Politics of Criticism, Criticism of Politics ⎻ On Being an Academic and an Intellectual in the Postcolony

Politics of Criticism, Criticism of Politics
On Being an Academic and an Intellectual in the Postcolony

International conference in honor of Professor Ambroise Kom Yaoundé, June 11-13, 2024 

“Should we remain silent, at the risk of self-censoring marginal speech? Or, on the other hand, should we preach in the desert, at the risk of assuming that we are marginal and undoubtedly reinforcing the ‘anthropological mutilation’ that serves as the norm in our environment?” (Kom, 10) These questions raised by Ambroise Kom constitute not only a full-fledged research program, but also provide a framework for the essays contained in his work Plaidoirie dans le désert (2023), published by Éditions des Peuples Noirs. This plea resonates with Devoir d’indignation (2012), an essay that also evokes reflections on La Malédiction francophone (2000). His use of the essay genre should not obscure the fact that Ambroise Kom, educated at the school of Thomas Melone and founder of the Département de Littérature négro-africaine (1967) at the Federal University of Cameroon, is first and foremost a pioneer in the field of criticism centered on Black literatures. An accomplished critic, university professor, and engaged intellectual, the sheer depth of his work as a thinker and educator is evident from the numerous publications that he produced during a rich career that has taken him around the world. In addition to the aforementioned titles and many collective volumes, other important works include Le Harlem de Chester Himes (1978), Georges Laming et le destin des Caraïbes (1986) and Éducation et Démocratie en Afrique (1996). Kom’s most significant contribution lies in his role as the dedicated midwife of African criticism, a strategic position that orchestrated the birth of special issues of journals on Mongo Beti and Cameroonian literature in Europe, Nouvelles du Sud, and Notre Librairie. He has also produced three volumes of the Dictionnaire des littératures négro-africaines d’expression française and edited the journal, Présence francophone, which are initiatives that have allowed him to reach important milestones in the study of contemporary African cultures and societies, particularly as they face constantly evolving challenges. 

Ambroise Kom has authored several works that address the role and responsibilities of the intellectual in society. The “ dissidence” and subsequent political “marginalization” result from the role of public intellectual he has fully embraced. The political here is not understood as the quest for power but rather as a systematic interrogation of governance as a means to achieving the public good and wellbeing. Whether referring to the “politics of criticism” or the “criticism of politics”, Ambroise Kom emerges as a lucid observer and visionary in the study of postcolonial imaginaries. From a theoretical perspective, Ambroise Kom’s critical, analytical and pedagogical approach neutralizes the political field that it profanes, thereby allowing for a re-examination within the public sphere of many themes and issues that were previously forbidden to dream, speak, or think about. This ban on thinking “differently” gives rise to a comfortable “intellectual poverty” that prospers and thrives on censorship, police intimidation, incarceration and arbitrariness, a system in which non-compliant intellectuals and citizens ultimately pay the price. The civic work he undertook with the Collectif Changer le Cameroun resulted in publications that offered seminal insights into the complexities of Cameroonian society. Throughout his career, his commitment to the radical defense of human rights also enabled him to constantly examine African societies facing the challenges of modernity. One cannot forget to mention Ambroise Kom’s decisive civic engagement that led to the creation of the Université des Montagnes with which he seems to have cut ties. His adventure with this institution is just one one dimension of an intellectual trajectory focused on the future and wellbeing of African people. His experience at Mohamed V University in Rabat was already a testimony of his panafrican commitment. 

This conference, in honor of Ambroise Kom, is an invitation to reflect on the decolonization of methodological approaches, a sine qua non for restoring the dignity of African peoples and a prerequisite for the emergence of a new humanism in Africa. We propose engaging in a reflection inspired by his work, through a focus on what might be called a form of inopportune thought, which intersects with the reverberations of a reflection that, praising dissidence, calls for the duty of indignation. 

Proposals may address, but are not limited to, the following topics: 

  • Aesthetics and politics in the postcolony

  • Migration, globalization and the African diaspora 

  • Knowledge, legitimization and endogenous theories 

  • The stateless black diaspora? 

  • African imaginaries after Mongo Beti. What is at stake? 

  • African imaginaries: monolithic or multidimensional? 

  • A user’s guide to disobedience and dissent as duty 

  • Education and the future of African societies 

  • Ambroise Kom, Mongo Beti and the myth of return 

  • The intellectual in a context of domination: from colony to postcolony 

  • Representations of marginality 

  • The madness of power, the power of madness 

  • The theory and practice of indignation 

  • Ambroise Kom, the legacy of Albert Dongmo and the issue of nation-building 

  • Knowledge and power. African intellectuals and politics. 


The conference will take place from June 11-13, 2024, in Yaoundé. 

Proposals for papers in French or in English (1 page maximum) must by sent by October 30, 2023, to the following organizers: 

Cilas Kemedjio, University of Rochester: cilaskemedjio@rochester.edu
Thomas Théophile NUG Bissohong, Université de Douala : nugthomastheophile@yahoo.fr Hervé Tchumkam, Southern Methodist University: htchumkam@mail.smu.edu 

The conference proceedings will be published in an authoritative journal as well as in an edited volume. 

A prize will be attributed to the best student paper. 

Conference registration fees: $100 (scholars in Europe and USA) and 25.000 frs CFA (Africa- based scholars) 

Further details to follow. 


Organizing Committee ~ Comité d’organisation 

  • André Djiffack, University of Oregon
  • Bergeline Domou, SAMBE
  • Romuald Fonkoua, Sorbonne Université
  • Cilas Kemedjio, University of Rochester
  • Augustin Nchamande, Independent Scholar
  • Thomas Théophile Nug Bissohong, Université de Douala
  • Alexie Tcheuyap, University of Toronto
  • Hervé Tchumkam, Southern Methodist University

Scientific Committee ~ Comité scientifique 

  • Mohamed Aït-Aarab, Université de la Réunion
  • Laure Clemence Capo-Chichi, Université d’Abomey-Calavi
  • Joyce Ashuntang, University of Hartford
  • André Djiffack, University of Oregon
  • Odile Cazenave, Boston University
  • Romuald Fonkoua, Sorbonne Université
  • Cilas Kemedjio, University of Rochester
  • Juliana Makuchi Nfah-Abbenyi, North Carolina State University
  • Nug Bissohong Thomas Théophile, Université de Douala
  • Jean Ouedraogo, College of the Holy Cross
  • Sada Niang, University of Victoria
  • Alexie Tcheuyap, University of Toronto
  • Hervé Tchumkam, Southern Methodist University
  • Jean-Marie Wounfa, Université de Ngaoundéré