Why English-Speaking Africa is Silent on ‘White Africanism’ of Albert Camus

By Alexander Opicho
Albert Camus
Albert Camus
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First, I want to appreciate the social value of translation in literature, journalism, philosophy and any other field of social inquiry. Translation as a social-cultural practice has done a lot of goodness to the world of intellectual inquiry, especially to the English-speaking world in Africa and all other parts of the poor world. Without translation , the English speaking Africa would be having an intellectual civilization less Fanon,Cesaire,Cabral, Derrida, Ousmane, Ba and Senghor. But all else, as any other intellectually conscious African, I fault not any doffing off and removal of laurels in recognition of the self-less Anthony Boyer for the most worthy efforts in his translation of Albert Camus to English language for intellectual consumption by the readers from Africa that could not access Camus had he been left culturally intact in his native Algerian linguistic sub-cultures of French and basic Arabic.

Until now Albert Camus reigns among the towering paragons of good thoughts, though derided by those in the land of his forefathers, France, as a pied-noir and by his brothers in Africa as a white African. It is more Sadder, to learn that the philosophical and literary societies in Africa has always maintained deliberate wall of oblivion on Albert Camus. The pioneering, Novelist, Journalist, essayist, poet, intellectual realist and youngest literature Nobel prize and the most handsome Algerian critical thinker that the liberal world enjoyed to have by the mid years of the last century.

Albert Camus pronounced as Alba Kamy, was born in Algeria to a peasant and economically struggling family. The name Camus means to listen. He was born to French-Algerian father and mother. Albert’s father was wounded in the war but he was never compensated. His mother was a struggling petty trader. Albert’s mother was also a half deaf. Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913, in Mondavi, French Algeria. His family was described as a pied-noir family (a half black family) by the French aristocrats because Albert’s family had little money.

Albert Camus is known for his literary and philosophical work. He communicated his critical and objective out-look to life through novels, poems, essays and the plays he wrote as well as through his engagement with the media and the tireless journalism work, he did. Albert Camus wrote 36 Prize-worthy books before he was the age of 44, the age at which he won the Literature Nobel Prize in 1957. Some of the famous works by Albert Camus are; The stranger, The Rebel, The Sisyphus Myth, the Plague, The Fall, Happy Death, Exile and Kingdom, the First Man, The Guest and very many other essays.

Albert Camus was not only in books and Philosophy. He also dealt with political issues in a head-on version. For example, at the beginning of World War II, Camus joined the French Resistance in order to help liberate Paris from the Nazi occupation; he met Jean-Paul Sartre during his period of military service. Like Sartre, Camus wrote and published political commentary on the conflict throughout its duration. In 1945, he was one of the few Allied journalists to condemn the American use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. He was also an outspoken critic of communist theory, eventually leading to an intellectual and philosophical rift between him and Sartre.

Most of the writers on political philosophy often agree with the common-place argument that the dominant philosophical contribution of Camus's work is absurdism, a philosophy that accepts sad side of life, the opposite of hedonism. Some works of Camus show that he was overtly a fatalist and determinist in his philosophical orientation which also made him to be associated with existentialism. However, Camus, rejected the label lest he would be viewed as a philosophical and an intellectual ally of Jean Paul Sartre. Sartre subscribed to the school of revolutionary Marxism. But the fact is that there are overt elements of absurdism and existentialism in Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), The protagonists of The Stranger (1942) and The Plague (1947).

In order to understand the philosophy of Fatalism, Absurdism and existentialism in Camus’s work one has only to a look at the literary work of Camus during the war, when he began working on his very allegorical novel known as The Plague, which is polyphonic and a blend of a meditation on exile as well as resistance to forceful occupation. The plot of the novel is set in Oran. It is fabulous in style; it has a story about the unfolding outbreak the rats that cause bubonic plague that kills hundreds of people a day and forces authorities to seal the gates to prevent the pestilence from spreading. However, one of the characters, a citizen of Oran profiteers by selling contraband cigarettes and low-quality liquor during the plaque. In the novel Camus only upholds the virtues of self-denial and self-abstinence observed in behaviors of his heroes; the physician Bernard Rieux and the journalist Raymond Rambert that remained courageous to tend the sick and dying. Camus also extols the street cleaning work of the black concierge (menial labourer). According to Joshua Hammer (2019) in his article, Why Albert Camus is Still Stranger in his Native Algeria, Nobel committee recognized Camus literary work for the themes of fatalism, existentialism and absurdism displayed in the Plaque, Camus’s book that condemns the Nazi occupation of France.

Writers with western bias about Albert Camus have always written that Camus was influenced by European Writers and Philosophers like Leo Tolstoy, Bogart, Friederichs Nietzsche, Voltaire and Rosseau. But this is not true. It at all there is any text that influenced Camus must have Richard Wright’s Native Son. This is so evident in the absurdist quality of literary production that Camus showed in the Plague. Arguments and tones in each paragraph were redolent of the despair of Bigger Thomas and the rest of the black communities in the white dominated America of the last century. One fails to understand why people always look for the writer’s influence in other writers but not practical childhood experience. For my case, the prolonged reading I have had on Albert Camus shows that the strength and quality of his philosophical thoughts were direct out-come of his Algerian child hood that experienced growing up in poverty, political oppression, war and social insignificance on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. I mean Africa gave birth to Albert Camus. Africa gave birth to Camus in both biological and intellectual sense. It is under this pretext that I concur with the words of Tin Allen (2019) in his book the Academic Insights for Thinking World which echoed that; ‘Camus didn’t hesitate to affirm the influence of his African years on his life’s work’.

Albert Camus himself also wrote in his 1958 essay The Wrong Side and the Right Side that ; ‘I know that my inspiration is in The Wrong Side and the Right Side, in this world of poverty and light where I lived for so long and whose memory still keeps me away from the two opposing dangers that menace every artist. I was placed halfway between misery and the sun. Misery kept me from believing that all is well in this world and with history; the sun taught me that history isn’t everything.’ This personal testimony by Camus helps to testify where he got his philosophical fire from.

The controversy of White-African identity is not only around Albert Camus. Almost all the French-African scholars never rose above the blurred identity. This is a fact to be attributed to colonial bigotry that used ideology of the race to justify colonization of the non-white world. It is evident psychology of racist inspired self-abnegation that makes African born liberal scholars and philosophers like Jacque Derrida, Aime Ceasefire and Jean Paul Satre to identify themselves and the French writers but not the African writers.

My point of contention is about recognition of African intellectual .The question of white African scholars has been never treated with decorum in Africa’s literary civilization. On-black writers in Africa are never appreciated for their efforts and literary contributions. Many books by progressive thinking Africans like Yash Gal Pai, Fatima Meer, Mahmud Mamdan and Samir Amin have been subjected to political and cultural discrimination on the basis of the content but the colour of the skin of the author.This must be a factor among others that fuelled fluent silence on Albert Camus in the English Speaking Africa.

The issue of racial identity could be negligible had not affected the public decisions of Albert Camus. One cannot fail to help in wondering why Camus turned around to be a disgrace to his philosophy, liberal thought and stature as a progressive thinker when he fought Nazism but he could not support the timely fight against French imperialism in Algeria, Why Albert Camus did not join the likes of Frantz Fanon and Walter Rodney in the struggle against French Imperialism in North Africa remains an intellectual paradox of the day. According to Camus, Algeria need not to be politically independent. It only needed to be made a province of France.

Intellectual communication and philosophical inquiry is a physical act. Thus, critical a philosophical writer must bring in focus physical deficiency of the writers. This why, we always learn that Galileo was ever sick, Pascal Blaise was often sick, Fyodor Dostoyevsky was epileptic, and Adam Smith feared Women. But for the case of Albert Camus was excessively handsome. He had three wives and he always maintained a troupe of three girlfriends. This was his social life till he died in the road accident in car that was being driven recklessly by his publisher. This how it happened; Albert Camus had already taken a train ticket, waiting for the train, then his publisher passed by, he pressured Camus to ride if his car but not in the train. Camus accepted. Only for the car to crush three hours later and kill both of them. The true encounter with absurdism, sadism and existentialism that Camus used to write about.

His early death never left him barren, he sired a lot through his legacy of philosophy and writing. It is Camus that inspired James Baldwin to write A Stranger in the Village. Ali Mazrui repetitively talks about the Sisyphus Paradox as the main bug eating Africa’s revolutionary politics in his book Cultural Forces behind World Politics. This is nothing else other than intellectual inspirations and philosophical virtues bequeathed to Mazrui by Albert Camus.

Alexander Opicho writes From, Lodwar-kenya [email protected]