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This article considers the uptake of Achille Mbembe’s article ‘Provisional notes on the postcolony’ (1992), the book De la Postcolonie: essai sur l’imagination politique dans l’Afrique contemporain (2000) and its translated version, On the Postcolony (2001), in Congo studies. ‘Congo’ here is a shorthand for the current Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire. The article is concerned with the ways in which these two English-language texts (and their original French versions) figure in the social sciences and the humanities, specifically in the field of study relating to Zairian/Congolese society and culture. It becomes clear that the theme of mutual entanglements of commandement (power) and citizens not only influences political studies but also structures Congo scholarship on economy and governance, popular culture and erotics. The article ends with some reflections on academic writing about Congo, the limited uptake of ‘Provisional notes’ and On the Postcolony in religious studies, questions about ethics and scientific writing about political postcolonial cultures, and especially the necessity to historicize the postcolony.
In the 2016 Abiola Lecture, Mbembe argued that “the plasticity of digital forms speaks powerfully to the plasticity of African precolonial cultures and to ancient ways of working with representation and mediation, of folding reality.” In her commentary, Pype tries to understand what “speaking powerfully to” can mean. She first situates the Abiola Lecture within a wide range of exciting and ongoing scholarship that attempts to understand social transformations on the continent since the ubiquitous uptake of the mobile phone, and its most recent incarnation, the smartphone. She then analyzes the aesthetics of artistic projects by Alexandre Kyungu, Yves Sambu, and Hilaire Kuyangiko Balu, where wooden doors, tattoos, beads, saliva, and nails correlate with the Internet, pixels, and keys of keyboards and remote controls. Finally, Pype asks to whom the congruence between the aesthetics of a “precolonial” Congo and the digital speaks. In a society where “the past” is quickly demonized, though expats and the commercial and political elite pay thousands of dollars for the discussed art works, Pype argues that this congruence might be one more manifestation of capitalism’s cannibalization of a stereotypical image of “Africa.”
Globally, life expectancy at birth has increased by more than 30 years over the last century (Roser, 2015). A major difference between population ageing in the more developed and the still developing regions of the world is that ageing in the latter largely takes place against a backdrop of considerable economic, infrastructural and personal strain, with the family seen as the main (if not the only) source of care. Longevity, even when achieved, often means a life of compromised health with scant access to general (let alone appropriate or specialised) care and similarly constrained financial resources. These additional years, which in the more developing parts of the world do not necessarily translate into healthy longevity, challenge individuals, families, civil society and the state in terms of the social and health care of its older members. However, though much has been achieved in terms of prevention and treatment, accompanying the longevity revolution is an added imperative: understanding and developing a culture of care that is sustainable, affordable, compassionate and universal is critical (Aboderin and Hoffman, 2012).
Despite remaining younger than all the other world regions, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is seeing its older populations similarly growing in absolute numbers – its current population of 44 million aged 60 and over is expected to increase fourfold to 160 million in 2050 (UNPD, 2012). Although people age in a diverse range of settings across the continent, most care for older people in SSA is provided by families, typically in settings of entrenched poverty and infrastructural constraints. Yet, debate on the experience of caregiving for older people and its implications for policy in the region is virtually non-existent, and there is very little active discussion and exploration of what the relative care roles and responsibilities of families, the state and other sectors ought to be.
In contexts of poverty (youth unemployment) and HIV/AIDS in particular, concern (especially in southern Africa) has focused on the economic and social costs of care provided by older to younger generations (Barrientos et al, 2003; Madhavan, 2004; Ardington et al, 2010). Yet little attention has been paid to questions of care for older people. Who will care for the carers?
This in-depth ethnographic analysis provides the pan-African evidence and analysis needed to move forward debates about who and how to address the long-term care needs of older people in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Currently, Kinshasa counts eight retirement homes (Fr. Sg. home de vieillards, hospice), the oldest of which dates from 1943. Five of these homes were built during colonial times (the Democratic Republic of Congo gained its independence in 1960), while three others were added over the years: one (in the neighbourhood of Kingabwa, and attached to the parish of St Kizito, with which it shares its name) was built during the early 1970s by the Congolese Catholic Church; another one, also in the early 1970s, was constructed by the Catholic association Soeurs des Pauvres de Bergamo (Kingasani), and the most recent hospice, financed with Catholic money, was started by a Congolese woman (Kingabwa). These homes differ significantly in capacity: most can accommodate 30 residents, while two could easily house 80 residents. However, none of these retirement homes is fully operational. During fieldwork (2011–13), there were about 120 indigents (the common appellation for retirement home residents) living in these homes. In a city of more than eight million inhabitants, this is a very small number. Generally, these spaces have not been the focus of academic study; nor are many Kinois (inhabitants of Kinshasa) familiar with the retirement homes. Nevertheless, there is a constant flow of movement between city and retirement homes, and vice versa (see Photo 2.2). The city's possibly best-known hospice (on Avenue Cabinda, opposite the national broadcasting services) has turned into a recreational space where journalists and local celebrities drink and eat in malewa (small outdoor restaurants) developed on the retirement home's premises. The land on which the home is located is also constantly invaded by soccer-playing youth. The children drink from the water pump and refresh themselves under the gaze of older people, while neighbours fetch water for household use. The residents of this and other hospices send children on errands, or sell cigarettes and personally made goods to visitors and passers-by (see Photo 2.1). In addition, after work hours (usually after 5 pm), indigents venture out of the retirement home and start begging on the street. These are only a few examples of the constant interaction between older residents and the city at large.
The article situates a new type of stand-up comedy, performed in Kinshasa's mourning spaces (matanga), within the city's social universe. This type of funerary joking, enacted by comedians unrelated to the bereaved, represents a clear departure from the customary funerary humour in which accepted jokers occupy particular social positions vis-à-vis the deceased. Following recent changes in the organization of mourning rituals within the circles of Kinshasa's wealthy, these rather intimate events are ever more open to ‘strangers’, who anticipate the spending capacities of the gathered crowd. Comedians constitute one among a wide range of outsider groups who approach the bereaved community as a space of opportunity. It is argued that this emergent cultural form is utterly urban, and could only appear within urban life worlds where conviviality with others, and in particular an understanding of people's need to make a living in precarious circumstances, transforms the mourning community into an audience that pays for a cultural performance. Humour is not only derived from a symbolic difference between the poor and the rich, but also through the performance of exaggerated flattery, producing the illusion of patronage and situating the comedian within a feigned patron–client relationship for the duration of that performance.