Moderator: Professor Toyin Falola

This series creates a Pan-Africanist intellectual community drawn all over the world to examine serious and current issues about Africa. The third in the series examines the issues of interactions between the United States and Africa. USA/Africa Dialogue, No. 1 spells out some of the core issues to be pursued.
No. 4: Response to Arnold Beichman (back to menu)

Beichman's previous question:

"If American democracy is a failure, tell us what other democracy is a greater success and why."


Catherine's response:

"Any democracy is neither a failure or a success. It is an unceasing struggle. This sentence obviously is an American viewpoint, when there is necessarily a winner and a looser. Democracy never is attained, just because it aims at realizing a wonderful utopia : liberty AND equality. The more liberty you have, the less equality too (this is the American model). The more equality possible, the less liberty (as the State and social pressure, trade unions, etc. have to interfere to make the wealthier -who are tempted to abuse their liberty to become still wealthier- accept to share their wealth with the poor). This was the great socialist failure. But a few democracies (in Sweden for example) try to obtain it. Why would it be worse than the American model? Democracy is a purpose, it is not a reality, alas. What about homeless and jobless people in the US ? Is it democracy? We all have to struggle for it, but no State, including the US , are protected against fascism (Remember the McCarthy era, look at the Florida counting of votes). Neither my country, France (remember the Vichy regime). Let us be cautious before telling that we are the best in the world : things are not so simple. A counsel : study world history, you will be more cautious with your beliefs. "


Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch is professor emeritus of modern African history at the University Paris-7-Denis-Diderot, and adjunct professor at State University of New York at Binghamton , Department of Sociology. She trained numerous French speaking African historians in Paris and in African universities. She has published many books, two of which have been translated into English: Africa South of the Sahara , Endurance and Change , the University of California Press (1987), and African Women, a Modern History , Westview Press (1998). A third one is forthcoming: African Urbanization from the Beginnings to Colonialism , Markus Wiener, Princeton . She has edited more than twenty books on African studies and the third world and received the 1999 ASA (African Studies Association) Distinguished Africanist Award in Philadelphia . She has been a member (2000-2005) of the ICHS (International Conference of Historical Sciences) international Bureau since August 2000.


"Much depends on how one defines "superior."  The measure of a nation's (or people's) greatness is how it treats its most vulnerable members vis-à-vis its democratic process.  On that score, the U.S. has fallen short, quite short, as the last presidential election aptly illustrated ."


Trica D. Keaton, Assistant Professor, Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies Indiana University; Non-resident Fellow W.E.B. Du Bois Institute Harvard University