Africa in Europe and Europe in Africa

Reassessing the Cultural Legacy

by Yolanda Aixelà-Cabré (Volume editor)
©2021 Monographs VI, 170 Pages


This book studies the Afro-European and Euro-African past and present from an interdisciplinary and comparative perspective. It addresses Africa as a whole, eschewing historical divisions between North and Sub-Saharan Africa. Its content exemplifies the extent to which the histories of Europe and Africa are intertwined, and the way European sources are usually privileged in the writing of historical accounts of cross-cultural encounters. Using post/decolonial studies, the authors' point of view is based on anthropology, history, ethnomusicology, and film and literary studies. The authors argue that mutual experiences and imaginations have affected how cultural heritage and legacy are conceived and thought of, as well as memories and sociopolitical experiences. The aim is to establish and encourage a broader knowledge of Africa–Europe and Europe–Africa encounters, incorporating case studies of Euro-African and Afro-European legacies. The final goal is to favour a more relational point of view by comparing Euro-African and Afro-European realities.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Africa in Europe, Europe in Africa: Introduction: YOLANDA AIXELÀ-CABRÉ
  • PART 1 Euro-African Memories
  • 1. Sharing Memories of Global Encounters: DANIELA MEROLLA
  • 2. Memories of Segregation, Racism, Gender and Naming : YOLANDA AIXELÀ-CABRÉ
  • PART 2 Africa–Europe and Europe–Africa Cultural Heritage
  • 3. How Africa Was Imagined Musically in Europe: BERNHARD BLEIBINGER
  • 4. European Footsteps in the Land of the Chief: JAN KÜVER
  • PART 3 Afro-European Sociopolitical Experiences
  • 5. Understanding Ethnicity as Positional: CRISTINA ENGUITA-FERNÀNDEZ
  • 6. The Case of Spain and Its Policy of Attraction: YOUSSEF AKMIR
  • List of Contributors
  • Index

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Africa in Europe and Europe in Africa: Introduction


IMF-CSIC (Spain), Barcelona

Analytical Approach to Africa in Europe and Europe in Africa

Africa in Europe and Europe in Africa is a book that allows us to reflect on the Euro-African and Afro-European past and present from an interdisciplinary and comparative perspective.1 It seeks to explore the depth of the African subsumption by European narratives about Euro-African and Afro-European encounters and assess the place of Africa in Europe and Europe in Africa. As Small (2018: 1193–1194) has pointed out, the contemporary relationship between Europe and Africa started with Europe in Africa.

The way Africa–Europe/Europe–Africa relations are presently described is profoundly undermined by ideological and methodological barriers that obstruct knowledge and critical thinking about existing narratives (Lindgren 2001). This book’s merit is that it deepens knowledge about the relationship between Europe and Africa from an interdisciplinary perspective, holding up a mirror that shows how European versions and points of view prevail over African ones.

To move beyond European perceptions of Africans from the 20th century it is necessary to analyze Europe–Africa ‘dis-encounters’ using multiple methodologies. The book details the extent to which the histories of Europe and Africa are intertwined, and the way European sources are usually privileged in the writing of historical accounts of cross-cultural encounters. The authors of this book have spent years reflecting on the need to enrich oral and written sources. Merolla (2012, 2017), Aixelà-Cabré (2011, 2019), Akmir (2011), Bleibinger and Küver in this volume seek to combine oral and documentary sources, and Enguita-Fernàndez oral sources with fieldwork conducted on social networks. In doing so, they aim to give visibility to devalued ←1 | 2→accounts in order to redirect classical themes or to focus on new ones. Deep down, the authors wonder, like Bondarenko (2015): has the past passed?

The book addresses Africa as a whole, eschewing historical divisions between North and Sub-Saharan Africa because, as Merolla (2017: 215) proposes, African history is porous, with populations that migrated, traded and exchanged ideas. The division into two Africas was contrived and largely the result of a racialized European way of seeing and treating Africans that differentiated between those who belonged to a powerful culture in Muslim North Africa and those in Sub-Saharan Africa whose culture and history were dispossessed from them (Aixelà-Cabré 2017). Hence we choose to represent and interconnect all African regions. Following Hogarth (2013), we are obliged to ask ourselves which Africa and which Africans we are referring to when we seek answers that shed light on issues that have had impact across the continent. Our focus on Amazigh and Morocco (North Africa), Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon (Central Africa), Tanzania (Eastern Africa) and South Africa ensures the presence of representative cases from across the continent, and provides a good foundation for a study of these areas.

This book uses as key concepts—“Euro-African”, “Afro-European” and “Africa–Europe/Europe–Africa”—to define different approaches and perspectives on the dis-encounter between the two continents. In general, Euro-African and Afro-European are understood as heritage created as a result of contacts between the two continents. Euro-African puts the accent on aspects with greater European imprint than African; Afro-European highlights experiences that privilege African imprints over European; and Africa–Europe/Europe–Africa addresses the cultural experiences of the two continents, whose word order indicates the predominant version of each narrative. Hence, the book’s originality lies in its specifically Euro-African and Afro-European memories, cultural heritage and sociopolitical experiences aim. Our point of view is based on Anthropology, History, Literature, and Ethnomusicology.

A book of this kind is necessary because the construction of contemporary Europe has relied upon a type of colonialism with very distinctive Euro-African foundations. The European continent began the European construction project with a clear spirit of reconciliation and peace that resulted from its reflections on the 18th and 19th century western European colonial expansion. This peace process was carried out in the 1960s, at the same time as decolonization started in Africa.

While decolonization was co-led by Africans, the construction of Europe was a western European endeavor that only later incorporated eastern Europeans. African identity seems to be perceived by Europeans as completely ←2 | 3→unrelated to their own roots, even though the colonization of Africa was the key to the financial, social, scientific and military advance of western Europe. For a very long time Africa was regarded as Europe’s ‘other’, but during the process of decolonization Europe was also came to be seen as Africa’s ‘other.’ Only recently have the two continents reassessed their relationships in terms of their commonalities and mutual borrowings and begun to acknowledge that they form part of a network of exchanges which was for a very long time obfuscated by racial and ethnic radicalism.

Africa also had an extraordinary sociocultural impact on Europeans who either migrated there and then returned home or stayed in Africa for the rest of their lives, not to mention the fact that European languages and politics were also imposed and adopted across the African continent and are still part of its reality today. Migrants arriving in Europe from former colonies (including those in the African Mediterranean and Sub-Saharan Africa) represented an important qualitative leap in the heterogeneity of European national-states and brought differences that made European cultural unity (desired if relative) more complex. Until then, the continent had not engaged with immigration models such as those in the USA or Canada. Migration from Africa also highlighted the need to value diversity in order to fight the prejudices that Europeans held against immigration. The influential field of Postcolonial Studies has always criticized the European concept of non-Western otherness for being a deeply Eurocentric approach. Postcolonial Studies emerged in the 1970s out of the work of Edward Said (1978), among others. Its emergence was a slow process and originated in the anti-colonial struggles of the 1950s in Africa, South East Asia, and the Caribbean where thinkers such as Fanon (2002) and others became role models for what would later become the “Third World.” Postcolonial analysis has proved that there are many historical, cultural and legal connections between the colonial and postcolonial worlds (Cooper 2005: 19), both in the African Mediterranean and in Sub-Saharan Africa. Decolonial studies have been essential to raising the need to overcome Euro-centric versions, and give more visibility to peripheral voices, re-centring the margins of memories, cultural heritage and sociopolitical experiences. As Mudimbe (1988: xi) and Mignolo (2018: 106) have stated, otherness is the result of a historical construction and the narratives related to Africa need to be reviewed.

The Africa–Europe/Europe–Africa pasts that is the subject of this book connects the foundation of the colonies to today. This link between the 19th and 21st centuries has created a stereotyped approach to social characteristics and cultural values. This is what we want to subvert. Like Udegbe remembered (2001: 135), “Only few Europeans have had direct experience of Africa ←3 | 4→through visits to parts of Africa or encounters with African communities in Europe. The majority … have had indirect experience through documentaries, news, literature, or works of art. Unfortunately, many of the impressions of Africa … even in the sciences have been negative.”

Another of our key concepts is “cultural legacy.” This term is closely linked to “cultural heritage” due to its vertical perspective, but in this book cultural legacy is a cultural construct (Mbembe 2015) and not a version of linear, indisputable and definitive history. Kuvik’s definition (2003: 318) makes a useful starting point, he says that “Cultural legacies should then be defined as patterns (scenarios) of behavior or thought that are trasmitted from the past and enacted in the present.” For him, these may be implicit (unreflective replication) or explicit (deliberately propagated representations). Vecco (2010: 322) also tried to systematize the concept of “cultural heritage” and, indicating some limitations that were very close to the concept of “legacy”, preferred to use the notion of “patrimonie”: “in the concept of ‘heritage’ the vision is vertical but limited to what is being transmitted, while in that of patrimoine, which has a more social meaning, the vision is horizontal (…) more than just the simple inheritance.” The implicit verticality of Kuvik and Vecco’s “legacy” was strongly questioned by Mbembe (2015), who emphasized that heritages, although apparently vertical, are historical–cultural constructs. Black skin, for example, is a form of heritage, but one that was reviled by the Western gaze. For Mbembe (2015), rather than being an unchangeable inherited feature, Africans can overcome verticality, empower themselves and change the place the world has given to black skin and to Africans. For Santamaría Colmenero (2018) this is decolonising memory and for Vergès (2013) it is the emergence of a “war of memories” visible over tangible cultural heritage. Aixelà-Cabré (2019) qualified it as “contested cultural heritage” when referring to the postcolonial African rejection of certain places and monuments left by colonial Spain in Bata (Equatorial Guinea) and Al-Hoceima (Morocco).

Thus, as in this book, we are considering the colonial past and explaining how it modified post-independence relations, we argue that mutual experiences and imaginations have affected how cultural heritage and legacy are conceived and thought of, as well as memories and sociopolitical experiences. We seek to show what elements prevail in notions relating to Africa–Europe/Europe–Africa relations. Because, as Castro-Gómez and Grosfoguel (2007: 19) have pointed out, a transition has occurred from modern colonialism to global coloniality.

These reflections were necessary because cultural aspects of the relationship between Africa and Europe are still overlooked in the academic literature, ←4 | 5→and the need to outline the historical formation of stereotypes, gendered perspectives and imaginations is high, given that they remain in use mostly to the detriment of African populations. The work of Fleisch and Rihanon (2018) is essential in order to activate a method of addressing African realities using African perspectives and sources to neutralize European views.

The promising research field that we seek to open up also owes major debts to the seminal work of Fanon (2002) on the cultural consequences of decolonization; Césaire (1970) on négritude as a way to challenge the narrative of the colonizer and the colonized; to Said’s accounts (1978) of false cultural representations mirroring how the Western world perceived the Middle East; and wa Thiong’o (1992) on the importance of African voices in decolonizing the mind. Other relevant theories and works include those in the field of Subaltern Studies by Thompson (1988) on oral history and Spivak (1993) on subaltern voices; in Postcolonial Studies by Mbembe (1999, 2001, 2006, 2010, 2015), who showed that European pre-eminence and power has undervalued African cultures and history, and that African history and politics must be reclaimed; and by Falola and House-Soremekun (2011: 1–17), who reminded us that this distortion was reinforced by a globalization that left Africa on the margins of the world. Several Decolonial Studies researchers have also been important influences, such as Mignolo (2011), who shows why a decoloniality perspective is needed, de Sousa Santos and Meneses (2014), with their Epistemologies of the South, and Quijano (2014), on the coloniality of power and knowledge.

These arguments buttress the three general objectives of this book and its methodology. In order to exemplify some Euro-African and Afro-European memories, cultural heritage and sociopolitical experiences, oral and written testimonies and cultural production were gathered. The aim is to establish and encourage a broader knowledge of Africa–Europe and Europe–Africa encounters, incorporating case studies of Euro-African and Afro-European legacies, following previous research that sought out traces of Spanish colonialism in the history and migration of their African former colonies (Aixelà-Cabré 2018a). The goal was to also favor a more relational point of view by comparing the past and present of Euro-African and Afro-European realities.

There is an urgent need to study the link between Europe and Africa from a renewed perspective. Afro-European and Euro-African memories, cultural heritage and sociopolitical experiences need to be visible in order to counterbalance existing versions of the past, facilitating new explanations of the present as a basis for more reliable narratives of African and European dis-encounters.

←5 |

In this book, Afro-European and Euro-African imprints on memories, cultural heritage and sociopolitical experiences are assembled from lived memories (data gathered from oral sources), narrated memories (data gathered from written sources), and literary and ethnomusicological analysis. The methodologies are based on interviews, participant observation, archives research, literary analysis and musicology. The research highlights African difficulties refocussing their memories in order to overcome European narratives of Afro-European experiences. We believe that putting new narratives into circulation helps overcome these limitations, and the analytical and methodological approach properly captures the potential of this research field.

How the Book Is Structured

The structure of the book allows Euro-African and Afro-European memories, cultural heritage and sociopolitical experiences with a colonial legacy in contemporary Europe and Africa to emerge. This revision is essential because the African cultures, minorities and history that settled in Europe in the decades after the Second World War were conditioned by European colonialism and Africa’s past and cultural productions were devalued by the effect of the European gaze. Spain, Great Britain, France and Germany have imperial pasts of differing scopes, as the case studies indicate, and with the exception of Germany, all received migrants from their former colonies (Aixelà-Cabré 2018b).

Knowledge about the different types and modes of Euro-African and Afro-European coexistence is analyzed from historical, cultural and comparative perspectives through postcolonial and decolonial lenses. This work should shed light on the current challenges facing Europe and Africa, which cannot properly be understood or successfully addressed as long as a stereotyped approach to social characteristics and cultural values related to African memories, cultural heritage and sociopolitical experiences persists. With African groups living throughout the European Union, the need to acquire, analyze and disseminate deeper knowledge about these topics is clear. Ignoring their specificities, self-narratives, hibridization and integration in Europe can lead to inequalities, as super-diversity (Vertovec 2007: 1045) can increase the complexity of coexistence and the need for new versions of diversity that reinforce African narratives. This book represents an opportunity to transcend disciplinary and contextual boundaries showing interactions between Europe and Africa and Africa and Europe as expressions of transforming cultural and social identities.

←6 |

But the book is also an interdisciplinary endeavor. We start from the basis that studying the complexities of the Africa–Europe/Europe–Africa mismatch requires multiple methodologies to be used simultaneously. We hope to contribute, on the one hand, to filling the existing gaps in the study of the cultural aspects integrated into the way of thinking about relations between Europe and Africa. On the other hand, we believe that the content of the case studies provides the reader with methodological ideas on how to conduct research in such varied contexts, making the book attractive to a variety of interlocutors, including academics and graduate students with a specific interest in Euro-African relations or international relations, as well as anthropologists, historians and political scientists who specialize in one continent or the other. Indeed, systematic analysis of Euro-African relations as a macro field of research remains nascent, and the proposed book may be influential and stimulating, especially as it relates to the fields of memory studies, cultural heritage and sociopolitical studies. In what follows we will see Merolla, Bleibinger and Enguita-Fernàndez look at Africa in Europe, while Aixelà-Cabré, Küver and Akmir examine Europe in Africa.


VI, 170
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. VI, 170 pp.

Biographical notes

Yolanda Aixelà-Cabré (Volume editor)

Yolanda Aixelà-Cabré earned her PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of Barcelona. She is Tenured Scientist at the IMF-CSIC in Barcelona, where she has been Vice-Director of Research.


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