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The Time we Need Our civilization can hardly detach itself from its fascination with the past. It can only dream of the future, and when it does elaborate projects that are more than simple dreams, it draws them on a canvas where once again the past projects itself. It is retrospective, and stubbornly so. Gaston Berger86 When the philosopher Gaston Berger (1896–1960) suggests that in the mobile world where we live, which is not only changing but changing more and more rapidly according to an ‘immediately perceptible acceleration’ that ‘affects us directly’,87 it is necessary ‘to develop prospective disciplines’ (in particular a ‘prospective anthropology’), and to develop a ‘prospective attitude’ in general,88 who is he addressing?89 Which ‘us’ does he invite to tear ourselves away from a certain ‘retrospective stubbornness’ to which our ‘fascination with the past’ tends to confine us? A reader would initially consider this to refer to humanity in general, the one that philosophers speak of when they say ‘us’ and even when they say ‘I’. But after this first response, readers might ask themselves if ‘our civilization’, from Berger’s pen, is in fact simply human civilization or, on the contrary, what Western civilization is called.This is because some might think to set opposite to this ‘prospective anthropology’ (which takes it upon itself, for example, to show ‘what aspects of mankind’s situation THE INK OF THE SCHOLARS 36 in tomorrow’s world it is possible to perceive today’, or ‘to determine in what sense and to what extent the profound transformation of situationsinfluencestheposingandperhapsthesolutionoftraditional philosophical problems’)90 an anthropology of cultures separated by the different conceptions (or even formulations) that they have of this or that ‘philosophical problem’ – and, in particular, of the problem of time, the meaning given to the past, present and future. Should it be taken as a fact that cultures differ in that they are characterized by different conceptions of time? In particular, should the notion of an ‘African conception of time’, which is often evoked in ethnological discourse and which Africans are not necessarily the last to apply to themselves, be accorded meaning? In February 2007, a speech given by the President of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, at the University of Dakar presented as a fact the idea that Africans have their own conception of time, which explains why they have ‘insufficiently entered into History’. This revival of the cliché in which a particular sense of time prevents African peoples from synchronizing with the rhythm of an accelerating world provoked, understandably, astonishment and shock: the mere posture of the French President administering to his African interlocutors a lesson in the psychology of peoples so as to explain their own condition to them, under the pretext of ‘straight talk’, was the height of incongruity.91 But, this said, it must be noted that the way in which this speech recycled old ethnological chestnuts was not really in discord with the general climate of what has been called Afropessimism, a discourse that offers, with various inflections, the desperate and despairing idea that Africa’s problem, ultimately, is Africa itself. Afropessimism rests on the proposition that the reasons for the continent’s ‘lagging’ behind the rest of the world can be found in the culture, in the worldview of Africans, since, it is claimed, as all the different economic recipes have proved ineffective, there is something in Africanity which constitutes, ultimately, a genuine ‘refusal’ of development.92 Nothing better expresses the quintessence of Afropessimism, this idea that Africa is a separate case – a ‘basket case’ – than those lines with which Jean Bonvin, the then president THE TIME WE NEED 37 of the OECD’s Centre for Development, introduced a work his institution published, titled Whither African Economies?93 For OECD Member countries, doing everything they can to help Africa fill the gap – which in the past 30 years has grown wider – is both a human obligation and an absolute necessity. For economists, it is also an intellectual challenge. While for some 20 years success has followed upon success in East Asia and then in Latin America, we seem to be incapable of coming up with solutions that are appropriate for Africa – despite a mass of research, economic-policy recommendations of all kinds and considerable financial and technological assistance.94 Africa, then, is an intellectual challenge for economists: one could hardly express better the idea that, ultimately, nothing works on this special continent, where some even saw in the...


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