Ep. 100: A conversation with Siba Grovogui about race and racism in international relations

Happy #100EpisodesOfUfahamu! For our 100th episode, Rachel interviews Siba Grovogui about race and racism in international relations. You can listen to the interview in English or French! Kim and Rachel talk about Zambia’s COVID response, a crisis in Ethiopia, and the passing of Jerry Rawlings.

We also announce our Ufahamu Africa essay competition. Submit a one-page essay reflecting on a topic of your choice within the broad scope of life and politics in African politics to win some podcast swag or a chance to read your essay on a future episode.

Listen to the episode below!

Our Guest

Books & Links from the Episode

Insurgent Fragmentation in the Horn of Africa: Rebellion and its Discontents by Michael Woldemariam

Democracy in Ghana: Everyday Politics in Urban Africa by Jeffrey Paller

Francis Bacon: The New Organon

Other Links and Articles

Come to Africa: A Hermeneutics of Race in International Theory” by Siba N. Grovogui

Zambia’s Response to COVID-19 Part 3: Rising Infections and Falling Confidence amidst Increased Authoritarianism

In Zambia, COVID-19 Has Claimed Democracy, Not Human Life” by Sishuwa Sishuwa

As Africa Groans under Debt, It Casts Wary Eye at China” by Joe Parkinson, James Areddy, and Nicholas Bariyo

COVID’s Next Economic Crisis: Developing-Nation Debt” by
Avantika Chilkoti and Gabriele Steinhauser

Urgent Support Needed To Help Ethiopian Refugees Reaching Sudan” from UNHCR

Ethiopia, Led by a Nobel Peace Winner, Is Looking Down the Barrel of Civil War” by Yohannes Woldemariam

U.S.-China Competition May Be a Win-Win for Africa” by Naunihal Singh, Josephine Appiah-Nyamekye Sanny, and E. Gyimah-Boadi

Ethiopia: East Africa’s Emerging Giant” by Claire Felter

What’s Happening in Ethiopia Is a Tragedy” by Tsedale Lemma

A Longtime Leader in Ghana Has Died. Jerry John Rawlings Leaves a Complicated Legacy.” by George M. Bob-Milliar and Jeffrey Paller

Race And Racism In International Relations: Retrieving A Scholarly Inheritance” edited by Robbie Shilliam

Previous Episodes We Mentioned

Ep. 47: A conversation with George Bob-Milliar and Lauren MacLean about student protests at KNUST in Ghana

Ep. 48: A conversation with Michael Woldemariam on the political shakeup in the horn of Africa

Ep. 65: A conversation with Jeffrey Paller on urban politics, democracy in Ghana, and more

Ep. 87: A conversation with Marja Hinfelaar on Zambian politics, environment and energy, and more

Transcript

Kim: Welcome to the 100th episode of Ufahamu Africa, a podcast about life and politics on the continent. I’m Kim Yi Dionne, your host, and I’m joined by my co-host Rachel Beatty Riedl. Hi, Rachel! Happy 100th episode!

Rachel: Hi Kim. So today we have a news wrap talking about Zambia’s COVID response to crises in Ethiopia and the passing of Jerry Rawlings. And then we turn to this week’s episode, which features a conversation with Siba Grovogui, a leading scholar of race and international relations. Siba talks about the anti-democratic mood sweeping West Africa, especially looking at Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, and Benin. He also discusses the structuring effects of race on foreign interventions using Libya as an example, both in the events that play out on the ground and in the deliberative processes and decisions taken about a country from the outside. I have to say that Siba’s comments are really a deep set of reflections. And he has so much to teach us and all of our listeners, he’s a perfect guest for this mix of theory, ethic and total current awareness of politics and deep engagement for this very special 100th episode.

Kim: Yeah, I’m really excited. I can’t believe we’ve made it this far, because it was just, you know, it was just an idea of something to do. But you know, here we are 100. I’m curious to know what it means to our listeners, right to listen to a century worth of episodes, right 100 episodes, and we want to invite our listeners to participate in an essay competition. So, Ufahamu Africa is accepting one page reflection essays on topics related to life and politics on the African continent. And we think of that broadly, anyone who listens to the podcast knows that. So for those professors out there, feel free to assign your students. This assignment gives them an extra credit opportunity to listen to an Ufahamu Africa episode and write a one-page reflection on what they’ve learned about life and politics on the continent and how they connect those ideas and knowledge to global political context. The first 100 participants will get some Ufahamu Africa swag, and three winners will have the opportunity to read a portion of their essays for a future episode. Everyone can submit their essays to ufahamuafrica@gmail.com.

Rachel: I love that Kim, I cannot wait to hear from our listeners, students, faculty, activists, scholars, thinkers, makers, doers, I can’t wait to hear what you’re thinking. And also, any suggestions you have about people you’d love to hear us talk to on the podcast. So, I also think that our 100th episode is pretty special because it reflects the great breath and the depth of scholarship that of different people that we’re speaking with, and sharing their voices and expertise opens up new lanes of understanding to new audiences. And I think Kim, that was always your founding vision and when that really speaks to so many of us. And I hope that it creates also something of a community, one that’s not bounded by geography, or global inequities, but facilitates connections and conversation. So now I want to turn to a few quick updates for our news wrap. Because there’s so much going on as always, and the first thing I wanted to talk about is that Zambia is in the midst of a political storm and an economic crisis. The country has just defaulted on its debt repayments, and some experts at The Southern African Institute for Policy and Research (SAIPAR), including the director Marja Hinfelaar who was a guest on episode 87, just published a blog about the latest development so we’ll post a link to that. The piece is aptly titled Zambia’s Response to COVID-19 Part Three: rising infections and falling confidence amidst increasing authoritarianism. So really, this economic public health and political storm that we’re seeing all across the world in terms of ways in which different governments are responding to the public health crises and what that means for the economy. Another SAIPAR affiliate, Sishuwa Sishuwa argues in the Mail and Guardian that major casualty of the Coronavirus in Zambia is not necessarily just human life, but the country’s democratic tradition which can only be resolved by the ‘election vaccine’ he says so the COVID-19 pandemic is really playing out in this perfect storm of political tension. This severe economic crisis and the ruling party the Patriotic Front is increasingly focused on political survival rather than addressing the economic and health issues at hand. So, unsurprisingly, trust in the government’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic has fallen steeply in the last few months. And this last week, Zambia defaulted, missing a payment of $42 million. And a lot of international under discussion has really focused on two things around this default. One is really questioning how much Zambia is capable of paying given that the country’s copper production is up. So, there’s a question around the necessity of this which will affect the restructuring negotiations going forward. And secondly, the role of China vis-a-vis other debt that’s issued in euro bonds. So, in this default scenario, loans from China are right now not really visible or necessarily transparent to Western creditors. And that’s seen as part of the problem because when repayment problems arise, there’s no way for the Western institutions who are holding the debt to know if they will be treated on an equal basis with Chinese state and private lenders. So, the amount of debt Zambia actually has to pay to those public and private entities is not really fully known by other lenders. Now, Zambia is the first case of default, following kind of this new framework that has just been established to try to resolve that crisis and borrowing countries meant to ensure that the Chinese public and private creditors are sharing the burden of providing relief and involved in the restructuring negotiations. So, this is really an interesting moment, I think, to watch Zambia as an example of a larger scale and a kind of new approach to multilateralism, which is a big change from previous crises where the Western governments and multilateral lenders, such as the World Bank and IMF were the dominant creditors. And now we’re really seeing the need to bring in these other major actors. So, keep an eye on SAIPAR’s website, they’re also going to be holding a two-day workshop on Zambian elections coming up on December 3rd and 4th, and this topic will continue to be developed in those conversations.

Kim: Yeah. And I saw that SAIPAR affiliate Sishuwa Sishuwa actually won an article award for one of his articles in the Journal of Southern African Studies earlier this year and hearing you talk about what’s happening in Zambia. And this role of of lenders, Chinese lenders and non-Chinese lenders is just reminding me of a piece we just published in The Monkey Cage this week, written by Naunihal Singh and co-authors, that’s actually looking at Afrobarometer data to see, you know, how do Africans think about for example, the US and China and, whether or not that’s a zero-sum game, and we’ll have links to that as well for our listeners to check out. And big in the news right now, we want to ask our listeners to spare a thought for Ethiopians in this episode. UNHCR reports that 10s of 1000s of Ethiopians have fled to Sudan, following violence in the Tigray region. Yohannes Woldemariam has a great explainer at The Guardian and there’s also a longer background or by Claire Felter with the Council on Foreign Relations as a space to go into even greater depth and breath. Importantly, while we watch these events unfold, it will be important to consider them in the context of a long struggle to create a fair system of shared power and what’s been a divided country throughout this modern period. And I want to encourage our listeners to read the New York Times op ed by Tsedale Lemma, published earlier this month. She does not pull any punches against Ethiopian Prime Minister and 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed, she writes, “While the situation is volatile and uncertain this much as clear, Mr. Abiy’s political project to bring together the nation and a process of democratization is over and much of the blame must be laid at his door.” And I think what’s most concerning about this op ed that Tsedale Lemma writes, is how she closes it. She writes, “Judging by Mr. Abiy’s moves over the past week, not least the replacement of the Foreign Minister and the leaders of the entire security sector with trusted loyalists, he is not inclined to de-escalate. The leader who once committed to toil for peace every single day and in all seasons, has been acting more like a commander in chief than a prime minister.” You know, as we commemorate our 100th episode, I want to recognize that we’ve been very fortunate here at Ufahamu Africa to have featured guests who have shared their insights about politics and power in Ethiopia, including Mike Woldemariam and Lahra Smith. And in fact, you know, one of the things, Rachel, I know you and I had talked about what we wanted to think about, you know, what’s our favorite episode, not that we could ever pick a favorite episode because it’s like picking a favorite child, you just can’t do that. But one of my favorites was actually Episode 48 with Mike Woldemariam, and it was recorded at the annual meeting of African Studies Association in 2018. And it was all three of us in the room together, right? You, me and Mike. And it was a really hopeful time for Ethiopia. Right? This is not long Abiy came to power and made a lot of changes, that gave us quite a bit of hope for democracy. And I’m going to try to hold on to the collective optimism for democracy in Ethiopia that we had in the room that day. Now, in that episode, Mike talked about his first book, which reminds us of the importance of political factionalism. And he also talked about his next book project, which is looking at secession. And unfortunately for the Horn of Africa, it’s looking like Mike’s expertise as a scholar of rebel group, civil war and secession is going to be really important and useful going forward.

Rachel: Absolutely, Kim. I remember that day very well, the hope that we had and are going to continue to hold on to while we are also kind of staring at the reality of this really troubling moment. Another kind of complexity that I wanted to mention, in terms of looking at other heads of state and their legacies is the passing of Jerry Rawlings, giant in African politics and he passed away this last week as George Bob-Milliar and Jeffrey Paller wrote about the former Ghanaian president in The Monkey Cage blog earlier this month, ” A towering figure in African politics, Rawling leaves behind a complicated legacy. He was a strong man and a populist, but he carried a moral fever to root out corruption and bring government closer to the ordinary Ghanaian. He led to coups in Ghana yet also won two multi-party elections, a political resume that illustrates the tensions underlying Ghana’s democratic system.” Now, I think that really encapsulates it well, you know, we know Rawlings as an autocrat and military man, a man of the people, reformer on the economic side and someone who conceded and bowed out and didn’t take a third term and saw his party lose and transition to a new opposition governing party. So, I think he’s really a complicated figure. And it’s always a delicate task to write about a towering figure of political history. I think George and Jeffrey’s piece really handles it well, and in an embarrassment of riches. We can say again that here are two scholars of Ghanian politics that we’ve been fortunate enough to have here on the show, George we interviewed together with Lauren Morris MacLean in Episode 47, in which they share their insights about recent university student protests and what they illustrate for the state of democracy in Ghana.

Kim: Right and we interviewed Jeff Paller in Episode 65. Again, another one of these African Studies Association Annual Meeting interviews with the three of us in a room, and he was sharing with us some insights from his amazing book, beautiful ethnography in studying urban politics. His book is titled Democracy in Ghana: Everyday Politics in Urban Africa. We’ll include a link to his book, those episodes and everything else we’ve mentioned in this week’s news wrap on our website. ufahamuafrica.com.

Rachel: Thank you so much Siba for being on the show Ufahamu Africa. And I wanted to start today’s conversation, talking about your forthcoming article in the International Politics Review with Robbie Shilliam, which is entitled Race and Racism in International Relations: Retrieving A Scholarly Inheritance. Now, this is really, I think, an incredible conversation having seen the pre-draft between 15 International Relations scholars who’ve been thinking and writing about race in IR for decades. And the aim of bringing the diverse cohort of scholars together in collective reflection is really to interrupt the well-meaning but potentially disabling rush to account for race and racism, as if it had never before been accounted for in the field. And revisiting these perspectives, I think allows us to deepen and widen the conceptual, theoretical and empirical inquiries into race and racism in the politics of the global system. So, to draw out the ways in which the braided legacies of racism, colonialism and Empire are intimately integral to the field of IR, as Robbie Shilliam writes in the introduction. Now, this recognizes that the field of IR has often been deeply implicated in the kind of race work, which upholds racist structures and relations. And I think that’s incredibly powerful for us to dissect and why I’m so excited to speak with you today as an expert, what are your takeaways of this volume? And where do you think the field is headed?

Siba: I have to say that I was very happy to be part of this group. It is somewhat tragic, that we should only be thinking about the world as its functions when we have a crisis. And so that part of it, I don’t relish that this is coming after the Floyd murder in Minnesota. But my article Come to Africa was actually written 21 years ago, somebody reminded me the other day, and those reflections earlier was to say, what to say that we should pay heed to, at minimum, the empirics how the world works, and not how we wish it to work. And I think that in the post-World War Two era in America, there was a certain idealism about the world on which most things were predicated. And somewhat that was actually quite good, you know, the rebuilding of the world, the UN, multilateralism. Well, what do one wants to make of the Bretton Woods system? Questions and etc. But it was all to remake the world. But in all those efforts, people seem to be sidestepping the question of race, which was implicated in colonialism. And since colonialism was one of the, obviously, one of the characteristics of the period before the war, nothing about colonialism was actually a mistake. And by that, I don’t mean that people have not decided that they will be the cruel nation to dictate to many people that empires could not survive. But a lot of the arrangement that will be made by the former colonial powers were to contend, decolonization is in education. And we never really sat, we never really dealt, not only fundamentally with what was decolonization, or at least those people who wanted we’re seeking decolonization in all of the colonies, French, British, Portuguese, Spanish, and etc. Instead, reconstruction meant giving a new boost to the West to the push of the worst in the world, which was understandable in the context of the Cold War. But it also meant that it came at the cost of decolonization in many ways. And so we saw, for instance, in the Portuguese colonies, how basically fascist regime was supported by NATO, in hanging out with colonies until the end of apartheid. Earlier, the events in Madagascar, the war in Nigeria, and etc. The anti-communist reading of those wars, was only partly correct, because obviously, the US was in contention with Soviet Union and restructuring the world, but the kind of structure, mental, psychic, moral structures that enable colonialism that still continue to be somewhere foundational to the international system were still there in some fashion. And so, and you could see that not only when decisions were made, which was the difficulty to talk to, you just have to read trust issues and etc. but they were also there, in the manner in which we’re willing to fight those wars. Right. The number of bombs dropped on Vietnam, what Algeria did and Delma when the first region in Madagascar was the Mau Mau, and I can just go, and so it seems that we’re that race, not only authorized what we could do to the people, but also gave us. And I mean, we hit in the West, because that nicety in the West, but also who can make decision on behalf of everybody, which is actually essentially the colonial question out of people, just our words, and we are the trustees, I will forever trustees of the world. And if you look at the debate, were for a brief moment of fresh decided to bring Africans into parliament, National Assembly, etc. You will see that what most people are frustrated about were really about the question of democracy. And the question of having the right to speak by democracy was certainly not devolution, it wasn’t about that. It was actually who gets to speak for all of us. Right. And I think that after that episode, even in the fashion of Empire, but then we came to the 1960s, we forgot that decolonization was principally about changing the entire world, the entire international system to give voice to everybody, but also to give everyone access, but more importantly, right to do less violence. If you look at the United Nations, the longest standing debate, the United Nation was demilitarization. If you look at the Nuclear Treaty, you will see that it was both against horizontal proliferation as much as it was about vertical proliferation. And so, the question of risk always looked behind somewhere, it was behind the question of democracy behind the question, violence, militarization, access to science, all of those involved with the world can actually be made anew as the Americans had aspired, or not maybe aspired but had rejected or at least professed to want to do. And so, for a lot of us going back to what we did, it was really to remind ourselves, that regions, cultures as much as women, racial groups, all of those are what make the elements to which we have to think about the world. And we cannot simply pretend that one doesn’t exist. When we accept that they exist, then that comes if your whole set of issues we have to be willing to deal with, and we haven’t. And so, George Floyd incident has all the elements of that the question of violence, the question of this representativity, the question of speech, the question of order, the question of access, that it seems to be a microcosm of all of that. Right. So apparently, what people are talking about in the colonial provinces, has come back to the heart of Empire, that we’ve got to wish those things away, and we just have to face them.

Rachel: Exactly, exactly. That’s so powerful. I mean, these, these first order questions of order and speech and representativity. And who, who gets to speak for all of us? And to what ends? I think, you know, these are exactly the questions that we face, at domestic and at international global systems levels. And I wanted to draw out a quote from your Come to Africa article, in which you say, you’re talking about cross regional approaches to race and identity. And I think this is really very important, as we think about what this moment in America means. And what politics of identity making and recognizing these categories, as you’ve, as you’ve suggested, about women, about race, about language categories, we know that it’s a political project of power and of resistance, right. And so you wrote in 2001, “And then in America, race became about identity. And I have been struggling with that. I don’t want someone to see me as Black, I want them to let me tell them, I am Black, and what that means to me and to them, because I am Black, but it is not for you to tell me that. I know that. And I tell you what that means because that’s what tells me about my humanity, and yours.” And I was wondering if you can tell us, you know, how you see this relationship between making politics about identity and resistance, and recognizing categories? I mean, because in French, we might think about the political argument about the universal right, and to not recognize certain types of categories. And it’s argued by some critical race theorists like Pap Ndiaye, for example, that this is also a means to erase race, and not account for structural injustice. So, thinking about those forms of identification and resistance. I was wondering if you could speak to us more about how you think about that intersection.

Siba: Yes, I think what I was saying there is that I’ve always been a bit suspicious of American multiculturalism. Not that is that there’s no value to it, by the way. And I would never say that. I’m just saying that I’m just slightly suspicious. I’m suspicious that politics can just be you are over there you are over here; you are over here. And we can all come together in our identities, in part because after 1492 no identity is stable as people might have imagined before 1492, right? The kind of racial groups that emerge…But the political economy, obviously, from the plantation to Empire to colonialism, tried to hang on to certain forms of identity. But then you get to West Africa, and you have somebody like Gabriel D’Arboussier, whose father was a French colonial officer, his mother is a woman from Mali. And he’s the only one of people who are fighting in the RDA, who actually had the choice of choosing who he wanted to be because by law, he was allowed. So, he decided that he was going to be Black. And that caused a lot of problems, in part because he’s communist, obviously. But because he also was radicalizing the RDA, Rassemblement Démocratique Africain. And that has a whole set of issue. And then after they decide to expel him from the RDA, the argument against him being an African was not made by the French it was made by an African who said that he was not a true African because he was descended. He was African descended by his mother, not by his father. But what I mean is that is that we have options in life. And yes, we come to polity as Black, Brown and etc. But those are really, and those have historical and real political and sometimes structural connotations, for sure. But what I know about history of Black people from Quilombo in Brazil, from Palmares in Brazil, with Quilombo, to Haiti, to Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King is that to be Black, and beginning with the father of pan African National, and you are not looking at me, but I always say father in quotation marks, right? So, let’s be clear. Blyden was very clear that Black people should take it as their mission to end suffering on this planet. And in the struggle, they have always aspired to a different kind of universalism, not one that is vertical comes from the top and then goes down that the Frenchman imagined even universalism, but ours is more horizontal. So, in Haiti, you go to you go to Palmares in Brazil, they were the first entity in the new world that allowed that all religions were equal, all ethnic groups were equal, women and men were equal. And if you go to Douglas, he was Frederick Douglass is the first one to actually embrace Chinese right to, to not an immigrant, but to be to citizenship, etc., etc. Right. So, to be Black, for me, it’s not just a color thing. It is profoundly spiritual, and political. It is a mission, to not see anybody on the go for centuries, what I went through. And that’s I want people to see, so if you, if you tell me, I’m Black, before I speak, you are missing something, because my being Black is not my color. My being Black is that I understand that to be very profoundly spiritual, and to be connected to a history of suffering and injustice, to be connected to Empire and the plantation. And then to understand all of human suffering from Indians in Brazil, today, to understand the Holocaust very profoundly, to understand what has happened in Myanmar. It is that it is a Blackness encapsulates humanity and in a particular way, because our trajectory as human, Black, a very particular subject, of violence, of dehumanization, of expropriation, of a lot of things. And so when I introduce myself, as a Black, I want people to hear what that means. I don’t want to call it to be the first thing you see, I hope you can hear what that means for me, because that is the point of engagement. If you go by the skin color, then suspicion might come in, you don’t know what I’m thinking, am I vengeful, am I going to hate you, because you’re white?  Am I going to dredge up some something? Then it’s no longer helpful. So that’s one side of it. The other side of it is that I don’t want politics to be making claims for me, because I’m a Black, because that also distorts the kind of claims we make in the public arena, because we have Native Americans in this country. Yes, we had slavery, we also have Native Americans. We have Chicanos in Mexico; we have all of those. So again, to go back to all the people in history is the trajectory that I listed. For me what is more important is to transform society itself. If we transform society itself, and the political order itself, then the claims that we may make may appear to be different. And I think that will be much more helpful than the context in which you are we don’t want to think about repression. We don’t want to think about what happened to black sharecroppers, we don’t want. We just imagine that if the Democratic Party has the Blacks and Hispanics or whatever, then we are fine. It can be that. And so for me it is. And maybe people will talk about identity in that too. But I think that it’s the other kinds of representation of Blackness that are far more attractive, that are more political, and actually universal.

Rachel: I think that’s so profound. And so well stated in terms of thinking about the universal application in this horizontal sense and what particular histories can help us do to understand the human condition. I wanted to also see the draw on your expertise in thinking about how race and racism plays a structuring effect in international relations. When we really think about the role of violence or the imposition of particular types of political order. You have a new paper, I know focused on the Libyan intervention, and the role that race plays in the events themselves on the ground looking at the domestic condition in Libya, as well as the deliberative process and decisions outside of Libya, thinking about external interventions and the like. Will you tell us more about how you think about the structuring effect of race in this case, and more generally?

Siba: I will start with a number of observations. Today, Africa, is the only piece of real state where you can have a crisis. It can be deliberated on TV, every channel progressive or not in America, nobody does ask an African, by the way, how would you see that? It’s the place where somebody can criticize African leader without asking an African or that person in particular or the person who are criticizing. Why would you say that? And I have multiple dimensions, it is not only has to do with invisibility, obviously, you know, you don’t need to talk to them Africans, you can just talk about Africa, because Africa is the problem, it is not Africans. Or Africa when Africans are the problem is because they are not who we want them to be, or they are not us. So, it’s not just the question of invisibility, which is, right, structural at some level. But it’s also the kind of suppositions we make about Africans. And for instance, we may doubt Zuma’s motive in Libya was shocking. As it is the fact actually, though he was speaking for the EU. But we accept that Sarkozy, who may now go to jail because of his activities with Qaddafi. But his motives are not discussed at all. So, we imagine that some people possess reason, rationality, and therefore make policies, free of any kind of passion. But we never allow that for Africans. Because the starting point for African we imagine still today is a tribe. I’m often going somewhere and actually said it. I think it was a USP since you’re somewhere else, where I said, but why don’t people ask Africa, somebody says, well, you know, then that might bring up a lot of things. And I knew that what the people I was talking about was that no matter how educated I may be, the tribes in controls how I feel, and so I’ve ever gotten in trouble, I will not be able to make a rational decision. Right. And here’s the thing, in our psychic dispositions, we still imagine reason, logic, rationality, and fashions to align in certain ways. So, if Africans, see, you may not go to Libya, it cannot be rational, it will, it has to do with something other than reason. And so, we discount it. And so, you don’t go to any number of Africans here. You know, to media, that I just said, no, because they are everywhere in America, you don’t go to those people. The person who should give you justification to even Libya is a Frenchman who knows nothing about Africa. And if you are sitting in Africa, or even here is sitting in America as an African, all this deliberative process was the comparison to Lawrence of Arabia was inescapable. But this is 2011. The same fellow goes to Libya this year, they had to leave because nobody wanted to see him. In fact, his life was in danger, right?  Big cosmopolitanism just think Dar es Salaam. You have al-Kunti in Timbuktu. Contemporaneously, Africa has always generated all of those. So, by ignoring all of those, right, we are not just insulting Africans, and etc. But what we are missing too, for me is the most important part. And that’s what race does to how we do things is that we omit that in those places, you have moral, political, ethical regimes that go into thinking about peace that are very important. For instance, Zuma, who has been discounted, and etc, comes from a country called South Africa, where the apartheid President Nelson Mandela, in his trial, before he went to jail for 27 years, was denouncing not only white supremacy, but also denouncing those Blacks who may wish to reverse to trade in white supremacy for Black supremacy, this idea of universal freedom, universal citizenship has been stated in African all anti colonial struggles. No, no, no, no, no, not every single African heads of states speaks for African humanism. And that’s what Donald Trump doesn’t speak for American cosmopolitanism. Right. So in Africa, we are incapable of sorting out things, ideas, people, positions, personality, ideologies, intellectual tradition. It’s not it’s just one, it’s just Africa. Right? And then that leads to terrible things. Because the total war that the US was on in France, were warned about what happened in Libya is what happened. You suffer from amnesia, explicitly, if cannot be made you go in this fashion, then we don’t know who will hold the line, because everybody in Libya will be justified to take out anybody who they disagree, because taking out the person who you don’t disagree has become politics, is a war of all against all. And that’s what you have to be. So it’s not just that Africans were dissed, which they were. But it’s also is that in doing that we forgot how the world works through the eyes of Africans. And the process. We also forgot that what Africans were saying, be useful, you think about what happened in Libya. But you can’t because Libya was in Africa. And the final point I was making about Libya, is that in resolution 1973, yes, this also happened. Somebody decided that the Arab League goes democrats in Saudi Arabia, UAE, and etc, we’re going to be the responsible party in Libya. And not that was that was I was saying that tongue in cheek, by the way, but that became it isn’t resolution, they were the ones who are going to be right, we’re going to take the lead in sorting out what was going to happen in Libya. So Libya became Arab, Doha that he has led his entire life as an African, African that was, but he actually understood that that Libya is African, but he went to the Arab League because the Gulf states would do what we wanted them to do, but Africans were resisting. Right. So, we again, injected this racial dimension in it, Libya is not Africa.

Rachel: Exactly, exactly. There’re so many levels in terms of who has a voice. Right, and who is invisible, as you’ve just said, But I wanted to also turn to the question of West Africa and elections. You know, it’s something that we talk about a lot on Ufahamu Africa. And, and as we’ve discussed briefly, you and I, the kind of anti-democratic mood sweeping across West Africa, and certainly, you know, and are following closely the events and Guinea. Also, Cote d’Ivoire, we have Benin, we have Mali, you know, there’s really a lot to, to be following. And so, I’m wondering if you can tell us, is there are a generalized pattern that you think we should be aware of, are these, you know, really domestic examples that are unraveling separately. How do you see these cases?

Siba: This authoritarian mood, or this dictatorial move, or this… People just wanting to hang on to power is actually more of a Francophone Africa event than it is in West Africa than English speaking? Right? Yes, Sierra Leone, and that they had these wars, but Ghana and Nigeria, seem to have figured out the democratic thing a bit. And I say a bit, I am qualifying that too. But in West Africa, in Francophone West Africa, we had multiple problems. And I’m sorry to say that, because I don’t want to blame the French anymore, I have to blame us that we thought that the way you build a state is to go somewhere else, find the Constitution, copy it and give it to yourself, which is not going to work. Right? Because the state is an instrument, democracy is a process and elections are toolkits in that process. We forgot that the state is an instrument, but it’s a very violent one at that. And the only way you can make a modern democratic state is that if you give power to the to the central State. That order, communities, every element of society has to be fortified against the potential abuses of that instrument, which happens everywhere, even where we are sitting today. You know, the temptation, right? That’s why from Enlightenment theories in Europe, England, France, Germany and until the people drafted the American Constitution today. We actually know that individuals are not perfect. And that’s why we give ourselves institutions because nobody is a saint. We are all sinners. It is just a metaphor. Basically, two things happen in Francophone Africa. We don’t only copy these constitutions and then we put a lot of faith in leaders and that began with the RDA and other parties in Francophone Africa that were really structured on personality. And these personalities were backed by the French, some were fought against. But we can after independence, we actually realize that the kind of structures we had, were not all working for us in West Africa, in Francophone West Africa. And that led to a host of problems I’m not going to identify, I want to talk about the solution we had in the 1990s, which is what they call National Conference, in Mali, in Benin, etc. It was about talking about what has transpired since decolonization and how to fix it. That solution, in almost all the cases was, after months, right? The thing they identify that if things are not working out, because you have these leaders who stayed forever, Senghor stayed forever, though he was more democratic than the rest. So right, you have to have transition of power. If one team replaces the other, then we should be fine. And they forgot that what makes politics the way it works in Francophone West Africa has to do with the way in which those institutions were set up, and that anybody who comes after are no doubt will be tempted in the same fashion, right. For instance, we say former French colonies in North Africa, the head of state, even who is the head of universities appointed by the President. So, in Guinea, where we have election campaign, we are supposed to be in a democracy from the Prime Minister, every minister, the cabinet director, the cabinet, they all go in campaign for the guy who’s president, how would you call a democracy? That’s a state running against the collective of individuals. So, the election is not between two candidates, it is in between the state, and candidates who see themselves as a pusher because they are all appointed by the head of state, they can all be removed, judges everything. But that seems to be a very good solution, after Louis says in France, because the king appointed everybody. So, if you had the head of the Republic, no longer King, but voted, who was elected by the people. And if that person took the place of the king, that was an improvement, where we are, it is not an improvement, it is a problem. Because we are very weak structurally, there is no tradition. And we don’t have long standing traditions of how bureaucrats should work. You know, everything from norms, I mean, usually norms, right, norms about how you behave, but those norms can be subverted if the President has so much power, look at what we have in this country, Trump, right? So there’s nothing about the state that actually bodes well for democracy. So, you have Alpha Conde, fought every leader in Guinea before he became president for 42 years. Everybody sent him to jail before him, he comes to power, he does the same thing. But that’s because he can, Francophone Africans have to just rethink the Republic, its institutions, the principle of democracy, how you manage a democracy, norms for those who monitor democracy, and to monitor those who want a democracy, we actually have to have institutions to protect society against the ambitiousness of the state, and the tendency of those who find themselves in those positions, to do whatever they want to do. That’s where the National Conference in 1990s went wrong, because they saw the problem as individuals stay in power forever. And so just change them.

Rachel: Exactly. And even when we see the formal institutions that were put in place at the National Conference, such as two term limits. They’re easy to change, when the appointments by the executive determine the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court and the like you can use Constitutional Amendment, which then nullifies the previous two terms and you have a new third term, which counts as a first term. It’s what we’re seeing all across the region, right.

Siba: That’s what we’re seeing. Right. So, there’s something fundamentally that has to change… You go through each one of them one by one.

Rachel: Yes. So, the state and transforming the bureaucracy of the state to allow for transition in a way that’s meaningful to represent different ideologies or interests and to hold the government accountable for its role.

Siba: If you don’t do that, the next guy will come and do the same thing.

Rachel: Exactly. And potentially centralized further, as we’ve seen in Benin.

Siba: Yeah, of course. Right. So, the solution for National Conference was really disastrous. And I said it at the time actually, too. That is so profoundly wrong. The problem is not the guy who was there it is that that guy could do what he did. Right? It’s not the problem of the leader. It’s what he can do. Right? What he’s allowed to. If you don’t fix that problem, we’ll have the same problem.

Rachel: Exactly, exactly. And we do see, you know, these contestations playing out, in many areas across the world, you know, what is the president allowed to do? And what are the constraining powers? Right? Are they enabled by other branches, you know, that they may appoint? Are they enabled by political parties that want to maintain power, even when the population may want to hold them accountable? Right?

Siba: When Sékou Touré president in Guniea, we used to have a joke. Every time the party adopted a law, we used to say, adopted by unanimous vote of one because that one vote is all that matters.

Rachel: Exactly. You know, it’s precisely that then, you know, why I started to study political parties, because to me, where the decisions are made between the executive and the party, it determines what happens in the legislature and beyond.

Siba: Yeah. And so, it is not that actually people like it, it is that people are really, really don’t know what else to say, for instance, I when I was talking in one of my radio show, in Guinea, which I do occasionally, a young woman asked me, “Why would I trust you? “Every intellectual on this continent has lied to us, why would we trust you? And I said, my friend, if you are listening to me, everything I said today was, do not trust me. I will never say to somebody do trust me. Do not trust me. Put it on me things that you trust in to make sure that I will not do something you may not wish me to do. You don’t trust me. I’m not an angel. I’m not Jesus. I’m sorry. And I told her, I said, you probably missed the point. I said no, no, I was not telling anybody should trust me. I don’t even tell my son to trust me. A good measure of skepticism is always wanted. I said that to my son in a book. He went to his mommy and he said, mom, what is that? Don’t always trust me, sometimes check it out. No, no, I don’t want anybody to trust me. Let’s set in motion things that make sure that not me, not you, not anybody else can do the kind of things we’re seeing today.

Rachel: Exactly, exactly. So, with that, Siba, I wanted to ask you the question we asked all of our guests on the show, which is, what are you reading that you’d like to share with our listeners? It could be poetry, or novels or scholarly works. What are you reading today that speaks to you?

Siba: This entire week, I’ve been reading Francis Bacon, which may come as a shock to people but I’m reading Francis Bacon. And that is because we’ve been talking a lot about IR and race in IR, and I’m reading Francis Bacon, The Four Idols, right, and about how the mind works. And he had warnings about those four idols, idols of the mind. The one is idol of the tribe. And it’s not the tribe, as we imagined in Africa. It is actually human nature’s ability to give into its own perception, and the senses that have their mind as a measure of an individual dimension of the universe. It is how we give ourselves a false mirror on life. And that was actually implicit in that comment earlier about race in IR. The second one is idols of the cave, which is how enthusiastm, institutions, devotions to ideologies were the leaders. And the reason I’m reading those two particular one has to do with the fact that the paradox, even for Francis Bacon, and all the Enlightenment leaders, was for them to have imagine, after all, they are letting ideas that only they were capable of imagining political discourses of science, and etc., for our emancipation that nobody else could. So even though as they were imagining with thought that they should, that they are going back straight to the cave, and to the tribe, which is what we call Eurocentrism. In effect, Francis Bacon, had imagined himself as imitating Copernicus, and follow the stars where they may lead you. Right, which is also what concern, you know, they’re too sick, to follow the stars where they lead you. But how can we do that if we imagine that our cannons as they are conceived today, as the only tools available to us, if we imagine that what people have not thought, we thought without even bothering to look in those faces to see what we may find. So, in effect, it has a very profound, non-scientific, non-inquisitive dimension to how the discipline of international relations function today, because we have conceived international relations already, if you look at every advanced industrial country in the world today, if you go to those countries, and you look at the curriculum of international relations, it is always an extension of foreign policy. Right? We go here from our debate about realism, and idealism, whatever all of those… Right. But international relations is not foreign policy, foreign policy is very important. And God knows the foreign policy of the biggest countries matter a lot, which is why I vote I never missed, even at local level in this country, because it matters. But international relations is not an extension of foreign policy. International relations is a different space, a different space in which ideas, institutions, reflexes, concerns, maybe just a tad bit different, or sometimes that various, from our concerns in foreign policy in America, for instance, or in France, or in Britain, right. But international relations, all those countries mean basically proceeds from their own position in the world and their foreign policy concerns. So, we have a discipline that have no object, because it’s still tied to the cave. It still is in the cave and tied to the tribe. And that’s a metaphor for you.

Rachel: That’s perfect. That’s perfect. And this makes me want to, to go back to the text and to read it as well. Thank you so much for joining us today and for sharing your wisdom, your expertise, your knowledge with our listeners, it’s really a pleasure to learn with you.

Siba: Oh, thank you. I hope you learned much, but I hope you learned much from my rant. But thank you very much. You are so kind.

Rachel: Thank you so much.

Siba: Thank you.

Kim: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Ufahamu Africa to find any of the articles, books or links we talked about on today’s episode, head to ufahamuafrica.com. We are also available on Spotify, Apple podcast, SoundCloud, and Stitcher. This podcast is produced by Megan DeMint, with help from production assistant Fulya Felicity Turkmen. We are generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and receive research assistance from Cornell University and the University of California Riverside. Our music is courtesy of Kevin Mcload. Until next week, safari salama!


One thought on “Ep. 100: A conversation with Siba Grovogui about race and racism in international relations

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s