||While polemical and demonizing visions of Africa continue to proliferate within various quarters of public discourse – witness Nicholas Kristof’s latest portrayal of eastern Congo as a zone of “auto-cannibalism” and “re-rape,” or Sarkozy’s racist triumphalism disguised as recycled ethno-philosophy – scholarly characterizations are more agnostic, tending to cycle between the fatalistic and upbeat. “Africa,” it seems, remains a montage of competing destinies: alongside accounts of unrelenting debt and extreme precarity, war machines and disposable populations, occult imaginaries and eviscerated states, we are given vibrant sketches of a continent to come, of nascent relationalities and habits of self-creation – in short, of distinctively Afropolitan modes of life whose lineaments, far from denoting the resurrection of myriad archaisms, signal instead the appearance of unforeseen horizons of desire and possibility.
This panel explores the contours of Africa’s variegated contemporaneity through engagement with some of its emergent cultural forms: the refiguring of the city through the informal and the informational, the intoxicating efflorescence of signs and wonders and so many prosperity gospels, the production and collapse of assorted techniques of juridification and illegality, regimes of invisibility that seduce desire and subvert everyday linearity, lotteries and ponzie schemes that hedge the present against tomorrow, a near-universal yearning for exile. Seeking to come to terms with the transformations currently underway on the continent, the papers theorize these emergent forms against the backdrop of a post-Cold War political-economic landscape. No longer captive to a bloated dictatorship complex, today’s state apparatus is diffuse and decentralized, and its ties to the village often attenuated. Amidst state pullback and a privatized commons, novel sovereignties and biopolitical configurations are appearing in city and village alike. A scramble for African oil and minerals has brought a gallery of new players to the continent’s doorstep: profit-seeking multinationals, a charitable but muscular China, US oil and terrorism interests, a burgeoning development-humanitarian-entertainment complex. Jostling for influence, these actors scramble old boundaries between public/private, legal/illicit, development/entertainment, military/humanitarian.
Rather than reifying an actually existing state of affairs on the continent, we see our title operating on the double register of an interrogation of the kinds of futures that materialize vis-à-vis the planetary “crises” (financial, ecological, humanitarian) with which African nations are being forced to reckon, and an examination of the extent to which the very concept of futurity has been thrown into doubt, if only to be recast in any number of directions. What representational strategies make sense in a milieu punctuated with multiple temporalities and fluctuating speeds? Whither the market and the political, along with their attendant notions of security, citizenship, territory, value, and commodity, amidst such drastic defamiliarizations of their given forms and trajectories? How might the inauguration of novel spatializations and embodiments, passions and sensory modalities be mapped in conjunction with the historically and discursively specific macrocontexts by which they are given shape? Has a (theo/techno)logic of immanent miracles and instantaneous ruptures finally supplanted the progressivist teleologies of the NGO, the party, the state – and the intellectual? Is Africanist scholarship itself in crisis?