Malian writer, activist, former member of government Aminata Traoré is unwelcome in France, and, thanks to the ‘open borders’ of the Schengen Area, she is persona non grata in pretty much all of Europe. Another dialogue is possible? Not if you irk les autorités. Traoré was invited to speak at a conference last week, in Berlin. From there she was to go on to France, to participate in public forums in Paris and Lille. She had had a four-year Schengen visa, which allows for ‘free movement’ around the continent …except, of course, when it doesn’t. Much to her surprise, the German Consulate rejected Traoré’s application. Finally, at the last minute, she was given a three-day safe-conduct for Berlin and only Berlin. Since France wouldn’t allow her to transit through, she had to go through Istanbul and Dakar, which extended her return flight to 26 some hours.
Who is Aminata Traoré, and what makes her so ‘special’? On one hand, in the general fog at the season’s end of the universal Foreign Service, one almost never discovers the reasons for rejection. You’re in or you’re out. Deal with it.
On the other hand, Aminata Traoré is a fairly prominent public figure and activist intellectual. In the late 1990s, she was Mali’s Minister of Culture and Tourism. She’s a writer, perhaps best known for Le Viol de l’imaginaire and L’Afrique humiliée. Both works powerfully address the global, some would say the imperial, aspirations, policies and practices of multinational corporations as well as of former and present colonial national powers. Traoré was one of the lead organizers of the Bamako Social Forum in 2002. At each instance, her work focuses on structures of power, both imposed and resistant, at all levels, including consciousness, and the possibilities of real democracy.
Given we’re talking about Mali, not surprisingly France figures prominently. Traoré is a leader of African, and of African women’s, anti- and counter-globalization movements. At the same time, in writings and political engagements and popular education and theater, Traoré has spent the last decades challenging the common sense of expulsion, specifically of French expulsion of Malians back to Mali. Repeatedly, Traoré has challenged the common sense of development that relies on experts and the annihilation of indigenous knowledge, and she has called out development agencies for their acts and programs of violence, always, of course, ‘in the name of love.’ In particular, Traoré criticized multinational ‘developers’ for the viciousness of their policies and practices when it comes to Malian women, and African women more generally.
Most recently, Traoré has been a prominent critic of the French military intervention in northern Mali. Again, she was particularly pointed in her critique of the impact of French military intervention on Malian women’s rights as well as well being.
Why has Traoré been denied a visa? I don’t know. But I do know that, outside of the Francophone press, neither do you, if you rely on the English-language media. Where is The New York Times, who once, sixteen years ago, relied on Traoré’s views on democracy to help ‘explain’ Mali? Where’s the BBC, who, eleven years ago, featured her work, organizing the 2002 poor people’s summit, where she criticized, and organized against, the G8, NEPAD, and so much more? Where are they all today, when Traoré is denied freedom of movement across the ‘borderless’ expanses of Europe? Silent. Let’s hope another world is possible … soon.