Haitian inspiration: On the bicentenary of Haiti’s independence

Originally posted in Radical Philosophy Issue 123, January/February 2004.

Two hundred years ago this month (January 2004), the French colony of Saint-Domingue on the island of Hispaniola became the independent nation of Haiti. Few transformations in world history have been more momentous, few required more sacri?ce or promised more hope. And few have been more thoroughly forgotten by those who would have us believe that this history has since come to a desirable end with the eclipse of struggles for socialism, national liberation and meaningful independence in the developing world.

Of the three great revolutions that began in the ?nal decades of the eighteenth century – American, French and Haitian – only the third forced the unconditional application of the principle that inspired each one: af?rmation of the natural, inalienable rights of all human
beings. Only in Haiti was the declaration of human freedom universally consistent. Only in Haiti was this declaration sustained at all costs, in direct opposition to the social order and economic logic of the day. Only in Haiti were the consequences of this declaration – the end of slavery, of colonialism, of racial inequality – upheld in terms that directly embraced the world as a whole. And of these three revolutions, it is Haiti’s that has the most to teach those seeking to uphold these consequences in the world today.

Recognized as a French territory from the late seventeenth century, by the 1780s Saint-Domingue had become far and away the most pro?table colony in the world, the jewel in the French imperial crown and the basis for much of the new prosperity of its growing commercial bourgeoisie. ‘On the eve of the American Revolution’, Paul Farmer notes, ‘Saint-Domingue – roughly the size of the modern state of Maryland – generated more revenue than all thirteen North American colonies combined’; on the eve of the French Revolution it had become the world’s single largest producer of coffee and the source for around 75 per cent of its sugar.(1) This exceptional productivity was the result of an exceptionally cruel plantation economy, one built on the labour of slaves who were worked to death so quickly that even rapid expansion of the slave trade over these same years was unable to keep up with demand. Mortality levels were such that during the 1780s the colony absorbed around 40,000 new slaves a year. By 1789, Eric Williams suggests, this ‘pearl of the Caribbean’ had become, for the vast majority of its inhabitants, ‘the worst hell on earth’.(2)

Rapid growth put signi?cant strains on the colony’s social structure. Coercive power was divided between three increasingly antagonistic groups – the white plantation-owning elite, the representatives of French imperial power on the island, and an ever more prosperous but politically powerless group of mulattos and former slaves. With the outbreak of the French Revolution tensions between these factions of the colonial ruling class broke out in open con?ict, and when a massive slave rebellion began in August 1791 the regime was unable to cope. Sent to restore order, the French commissioner Sonthonax was soon confronted by a rebellion of the white planters seeking greater independence from republican France and withdrawal of the civic rights recently granted to the island’s mulattos. Sonthonax only managed to suppress this rebellion by offering permanent freedom to the slave armies who still controlled the countryside, in exchange for their support. Over the next few years, the army of emancipated slaves led by Toussaint L’Ouverture slowly gained control of the colony. In a series of brilliant military campaigns, Toussaint defeated the planters, the Spanish, the British and his own rivals among the black and mulatto armies. By the turn of the century he had become the effective ruler of Saint-Domingue. Unwilling to break with France itself, however, Toussaint allowed himself to be taken prisoner by the expeditionary force that Napoleon sent in 1801 to restore colonial slavery. Napoleon’s troops were successful in Guadeloupe but failed in Saint-Domingue. Toussaint’s army reassembled under Jean-Jacques Dessalines and by the time the war of independence was over Napoleon, like Pitt before him, had lost 50,000 troops. The last of the French were expelled in November 1803.

Apart from the extraordinary impact of the historical sequence itself, why should anyone with an interest in radical philosophy take an interest, today, in the making of Haitian independence? Haiti is invariably described as the ‘poorest country in the Western hemisphere’. It routinely features as an object lesson in failed economic development and un?nished ‘modernization’, as deprived of the bene?ts associated with representative democracy, modern civil society and stable foreign investment. Almost as regularly, it is presented as the referent of explicitly racist hogwash about Voodoo or AIDS. Why take an interest in the revolution which led to the creation of such a country? Here are some of the more obvious reasons.

1. If the French Revolution stands as the great political event of modern times, the Haitian revolution must ?gure as the single most decisive sequence of this event. The French colonies were the one place in which the ‘universal’ principles of liberty and equality af?rmed by 1789 were truly tested: they were that exceptional place in which these principles might fail to apply. No question served to clarify political differences within the Revolutionary Assemblies as sharply as the colonial question, and, as Florence Gauthier has shown, no question played a more important role in the reactionary transition from the Jacobin prescription of natural rights to the Thermidorian af?rmation of social rights – the prescriptions of order, property and prosperity. The Haitian revolution continued, moreover, where the French Revolution left off: just before Napoleon tried to restore slavery in the western half of Hispaniola, Toussaint abolished it in the eastern half. And in so far as our political present retains an essentially Thermidorian con?guration, the logic used by the French colonial lobby to justify the preservation of slavery says something about the logic at issue in today’s global division of labour as well. Pierre Victor Malouet, speaking on behalf of the planters in the Assembly’s 1791 debate, knew that the universal declaration of human rights was incompatible with the existence of colonies, and so urged his patriotic countrymen to preserve the exceptional status of their colonies. ‘It’s not a matter of pondering whether the institution of slavery can be defended in terms of principle and right’, said Malouet; ‘no man endowed with sense and morality would profess such a doctrine. It’s a matter, instead, of knowing whether it is possible to change this institution in our colonies, without a terrifying accumulation of crimes and calamities.’(3) The basic principle persists to this day. The rules that apply to ‘us’ cannot reasonably be made to apply to ‘them’ without jeopardizing the stability of our investments, without risking global recession, terror or worse.

2. The achievement of Haitian independence reminds us that politics need not always proceed as ‘the art of the possible’. Haitian independence brought to an end one of the most profoundly improbable sequences in all of world history. Contemporary observers were uniformly astounded. As Robin Blackburn observes, Toussaint’s forces broke the chain of colonial slavery at ‘what had been, in 1789, its strongest link’.(4) They overcame the most crushing form of ideological prejudice ever faced by a resistance movement and defeated in turn the armies of the most powerful imperialist nations on earth. Their example further provided perhaps the single greatest inspiration for subsequent African and Latin American liberation movements: Haiti provided crucial support to (a notably ungrateful) Simón Bolívar in his struggle against Spain, and in the ?rst decades of the nineteenth century helped motivate rebellions against slavery in Cuba, Jamaica, Brazil and the USA, just as it would later inspire those working for an end to colonialism in Africa.

3. The Haitian revolution is a particularly dramatic example of the way in which historical ‘necessity’ emerges only retrospectively. Those who refrain from action until the full strategic import of the moment becomes clear will never act. With hindsight, it is obvious that in the circumstances of the late eighteenth century only the achievement of national independence could ever guarantee the lasting abolition of slavery in Haiti. Nevertheless, it took Dessalines ten years to reach this conclusion, and it is one that Toussaint himself was apparently never willing to accept. Toussaint’s eventual determination to placate the French, to preserve the essential structure of the plantation economy, to accommodate the white planters, cost him much of his popular support in the ?nal campaign against France: the man who did most to achieve liberation of the slaves was unable to do what was required to preserve this achievement. Similarly, although the slave uprising that sparked the whole sequence was carefully planned and thoroughly prepared by the structural conditions of the plantation
economy itself, its full consequences remained obscure long after the event. None of the leaders involved in the uprising deliberately set out to achieve the abolition of slavery. Pursuit of abolition was virtually imposed upon them by the planters’ refusal to accept anything other than the quasi-suicidal surrender of their armies. The actual decision to abolish slavery was then forced on a reluctant Sonthonax as a result of intractable divisions among the Saint-Domingue elite.

4. Although the process was contingent and unpredictable, the achievement of Haitian freedom and independence was forced through direct action, without mediation of ‘recognition’, ‘negotiation’ or ‘communication’. Enlightened arguments against slavery were hardly uncommon in the eighteenth century. Montesquieu poured scorn on its racial and religious ‘justi?cations’, the Encyclopédie labelled the colonial slave trade a crime against humanity, Rousseau identi?ed slavery with a denial of humanity pure and simple. The mostly Girondin Société des Amis des Noirs supported a ‘carefully prepared freedom for the slaves’ within a reformed colonial system. There’s a world of difference, however, between the assertion of such ?ne principles and active solidarity with an actual slave uprising. Brissot, founder of the Société, called for the repression of the slaves’ uprising as soon as it began. As C.L.R. James points out, impassioned moral outbursts about the evils of exploitation ‘neither then nor now have carried weight’, for when the basis of their authority is in question those in power yield only to irresistible pressure.(5) The moderates who worked to improve conditions in Saint-Domingue through of?cial legislative channels achieved virtually nothing during three years of indecisive wrangling, and the Jacobins’ eventual acceptance of an end to slavery came a full two and a half years after the 1791 revolt. Unlike the slaves, who lacked any of?cial representation, the island’s mulattos were weakened as much by their futile efforts to solicit recognition from France as they were by their reckless determination to pursue their claims in isolation, without black support. (As for Tocqueville, the darling of those reactionary historians of the French Revolution who have recently gone to some trouble to erase the question of slavery and the colonies from this history altogether (6) – for all his well-known aversion to slavery, he was to echo the colonial lobby almost to the letter when in the 1830s and 1840s he came to advocate the ‘total domination’ of Algeria through ‘devastation of the country’ and the enforcement of apartheid-style forms of social control.) Among the French philosophers, only Diderot and Raynal, after Mercier, were willing to tell the nations of Europe, in words that may have inspired Toussaint himself, that ‘your slaves are not in need of your generosity or of your councils, in order to break the sacrilegious yoke which oppresses them.… A courageous chief only is wanted [who] will come forth and raise the sacred standard of liberty.’

5. The Haitian revolution is a powerful illustration of the way in which any actively universal prescription is simultaneously an exceptional and divisive revaluation of a hitherto unrepresentable or ‘untouchable’ aspect of its situation. Every truly universal principle, as Alain Badiou suggests, ‘appears at ?rst as the decision of an undecidable or the valorization of something without value’ and its consequent application will ensure that the group or capacity that has so far been ‘minimally existent’ in the situation comes to acquire a maximal intensity.(7) On the eve of 1791, what virtually all the participants in the debate over slavery accepted, including the future slave leaders themselves, was the impossibility of an independent nation peopled by free citizens of African descent. The achievement of this independence must stand as one of the most categorical blows against racism that has ever been struck. Rarely has race been so clearly understood for what it is – in no sense a source of con?ict or difference, but merely an empty signi?er harnessed to an economy of plunder and exploitation. Early Haitian writers understood perfectly well the point made more recently by Wallerstein and Balibar, among others, that theories of racial inequality were concocted by white colonists so as to legitimate slavery and the pursuit of European interests. The ?rst constitution of Haiti (1805) broke abruptly with the whole question of race by identifying all Haitians, regardless of the colour of their skin, as black – a characterization that included, among others, a substantial number of German and Polish troops who had joined in the ?ght against Napoleon. David Nicholls demonstrates that throughout the nineteenth century, though they showed little interest in the contemporary state of African culture per se, ‘Haitian writers, mulatto and black, conservative and Marxist, were practically unanimous in portraying Haiti as a symbol of African regeneration and of racial equality. Mulatto intellectuals from the elite, who in appearance could well have been taken for Europeans, proudly regarded themselves as Africans, as members of the black race.’8 And, as Nicholls goes on to show, nothing has undercut Haitian independence in the post-revolutionary period more than the resurgence of colour prejudice and the re-differentiation of Haitians in terms of either coloured or black.

6. Haiti’s revolution is a reminder that such divisive universality can only be sustained by a revolutionary subject. Haitian independence was the conclusion of the only successful slave uprising that has ever taken place. It isn’t dif?cult to list the various conjunctural reasons for this success, including the large numbers and concentration of slaves in the colony, the economic and cultural factors which tied them together, the brutality with which most of them were treated, the relative freedom of movement enjoyed by the slaves’ ‘managerial’ elite, the intensity of economic and political divisions among the ruling class, rivalries among the imperialist powers, the inspiration provided by the revolutions in America and France, the quality of Toussaint’s leadership, and so on. One factor above all, however, accounts for the outcome of what became one of the ?rst modern instances of total war: the people’s determination to resist a return to slavery under any circumstances. This is the great constant of the entire revolutionary sequence, and it is this that lends an overall direction to the otherwise convoluted series of its leaders’ tactical manoeuvrings. As Carolyn Fick has established, when Dessalines, Christophe and the other black generals ?nally broke with the French in 1802, it was the constancy of their troops that enabled their eventual decision. ‘The masses had resisted the French from the very beginning, in spite of, and not because of, their leadership. They had shouldered the whole burden and paid the price of resistance all along, and it was they who had now made possible the political and military reintegration of the leaders in the collective struggle.’ (9) Haiti’s revolutionaries thereby refused today’s logic of ‘democratic intervention’ avant la lettre. The recent introduction of democracy to Iraq is only the latest of a long sequence of international attempts to impose self-serving political arrangements upon a people whose participation in the process is only tolerable if it remains utterly passive and obedient; the people of Haiti, by contrast, were determined to remain the subjects rather than the objects of their own liberation. And by doing so, they likewise challenged that category of absolute passivity, that quasi-human ‘remainder’ revived, in a certain sense, by Giorgio Agamben’s recent work on bare life and the Muselmänner. Whereas ‘before the revolution many a slave had to be whipped before he could be got to move from where he sat’, James notes, these same ‘subhumans’ then went on to ?ght ‘one of the greatest revolutionary battles in history’. (10)

7. In stark contrast to today’s democratic consensus, Haitian history from Toussaint and Dessalines to Préval and Aristide features the consistent articulation of popular political mobilization and authoritarian leadership. Needless to say, the fortunes of the former have often suffered from the excesses of the latter. It is no less obvious, however, that arguments in favour of ‘democratic reform’ and a judicious ‘separation of powers’ have very largely been made by members of Haiti’s tiny propertied elite, along with their international sponsors. Precisely these kinds of argument have served to paralyse Aristide’s presidency from the moment he ?rst took of?ce. The basic pattern was already set with the reaction to Dessalines’ own brief rule: in his several years as (an undeniably bloodthirsty and autocratic) emperor, Dessalines introduced taxes on trade that were unpopular with the elite, took steps to dissolve prejudice between coloureds and blacks, and began to move towards a more equitable distribution of land. ‘Negroes and mulattos’, he announced, ‘we have all fought against the whites; the properties which we have conquered by the spilling of our blood belong to us all; I intend that they be divided with equity.’ (11) Soon afterwards, in October 1806, the mulatto elite had Dessalines assassinated, and were subsequently careful to protect their commercial privileges by imposing strict limits on presidential power. Dessalines’ true successor, as James implies, is Fidel Castro. On the other hand, repeated attempts (begun by Toussaint himself) to restore the old plantation economy by authoritarian means foundered on the resolve of the emancipated slaves never to return to their former life. The main goal of most participants in the war of independence was direct control over their own livelihood and land. Haiti’s ?rst constitution was careful to block foreign ownership of Haitian property, and by the 1820s many of Haiti’s ex-slaves had succeeded in becoming peasant proprietors. The ongoing effort to retain at least some degree of economic autonomy is one of several factors that help explain the exceptionally aggressive economic policies subsequently imposed on the island, ?rst by American occupation (1915–34) and later by the IMF-brokered structural adjustment plans which have effectively continued that occupation by other means. Much of the power of James’s celebrated account of the Haitian revolution stems from the fact that it is oriented squarely towards what were, for him, the ongoing struggles for African liberation and global socialism. Today, things may not seem quite so clear-cut. Today’s variants on slavery are somewhat less stark than those of 1788, and their justi?cation usually involves arguments more subtle than reference to the colour of one’s skin. Some things haven’t changed, however. Haiti’s revolution proceeded in direct opposition to the great colonial powers of the day, and when after Thermidor even revolutionary France returned to the colonial fold, Haiti alone carried on the struggle to af?rm the rights of universal humanity against the predatory imperatives of property. Aristide’s greatest crime in the eyes of the ‘international community’ was surely to have continued this struggle. Thermidorians of every age have tried to present an orderly, paci?ed picture of historical change as the consolidation of property, prosperity and security. Haiti’s revolution testi?es to the power of another conception of history and the possibility of a different political future.

1. Paul Farmer, The Uses of Haiti, Common Courage Press, Monroe ME, 1994, p. 63.
2. Eric Williams, em>From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean 1492–1969, André Deutsch, London, 1970, p. 245. The standard account of the Haitian revolution remains, with good reason, C.L.R. James’s The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, Penguin, London, 2001; originally published 1938.
3. Florence Gauthier, Triomphe et mort du droit naturel en Révolution 1789–1795–1802, PUF, Paris, 2000, pp. 174–7.
4. Robin Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, Verso, London, 1989, p. 258.
5. James, The Black Jacobins, p. 19.
6. Saint-Domingue isn’t even mentioned in Simon Schama’s bestselling Citizens (Knopf, 1989) or Keith Baker’s Inventing the French Revolution(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990), while François Furet and Mona Ozouf were unable to ?nd room in their 1,100-page Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution(Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1989) for an entry on Toussaint L’Ouverture; the entry on ‘Slavery’ in their index refers only to America’s revolution, not Haiti’s.
7. Alain Badiou, ‘Huit Thèses sur l’universel’, in Jelica Sumic, ed., Universel, singulier, sujet, Kimé, Paris, 2000, pp. 14–15; Badiou, La Commune de Paris: Une déclaration politique sur la politique,Les Conférences du Rouge-Gorge, Paris, 2003, pp. 27–8.
8. Nicholls, From Dessalines to Duvalier, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 1996, p. 5. As Nicholls points out, the term blanc in Haitian creole connotes a foreigner of any colour, and can be applied to black Haitians themselves if they look and sound like people from France.
9. Carolyn Fick, The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 1990, p. 228.
10. James, ‘Revolution and the Negro’ (1939), in Scott McLemee and Paul Le Blanc, eds, C.L.R. James and Revolutionary Marxism: Selected Writings of C.L.R. James 1939–1949, Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands NJ, 1994, p. 79.
11. Dessalines, quoted in Nicholls, From Dessalines to Duvalier, p. 38.I am grateful to Bob Corbett for his trenchant response to an earlier version of this article.

Background to Delft evictions

Thank you, Martin, for this analysis which helps to put things in perspective. Is this really happening in South Africa? How come this kind of thing does not make the front page in international news? It could be a scene from Kenya, it could be a scene from one of the favellas in Latin America, it could be a scene straight out of pre-1994 South Africa. One does not even hear the usual voice of Desmond Tutu (but then one understands he is mending another trench with his own fundamentalist christian hierarchs).

What kind of mindset thinks it is ok to just shoot to maim and kill people who are only battling for the basic necessities of life? Are these things happening in the South Africa which is described as having the best and most progressive Constitution ever? One has to ask: what is the point of having the most advanced, the most progressive Constitution if it is only there to be marveled at, while the citizens it is supposed to be defending are being trampled as if they were not human? When those who have the duty to defend the most vulnerable members of society are taking the law in their own hands, even at the cost of spilling the blood of innocent people?–Jacques Depelchin

Reposted from Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, February 19, 2008.

Thoughts provoked by being interviewed by Keketso Sechane, Heart 104.9 radio, 19/2/2008

Today people have been evicted from houses in Delft at police gunpoint – despite their non-violence. But this situation, arising from illegal occupation of N2 Gateway Houses, was not caused, as the Housing DG said on your programme earlier, by DA councillor Frank Martin. It is a product of a contradiction between two things: on the one hand a desperate and worsening housing crisis in the Western Cape; and, on the other, the inflexible bureaucratic attitude of the tops of the national and provincial Housing Departments and the management of Thubelisha Homes in the N2 Gateway project.

In fact the blood spilled by women and children today through police shootings is on the hands of Housing minister Lindiwe Sisulu and Thubelisha tops John Duarte and Prince Xanthi Sigcau.

The housing backlog in the Western Cape is 360,000 and worsens every year. The backlog increases by 18,000 a year, while only 10,000 houses a year are being built. Hence the length of time people spend on the waiting list (more than twenty years) and hence the desperation – expressed in the chants of the Delft occupants outside the Cape High Court (and, for thirty minutes, at a meeting called by provincial housing minister Richard Dyantyi in Delft last Saturday) of “We want houses! We want houses!”

The national government spends a mere 1, 5% of its budget on housing – compared to the 5% regarded as the norm for developing countries. With an imaginative government, in fact, the 8 million unemployed in the country could be put to work to build the needed houses, with the relevant SETA’s focussed on providing crash courses for the necessary skills in building. But this is precluded for the present ANC government by its stress on defending neo-liberalism and capitalist profit.

The N2 Gateway project, moreover, was conceived less to build houses, or to contribute to solving the Western Cape housing crisis, than to prettify the margins of the N2 highway before the 2010 World Cup. The poor were to be eliminated from the sides of the N2, and more expensive housing installed there. The poor were to be banished to the margins of the city in Delft.This “pilot” project claimed to be implementing the new “Breaking New Ground” national housing policy of minister Lindiwe Sisulu. But in reality it has broken every proclaimed aim of this policy. It was imposed from Pretoria. Every phase of it has run into problems from the start and overall it has been a disaster. The Cape Town city council (when the DA won control of the city) was removed from any participation in it by the ANC government.

The BNG policy claims, for example, to be “accelerating the delivery of housing as a key strategy for poverty alleviation and using “provision of housing as a major job creation strategy”. However, housing provision has slowed since its introduction.

The national average since 1994 of 180,000 a year has declined steadily since 2002/3 – to 137,659 in 2005/6. And even Finance Minister Manuel has disputed whether these figures are correct, or are gerrymandered by corrupt developers.

The BNG policy promised “increased flexibility and demand responsiveness”. It promised to address “the distortions of the inherited apartheid space economy”, i.e. to stop settling the disadvantaged on the fringes of the cities. It promised an “in-situ upgrading approach to informal settlements.”.

But instead of “demand responsiveness” N2 Gateway has ignored the wishes of beneficiaries such as residents of the Joe Slovo settlement in Langa. Instead of ending the “distortions of the inherited apartheid space economy” and “in-situ” (on site) development, it wishes to forcibly remove Joe Slovo residents to the margins of the city in Delft from where few of them will return to Langa.

When this creates problems, Thubelisha management, instructed by housing minister Lindiwe Sisulu, and aided and abetted by provincial housing minister Richard Dyantyi, simply tries to bulldozer its way through any problems that arise.

Recently appointed acting CEO John Duarte complained in Monday’s Cape Times (18/2/2008) that instead of immersing himself “in the detail of the project, building schedules, protocols and targets” he had “been exhausting valuable time and money in court defending Thubelisha’s mandate to build houses for the poor”.

What he fails to understand is that building houses is not just about bricks, mortar, and spreadsheets. It is about fulfilling the needs of living, breathing people. This the process engaged in at all phases thus far of N2 Gateway has failed to realise, failed to adapt to – by failing to consult, listen and negotiate.

The attempt to find solutions in the courts to a political and social problem is futile. This is what Sisulu, the housing DG, the Prince Xanthi, John Duarte, Richard Dyantyi – the government and Thubelisha tops – have been trying to do. This actually means forced removals, with, inevitably, police overreaction, injuries, possible deaths. It is the poor who suffer the consequences.

In the Western Cape, COSATU offered to mediate solutions to the problems in both Joe Slovo and Delft. This has been ignored by the government and Thubelisha.

It is bureaucratic madness to try to forcibly evict Joe Slovo residents to Delft, where they do not want to live, on the margins of the city, and at the same time to forcibly evict Delft residents from houses that are not wanted by Joe Slovo residents, which are desperately needed by Delft residents who have nowhere else to live.

Who controls allocation of the houses in N2 Gateway? In theory it is supposed to be a collaborative project between the province, Thubelisha, and the city. In practice it is controlled by Thubelisha – who use it for their own inflexible ends.

Constantly spokespersons for Thubelisha proclaim that this is a “pilot project”, a “laboratory” – but in a social science “experiment” it is vital to listen to feedback from your so-called “beneficiaries”. This the N2 Gateway project – in particular Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, and Thubelisha general manager Prince Xanthi Sigcau has signally failed to do.

This is why blood is on their hands, in the injuries suffered by women and children from the bullets of police in Joe Slovo last September, and again in Delft today. They are building up a legacy of bitterness against themselves.

As the housing crisis deepens, these problems will get worse, not better. There will be many conflict situations ahead.

Lindiwe Sisulu has a particular responsibility in this. The N2 Gateway is her “flagship project” yet she has not lifted a finger to try to resolve the problems. Instead she has taken a hardegat line but left it to her subordinates to impose. She is a coward not to come and meet the Joe Slovo and Delft communities face to face.

Lindiwe Sisulu, strangely, was one of the 40% of Mbeki’s ministers who survived onto the NEC. Moreover she has been elected to the 20-member National Working Committee of the ANC. She should be forced to resign.

L’Afrique repoussera…

Another poem by Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, director of our sister organization in Kinshasa, the Center for Human Dignity.

Par la houe esclavagiste
Par la faucille colonialiste
Par le tracteur néolibéraliste
Par le marché mondialiste
L’Afrique enterrée

De belles fleurs multicolores
De cultures noires ardentes
Les masques millénaires

A l’ouragan américain
A la tempête chinoise ou indienne
A la pluie d’union européenne
A la douce brise brésilienne
Les épis ne fléchiront pas
L’Afrique repoussera..

De savoureux fruits
Les survivants des cataclysmes
Armés de persistance et de courage
D’ardeur et de vigilance
L’Afrique de demain
Boussole du monde nouveau
Se tiendra….

Ernest Wamba dia Wamba.
Nkiutomba, 28 novembre 2007.

Pour que l’université redevienne le cerveau de notre pays

Click here for English Translation

1. Notre pays, la République Démocratique du Congo, est devenu un corps dont le cerveau est en crise profonde et dont le cœur est malade. C’est donc un corps mourant. On entend souvent les gens dire que le poisson commence à pourrir par la tête. C’est rarement qu’on se rend compte que la tête pour notre pays ce sont les structures de l’intellectualité, à commencer par les universités. Celles-ci, on le sait, sont en crise grave. Aucune déclaration soutenue sur la situation catastrophique de notre pays n’émerge de ces universités.

2. Il en est de même des nombreuses églises et maisons de spiritualité qui ne produisent aucune déclaration prescriptive de compassion envers les masses populaires qui vivotent dans leurs souffrances et misères indicibles. Même les déclarations prophétiques, émanant de ces églises, deviennent des moyens de s’enrichir sans cause. L’Archibishop Kutino Fernando, qui avait émis une vigoureuse déclaration sur la nécessité de sauver le Congo, par une mobilisation populaire, s’est vu écrouer à Makala, sans que les autres églises se dérangent. Il rappela la douloureuse expérience d’une grande mémoire : Kimpa Vita Nsimba alias Dona Béatrice, qui, en son temps voulut sauver le royaume du Kongo.

3. Les universités confrontent au moins quatre types des problèmes : 1) l’insuffisance organisationnelle interne ; 2) la dynamique économique du pays fortement orientée vers le gaspillage organisé des forces humaines et donc la négligence systématique de la formation et du développement du capital humain comme facteur stratégique et aussi l’absence d’une vraie politique de l’université ; 3) l’incapacité, dans le contexte de la mondialisation, de maîtriser les forces techniques et managériales disponibles ; et 4) la rupture culturelle avec les masses populaires qui constituent la majorité du pays.

4. Si la mission universelle de l’université est la recherche de la vérité, toute la vérité et rien que la vérité, nos universités ne s’organisent pas pour réaliser cette mission. Même si l’objectif principal n’était que la production des diplômes, nos universités sont incapables de produire à temps ces documents. Le fait que le pouvoir en place n’a pas de politique du futur, et donc celle qui devait s’occuper de la préparation systématique de la jeunesse, les universités comme les autres écoles, n’ont pour mission que de garder les jeunes gens hors des rues ou sinon pour les universités, de décerner des titres académiques pour besoin de simple statut social et satisfaction morale.

5. C’est pourquoi l’UNAZA était conçue prioritairement comme une structure de sécurité et non celle de la production des connaissances et de la recherche de la vérité, toute la vérité et rien que la vérité. Le personnel « administratif et sécuritaire », au lieu d’être un personnel de support au personnel académique, était considéré comme le moteur même de l’université. La recherche scientifique et l’enseignement ne pouvaient qu’en souffrir profondément. C’est cela aussi qui explique que les anciens de l’université, ceux qui finissent leurs études, une fois partis, ne regardent plus à l’université et, au contraire, lui tournent le dos. Alors qu’ailleurs, ce sont les Associations des anciens des universités qui prennent en main la protection, la défense et le développement de leurs universités.

6. En ligne avec la dynamique qui caractérise notre pays en général, notre université, dans sa double face étatique et privée, est extravertie. Peut-on réellement dire que l’université congolaise fait preuve d’esprit d’initiative et de découverte ? Si oui, l’UNIKIN n’allait pas vendre une grande partie de son terrain. L’Université de Dar es-Salaam, par exemple, utilise une partie de son terrain pour générer des ressources financières supplémentaires. On loue, à une durée déterminée, une partie du terrain à une compagnie qui y construit un supermarché ; le prix de chaque marchandise inclut une taxe qui va à l’université, en plus de la rente. Sur une autre partie, on construit des appartements taxés aussi par l’université. Une commission permanente de l’université étudie toutes les possibilités d’utilisation de toutes les ressources ou forces intellectuelles disponibles pour générer des ressources financières supplémentaires. Le bureaucratisme, pour aller vite, est incapable de mobiliser les forces intellectuelles. C’est toute la question de l’exigence des libertés académiques..

7. A notre connaissance, notre université n’entretient pas une institution qui veuille à la promotion et la défense des libertés académiques ainsi que le monitoring des violations de celles-ci. Les rapports interuniversitaires, en ces matières, sont presque inexistants. A l’université même, l’esprit scientifique qui doive orienter tout le travail académique ne semble pas se manifester dans la défense des libertés académiques. L’université tend à devenir très disciplinaire. Les évaluations de ce travail ne sont pas démocratiques.

8. Ailleurs, même les résultats des examens, par des examinateurs internes, sont réévalués par des examinateurs extérieurs venant d’autres universités, souvent étrangères. Les points sexuellement transmis seraient facilement dépistés. Les promotions académiques font aussi objet d’une telle justesse et rigueur.

9. Certaines universités permettent les étudiants, à chaque fin de terme, de faire et publier, dans leurs bulletins, les évaluations de chaque cours—son contenu scientifique, la relevance de la bibliographie utilisée et la disponibilité de celle-ci, la ténue pédagogique des enseignements, la capacité communicative et explicative des enseignants, la rigueur scientifique et administrative de correction des travaux pratiques, le contact avec les étudiants, etc. Les autorités académiques, dans notre université, n’ont pas de temps ni de volonté de se rencontrer avec les étudiants qui solliciteraient une audience. Alors qu’ailleurs, même un étudiant de première année peut obtenir une audience avec le recteur de l’université sans aucune difficulté. Les autorités comprennent que l’université c’est d’abord, et prioritairement, le travail académique. Leur audience primordiale ce sont les étudiants, les professeurs et les chercheurs. Où va le temps de travail des autorités académiques ? Aux professeurs, chercheurs et étudiants, en priorité. Et chez-nous ?

10. Notre université, au lieu d’être un lieu d’expérimentation de la démocratie, semble être un cas retardataire de féodalité. L’argumentation scientifique est souvent remplacée par une argumentation d’autorité non-scientifique. L’assemblée de tout le personnel académique, dirigé par un comité exécutif démocratiquement élu par les membres, fait défaut dans notre université. Le secrétariat permanent de l’Association des anciens de l’université (avec un Bulletin de liaison mensuel) organisant annuellement une convocation des membres, est absent dans notre université. C’est pourquoi, notre université n’est pas présente dans les esprits des anciens de l’université qui sont dans d’autres institutions. L’université doit travailler pour rendre sa présence effective dans la société. C’est elle qui pèserait dans la dynamique des débats budgétaires. Le personnel académique doit participer dans la conception et la rédaction de la Charte de l’université. Une Charte imposée ne favorise pas les conditions de fonctionnement créatif du travail académique.

11. En Europe, la science avait décollé après avoir réalisé un lien effectif entre savants et artisans. Notre université doit provoquer ce décollage en créant aussi de tels liens : des ateliers où des ingénieurs et des artisans travaillent de façon complémentaire, des « think tanks » où des universitaires et des managers ainsi que des capitaines de finance forment corps, des structures de production mettant ensemble, par exemple, pharmaciens et herbalistes ; etc. Notre université doit, en outre, développer des liens organisés avec l’université de l’Amérique latine et celle de l’Asie, en plus de celle de l’Occident. C’est par les têtes formées de partout aussi que la technologie de pointe peut être transférée. La dynamique de la technologie repose sur le fait que différents instruments, peuvent en se combinant, donner naissance à des instruments supérieurs. Il faudra encourager les échanges des professeurs par ces liens. Ce qui avait fait la force de l’Université de Dar-es-Salaam, dans le temps, c’était le fait que son personnel académique était constitué des académiciens venant d’au moins 4 continents : Europe (Est et Ouest), Amérique (Nord, Centre et Sud), Afrique (Est, Ouest, Nord et Sud) et Asie.

12. Notre université, pour provoquer un développement endogène, doit être enracinée dans nos cultures qu’elle aidera à développer. Même l’UK n’a pas en son sein un Institut de développement de la langue Kikongo et civilisations Kongo. Cela pourra résoudre la question des rapports entre l’université et les masses populaires. Sans le développement de nos langues, il sera difficile de les utiliser dans les enseignements et les publications. Il faut un plan pour réaliser cette vision. Le fait qu’on continue de faire appel aux langues mortes, montre qu’une langue n’est pas seulement un outil de communication, mais bel et bien, un moyen d’accumulation et de conservation des connaissances et du savoir. Différentes expériences culturelles humaines entretiennent différentes formes de savoir. La crise de la civilisation occidentale et orientale, se manifestant par l’incapacité de protéger l’environnement, peut obtenir sa résolution par le recours à d’autres civilisations.

13. L’université est un lieu où se tiennent, en permanence et chaque jour ou presque, toutes sortes de séminaires et des conférences. Des séminaires de recherches constituent le moteur du travail académique de la recherche de la vérité. Les conférences publiques vulgarisent les nouvelles connaissances. La démocratie exige aussi d’autres types des conférences visant à améliorer les rapports sociaux. L’université doit être le lieu de la stimulation intellectuelle générale. Ceux qui ont la curiosité intellectuelle vont, au moins une fois par semaine, à l’université assister ou participer à un séminaire ou une conférence. Il faut qu’il y ait donc ces conférences ou séminaires. Sans ceux-ci, l’université est dormante.

14. Il est clair qu’un peu de rigueur est nécessaire dans les nominations des autorités universitaires. Ailleurs, le personnel académique propose cinq noms parmi les scientifiques à l’autorité qui nomme pour chaque poste. Les nominations arbitraires, à caractère ethnique, clientéliste, ou régionaliste ou policier ou sexiste, n’encouragent pas le développement de la science.

15. Voilà quelques idées, livrées en vrac, qui peuvent servir de commencement pour un débat sur la question de l’université congolaise.

Ernest Wamba dia Wamba
Nkiutomba, le 29 décembre 2007.

Reviendras-tu de si tot?

The following poem was submitted by Honorary Board member Ernest Wamba dia Wamba who lives in Kinshasa, DRC.

En sommeil de profondeur
Mortelle—mon pay
Par moments rarissimes d’éveil
Est souvent pincé des cauchemars
Face à ses extérieurs partenaires
Culturels et économiques assassins

J’aime mon pays—même mourant
Et ses filles et fils surtout
De grande intransigeance—
Pour que redevienne vie—la survie
Et les zombies hommes et femmes
De grande dignité respectée
–partout et toujours.

Même ses nombreux fous..
En plein air accoutrés vivant
Des restes enfouis dans les immondices
Des marionnettes occidentales
Et ses phaseurs, shegues indignes face
Aux officiels voleurs d’absolue méchanceté
Ou les adorateurs sériels de Dieu….
Je les aime..

Ernest Wamba dia Wamba
Nguzo, le 22 octobre 2007.