Rhizome Cities in Montpellier: Decolonial Cities Network

This event is part of
Rhizome Cities
12—13 December 2022,

Within the framework of Rhizome Cities, municipal administrations and mayors from a number of European and African cities will propose a joint strategy and common principles for dealing with their shared colonial heritage. A Charter, due to be signed in Palermo in mid-2023, may further develop into a longer-term network, the first in Europe dealing with the topic of urban decolonisation and engagement of migrants and second generations as ambassadors in the relationship to their countries of origin.

We have divided a possible Charter into an Introduction and three Sections and made this the structure for our agenda in Montpellier. These sections are very cursorily sketched below, in order to provide a first orientation for our conversations. We will be hosted by the City of Montpellier, where the major France-Africa Summit on this topic was held just over a year ago. In that context, and following first inputs from experts, we will jointly discuss a first draft text following the outline below.

We will be hosted by the City of Montpellier, where the major France-Africa Summit on this topic was held just over a year ago. In that context, and following first inputs from experts, we will jointly discuss a first draft text following the outline below.

12 December 

8.00 PM: Welcome Dinner

13 December

9.30 – 10.30 AM: Introduction – the reasons for a Decolonial Cities Network

In recent years, discussions on how to deal with colonial heritage have gained momentum. In almost all European cities, broad movements have emerged demanding the decolonisation of urban space and museums. At the national level, European governments began to address national colonial history, for instance with the groundbreaking Sarr-Savoy report and a series of physical restitutions of cultural artifacts. In parallel, municipal administrations began to respond with various initiatives to the growing historical awareness of the urban population, which is due to the long-standing and persistent work of civil society organisations and cultural institutions as well as the growing presence of migrant and second-generation communities. With this Charter, we propose an innovative strategy for municipalities to tackle the theme of Europe’s colonial heritage and the valorisation of the multiple communities that, partly as a result of it, make up our cities. 

  • Bénédicte Savoy, art historian and author of the Sarr-Savoy Report on the Restitution of Cultural Heritage (online)
  • Eva-Maria Bertschy and Lorenzo Marsili, Fondazione Studio Rizoma

Followed by roundtable feedback, comments, and discussion

10.30 – 11.30 AM: SECTION 1 – A new dialogue with the civil society and migrant communities

In most European cities, there are broad civil society movements claiming the decolonisation of urban space. Many civil society and migrant organisations have been working for several years to address the colonial history of their cities and the countless colonial entanglements with the former colonies and for some of them their countries of origin. They also focus on today’s experiences of discrimination, current economic imbalances, neo-colonial economic practices, and the consequences of colonial history. They are mainly active in the fields of schools and education, the arts, science and politics, but their most valuable work often receives insufficient attention and funding. In order to promote the decolonisation of cities the work of these civil society organisations must be fostered, the coordination of the different initiatives supported, the dialogue with the municipal authorities structured.

  • Dr. Ibou Diop, literary scholar and currently commissioned by the Berlin Senate to develop a city-wide remembrance concept 
  • Anna Yeboah, architect and curator, responsible for the overall coordination of the five-year model project “Dekoloniale Remembrance Culture” in the City of Berlin
  • Nadja Ofuatey-Alazard, curator, journalist, responsible for the discursive and performative formats within “Dekoloniale Remembrance Culture”

Followed by roundtable feedback, comments, and discussion

12.00 AM – 1.00 PM: SECTION 2 – Transforming the museum and the public space

In recent years the role of ethnographic expeditions and their knowledge production during the colonial period is being reassessed. Their research was marked by a lack of understanding and knowledge, their division between “primitive” and “civilised” cultures were part of the colonial system of oppression and they contributed to the denial and minimisation of colonial violence. To this day, streets in Europe’s cities are named after those responsible for colonial exploitation, and monuments commemorate their achievements. For people from migrant communities, these monuments and street names, ethnographic museums with discriminatory narratives and objects acquired under violent conditions, are a continuation of violent relations. For a reassessment of a shared history, the experiences of migrant communities in the cities and the voices from the former colonies must be brought into focus. In order to accelerate the transformation of public space and museums, artistic interventions and academic research need to be promoted, consulting and training for the museums implemented, schools provided with updated pedagogical material. In a joint process, places of remembrance must be created in the city to replace the monuments of colonial history. 

  • Princess Marilyn Douala Manga Bell, Directrice artistique et présidente de doual’art, a contemporary art centre and an experimental laboratory for new urban practices in African cities. 
  • Emilio Distretti is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the History and Theory of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of Basel. His research and pedagogy take on interrelated avenues on critical re-use of colonial architectural heritage, reparative justice and decolonial politics in the Mediterranean (Italy, North Africa and the Levant) and in the Horn of Africa.

Followed by roundtable feedback, comments, and discussion

Lunch Break

3.00 – 4.00 PM: SECTION 3 – Transnational cooperation for the reappraisal of a shared history

The colonial system was based on negating the knowledge and culture of the colonised societies. To this day, the voices from the former colonies receive too little attention when it comes to narrating a common history. Current forms of cooperation are marked by inequalities of both an economic and symbolic nature. It is not uncommon for academics and NGO workers to travel to the South as experts while lacking an understanding of the realities on the ground. In order to understand a shared transnational history and the current relations between European and African cities, the knowledge and epistemologies of the people in the former colonies and especially of the peoples oppressed by the colonial system need to be reassessed. New forms of transnational cooperation need to be designed with the aim of levelling economic and symbolic inequalities. For this, cities need to promote transnational cooperation with African partner cities on academic, cultural and civil society levels. The various migrant communities in European cities play a central mediating role in this.  

  • Patrick Mudekereza, curator and author, artistic director of Centre d’Art Waza in Lubumbashi. He is working with the AfricaMuseum in Tervuren since 2021 as part of the HOME project on a broad survey of the future of human remains. (online)
  • N. N. 

Followed by roundtable feedback, comments, and discussion

4.00 – 5.00 PM: Round-up of the discussions and findings and next steps in drafting a Charter