N’Goné Fall, a Pan-African Season / Interview Eva Barois De Caevel

In something we Africans got issue #6
In issue #6, find our selection on : Panafricanism in part 1,
Morocco’s intellectual and art scene, in part 2
Cultural links Africa – USA in part 3



« That is when my Pan-Africanism was forged, a Pan-Africanism that is anything but a utopia. That does not mean that all Africans are my brothers and sisters; it simply means that I can claim this continent in its totality, and this claim stems from, and is fed by, the desire to understand this continent, its inhabitants, its history, its networks. »

– N’Goné Fall

N’Goné Fall, la commissaire générale de la Saison Africa 2020. © Siegfried Forster / RFI

Architect, curator, art critic, and cultural engineering consultant, N’Goné Fall was also editorial director of the illustrious Revue Noire from 1994 to 2001. We met her in August, just after her nomination as chief curator of Saison Afrique 2020 had been announced. She talked to us about the work undertaken so far, the work in progress, and that to come, and shared her ambitions for this Season. She also discussed « her Pan-Africanism », a concept which this edition seeks to revisit and reflect upon.

Eva Barois De Caevel: This section of the magazine is devoted to the concept of Pan-Africanism. It is something that I would be very interested to hear you tell us about – not a definition of Pan-Africanism per se, but a personal account of what it perhaps represents to you, of your experience of Pan-Africanism, or perhaps of ‘a’ Pan-Africanism.

N’Goné Fall : I would say that it is the feeling of belonging to a territory. Certainly a very large territory, but one with clear contours: the contours of a continent. I would also say that it is a form of complicity with the continent’s populations. I think that my personal definition of Pan-Africanism is also necessarily linked to my deep love of history. In school, in Dakar, we used to learn the history of all of Africa, from the Stone Age to the contemporary period! What history makes you understand is the existence of connections, notably between Senegal and other territories: stories of migration, conquest, kingdoms, and empires. Of movement too. History also gave me the understanding that I could claim many spaces and references. You have to remember that this was in the 1990s, when Internet, cable television and mobile phones did not exist yet. If you wanted to know more about a country, you quite simply had to go there. There was only one solution in trying to truly understand a country’s present, once you had looked it up in an encyclopaedia: to travel there. The eight and a half years that I spent working for Revue Noire allowed me to deeply understand this obvious fact. I travelled and I started to get a glimpse of what it might have meant for a Malian, an Egyptian, a South African to be African, to be from Africa. There were things in common, notably a painful history: that of slavery, of colonization. I was lucky enough to meet veterans of the Independence movements and it clearly appeared to me that this was a process that had not operated from country to country, as was thought, with each country acting in isolation, but, on the contrary, one that was rooted in strong ties between the different countries, even if these ties were forged – and had remained – in the shadows.

It is also these shared experiences, these narratives, that constitute my definition of Pan-Africanism. « Affection » would perhaps be the right word: a feeling of solidarity with the desire for emancipation, be it of an economic, cultural, or political order. My Pan-Africanism is a living thing: it is, for example, something that I share with Ntone Edjabe, whom I met for the first time in Cape Town in 1998, and with whom I have not stopped sharing long discussions, always re-thinking the world! My Pan-Africanism is not an ideology, or a myth; it is not a past utopia. The term, of course, has an ideological foundation; it is the founding principal of the current African Union. The founding acts of the Organization of African Unity, which I have read, are something that remain very present to me. While it might seem strange to some, this Pan-Africanism is truly a reality, because it is something that is rooted in an experience and a desire for greater understanding. When I started working, I honestly had no idea what the answer to the question « what does being African mean? » was. My travels were a practical application – a discovery, to be more precise, of the ties that had struck me when I was younger: accounts of exfiltration, of rear bases, for example between Senegal and Cape Verde (stories like that of Amílcar Cabral), but also between Mali and Morocco. All of this constitutes the bedrock of my Pan-Africanism. 

You have mentioned a certain number of encounters, of discourses, but also historic texts that marked you and which constructed and constitute your Pan-Africanism. Do any other important references come to mind, notably literary ones? Yes, of course, literature too. In Dakar, we studied African literature in our secondary school French classes; that is, all the African authors from 1945 to 1975, those who had lived through the pre- and post-Independence eras. We also studied a few African-American authors. Of the African authors I studied, some were still alive and I was able to meet them on certain occasions, notably thanks to my parents. That opened my eyes to the continent’s resistance and struggles. Literature was also a trigger in understanding certain differences: we say « African », but what exactly does it mean to be from this country or that? I remained an avid reader of novels and continued to meet authors whenever I could, which I was fortunate enough to be able to do regularly when I was working for the Revue Noire, which took me to so many parts of the continent.

Nu Barreto  » Africa renversée renversante  » © the artist, Courtesy Galerie Nathalie Obadia

You are the chief curator of Saison Afrique 2020, initiated by the French President. Will this season also be an opportunity to put into practice and convey your Pan-Africanism? Is it an indispensable notion as you embark on what is a necessarily a complex project? Saison Afrique 2020 is a pluri-disciplinary Pan-African project – it won’t be just about culture. Africa is not a country, of course, it is a continent. That much is well-established! It is a diverse continent, of course, just like any other continent. That is true of Europe too. What exactly are the links between the Germans and the Portuguese, for example; it is hard to say. While that is true for Africa too, I believe that there are also more ties than one might imagine between, for example a Ghanaian and an Egyptian. So Saison Afrique 2020 may perhaps be a problematic project for some, but for me that does not signify anything. It absolutely does not mean that we claim to know what an African is. For my part, when someone asks me where I am from, I might equally answer that I am Pan-African or Dakaroise! It is not a provocation; when you think about it, I have visited more towns in South Africa, for example, than in Senegal, so…! With Saison Afrique 2020, we do not intend to impose anything on anyone. It is important for us to say that there is certainly one thing that connects us on this continent, and that thing – we keep coming back to it – is Pan-Africanism. I want us to approach this project in that sense. We are not here to promote one country, region, or linguistic zone. To me, there is a problem with certain celebrations – spotlight on the Maghreb, la Francophonie, the Commonwealth! At any rate, that will not be the spirit of Saison Afrique 2020. I want to approach things differently. If we take the Middle Ages, for example, there were a lot more transnational contacts, trade links, and caravan crossings on the continent. Let’s remember them! Today, I also observe what is happening on the continent with social media; I see how the younger generations use it. They have no problem, if they need or want to, communicating in a mish-mash of Franglais or Portunhol. They are transgenerational by affinity. And people club together. That is the spirit of  Saison Afrique 2020. It is a challenge, but I love challenges! Pan-Africanism will be a framework and I won’t really be the curator of this imposing structure. I am going, rather, to put on my architect’s hat. I have conceived of an architecture and also a vision: Pan-Africanism, and that is non-negotiable. I am inviting others to come up with projects and programmes, to think and build together. 

From what you are saying, I think that it would be interesting to hear about some aspects of what you have accomplished and set up both professionally and in human terms via this Pan-African prism. I am thinking, for example, of the interest you showed very early on in digital media, in virtual worlds, in the Internet, in how they suddenly made networks possible throughout the continent, and between the continent and others. Can you tell us, for example, about GawLab, which you co-created?  

Read the full interview and its French version in something we Africans got issue 6. Get the full PDF. 


                                                          in something we Africans got issue 6
Eva Barois de Caevel 
Juillet 2018

In issue #6 find our selection on : Panafricanism in part 1,
Morocco’s intellectual and art scene, in part 2
Cultural links Africa – USA in part 3