‘Before this virus, humanity was already threatened with suffocation. If war there must be, it cannot so much be against a specific virus as against everything that condemns the majority of humankind to a premature cessation of breathing,’ wrote Mbembe this year. A major thinker in postcolonialism since the 2001 publication of On the Postcolony, Mbembe is widely quoted for his ideas on who Western capitalism allows to live and die. Les Ateliers de la Pensée, the annual conference in Dakar he founded with Felwine Sarr three years ago, has become an important intellectual event. In 2019 it took the subject ‘practices of devulnerability’, and this year the pair wrote an open letter noting that Africa had so far weathered the pandemic well and pointing to an alternative history away from racist perceptions of the continent. A thinker whose profile is enough to cause controversy – earlier in the year, several German politicians and public figures sought to have his invitation to the Ruhrtriennale revoked (the festival was postponed in the end), accusing him of relativising the Holocaust.
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