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F O U R Rhetorical Mediations of Slavery The metaphor of connections allows us to demonstrate that contemporary globalization is, in fact, contrary to the thesis embraced by its adherents, far from being new, merely the continuation of prior globalizing mechanisms. Jean-Loup Amselle1 Globalisation and universality do not go together. Indeed, they might be said to be mutually exclusive. Globalisation is the globalisation of technologies, the market, tourism and information. Universality is the universality of values, human rights, freedoms, culture and democracy. Jean Baudrillard2 Multiple and varied usages have been made of the term “globalization,” yet it nevertheless provides a useful discursive space for the exploration of complex cultural, social, and political phenomena. “The current phase of the world economy is characterized by significant discontinuities with the preceding periods and radically new arrangements,” Saskia Sassen has observed,3 while for anthropologist Jean-Loup Amselle, contemporary globalization constitutes “merely the continuation of prior globalizing mechanisms” (Amselle, Branchements, 7–8). Through a consideration of a documentary-testimonial work by a Togolese woman, Henriette Akofa, this chapter proposes to further explore some of these questions. Discourse and research on immigration in France and on so-called postcolo- nial communities have not sufficiently accounted for the historical context , preferring to focus instead on the contemporaneity of the question. Yet works such as Ousmane Sembene’s Black Docker or Bernard Dadié’s An African in Paris, which predate the era of African Independence, always already constituted what are today commonly categorized as immigrant narratives, forcing us to rethink some of these categories and to relocate them in transhistorical frameworks.4 Ultimately, then, my objective will be to suggest ways in which a plethora of processes responsible for the displacement of populations—slavery, colonialism, economic migration, globalization—transform the nature of transnational exchanges and mediation between cultures. Akofa’s Une esclave moderne (A Modern Slave-Woman), published in 2000, allows us to explore recent immigration trends in France by relocating them in a discursive realm indebted to slavery.5 In Akofa’s text, the context has shifted to a postcolonial France and Togo on the brink of the new millennium. In this analysis, the emphasis on slavery and the accompanying subtext pertaining to its abolition in the nineteenth century becomes less important than the attempt to identify modern vestiges of it, and ways it has mutated according to the demands and exigencies of global trade networks and market forces. Indeed, as Roger Botte has signaled in his essay “Le spectre de l’esclavage” (“The Specter of Slavery”), thinking on the question of slavery has, for the most part, circumvented the complexity of the phenomenon by insisting on a binary model that opposes Africa to the West (slave to master and subsequently colonized to colonizer).6 According to this approach, responsibility for slavery is placed almost exclusively on economic and political forces outside Africa. A paradigm that underscores the manner in which transnational economic forces work together at both the local and global levels would provide a better understanding of the origins of slavery. This is, of course, contained in “the internal slavetrading routes” (Botte,“Le spectre de l’esclavage,” 160) and Amselle’s notion of lateral connections, within a framework that is necessarily imbricated with the broader global forces of the transatlantic slave trade. In turn, this allows for an understanding of the practice as it survives today in Africa in a form that is quite different from labor migration. They differ in kind but their origins are the same: under-development . . . This “new slavery” drives thousands of women and children from poor supplier countries toward the continent’s “rich” countries, “employers” of manpower, where they are subjected to forced labor on plantations, domestic servitude, and sexual exploitation. (Botte, “Le Spectre de l’esclavage,” 162) It also survives, of course, in population movements toward Asia, Europe, and the United States. In Akofa’s text, the central protagonist, Henriette, occupies a position of servitude as a domestic worker—a social status that Rhetorical Mediations of Slavery 115 is unambiguously underlined in the title of the work: Une esclave moderne . What we have here is a kind of mediation that is available at the level of intertextuality—that is, between Akofa’s text and a long tradition of works by francophone African writers that feature the socioeconomic circumstances of protagonists who travel to Europe—as well as a mediation that emerges from the actual transatlantic “crossing” made by these protagonists who follow in the footsteps...


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