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Neo Muyanga: “Europe and its position in the future world” from a Southern perspective

The South-African musician talks about a key role to play for the nations of the global South and reflects: “the world must confront the fact that what it is today has been constructed by the forcible taking of resources from certain parts and stockpiling them in another”.

Katharina von Rückteschell-Katte: It would be interesting to hear your ideas and advice regarding the position – and also the duties – of the European Union in the future. The EU is in a very difficult situation now and maybe even in danger of falling apart. Especially now the EU has to look at new ways to – on the one hand, save the Union; on the other hand, look at the new evolving constellations in the world. The old orders West and East or North and South don’t exist anymore. The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, for instance, affirms in the book “If Europe Wakes Up”, that the decisive question for future European politics in the post-bipolar world order is whether Europe will be capable of creating a new political form beyond that of empire. "The quintessential function of European constitution depends on a mechanism to transfer the Empire".

Neo Muyanga: Side-stepping the question of ‘official Europe’ for a moment, one of the ways ordinary Europeans try to express a self-reference/reverence is to demand of those they term ‘foreigners’ to assimilate into what is in effect/affect thought of as ‘European-ness'. This ‘European-ness’ is most often illustrated by proclaiming some sort of founding ownership to concepts like ‘democracy’, ‘Christianity’ or ‘gender equity’. This is a similar misstep, in my opinion, to when some South Africans claim the founding of the concept of Ubuntu (loosely, this concept may be thought as something akin to ‘treating others with courtesy’); there are South Africans who hold the delusional view that Ubuntu is founded of their own copyright. These terrifying delusions – that of Ubuntu like that of having ‘invented’ democracy, Christianity or gender equity – are premised on the fallacy that there is such a thing as a ‘foreigner' to begin with. In official terms, I believe Europe as well as others of those entities which regard themselves as ‘nation states’ will need to first accept the need to review the entire basis of the nation state as a socio-political idea because the fact is any border is permeable to those intent on transgressing it from within AND without. We know why people cross borders. They are looking for new possibilities elsewhere that they may not be able or permitted to find where they are. This search for other possibilities is often a matter of life or death, the duress often originating in the very notion of the nation state.

Then there are very concrete challenges European countries have to deal with at the moment. Looking at the refugees coming to Europe from Northern Africa, it seems that the EU failed in dealing with this. More than 3 million people are fleeing from some place to another all over the world. And there is a big South-South migration. Why does every country deal with this by closing its borders?

The fear of having what you consider as your birthright forcibly taken away by people you regard as anonymous hoodlums from ‘elsewhere’ always brings up in all of us a desire to put up walls of protection; fences that electrocute the would-be intruder. But it is time the world – there is no such thing as the first, second or third world, contrary to the wild imaginations of those putting up the walls: there is only one world – the world must confront the fact that what it is today has been constructed by the forcible taking of resources from certain parts and stockpiling them in another. Our idea of birthright coincides here with some rather preposterous ideas about entitlement to luxury and consumption.

Achille Mbembe once mentioned that it is difficult for us to accept difference and that by trying to “integrate“ people into a culture or a society, one forces them to feel like the Other – to be different. How could the EU deal with “the Other“ – with the diaspora appropriately?

One of the challenges facing Europe today is that Europeans must face up to the socio-political reality of a multi-cultural European society, and to recognize that any notions of turning back the clock to an imaginary moment in history, when Europe was ‘pure’ or strictly homogenous are not based in any historical fact whatsoever. I am thinking here of the North African and Arabic presence in the Europe of the middles ages as well as the renaissance; I am thinking of the presence of the Turkish and African (and other immigrants) who came to participate in the work of making Europe one of the centers of technical know-how and progress throughout the 20th century, to delineate but a few key phases.

Europe has the tendency to deal with its problems on its own used to being among the leading countries that give advice as opposed to needing it. While being so egocentric, it doesn’t recognize the role that other powers are taking on. China for instance took on a very important role especially in the global South that doesn’t seem to be recognized yet by Europe. Many countries in Europe still have the habit of patronizing the rest of the world – especially their former colonies. Now China seems to be taking on this role. What would the task of the EU be in dealing with this new „colonial power China“?

There are those who now consider the moves China is currently making in the areas of investment and extraction of natural and human resources in Africa per se as the new front of colonialism. China is also being accused of dumping both goods and the unwanted members of its society in countries where China is invited to build infrastructure such as Angola, Mozambique, South Africa and elsewhere. This trajectory, if found to be truly the case, would seem to reiterate European colonialism and therefore poses clear dangers not only for China-Africa relations, but the economic and cultural relations of the entire globe. Europe should take seriously the strategic role it could play in advising and advocating for more progressive and equitable exchanges, if not for the sake of the world outside Europe, then for its own potential strategic benefits.

The triangular relationship between Africa-Europe-South America was shaped by exploitation and conquest. On the other hand, it provoked mutual cultural stimulation. Like in Africa, the links of South America to Europe are much tighter and more frequent than to any other continent although the situations are much more similar between many countries of the South. In which way could the “South“ – in this case Africa and South America constitute a new relationship with Europe by forming alliances and structures in-between each other. I don’t mean as an opposition but as a – so to say – post-colonial order at eye level. Is there a future role for this triangle in the world?

Yes. I believe there is certainly a key role to play for the nations of the global South and this could be aimed at reconfiguring what the world perceives to be centers of knowledge creation. I believe the world would be better served by a greater economic and cultural collaboration taking root between nations of the Global South which could advance our global understanding of and action to mitigate against the current precarious conditions related to poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability and excessive consumption. A mindset shift is required in terms of what the Global South should aspire to call progress and development. The Global North of today is certainly not what we should consider a shining example of progress in every respect. We need spaces that model a different way forward for human-other/species-environmental relations, and that new experimental context could exist in a progressively collaborative Global South.

Neo Muyanga works as a conductor and tours with various companies and producers, including the Royal Shakespeare Company, Handspring Puppet Company, Paco Pena’s Flamenco, and William Kentridge. In addition to being “resident composer” at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, and at the Humanities Research Institute (HRI) at the University of California, his research focuses on black aesthetics in the genre of opera.

Katharina von Ruckteschell-Katte, the regional director of the Goethe-Institut in South America, conducted the interview.