The truth is that Europe took things from us that it will never be able to restitute. We will learn to live with this loss. Europe, for its part, will have to take responsibility for its acts, for that shady part of our shared history which it keeps denying or of which it has sought to divest itself. The risk is that by restituting our objects without giving an account of itself, it concludes that, with the restitution complete, our right to remind it of the truth is removed. If new ties are to be woven, Europe must honour the truth, as the truth is the teacher of responsibility. This debt of truth cannot be erased as a matter of principle. It will haunt us until the end of times.

Honouring truth comes with the commitment to learn and remember together. As Édouard Glissant never ceased to reiterate, each of us needs the memory of the other. This is not a matter of charity or compassion. It is a condition for the survival of our world. If we want to share the world’s beauty, he would add, we ought to learn to be united with all its suffering. We will have to learn to remember together, and this doing, to repair together the world’s fabric and its visage. Restitution will always be partial. There are irreparable losses that no compensation can ever bring back – which does not mean it is not necessary to compensate. To have compensated, does not mean to have erased the wrong. To compensate, as Kwame Anthony Appiah underlines, is about offering to repair the relation.

Achille Mbembe (4)