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Forty years ago, the adventure of the review African politics started as a challenge: de-exoticize the look on African societies. The bet is a challenge as scientific production is so permeated by colonial ethnology and the networks of Françafrique.
“ The barbouzes held a monopoly on the publication of political analysis on Africa. One of them, close to the Foccart cell [la cellule africaine de l’Elysée] was also the communicator of Mobutu and Kadhafi [les anciens présidents zaïrois et libyen]. As for the jurists, who had drafted the constitutions of independent states, they provided a purely legal perspective ”, remembers political scientist Jean-François Bayart.
To reverse the perspective, the young scholar brought together the new generation of French Africanists, from Christian Coulon to Jean Copans, and launched in March 1981 African politics. At the same time, the Karthala editions were born.
Driven by a common intellectual vision, the publishing house and the academic journal collaborate by publishing the quarterly. “We had a thirst to understand the historicity of African societies of which colonization was only a sequence”, continues Jean-François Bayart. He recalls that at the time, the world academic field was dominated by two antagonistic currents: the economic theories of liberal inspiration and the school of the theory of dependence supported by the economist Samir Amin, who maintains that the countries rich keep poor countries in poverty.
Despite their theoretical contradictions, the two paths make the West the driving force behind the history of southern societies. The founders of African politics choose to place African actors at the heart of their editorial project. They set themselves the objective of diversifying the places of observation of politics, of seeking it outside conventional spaces and no longer being limited to institutional and state protagonists.
The contributors, historians, geographers, anthropologists and political scientists, focus on popular modes of political action and uncover the tools of resistance and expression of African societies, whether street parliaments, popular agoras that have flourished from Kinshasa to Bamako, or debates on homosexual and transgender issues.
What Jean-François Bayart calls “ politics from below ” : “Starting from the bottom allowed us to identify issues outside the scope. As early as the 1980s, we looked at the agrarian question in Africa. However, we see that today jihadism is the symptom of a social crisis very largely linked to the agrarian crisis. “
In forty years, the associative journal, funded by its members and research centers such as the Sciences Po International Research Center (CERI), the Les Afriques dans le monde laboratory (LAM) and the Institute of African Worlds (IMAF) , has made its mark in the field of international social science publications. However, ” Polaf » does not escape the legitimate debate on the marginal place occupied by the continent’s researchers within publications on Africa, written outside the continent.
Some of them denounce a “Overhang speech”. Review African policy “is situated in the continuity of the Africanist logic, castigates a Cameroonian academic who wishes to remain anonymous. This considers Africans as objects of inquiry and not as subjects of self-knowledge. The review did not decolonize at all ”.
A journal on Africa, not open enough to African researchers? The question, recurring in the world of African studies, raises fundamental problems. ” We are suffering the effects of deep structural inequalities between African and European universities in terms of the means of producing knowledge and supporting research ”, retorts Sandrine Perrot, researcher and publication director of African politics. “In addition, in French-speaking African universities, the structural adjustment plans launched in the 1980s have undermined budgets. Let us not forget also the difficulties of the procedures for obtaining visas which reduce the mobility of researchers from the continent. “
Despite these constraints, the journal announced the imminent entry of several African researchers into its editorial board, including Ousmane Zina from the University of Bouaké, in Côte d’Ivoire, and Nadine Machikou, teacher-researcher at the University of Yaoundé, Cameroon, who will become one of the journal’s editors as of 1is July.
Critique of culturalism
For Joseph Tonda, sociologist and anthropologist at Omar-Bongo University in Libreville, Gabon, African politics plays a major role in highlighting African researchers. ” To be published at Polaf helps promote its work internationally. Today I am read in Africa, France and the United States », Rejoices the academic published since 1988, author ofAphrodystopy (éd. Karthala, 2021).
As for the lack of African authors in the review, he considers that “African policy like the African Studies Notebooks impose a high level of rigor on their authors. This is not always the case in French-speaking African magazines where cronyism is often the order of the day. Add to that the economic, administrative and political constraints, it is difficult for these researchers to distinguish themselves from demanding French or American journals ”.
For its 40th anniversary, the quarterly review is offering an anniversary issue rich in debates around the social sciences in Africa. The articles written by African and European authors make it possible to (re) discover the strong notions that the journal has helped to disseminate. Whether it is the critique of culturalism – the idea according to which African tradition and culture overdetermine political action – or even ” politics from below ”. Note the openness to current affairs through detailed texts that deal with the Salafist revolution in West Africa, the militarization of the continent, the decolonial turn in African studies as well as the impact of the murder. of George Floyd in Africa.
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