The Africa of received ideas is full of aphorisms which should be debunked. Whether they are the product of colonial libations or apocryphal sayings, none really corresponds to reality but all have the value of a sentence for those – politicians, journalists, “developers” – who, once they have stated them, think they have explained everything.

So it is with the famous “There cannot be two male crocodiles in the same backwater”, repeated ad nauseam to signify that, in African culture, there can be no other power than the power of one – and that since the dawn of time. Problem: nothing could be further from the truth. Pre-colonial societies and kingdoms abounded in checks and balances, councils of notables and various consultative assemblies, sometimes to the point – particularly in Central Africa – of bordering on “acephaly”.

It is therefore not to a pseudo-tradition but to the White, to the settler, that we owe the empowerment of the figure of the “African chief”, an essential link in the colonial administration for levying taxes, imposing labor forced and recruit the skirmishers. This saying of the two crocodiles that Jacques Chirac has nothing to do with the depths of African culture, even though many of the continent’s autocrats have been happy to have their foreign visitors believe it – for obvious reasons.

Another pseudo-proverb immediately drawn as soon as the burning subject of corruption is broached: “The goat grazes where it is tied. In other words: from the little cop “eating a thousand” to the squandering president via the gluttonous minister, everyone ransoms, wastes or diverts according to his possibilities. The longer the rope, the more abundant the pasture.


Here too, beware of the magnifying glass effect: many of those who protest against this phenomenon, howl at the robber State and denounce the theft of this very common species of ruminant do not in fact blame the goat for grazing, but for graze alone. It is solitary voracity and the lack of redistribution that are castigated here, even within families. In Central Africa, in the two Congos, almost all denunciations for acts of corruption or illicit enrichment come from close relatives, as if seeing one of his own “succeed” and progressing alone towards the banquet table was unbearable. .

Still received idea than that – very politically correct – which consists in making believe that tribalism is an old moon extinguished by the slogans on the State, the nation and the entry into globalization. The reality is different: keeping safe from the miasma of autochthony, religious exclusivism or the stigmatization of “castes” – still very present in the social and political universe of West Africa – is all the more difficult since many powers in place are still based on ethnic asymmetry. Tribalism, just like the role played by the world of the invisible and witchcraft, is taboo, and the fact of exposing this underside of the cards is worth to those who venture there many lawsuits in ideological impurity.

And yet, this product of the identity politics practiced by the colonial powers remains an essential key. How to understand, for example, the stakes of the general elections next August in Angola without taking into account the social and racialized divide inherited from the Portuguese between coastal elites and elites of the hinterland? How to explain the persistence in Côte d’Ivoire of feeling of ivoirity carried simultaneously by Henri Konan Bédié and Laurent Gbagbo without referring to the 1930s, when the first nationalist and xenophobic associations appeared in reaction to migrations from the North induced by colonization?

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