Kader Attia, Chaos + Repair = Universe, 2014
Sculpture. Mirrors, metal wires
Installationsansicht, Sacrifice and Harmony, MMK, Frankfurt, 2016
Courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua
Photo: Axel Schneider
was born in 1970 and grew up in the suburbs of Paris and Algeria.
He has developed a dynamic practice that reflects on aesthetics and ethics of different cultures and interrogates the concept of Repair
as a constant in human nature, about which the Western and non-Western worlds have always had opposing visions.
We thank him for generously allowing us to use Chaos + Repair= Universe as AfricaS, Tra(N)s-formations’s logo.
Edited by : Livio Boni , Cristiano Rocchi , Daniela Scotto di Fasano
It is our aim on this site to inaugurate, within the scope of the “Geographies of Psychoanalysis”, a window dedicated to Africa, a continent which remains essentially absent from the ‘world map’ of psychoanalysis and yet is ever more present in Western reality in spite of suffering from reductive representations which range from the compulsive survival of a colonial imaginary to radically dystopian visions, neither of which are able to give expression to the complexity of its reality.
It is not a matter of taking the composite African reality and fashioning an object for Psychoanalysis, all the while remaining conditioned by ethnography, but of working the phantasmatic significance which is still conveyed in the signifier ‘Africa’ and its derivatives. With this in mind, whilst we continue our efforts to deconstruct the imaginaries built up over the course of modern history (marked by slavery and colonization) around the ‘Black Continent’, and take as our model that proposed by Edward Said (1978) for the Orient and orientalism, we want to tread our proposed path differently.
In fact, rather than directly mobilizing Psychoanalysis to contribute to creating apertures in the phantasmatic curtain which covers the term ‘Africa’, we would like to initiate a dialogue, more psicanalitico, with a series of African voices – literary, artistic, philosophical, anthropological, medical, historical, etc. – which, although not belonging to the psychoanalytic field – Psychonanalysis being practically absent from the continent, save a few exceptions, such as the Maghreb, Senegal, or South Africa – usefully intercept a series of audible questions with Psychoanalysis. Let us mention a few of them, without being exhaustive:
- The coexistence, on the African continent, of a multiplicity of historical regimes, which run from the most ancient to the most postmodern, which renders it impossible to reduce the African space to a univocal historical temporality, and re-poses the Freudian question of coexistence across several regimes of temporality, in the life of the individual as much as of the collective (FARR, 2021)
- The internalization of the inherited models of colonial domination, both at the level of behavior of the African ruling classes and at the level of the collective desire to construct homogenized, culturally unitary, nation states based on the model of European nations, and the pathological repercussions of such an introjection (MBEMBE, 2016)
- But in parallel with such an irrefutable persistence and perversion of the imported models of colonial domination (BONI, 2018), it is possible to observe decisively post-colonial transformations and contaminations, for example the widespread infiltration of logics connected to witchcraft (possession, black magic, the evil eye, fetishism, etc.) at the very heart of the workings of the States, in particular in central and western Africa and, more widely, its condensation through ‘traditional’ wisdom and modern political technologies (TONDA, 2021).
It will be our task to organize a discourse which is enhanced by the voices of experts who have undertaken dedicated reflection on these themes. We will simultaneously seek to understand the ‘relative’- insofar as it is specific and contextual - elaboration of postcolonialism.
The reference to the post-colonial paradigm as a critical paradigm, which can be articulated with psychonalytic study, is therefore to be taken as a dynamic epistemic reference, to be deployed in the attempt to take account of the “tra(N)sformations” underway on the African continent, in order to understand if these may be considered solely as transmutations in the same categories imported from colonial modernity, or as their hybridization with indigenous categories re-emerging from the ‘colonial night’.
As in any serious preliminary reconnaissance phase, we have retained that some leads to follow would be useful. To begin with, we will try to better understand what is known as ‘postcolonialism’; and while thinking about how to orient ourselves on the tracks on which so many consequently find themselves on the African continent, we have decided to have recourse to… a compass.
In Psychoanalysis we have a concept, that of Nachträglichkeit, which can be translated in English as deferred action, and which is best rendered into French as ‘après-coup’, which here seems to make for the purpose inasmuch it leads suddenly in the world of the ‘post’ and can without any doubt constitute an aid to situate ourselves. By following this Instrument-concept, we can try to rethink the statute of temporality and psychic causality ‘other’ than the subjectivity of single individuals; advancing therefore, also with the aid of this psychoanalytic compass, in macro-group fields.
As in the title of the window, we would like to concern ourselves with the tra(N)s-formations which have occurred, and which are occurring, in Africa.
The reference to the post-colonial paradigm as a critical paradigm, which can be articulated with a psychoanalytic approach and which is therefore to be taken as a dynamic epistemic reference, aimed at the attempt to gather the “tra(N)s-formations” underway on the African continent, in order to understand if these may be understood as transmutations of the same categories imported from colonial modernity: those of territory, State, border, ethnicity, genocide, Reconciliation, etc.
Once we have established these premises on the general direction of the “AfricaS” window within Geography of Psychoanalysis (PRETA, 2016), let us now sketch out lines on the method and materials which we hope to include here and be inspiring for the contributors.
Subjectifying, rather than objectifying: the window shall propose analyses and reflections coming from the inside of the African space, and not from a perspective over Africa, coming from the Human or Social Sciences or from “African studies”. We wish, in fact; to give pride of place to interpretations of this Creole continent, Africa, in her own words (Scego, 2021), actually underrepresented in the knowledge economy.
Through the concept of Afropeans (PITTS, 2019), which designates the identity of Africans firmly established in Europe, or that of Afropolitans, authors who publish and live in the West, through the current urgency of the question of race, but also through the possibility of remaining surprised by unexpected questions, the window will seek to attempt to remain as faithful as possible to the objective of seeing Africa through the eyes of those who live there (PIAGGIO, 2021). At the heart of our interests the question of race; of racialization and of racism as recently revisited in Psychoanalysis (BONI-MENDELSOHN, 2021; HOOK-GEORGE, 2021), to rethink the categories inherited from the traditional anti-racism of the post-war period. We will attempt, therefore, to revisit the racial question by seeking to articulate it with the categories of ‘gender’ and ‘class’, as a category which is not inherently discriminatory but susceptible of encompassing transformative moments, hybridizations et demands, as explored also in the Racism window, also included in the site “Geography of Psychoanalysis”. We would therefore hope that in ‘AfricaS’ we can try to understand the diverse modes and forms of integration in the Self of the experiences of colonization and of the possible work of (de)colonization. For instance the loss of identity of African peoples (suffice it to think of the signified; not only symbolic, of the deformations of the borders and names of the states), which we will rethink, also in the light of particular current underway, as an identity : a sort of ‘ethnic trans-gender’. Or, as in the words of Achille Mbembe, the prefect representation of AfricaS and that of always being moulded by mobility?
For a reverse anthropology: how do the Africas view Europe, and more generally, the West? And in what way might a similar change of perspective contribute to our self-representation? Through the encouragement of a certain “reverse anthropology’, which a range of African writers have already been practicing since the fifties (DADIE, 1959), we will focus our interest on the African, or Euro-African vision, of the ex-colonial metropolises – Paris, London, Rome or Lisbon, and, more generally, on the European cities which were particularly influenced by colonial history, where the colonial influence made itself felt particularly strongly in the urban, monumental-artistic, and toponymic space of the European city (SCEGO, 2014 WU MING, 2018).
In opening such a window, we are conscious of the fact that a variety of currents and disciplines – such as ethnopsychiatry, movements for the decolonization of what are often referred to as “primitive” arts, not to mention literature or various branches of “popular” culture – are already actively engaged in a highly fertile effort of confrontation with the different ‘Africanisms”. In AfricaS - Tra(N)sformations we intend, however, to undertake this journey starting from different shore, those of Psychoanalysis, which seems to us to have accumulated a certain delay in such a movement of opening to other forms of knowledge and discursive practices.
The focus of the window will therefore be the attempt to understand in the variegated surface of Africa whether, when and how Psychoanalysis arrived and how it entered into relation with cultural and social reality of the location, or whether, in each case and even so, mapping the different modalities in which the colonial and post-colonial processes have been elaborated. Africa has in fact been characterized , in time, by a discontinuous and fragmentary diffusion of Psychoanalysis, as in patchwork: in South Africa with Mark Solms, and, Suzannz Maiello, of the AIPPI, which has conducted there a valuable Infant Observation; in Senegal, again with Infant Observation, to the work of Rosella Sandri with the AIDOBB; in Tunisia with Fethi Benslama; in Alexandria, at the end of the Second World War, a city from which originated a number of notable francophone analysts such as Moustapha Safouan, Sami Ali; Tobie Nathan, Jacques Hassoun. It will not be possible not to interest ourselves in better mapping and understanding such becoming.
BONI Livio, L'inconscio post-coloniale. Geopolitica della pcicoanalisi, Milano, Mimesis, 2018.
BONI Livio, MENDELSOHN Sophie, La vie psychique du racisme (1): l'empire du démenti, Paris, La Découverte, 2021.
DADIÉ Bernard, Un Nègre à Paris, Paris, Présence Africaine, 1959.
HOOK Derek, GEORGE Sheldon (ed.), Lacan and Race. Racism, Identity and psychoanalytic Theory, London- New York, Routledge, 2021
MBEMBE' Achille, «Necropolitics»,Public Culture,vol.15,no 1, 2003.
PIAGGIO Chiara, Introduzione, in PIAGGIO Chiara, SCEGO Igiaba, a cura di, Africana. Raccontare il Continente al di là degli stereotipi, Milano, Feltrinelli, 2021
PITTS Johnny, Afropean. Notes from Black Europe, London, Penguin, 2019.
PRETA Lorena (dir), Cartografie dell’incnscio. Un nuovo Atlante per la Psicoanalisi, Milano, Mimesis, 2016.
SAID Edward, Orientalism, Pantheon Books, 1978.
SARR Felwine, Afrotopia, Paris, Philippe Rey, 2016.
SCEGO Igiaba (in collaborazione con Rino Bianchi), Roma negata. Percorsi postcoloniali nella città, Roma, Ediesse, 2014.
SCEGO Igiaba, L’Africa è un continente, in PIAGGIO Chiara, SCEGO Igiaba, a cura di, Africana. Raccontare il Continente al di là degli stereotipi, Milano, Feltrinelli, 2021
TONDA Joseph, Afrodystopie. La vie dans le rêve d'Autrui, Paris, Karthala, 2021.
WU MING (Collettivo), “I fantasmi coloniali infestano le nostre città, 2018, consultabile in Rete https://www.wumingfoundation.com/giap/2018/10/viva-menilicchi-4/
We have this "window" in Geographies of Psychoanalysis which, as you know, seeks to chart a map of the psyche based on the interconnections and interactions generated by cultures even distant from a psychoanalytic origin, exploring complex issues that find diverse expression in the various realities, so as to give an overview of Psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic themes. Now, I think it would be fair to describe you as “man of action,” so how useful and important do you consider thought to be for supporting the making and nurturing of eventual transformations?
It is important, it also helps us, as Africans, to reflect on ourselves; where we are, where we come from, where we want to go and what future we want for our Africa and our young people; to think about the future and about what has been so far. At least, what aspect of the past is or is not worth preserving; what should be conserved and what instead has been unhelpful or even damaging to us; in other words, instead of helping us move forward, what has kept us at a standstill or even moved us backwards. So, to my mind, it’s useful to reflect on every aspect and from every possible angle which may be of help to us. For me, every reflection that arises, regardless of its source or nature, represents a helpful and compelling stimulus towards action.
Well, this is most interesting and I’m glad to hear it. Because you know, sometimes there can seem to be too large a gap between the doing and the thinking about certain things. So, at times I too wonder to what extent it is possible to create a real and meaningful bridge between thought and action.
Well, who knows? But what I find hugely damaging, and not only to us as Africans, is the fact that the accent has been placed above all on doing as opposed to thinking. Because, if we don’t continue to expand thought, doing will eventually fold in upon itself and we will run the risk of repeating past mistakes. But if there is a thought process, matured from different points of view, around all aspects of men and women’s lives, then thought helps to create new pathways and horizons for framing action. Doing should be the translation of thought, not the other way around.
Indeed, yes. So, an intertwining modus operandi and cogitandi.
Well yes, yes.
A more general question I have to ask you is this: several scholars have remarked that modern postcolonial countries can end up resembling a second copy of a major European country and thus become an ideal terrain for effecting its economic, social and cultural goals. This is a claim made by a scholar such as Chatterjee. What do you think? How would you interpret such a claim? To what extent do you share this view?
Well, I substantially agree with it. This has been the case in many parts of Africa. The modern states established after independence have had physical but not political, cultural, or economic independence. The overall system is still pre-colonial, by which I mean the system put in place by the colonizers; in fact, the new governors or the so-called intellectual class of these countries were educated either in the colonies or in the colonizing countries, because the colonized went to France, Great Britain or elsewhere, where they familiarised themselves with the European system. Therefore, they were “bringing” rather than “seeking” on their arrival, unlike the missionaries; you know, the Popes, or at least some of them, would say: "You must enculturate the Gospel. You should not simply transport the Latin model as it is; you must enculturate it in the... "
This was not done within the political and economic realms of the countries that were new or finally liberated from colonialism. They kept both the political and economic systems of the colonizing country and sought to mimic, assimilate or resemble the West and Europe as far as they could, forgetting their own roots, by which I mean, their own culture, traditions, and mentality and all of the habits and customs that would serve to build a new economic, political and educational model.
Even our schools and their curricula follow a European-style model. In many African countries, European history is studied while the teaching of African history is absent. Young people from French-speaking countries know the entire history of France, but not the culture of their own country. In this sense, it has gone on, it is colonialism in real-time, by remote control or at a distance; a cultural, economic, and political form of colonialism. It’s true that there may no longer be any European rulers or governors in person, but it is still their language and political-economic models that govern.
I see, well, undeniably there must be some underlying economic factors to this, but I wonder if you and I might explore the issue from a psychoanalytic perspective (which interests me and us a great deal); can I ask you why, in your view, has this…let's call it collective African psyche been so infiltrated by the Western psyche?
Because for centuries African people were told: "You’re emancipated, you’re developed, you’re ... if you live in the West, if you adopt western styles of dress, if you can cite Western philosophers or learn by heart ..."
So, there is the effort the African people have made to be Western. As a priest, I see the religious aspect of it, in their way of being Catholic or Anglican. In Africa, people attend Mass every Sunday, but afterwards they’ll go away and perform their traditional rites and rituals. So, the fact of being in church, dressed in Western-style clothing is saying: "You see, I too have reached your level, I’ve become like you, I’m finally emancipated, I’m developed, I’m modern, I’m no longer archaic and so on. But I still stick to my roots by practicing my rites and rituals, just like my ancestors did".
So, there is this abiding aspect, but the fact remains that on the philosophical level, but also on various aspects of the cultural level, African people have preferred to seek or chase after the West because that is the model of success that has been presented to them.
So, in this sense we could speak of there being a sort of split within the African people, within the psyche of the African people; whereby you have this upper, superficial part adhering to the model to which they tend or to which they have been obliged to tend; and an inner part that stays more attached to a certain type of culture and thousand-year-old traditions.
Yes, there is a split. This is also clear when we consider the difference between people who live in cities and people who live in villages. For example, ancestral traditions have been more preserved in rural areas. In the cities it’s quite different because for centuries African culture has been demonized as archaic, as ..., African people have often been told: "All of this is diabolical" or all manner of unpleasant things, to the point that they are ashamed of their own culture, their own traditions, their own habits and customs. So, the people who come to the city try to rid themselves of it all, without succeeding fully because of the abiding bond with the family, but those who move to the city try to follow or chase after the Western model, to say: “I’m liberated, I’m civilized, I’m modernized, ... I've made progress, so ... "
Because it is the model that has been proposed to them as the winning model: "we are civilized, and in actual fact we have come to civilize you", so ...
To free you.
To free you, to civilize you, because ...
So, it’s understandable; anyone would want to climb onto the winning bandwagon, even the African people want to climb on board.
Look, there are studies, perhaps arguably controversial, describing cultural processes of hybridization between the colonized and the colonizers which some consider to be fertile terrain. In your opinion, is this kind of consideration acceptable? If so, then where, when, and to what degree?
Well, it’s something you can see in several countries. Hybridization is not only cultural, now there are also interracial families, so this cultural hybridization also arises from there. You see it happening in Cape Verde, for example, or in the Mauritius Islands.
And in Tanzania, for example, and in ... yes, there are such try-outs, let's say that may not have been planned around the table but have gradually come into being by way of mixed marriages, though coexistence be it forced or voluntary. Take the Indians for example, who arrived as English soldiers and then settled there; they are now an integral part of society. So, they brought their religion, their culture and if you now go to Mauritius, or even to Zanzibar as you mentioned, you’ll find that they are an integral part of society. You might find, for example, a Tanzanian husband of African origin with a wife of Indian origin. In the same family, Hinduism may coexist with Catholicism, Protestantism or Anglicanism. And it is with this backdrop that new ways of life, thinking, and relating to society arise. It is neither fully African nor fully Indian. So, this is the hybrid culture that emerges from this context.
Now the next question I have to ask you is closer to psychoanalytic conceptualizations. There is a concept (very dear to we psychoanalysts), known as Nachträglichkeit in German, deferred action in English, and après-coup in French. This concept basically refers to a type of process we could call posthumous return or retroaction; I’ll try to explain it quite simply, perhaps a little reductively: a traumatic event occurs, after which there is a period of latency, as if the event had never happened ... or had not been acknowledged. Then, later on, another one occurs, even years later, which reawakens (retroactive action) what had happened on the psychic level. And we can speak of both the individual and the collective psyche.
So, we thought about this concept and then about a post that would make reference to a subsequent event... namely, this post, that would refer to a subsequent effect, we also tried to think of it in relation to postcolonial dynamics. Let me give you a quote. A French psychoanalyst - the concept was taken up extensively by the French in the wake of Freud and translated into French as après-coup - J. André says: “Après-coup is a trauma and if it is not mere repetition, it is because it contains elements of signification that open, as long as there is a listening and an interpretation, a transformation of the past. They open a transformation of the past.” So, after this brief description of the essential meaning of this concept, I would like to ask you: can it be helpful, in your view, to use this concept to think about postcolonialism? I mean, thinking also in political, geographical and economic terms, how might the concept inform our listening and understanding of the present-day dynamics and the phenomenology we can observe in the various regions that have been colonized?
In other words, what eventual use could we make of it?
Well, one would need to analyse how life is being lived country by country. One would need to look at one country at a time. Because the African situation we have today is so diversified due to a whole series of situations, be they political, economic or other. But let’s take the example of Ghana. Today, Ghana is a country that is trying to shake off the "chains" linking it to a past under colonial rule. Therefore, it’s trying to reaffirm its full economic and cultural independence; it’s providing numerous incentives, particularly in the sphere of culture, thought, and development, to recuperate its own history and its own traditions as it looks towards the future. So, Ghana could be one of the countries to study in order to understand these experiences.
So, a sort of laboratory in your view?
Yes, for me yes. It is a laboratory that is reaching out to a variety of others as well, for example the ongoing appeal it makes to African Americans to renew efforts towards the recuperation of the history, culture, habits and customs of Black Africa, those dating back to colonial times and even further back in time to the slave trade. So, it is trying to go back some three to four hundred years to recuperate its historical-cultural identity and adapt it to the present. So, on the one side, to fully rediscover itself and the African people. It was not a tabula rasa before colonialism; it had its own culture, traditions and history. Just as we talk about the various Western European rulers, let us remember that there were kings and queens of Africa, of black Africa, who were also powerful and rich makers of history. So, with the help of many writers, screenwriters and directors, Ghana is trying to recuperate all of this.
For me Ghana is a strong example, but then on the other side there are countries that seem to be moving backwards; perhaps this is also due to their being torn apart by an internal situation of disintegration at the political-cultural level, which makes working through and taking steps forward hard for them.
Look at Somalia, look at almost the entire Horn of Africa: today it is mired in a morass; it has closed itself off, like Eritrea which has closed in on itself and sees the West as an absolute enemy or, in any case, regards it with suspicion. So, it tries to isolate itself, without taking steps forward either on the level of thought or on the level of economic growth…or any other level ... it is a frozen state that helps neither the country nor the people.
On the other hand, there’s Somalia which has been torn apart by the whole economic situation, even if there are now small signs of domestic change. In Somaliland, too, there are hints of a timid move towards development, from all points of view, both political and economic. At the same time, previously held expectations for South Africa are being lost; South Africa was supposed to be the laboratory par excellence, but unfortunately, in recent years, it seems to have become somewhat paralyzed. Now that would have been ideal terrain, after the process of reconciliation and all the work done with Mandela to overcome divisions. That is where the trauma of both colonialism and apartheid was experienced; it should have led to a new model or to what we talked about before - a new hybrid culture, arising from the amalgamation of the Africans and whites who were by then an integral part of society; but the economic crisis has slowed down any attempt to forge national unity, any attempt to create cultural unity; on the contrary, in recent years internal tensions have erupted in violent attacks against newly arriving migrants, leaving scores dead. Some argue that the whole economy is still in the hands of whites, so while there is in fact no political apartheid, there is economic apartheid.
All of this has not helped modern-day South Africa take the steps necessary to process the traumas of the past and it has not enabled the population to move forward the way Mandela too had hoped. His hope was that the reconciliation process, of which he was an advocate, would turn a new page in the history of coexistence and welcome a South African hybrid culture, something that has not as yet been achieved.
I understand there is no easy answer to this, but at this point I would like to ask you; when we are talking about “comparable trauma", how is it that there are some areas where the responses are ... or rather reflect (perhaps) greater elaboration of the trauma itself, whereas in other areas this does not seem to happen? For example, let’s compare Ghana and the Horn of Africa. Just now you cited Ghana as a country where the processing of trauma seems to be more successful and where consequently we can observe the capacity to seek and recuperate certain values of the distant past, for example.
It’s due to political instability. Fortunately for Ghana, it has had some degree of political stability in the last 40 years, political stability that has enabled it to at least start working through its history. The Horn of Africa has continued to jump out of the frying pan into the fire, from one dictatorship to another, from one conflict to another and therefore many figures from the intellectual stratum of the Horn of Africa have either died in war or prison or else escaped to live abroad so...
Take Ethiopia ... it was occupied by Italy for just five years, because the Italian occupation lasted from 1935 to 1940-41; it was short-lasting and the only real occupation of Ethiopia. Of all the countries in the Horn of Africa, it is the least traumatized, the country that has most retained its history and traditions. It has, however, experienced many other traumas due to successive wars and dictatorships. This taken such a mental, physical and economic toll that Ethiopia has not been able to engage in the process of self-reflection and emancipation.
After gaining independence in 1960, Somalia fell under a dictatorship that gave no thought to investment on the cultural or recovery level, and did not have the objective of emancipating thought let alone anything else; it thought more about making wars. When you send your young people to war, when they are the ones in whom to invest and the ones who can foster both cultural and economic development, then you paralyze any attempt at growth and change. Siad Barré did nothing but wage war, with Ethiopia and other neighbouring countries. His rule lasted 17 years, but those were 17 years of war.
Well Padre Mosé, I’d like ask you this last question: following that line of thought referred to as reverse anthropology, adopted by various African authors since the 1930s, can I ask you about Africa’s way of viewing Europe?
Today, there various African writers who have stopped trying to find a scapegoat for Africa’s woes, I mean, trying to attach blame to the outside... of course, blame can be attached to a particular time like the colonial period among others, but fortunately, today, there are a number of writers, intellectuals, who are trying to help Africa shake off colonialism. They are helping them to look at themselves as they are today and to look at their own ruling class, their own ability to understand the situation in which they are living, how they are living, and therefore also the active role they are playing in this present-day context, not to cry only about what happened 60 or 70 years ago.
Today there are writers, intellectuals, directors, and even comedians who excel at this. For example, I’m working with some young theatre actors who are helping to make Africans aware of who they are, what they want to be and where they want to go. So, they are nudging them along with the message: “Today, you’re responsible for what is happening to you, for what you’re experiencing. Don't just cry about the past, look at who is ruling you today, where he comes from, how he got where is, and what contribution you made to his being in that place today.”
Fortunately, there are young intellectuals who are trying go beyond the phase of blaming the white man who occupied, stole and exploited ... They are also engaging in a process of recuperation, starting from traditions. Some of them say: well, what about our great-grandparents and our great-great-grandparents, how did they deal with problems? How did they resolve conflicts? How...?
So, they are going back to their roots; for example, they are thinking about how their ancestors resolved their conflicts over land, livestock, marriages and money whilst sitting together under a tree, and so they might suggest: well, let's bring back our grandparents’ ways; the capacity for dialogue, the capacity for justice, the way in which it was administered; not in court but by the village assembly; how were widows helped?
How were orphans helped? By the village. Before the white man arrived and built orphanages or other kinds of structures that had so little to do with the African context. By recuperating that history, those stories, that way of doing things, bringing it all back to the present, these young intellectuals are saying: look here, we too had our own way of doing justice, we too had our own way of resolving conflicts and we had a great ability to engage in dialogue, to listen. So, let's recuperate all of this. Let’s bring it into the present day to deal with the problems we are facing now.
Yes, in psychoanalytic terms, it would be something of an attempt to process trauma.
Ok. Yes, yes, it is a way of processing of trauma; because that trauma interrupted what could have been the natural development of those customs, culture, and practices, which would have eventually led to written laws and to the law as we understand it. Unfortunately, however, these practices and approaches to living together have largely been just passed down orally from grandparents to grandchildren, to sons and daughters, there is little in writing and that includes the legal field. For example, Ethiopia had the Fetha Nagast, translated into a great number of different languages, which was, for centuries, the book of law of the various rulers who succeeded to Ethiopia’s throne until the 1960s. Fortunately, it was written down. It started as a small collection of articles, but little by little each successive ruler added something to it. So, it eventually became a fairly substantial and far-reaching tome that addressed every aspect of life and society, from religion to marriages.
Which era are we talking about?
If I'm not mistaken, it originated in the fifteenth century and was in use until the last Emperor, Haile Selassie’s rule ended in 1974. The text has been translated, you can find it in English as well.
Now, you mentioned that it also addressed the religious dimension of life.
Yes, yes. It dealt with religious, social and political matters. In fact, it originally dealt with religious law because, at the time, the king was also a priest.
Which religion was that?
Well, Padre Mosé, thank you very much for your time and I hope we can meet again soon and perhaps even in person.
Mussie Zerai (Asmara, 1975), known as Father Moses
, grow up with his grandmother and his seven brothers after theirs mother's premature death, when Zerai was four years old, while his father left the country to seek refuge in Italy.
In 1992, at the age of 17, Mussie also fled to Italy, where he sought political asylum and obtained a residence permit, working at the farmer's market in Rome, then as an itinerant newspaper vendor, and finally as a receptionist in a Clinic, while studying and graduating first in philosophy and then in theology.
The 10th of March 2004 he received his first phone call of SOS from the sea and, in 2006, he founded in Rome the non-profit agency Habeshia (he is actually the president), whose name in Arabic means 'mestizo', as he is convinced that the identity in Eritrea is a mestizo one.
Thanks to Habeshia assistance to migrants and marginalised people became more systematic, in the conviction that 'there can be no peace without justice, there can be no peace without rights'. Since then, his number continues to be written on T-shirts, on the walls of ships and in prisons, people calling him from Libyan lagers, Egyptian prisons or refugees camps in Sudan.
He was ordained as priest in 2010, taking as his model the Giovanni Battista Scalabrini's one, beatified in 1997 with the title of Father of Migrants.
Mussie Zerai - nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 and listed by the Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential personalities of 2016 in the 'Pioneers' category - always answers to calls. He is in fact known as "the mobile phone of the Mediterranean".
In 2016, he proposed to the the prime minister Matteo Renzi, and to the presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, Pietro Grasso and Laura Boldrini, to bring together the burials of all the victims of the massacre of 3 October 2013 (a tragedy that, as he said, makes 'the soul weep') in a single place in order to, he said, "Have them rest together, as together they died and as together - until that tragic dawn - they cherished the idea of a free and dignified life. This would create a small shrine to immigration, where we could pray, bring a flower and reflect. We owe it to them out of human pity. I have never received any answer ».
In 2016, Mayor Walter Veltroni, with the help of a group of experts, figured up a project according to which Palazzo Selam in Rome would become a self-managed centre and part of a broader plan for social inclusion and integration, with the aim of creating a Roman model of hospitality, to be exported elsewhere. This project was indeed unsuccessful.
In 2017 he published, with Giuseppe Carrisi, Padre Mosè (Giunti), a book about his life, in which he illustrates the four key points that are necessary to him to base a legal immigration system (pp.214 et seq.).
1) How to describe the Horn of Africa in relation to the 'amnesia and removals' of the governments and states that have occupied it?
The amnesia and removal of the colonisers are crucial aspects for contemporary historiography, as they regard both internal politics (such as the political debate on how to deal with current matters like immigration or cultural rights) and the need to build a new identity, free from the oppression and responsibilities of the despotic supremacy of the ex-colonial governments. So as not to be subjected once more to the centrality of the colonial countries, I focus my attention on what the Somalis “got up to” and on what the rest of the world, which does not strictly coincide with the countries that occupied the Horn of Africa, allowed Italy to do, forgetting and thus sacrificing the Somalis’ requests for liberty and independence in order to reward Italy which, at the last minute, allied itself with the victors of the second world war.
“It was a particular time for Somalia. The whole world (so to speak) felt it was right that Italy, the colonising nation, should introduce Somalia to process of democracy. This idea ‘born’ of the United Nations General Assembly would last from 1950 to 1960 and was called the Trust Territory of Somaliland under Italian administration (AFIS)” .
Something about this event beggars belief and I have returned to it in more than one story: I felt the need to talk about the paradoxical situation in which those Somalis who fought for independence found themselves. It is difficult to stomach the fact that the United Nations, gaily forgetting the requests of those supporting independence and Somalis’ right to self-governance, gave Italy – the colonising nation – a free hand in guiding Somalis in the creation of a democratic state, through AFIS – an institution full of ex-fascists, no less!
On closer inspection, we Somalis are no strangers to certain removals either. Let’s take the case of the clash on calling a general election on electoral law 4.5 , currently in force at the expense of the law based on the principle of “ one person, one vote”. Sadly I have noticed that, as far as I am aware, this clash did not lead to the awareness that law 4.5 is a poisoned apple from a particular moment in time:
“…at the end of colonialism in the hurry to establish a democratic state in order to achieve independence. It was a process in which the colonialists and their collaborators were heavily involved. The end result was such a mishmash that it did not even contemplate a census or any attempt to modernise the tools which traditionally regulated conflict. The independence forces approved the project in order to rid themselves of the colonialists”
Amnesia, therefore, does not only affect the governments of countries like Italy, which occupied the Horn of Africa, but also institutions such as the United Nations, not to mention people from the Horn of Africa itself, in our case Somalis. So, an open conversation with which to face these “memory lapses” and/or reformulations can only be positive and useful.
"The modern postcolonial nations - according to some scholars such as Partha Chatterjee (1993) - would resemble a second copy of the great European nation and, in this way, would represent the most suitable spaces for the realization of its economic, social and cultural purposes ". What do you think? How do you interpret this statement? Do you share it? If so, why? If not, why?
In the Somali case, for example, the push towards the disarticulation of the nation state system, caused by globalisation and the 1991 civil war, is a very different sociohistorical context to that in which the great European nations were formed. The separation of powers is an integral element of the national shape which came about over a long period of time in Europe, while in Somalia, due to the conflict which has still not been definitively concluded, it may be less clear, or take on an “anomalous” form. In my article “Cambio d’abito” [Getting changed], I tried to explain my viewpoint of the role of Somali women in this complicated context.
“In absence of the State and in presence of the violence of the warlords, in the midst of chaos, women in Somalia desired “law”, sharia. When “Somaliness” – the real and metaphoric fabric which held the population together – was torn apart, I believe that women placed this new clothing between their bodies and the violence. At the same time, they found religion to be a new container of common identity, which went beyond the clan divisions.”
It is clear that religion is central, not only to keep Somalis united as a people – as a nation – but also in what should be the aim of a state which manages to be democratic. Here arises the question of democracy in its role of guaranteeing the safety of all its citizens and, therefore, of women too. Only the protection of rights can prevent women from being at the mercy of the militia’s abuse. And Somalis, like other peoples, are travelling what I believe to be untrodden paths and I cannot exclude, in fact I hope, that in their own way at their destination they become a democratic nation, without becoming a copy of the great European nations. It is necessary to explore new routes to reach such a difficult objective in little time.
Regarding identity: what do you think of that controversial line of studies (ie Homi K. Bhabha in The Location of Culture of 1994 uses concepts such as mimicry, interstice, hybridity, and liminality to argue that cultural production is always most productive where it is most ambivalent), in which we talk about the cultural processes of hybridization in which colonized and colonizers are involved as sometimes even fertile processes? Could you possibly give some examples?
I will try to start with an example from a story of mine published in a collection entitled Fra-intendimenti. The story begins like this:
“Four o’clock at night, for the world in general, or ten o’clock at night for those who have the honour of being from Mogadishu. What normally happens in houses where at least one Somali lives happens: the phone rings […]
I rub my eyes, look at the clock, and say: “What time is it?” then, to myself: “Oh Lord! It’s ten at night!”
Mr. F. intervenes with the laid-back voice of one who always gets his way. He corrected me saying: “Four o’clock, four o’clock”.
In Somalia, a girl from the Hawiye clan would have said ten o’clock, a Daarood girl would have said four o’clock (just like here in Italy). As I am a Daarood who grew up surrounded by Hawiyes, I can use either form; so I agree with him, repeating: “Four o’clock, four o’clock”.
So, this character, a Somali woman who has moved to Italy to start over, has a double time measurement system. As the story progresses, the protagonist forgets to adjust her clock and is surprised to see the bank is still closed, so with the change to European time, complexity increased and the spatial-time measurement system of our protagonist is not just binary, as Bhabha teaches us, but triple: two Somali times and one Italian.
For me, these are elements of complexity that I usually contrast in my stories with the simplifying stereotypes which are projected onto immigrants in the societies they arrive in; stereotypes which, moreover, often have their roots in colonialism. However, they are also a way to share the possibility that immigrants from the same area of origin may have different space-time referents and the fact that three time systems may coexist in one person, where the acquisition of one does not imply the cancellation of another. Acquisition of knowledge is not sum-zero. But what about when the characters come from different places? In another story, in which there are three people – an interpreter, a civil servant and an elderly woman who is an asylum seeker – the situation is yet another. Although the elderly woman wants to become part of the hosting society with equal rights and duties, she fiercely defends her cultural and behavioural norms without budging an inch throughout the whole story. The civil servant, on his part, sticks to the rigid regulations of his space-time referents in his role as head of the office. The narrow-mindedness of these two characters makes the presence of the interpreter appear superfluous and in the story the interpreter also becomes a third space into which ambivalences flow. Describing a situation of this sort as an author provides me with a way of recounting to my readers one of many conflicts, in this case between equalities and differences which emerge already on immigrants’ arrival. As an asylum seeker, the old woman must be treated according to the universal criteria of Equality, but on the other hand, as a champion of a specific culture, she wants and has the right to respect for her difference; she is not willing to conform:
“The dynamics of the ‘game’: Mr. D. (the civil servant) asks questions, I translate them for the lady who will then answer and I will translate for Mr. D.
They both begin to talk to me at the same time. A great start to the day!
I ask the civil servant if he would mind if I listened to the lady. A little irritated, he agrees. After a brief introduction, the interviews always begin with his questions, he is the star actor on this stage.
The lady: My dear girl, who is this man? Your husband?
The civil servant: What’s she saying?
Me: She wants to know who we are.
The civil servant: You tell her that I ask the questions. How old is she?
In my part of the world, you have to greet the elderly at length and only they can ask questions to begin with. My lady makes no exceptions. In fact: “If he isn’t your husband, what are you doing in this room with him?”
The story goes on like this throughout, with the two main speakers never meeting. But as an author, through certain structural elements in my way of writing, I play yet another game; besides the explanation of the complexity and the introduction of the readers to the cultural diversities which I spoke of, the same narrative structure – through direct discourse, hesitations, questions, meta-narrative comments, and doubts – breaks rigid barriers of identity and seeks to stimulate the readers to act to build a world, a home, in which willingness to listen is a necessary condition to inclusion.
Using the concept, dear to us psychoanalysts, of Nachträglichkeit, what could we think of post-colonialism? Where does this 'post-' refer to an after, to a subsequent event which, however, implies a before that 'had not (yet) happened'? J. André could be right when he observes that "The après-coup is a trauma, and if it is not simple repetition it is because it contains elements of signification that open, on condition of encountering a listening and an interpretation, on a transformation of the past"? If you believe that this question can make sense for 'thinking' about post-colonialism, what would be the necessary listening and interpretation in political and geographical terms in your opinion?
Obviously, post colonialism does not have the same meaning for the colonised and the colonisers. For the latter, at least for most of them, the past is seen with guilt, a series of action which are no longer justifiable, but which found no obstacle at the time, if not in small niches of public opinion and/or in the case of particularly abominable aspects (like the slave trade). I ought to belong to the post-colonials – the ex-colonised – yet, this prospective is astonishing because it is not mine, if not by reflex. In fact, I belong to the independence period generation, whose principle outlook was the future. For us the trauma of colonialism, as an offence not a responsibility, was lightened in particular by the prospect of the future, which coincided in one phase with the “radiant socialist future”. It was a formidable cultural operation which dealt with the recent colonial past and contemporarily recovered previous or colonial times, re-evaluating ways of living together, cultures and traditions which made up our history. A new way of looking at one’s own origins to see the future in a new light.
So, as a young girl, in my geography book, Dhig and Lool, the branches which made up the frame of the nomads’ huts took the names of the Earth’s meridians and parallels (Earth is our home, after all). Similarly in the history books, the hero did not appear as Mad Mullah, the crazy fanatic, as the English (the Empire) would have liked, but as Sayid Mohamed Abdille Hassan. Mohamed Abdille Hassan stood out in literature too, as one of the most important poets of the 1900s in Somalia. His poems were pure propaganda against the colonialist invaders, as well as a tool for understanding the reasons for his battles. However, they were also a way of getting to know the vastness, the wealth and the beauty of the Somali language.
We had to study his poems and there was one in particular that we had to know by heart: that about the Battle of Dhul Madoobe. The poem is dedicated to the Darwiish men of his army who fell before victory against the English, who were led by Richard Conyngham Corfield, killed in battle. On this occasion, Sayid writes a poem which is an authentic, detailed report of the victory in which he delegates to the English officer “the duty” of informing the glorious Darwiish who are resting in the afterlife.
While a past was being built in order to plan a future, colonialism was naturally present everywhere, even physically speaking: negatively, for example in the cities, in the buildings of the colonisers, positively in the statues of the heroes of independence like that of Sayid. The statue of Sayid – the teacher, the guide, you just had to say Sayid and absolutely everybody, even those whose ancestors he had plundered and killed, thought of him – stood there on his pedestal, in the “new” city centre, to restore dignity and honour and to represent the values which lead to resurgence. Then there was the fall, preceded by another fall, the dictatorship, which paved the way for it. There was a fall, a bloodbath led by the warlords who, to quash the dictatorship, started a civil war which like a flood swept away our Shared History, among other things. In 1991, at the beginning of the war, a mass of civilians, “the people”, attacked the statue of Sayid, reducing it to scrap metal and selling it to some bastar…! For these people, anti-colonialism and, on the flip side, colonialism evidently meant nothing or at least it was not their priority.
Current attempts at rebuilding the fragile new federal state are rather uncertain: suffice to think about the ongoing dispute between the central government and the regions, which leaves the whole country at sea. Amid the clan tempests and their big shot allies, the statue of Sayid reappears in the same place which had been left empty all these years! What does it mean? How have thirty years of violence and civil war managed to fill that void? How has constant, daily violence re-written our stories and what we have become?
It is clear that we must pay attention and listen to these questions in light of all that has happened since independence.
So, rather than post-colonial, I would call myself a post-independence woman, who listens with curiosity and is open to interpretation, but above all in search of a compass.
“Given that they mostly deal with the complex matter of alterity, (post)colonial studies often cross paths with women’s studies, especially in the area of convergence of racial and gender issues. These studies speak of the double subordination of women: what is your view?”
I have written about and I write about subordination because I believe it is an important social and political issue which we cannot avoid considering. In my stories there are female characters who find themselves in a situation in which they are subjected to various types of subordinations, not just double but also triple or multiple: income, status, ethnicity, skin colour to name but a few. Furthermore, it is not unusual for them all to weigh down on the shoulders of a single woman. There are times in my writing, considering the matter of the subordination of women, when I try to offer up alternative scenarios in which elements which are considered by the stereotypes of the hosting society to be symbols of women’s subordination are nothing of the sort for the so-called subordinated women themselves; they actually seem to be elements which complete them and give them their dignity:
“Aisha has changed her style: she now wears the hijab. She is part of a large community in London, the Muslim community. When she was newly arrived in London, being just a poor refugee widow with six children was too tight on her. She preferred to add to the other things that belonged to her something which would give her dignity and strength. With a veil and a beautiful long black dress she walked through the main door of the ummah. Now she is a Muslim lady with a strong passport.”
Aisha is a Somali woman who, like many others, has run from conflict and, once in Britain, she acquires a British passport. But, in order to fully belong to the British community, she wants the inclusion of certain elements which are fundamental to her identity, among which religion is certainly important. Her “difference” which requires recognition is displayed in a garment of great symbolic meaning: the hijab. Wearing this veil is a “manifesto” of her own challenge to subordination. I try to focus on subordination in its complexity and I therefore like to display its variety. And that’s not all. I feel it is important to also draw attention to those who are on the other side of the relationship that is subordination, the non-subordinated.
“Black. In other words, no colour. Apparently anyone can decide what colour to paint over black. The lorry driver paints me prostitute colour. An illuminist feminist, one of those ones who want to free women who they think are in absolute poverty, had painted me as a girl who was subjugated by the men from my parts and who, obviously, was in urgent need of her help. We were not friends. Her help was dictated by my impelling needs, as she imagined them. There was no way of collaborating with her. She wanted, at all costs, to talk about how terrible the men from my parts were. I needed an ally and I silently realised that it was not possible to play a duet or agree on the weight and priority to assign to the problems of a hypothetical agenda which could only be the colour of Blues. Some left-wing boy, not yet disillusioned, painted me the colour of someone who is always right, depriving me at the same time of all the colours of a person who is able to choose and act freely; he didn’t leave me the risk one runs when choosing: that of making a mistake.”
As can be seen in this excerpt taken from the story Granddad Y. and the Colours of Allies, there are three characters who represent three heterogeneous categories: a lorry driver, an “illuminist feminist” and some “left-wing boy, not yet disillusioned”. They each fall, in their own way, into the trap of generalisations. For me the lorry driver has the function of pointing out the presence of ghosts created by the erotic and sexual connotation that colonial propaganda gave to Africa in the past, while the other two, by flattening women into single-dimensioned subordinated beings, do nothing but rob them of all the other identities that black women are able to gather within themselves. While those who remain blind to the ability with which women move despite the little space for manoeuvre in the case of subordination drown in nothingness the efforts and the creativity of black women in those difficult times.
In my writing, I try not to generalise and so the fact that immigrants have various cultural referents or are in a state of subordination does not make them immune to holding prejudices; nor do all member of the societies which immigrants arrive in, the “whites”, be they men or women, have these generalised perceptions.
Moreover, it is important to distance oneself from those discourses which with prejudice, perhaps to justify other subordinations, represent all black men as wicked. In fact also in the story Granddad Y. and the Colours of Allies, following the same trajectory of diversification, between black men of the same culture, Somali culture for example, I belie the behaviour of “superiority” with which African men are characterised: all with the same mentality and what’s more an obtuse, patriarchal view. I recount a clash between three patriarchal mentalities on the delicate question of whether or not to allow Somali girls to attend the Italian school. On the one hand, we have a group of conservative Somali “bigwigs” and an AFIS civil servant; on the other hand, in favour of the schooling of girls and their right to study, we have Granddad Y. and his friend, motivated by the desire to increase women’s ability to manage more than one world, and certainly not spurred by a passion for assimilation. Both men are eminent members of the Somali Independence League against colonialism. Nadia, instead, delights in assimilation and is furthermore opportunist and a traitor. She is a character from another story which takes her name . I want to say that I give women (and females, in the case of the protagonist of a fable I wrote ) various characteristics. They can be intelligent, aggressive, good and bad and perhaps all these things together. What they all have in common is determination and even when they indulge others, they move in a fiercely autonomous way. They exist because I see them and with my writings I invite those who in some way do not have the lenses to see them to integrate their gaze. I present complexity and diversities which I contrast with simplified stereotypes, created also (or above all) to justify subordination.
Kaha Mohamed Aden
was born in Mogadishu. She has lived in Pavia, Italy, since 1987. She graduated from the University of Pavia in Economics and Business and earned a Masters in Development Cooperation at the University School for Advanced Studies of Pavia (IUSS).
She has worked for Volontariato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo (International Volunteering for Development).
She carries out various activities in the cultural mediation sector, dealing with topics such as immigration and interculturality.
In 2001 she wrote “I sogni delle extrasignore e le loro padrone” [The dreams of the immiladies and their mistresses] published in the book La Serva Serve: le nuove forzate del lavoro domestico [The female servant serves: the new slaves of domestic work] by Cristina Morini, Derive/Approdi.
In December 2002 she was honoured with the San Siro prize by the Municipality of Pavia for her activities in the field of intercultural mediation.
In 2015 she led the writing workshop at the Thinking Festival Is thinking necessary anymore? (Festival del Pensare Pensare serve ancora?), from which came the publication Fil Rouge, Festival del Pensare edition, Cecina.
In 2016 she was invited by the Australasian Centre for Italian Studies (ACIS), to hold a series of conferences: she was made a Visiting HRA – Honorary Research Associate on the occasion.
She has written for various journals, including: Nuovi Argomenti, N.27, 2004; Psiche, N.1, 2008, Incontri, Rivista Europea di Studi Italiani, Vol. 32, N. 2, 2017.
She collaborates with the journal Africa e Mediterraneo, in which she has published “Nabad iyo Caano. Pace e Latte, N.81, 2/14, “Cambio d’abito”, N..86, 1/17 and “Un felice goffo volo dallo Yaya Centre”, N.92-93, 12/20. She has created the performance La Quarta Via (2004), which the documentary of the same name has been based on. https://www.openddb.it/film/la-quarta-via/
In 2010 she published Fra-intendimenti (Nottetempo) and in 2019 Dalmar. La disfavola degli elefanti (Unicopli).