About MIPAD and the concept of Recognition

Mireille Fanon Mendes France

Frantz Fanon Foundation

Former UN expert

I would like to come back to the confusion of dealing with MIPAD’s (Most Influential People of African Descent) activity, within the framework of the work of the delegation that is representing some of the members of the International Coalition for the International Decade for People of African Descent (IDPAD) going to NY to meet a State representative during the beginning of the September session of the General Assembly in order to get a Permanent Forum under ECOSOC.

Sometimes we are forced to look at proposed events for what they are, and not for what they are supposed to be.

Since May 2019, members of African descent and African organizations and associations have been meeting, informally, in an international coalition for PADs to break the structural impossibility of having an audible voice when one is Afro-descendant or African.

MIPAD is one of them, but unlike many others, it emerged as a result of the Declaration of the International Decade, with a particular purpose in identifying Afro-descendants whom it wishes to « honor » according their presentation on the UNIDPAD website : “It is a civil society initiative in support of the International Decade for People of African Descent. It identifies high achievers of African descent in public and private sectors of the world as a progressive network of actors in the spirit of recognition, justice and development of Africa, its people on the continent and across the diaspora”.

The IDPAD was declared by the United Nation’s General Assembly (Resolution 68/237) and to be observed from 2015 to 2024. On the website of the UN International Decade, it is noted, as one of the main objectives of the International decade for People of African Descent  » to do everything to work for the recognition of people of African descent.” It means for all PAD and not only for the most visible and influential.

In a word, MIPAD addresses the theme of Recognition, one of the 3 themes of the international decade – Recognition, Justice, Development – with a desire to highlight young people, under 40, by selecting those who have managed to climb, with willpower and determination, at the level of their other peers.

In itself why not? If members of civil society want to do, why not! And everyone has the freedom to go or not. But we must understand why we go and what does it entail.

Indeed, no one can forget that there are millions of Afro-descendants totally invisible and denied. So, one can then wonder why the UN, whose first sentence of its Charter affirms that the United Nations represents the whole of « We, Peoples of the United Nations, determined… », identifies that event as part of the IDPAD.

We have to underline, the work done during the IDPAD, but more generally before and after this IDPAD, concerns all African descendants and African, whatever their social class, their gender, and the place they live. I would say even more: that, if we pretend/want/assume to fight structural and systemic racism, we have to work for those who are invisibilized, marginalized, and whose humanity is denied.

These men and women represent millions and millions of dehumanized humans.

In this context, if we really want to work for the Recognition of all the invisible, marginalized, denied African Descendant and African people, we have to take into account, as suggested by Frantz Fanon, the question of what will allow the valorization of the individual interconnected with the denunciation of everything that legitimizes « his alienation and subjugation by consecrating integration to colonial society as an accomplishment » (quoted by Norman Ajari, La dignité ou la mort,p.33, Editions La Découverte).

By focusing only on the aspect of individual valorization, MIPAD and others on the same side, reproduce what those, who maintain this structural racism, use to do: divide those who succeed from the others to demonstrate that in a world, crossed by the racial question, even if you’re racialized, it is possible to succeed if you accept the way of the dominant colonial power works and if you accept to play the game imposed by dominant.

Thenceforth, one cannot be satisfied, in the work done or that should be carried out, within the IDPAD, with considering one of the meanings of the word Recognition in celebrating the success of a few, leaving all the others below and behind. I recall the international decade has adopted the commitment of the international community to leave no one behind by the establishment of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

It is not enough to claim it, it is essential to mark an ontological break with the way in which power is exercised by the vast majority of those who govern, that is to say with coloniality and impacts on knowledge, but especially on Being.

What is the UN doing in announcing such activity? This contradicts what was unanimously admitted during the Durban Conference (2001), which is the cornerstone of the Durban Declaration: « People of African descent are most affected by the consequences of enslavement and colonialism”. People of African Descent are an integral part of the people of the Nations.

It is as if the UN admits that to be recognized, it was necessary to succeed. But what does success mean in the context of Recognition? Must we succeed to see our dignity recognized? When we call for Recognition of all those who are deprived of it, we cannot forget or pretend to forget that « dignity is only rigorously considered in the perspective of the most vulnerable humans in a given society: oppressed”. (De Koninck Thomas, Archéologie de  la notion humaine, in De Koninck et Larochelle Gilbert, (dir), La dignité humaine, Paris, PUF, 2005, pp.20-21; quoted by Norman Ajari, page 65.) 

To do so is to maintain the ambiguity of certain anti-racist position, content to show some PAD who succeeded in their social mobility and aspirations even if they admit to colliding with the glass ceiling that prevents them from being treated equally.

We are satisfied with little, as if the success of some would substantially change the lives of millions and millions of people.

It is penetrating into the liberal logic of the system that oppresses and dominates millions of Africans and Afro-descendants throughout the world. It’s not by making visible the African descent who succeed that the fight against the forms of oppression and against those of racialization will be effective.

On the contrary, such event, within the framework of the International Decade for PADs, continue to deepen inequalities, especially in the actual context by blurring the message conveyed by the fundamental objective of IDPAD.

In one word, we can only abound in the sense of Anibal Quijano who specified that the racial principle is always to work to exclude those whom the proclaimed ideology claims to welcome.it is the perfect illustration of the coloniality of power rooted in the Eurocentrism.

Let us emphasize, the MIPAD event does not illustrate any of the fundamental elements of the fight against racialized racism. Racialized racism and ethnic discrimination are the founding elements of the hierarchical relations imposed by Europe to the rest of the non-white world.

This supposes that if one wants to apprehend Recognition in its plurality without losing itself in its infinity, one must first of all face the obligation of reparation for what was broken, crushed by the establishment of the politics of race as a means of prioritizing humanity. Thus was lost the sense of humanity, the sense of the other and the intersubjectivity as emphasized by Nelson Maldonado Torres, Outline of ten theses on coloniality and decoloniality.

The MIPAD event, under the pretext of honoring the successful PADs, who are less than 40 years old, what is another injunction imposed by the prevailing ideology of youthism, reproduces exactly what people use to do, when they consider themselves superior to all those who are unable to play in their courtyard, because they face of the ideology of racialization.

It is unfortunate that MIPAD only confirms that groups are anchored in their specific roots and identities and the distance between them is impassable. To support this thick, deep border, then one begins to hierarchize within one’s own group. It is the perfect reproduction of domination. And that with the best will!

That is why the International Coalition must analyze such events to identify their coherence and congruence with the primary objectives of the International Decade of African Descent. Not doing so runs the risk of blurring the message of the decade and supporting activities that do not respond to the finding of the General Assembly in December 2013 that « despite efforts in this regard, millions of human beings continue to be victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, including their contemporary manifestations, some of which take violent forms ».

Questioning Recognition means interrogating ourselves about what was broken in the sense of humanity in the wake of the « Great Discoveries » : Reparations are the obliged passage to obtain the recognition of those who are invisible. The UN is expected to do the same.

                                                               Paris, september 27