#SilenceDuTemps – Diseases, in particular pandemics, have often pushed human societies to seek an extra-scientific explanation for them, often occupying the figure of the scapegoat in this profession.
Stigmatization due to malicious use of the name of the disease and deliberate deviation of its name to suggest or designate more or less explicitly the existence of a culprit: this is the mechanism of stigmatization.
The use of disease metaphors, surrogates, and insidious analogies allows for the fabrication of stereotypes that become obvious targets.
In the history of pandemics, the case of the Black Death, with its share of anti-Semitic pogroms, is one of the most emblematic examples. Leprosy, plague, tuberculosis, syphilis, cholera, influenza, AIDS, Ebola all connu ce type d’imputation of maladie à la perversion plus ou moins congenitale d’une race, d’une religion, d ‘a group.
The black, the Arab, the nomads, the immigrant, depending on the times and the nature of the crises, have often suffered such outrages.
In this sense, the new Coronavirus pandemic has not escaped what has just been said about its predecessors.
The conditions in which Covid-19 appeared made China the ideal target for three reasons: the history of epidemics shows that most of them come from Asia, and in particular from China; China is accused of negligent concealment and late filing of the discovery of the new virus; and, finally, the hypothesis of a creation of this virus in the Wuhan laboratories allows us to corroborate the idea of an ideological and hegemonic struggle between China and the Western world, the US in particular.
The phrase coined by Donald Trump -“the Chinese virus”- has a double function of stigmatization: to show that this country is the leader of the axis of Evil and to assure the conservative electorate, and Americans in general, of the superiority of their culture and their democracy.
The expression “Chinese virus” has known different variants: “Asian flu” or “Wuhan virus”, for example. Citizens of Asian countries living in the US or coming from Asian countries have been subjected to degrading treatment. And in general, China has remained the target of the most virulent criticism in the West, equating its handling of the pandemic with its mode of ideological government, dissimulation and the absence of democracy.
I would now like to show how the concept of “African exception” presents in a particular light the inanity of these motives and mechanisms of stigmatization and the consequence that seems necessary to draw from them: the humility that must constitute our creed for everything and the sense of cosmopolitanism revealed by the pandemic thanks to the “exceptions” identified.
With the appearance of the new Coronavirus, Africa has experienced a double stigma before being considered a “textbook case” worthy of interest.
First by internal forms and sources of self-stigma. Fear, ignorance and shame drive people and families to hide and silence the cases of Covid-19 contagion in their families. In general, in their social life, Africans cultivate a kind of ethic of moderation, modesty and dissimulation for everything related to the illness of one of their relatives or with an ailment that they suffer from.
Then there is the fact that Africans also sometimes practice forms of stigmatization from one community to another within the same country or between neighboring countries. An example that made a lot of noise to the point of degenerating into a diplomatic incident is the following: the only case of Ebola recorded in Senegal introduced by a young Guinean traveler and that, despite the long traditions of coexistence and the efforts of health authorities , the stigmatization of the Guinean community residing in Senegal by the population.
Another proof that Africa is not exempt from this type of practice, the examples of reverse stigmatization carried out by Africans towards Westerners: on AIDS and Covid-19, in particular from Muslim cultural circles, linking them to practices supposedly foreign to the Africans, homosexuality for the first and a form of social and cultural life marked by individualism and disbelief for the second.
To this form of internal stigmatization has been added another, external one, which indiscriminately affects all black Africans and stems from age-old prejudices and stereotypes: a country with the most devastating endemic diseases in recent decades, particularly AIDS and Ebola. , absence of infrastructure, health personnel, propensity for a life of relationships conducive to the spread of the virus, a kind of evidence emerged: the fears, announcements and hypotheses of carnage caused by the new Coronavirus.
The verification of a non-conformity of reality with such forecasts has meant a relative change in the perspective on Africa and on the pandemic.
It is this new situation that I would like to interpret in relation to the issue of cosmopolitanism and the lessons to be drawn from it.
The “African exception” can be explained in different ways. Whether biological or cultural, a first hypothesis is to maintain that this distinctive feature does not remove Africa from the essentiality for which it was invented by the conquering and civilizing West, an essentiality that generates stereotypes and a possible source of more or less implicit stigmatization: this The difference that distinguishes it from all the other continents would still be proof that it belongs to a particular humanity, that it has something that prevents it from being similar to the rest of humanity.
Another hypothesis, with which I would like to conclude this contribution, would be based on a more constructive argument in light of the lessons that this health crisis forces us to draw in order to build an adult humanity that lives up to its responsibilities. . Then we would no longer be facing a form of stigmatization, but rather an acceptance in good faith of the existence of “a manual case”. Indeed, this phenomenon is of interest to science, to Africans themselves and to all human societies. There was a kind of boomerang effect: those who suffered a massacre are not the ones we thought. Therefore, it is important to study this case to draw useful lessons for all humanity.
Africans should not “shy away from the pleasure” of their exception, but they would be wrong to boast, because several factors should encourage them to be cautious and “to modest triumph.” Statistics show that 9 out of 10 Senegalese have been in contact with the virus. Assuming that the figures on the real number of infected and dead were much higher, we must infer that without questioning the “African exception”, such a situation would mean that the vulnerability of Africans is also a reality and that such figures should account for the Africans to reflect on their health situation to prevent possible occurrences of diseases and pandemics similar to the new Coronavirus.
If common sense is not enough, the experience described through these forms of stigmatization and the “textbook case” in question here should definitely lead scientists and non-scientists alike to change their attitude as to the meaning attached to it. to the disease. Stop considering the disease and the pandemic as scandals, that is, challenges to nature, reason and morality. Accept that they are simply inherent to life, because to live is to face risks and diseases are among those risks.
“Health is the luxury of getting sick and recovering” (G. Canguilhem).
This “textbook case”, at a general level, should lead all human societies to remember that if they do not have the same responsibility for the causes of the spread of diseases, they remain, all together, heirs to their teachings and of its consequences. . That it is on this condition that a more humane civilization of the 21st century can be built. A civilization capable of cooperating to act effectively against pandemics and against obstacles to comprehensive human development.
A lesson in humility, in humanism, comes to us from some philosophers, great theoreticians of cosmopolitanism.
In this regard, Emmanuel Kant –reputed as one of the fathers of the United Nations system– considers, in a famous pamphlet, that in order to achieve perpetual peace, two factors are essential, complementary and necessary. The first is the use of reason, the only, if not the best, means of resisting the dissolving forces of nature, the causes of the violence of all against all. The second is an argument that militates for a good coexistence of the local and the global. It consists of saying that the recourse to reason to build the conditions of perpetual peace can only be fully realized in the species and not in the individual or sectarian group folded in on itself.
The lesson of this crisis linked to the new Coronavirus is that in order to be united and effective, we must distinguish between two orders of reality.
There is what DOES NOT DEPEND ON US: there is a plant and animal world in which humans are living beings in the same way as viruses and bacteria. We have to deal with this world, get to know it through scientific research, respect its logic of existence and protect ourselves from it if necessary.
And there is WHAT DEPENDS ON US: to rethink our relationship with this world and our relationship with each other, humans. Rethink the use of our material, cultural and social means in order to optimize the possibilities of cooperation between all nations to prevent diseases and, in the event of a crisis, manage them effectively and efficiently.
Abdoulaye Elimane Kane is a retired university professor. A founding member of the Syndicat Autonome du Supérieur (SAES), he successively campaigned for the National Democratic Rally, then led by Professor Sheikh Anta Diop, the Popular Liberation Party and the Socialist Party. He has held various academic and administrative positions: head of the philosophy department, inspector general of philosophy, minister of communication, and minister of culture.