the imagination.

(1) Mr. Ntone Edjabe (1970), Cameroon. Lives in Cape Town, South Africa. Writer and DJ, founder and publisher of Chimurenga, a pan-African magazine dedicated to culture, social and political sciences. Founder of the Pan African Space Station (PASS), an online research platform including a pop-up radio broadcasting live, archives and a library. (2) Mrs Nontobeko Ntombela (1982), South Africa. Lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Lecturer in art history and heritage management at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Fields of study: art theory, feminism in visual arts, art education. (3) Mr. Folakunle Oshun (1984), Nigeria. Lives in Lagos, Nigeria. Artist and curator. Founder and director of the Lagos biennial. Fields of study: Parallel stories, social engagement, contemporary cultures. (4) Mrs Sarah Rifky (1981), Egypt. Lives in Cairo, Egypt. Curator, art critic researcher in urban studies and modern theories. PhD candidate in History, Theory and Criticism, Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, MIT, USA.

1. Augmented orality

• Dissemination of knowledge
• Social media
• Technological innovations

For centuries, Africa has been using visual, oral and written material and immaterial forms to convey ideas, knowledge and understanding. From the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt to the Guèze alphabet (1), the stories told by the Mandé griots (2), the symbolism of the 13th century Akan gold weights (3), and on to the rhythmic codes of the drums or Kebra Nagast (4), examples abound. Television, radio, cinema and music are traditional vehicles for the oral dissemination of knowledge, stories or moral tales. Today, they share that role with new mediums born of digital innovation: Smartphones, Internet, Twitter, Instagram and all the applications that convey ideas using emoticons. What does orality mean in the 21st century? 

(1) 7th century BC Eritrea and Ethiopia. (2) Western Sahel. (3) Laying aside their primary function as a weight, the figurative and non-figurative Akan gold weights (from present-day Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana) were used as an alphabet of proverbs and sayings. (4) The Kebra Negast (Glory of Kings) from the early 14th century, is the epic story of the foundation of the Ethiopian Empire, combining popular Ethiopian folklore with biblical, Talmudic and koranic traditions.

2. Economy and fabulation

• Redistribution of resources
• Financial flows
• Economic emancipation

Because 10 people can live from one salary in many African countries, the redistribution of resources is not achieved through the States. And in some countries, couldn't the so-called informal economy, which accounts for more than half of the national economy, rise to the status of an official economy? People in border cities have long transcended the foreign exchange systems established between Western currencies, using equivalence systems that sometimes go back to the Middle Ages.

Money transfers made by African expatriates to Africa amounted to over $60 billion in 2016. By using intermediaries such as Hawala(1), Western Union, MoneyGram, and Orange Money, this flow of cash proves, through family and corporate support networks, that economic emancipation is not always a myth in Africa. In 2018, some African countries (Ghana, Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Senegal, and Tanzania) had a growth rate of between 6.8% and 8%. Infrastructures, rural communities, the unemployed, politicians, racketeers, multinationals... who will benefit from this expected prosperity?

(1) A money transfer system born in the Middle Ages (the Silk Road, the Sahel caravan routes).

3. Archiving of imaginary stories

• History
• Memory
• Archives

How do our personal, family, national, regional and continental stories relate to the history of the world?  Through which lenses is history portrayed and what vehicles are used to convey it? Is history through the eyes of the huntsman still the only valid one?

In an age of social media and whistle-blowers, roles and responsibilities have increased and short items of news often take precedence over hindsight and weighted analysis. How is memory passed on and for what purposes?  Have we really learnt from the errors of the past? Isn't memory sometimes weaponised to serve populist intentions and stoke hatred? Who archives what in the name of whom, and what is its purpose? Who decides what is important and what is anecdotal? What do we do with our personal archives? What will the billions of audio and text messages on our cell phones, and our emails, social media an Internet accounts tell us about the state of humanity in the 21st century? Historians are not the only ones taking an interest in these questions, echoing with existential overtones.

4. Fiction and (un)authorised movements

• Circulation of people, ideas and goods
• Territory

Although insufficient rail and air links, as well as restrictive visas slow down the number of journeys across Africa, they will never be able to stem them. The largest African refugee camps are not in Italy and in France. They are in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Ethiopia.

A flight from Conakry–Brussels (6,368 km) is twice as cheap as a flight from Conakry–Lagos (2,790 km). For a Dakar–Luanda flight (4,276 km) you have a choice between a 19 hour and 40 minutes trip via Bamako and Nairobi (8,966 km) or a 15 hour and 30 minutes trip via Lisbon (8,571 km). Out of the 54 countries of the African continent, the number of compulsory visas vary before a departure varies: 4 for a French national and about 35 for a Kenyan.

Travelling wherever you wish in Africa not only depends on your buying power and time, but also on your nationality. This may explain the rise of virtual travels and cyber communities across the world. The concept of nation and border are now being redefined according to multiple criteria.

The fifteen member states of the Economic Community of the West African States (ECOWAS), which have had the same passport since the year 2000, have approved a project to substitute all national identity cards with a single trilingual regional identity card. This decision concerns over 380 million people in a territory covering an area of over 5 million km2.

Is West Africa beginning to restore the boundaries of the West African kingdoms and empires of the Middle Ages, thumbing its nose at the borders inherited at the Berlin conference of 1885? Is it attempting, based on the region’s history, to strengthen a sense of transnational belonging in a global context in which many countries are choosing isolationism and nationalism?

5. Systems of disobedience

• Political consciousness and movements
• Citizenship

Strikes, demonstrations, boycotts, occupations of public space, militancy, activism: at what point in life do people decide to create or get involved in a grassroots movement to change society? Does resistance necessarily involve collective or violent actions? Do passive resistance and civil disobedience really have the desired effects? Should personal interests be sacrificed for the benefit of the collective interest?

In a global context in which the freedom of movement and expression are being undermined, in which identity-based and xenophobic crises are on the increase, in which populist political parties are gaining ground, and in which self interest is becoming commonplace, how are individual and group awareness based on a principle of otherness and solidarity being built? When did we forget that there is only one race, the human race?

Sometimes a stand against fatalism, disobedience often translates in Africa in strong civic commitment: the self-funded creation of a foundation, a training centre, a centre for artistic production and dissemination. Take care of one other is not a banal slogan in Africa, its a reality.

Sponsored by

  • République Française
  • Institut Français
  • Agence Française de développement
  • Conseil présidentiel pour l'Afrique