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ALMA Reviews Blog: Mémoire, Paix et Développement en Afrique

Mémoire, Paix et Développement en Afrique: Réflexions autour d’une éthique de la souvenance en contexte post-colonial [Memory, Peace and Development in Africa: Reflections on an Ethics of Remembrance in a Post-colonial Context]

Albert Gouaffo, Colbert Akieudji & Diderot Djiala Mellie (eds); Université de Dschang, Cameroon

Published in 2022 by Editions CLE

Available at: ABI Library

Reviewed by: Richard Legay

Over the last few years there have been increasing discussions regarding the restitution of African cultural heritage still held in European collections – and a handful of actual returns (such as the 26 “royal treasures” returned from the French government to Benin in 2022). This is a true testimony to the importance of memory and remembrance in our societies and the need to better understand these issues and their potential impact.

This edited volume, written in French, looks at memory studies with a focus on peace and development in Africa – and is therefore a welcome addition to the field. Based on the discussions held at an international symposium in April 2019 at the University of Dschang, in Cameroon, this book consists of 26 chapters by as many contributors, most of them scholars from Cameroon. According to the editors, while the field of memory studies is now an internationally well-established interdisciplinary area of research, it is not yet so strongly anchored in Africa. Nonetheless, as they explain, memory currently plays a particularly crucial role with regard to topics of peace and development in countries such as the Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Mali. The need to take stock of studies on African memory in various disciplines and to suggest an “ethics of remembrance” is thus the underlying reasoning behind the organisation of the aforementioned symposium and the publication of this edited volume. In order to acknowledge the diversity of the contributions, the book is divided into four parts. The first examines the ethics and aesthetics of memory in literature, focusing on colonial history and its long-lasting impact, as well as on literary reflections on wars and conflicts in Africa. The second looks at peace and representations of memory in arts and in the media, and includes varied contributions on movies, mass media, food and education. The third section is dedicated to history, identity and development, with various analyses, including contributions on specific lieux de mémoire (realms of memory), artworks, rituals and national identity. Finally, the fourth part of the book deals with the languages of memory. Understood as both objects of the past and the means to discuss it, languages, especially French and German, are analysed in relation to current issues and colonial memory, but also as ways, through poetry and humour for instance, to talk about memory. The reader will therefore find in this book numerous and diverse insightful contributions on memory-related questions, mostly case studies, with a strong focus overall on Cameroon. What is lacking is only an overarching discussion on the topics at hand that would bring the 26 chapters together; the introduction is unfortunately too brief to provide such an overview.

One striking strength of this edited volume is, without a doubt, its interdisciplinarity. Indeed, the wide range of perspectives in the various contributions is laudable, as is the diversity of topics. Literature, film and media studies, history and archaeology, as well as art and heritage studies, are all conjured at some point in the book. For instance, Richard Tsogang Fossi’s chapter (pp. 67–80) analyses the memory of the First World War in Cameroon and the change in colonial rulers following the Treaty of Versailles. By looking at postcolonial literature, the author shows how new writings help deconstruct historical myths and challenge the amnesia and aphasia that affect how the colonial past and the different regimes have been remembered. This example is quite telling of the ways in which many of the authors navigate an interdisciplinary path to produce compelling arguments. As a whole, this volume is a true testimony to the rich debates around memory studies that have been taking place at the University of Dschang and elsewhere.

Memory studies and public history  – among other fields of research still dominated by Western-centric views – will benefit greatly from such a publication. Indeed, it showcases the importance of research on the culture of remembrance as applied to peace and development, especially in the Cameroonian and African contexts. For lecturers, in particular, such an example of collected interdisciplinary works is especially welcome, as it helps introduce French-speaking students to the variety and relevance of memory studies. The author of this review will certainly refer to it in his teaching in the future.

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Foto: © Priscilla Du Preez

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