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People had given up and let their leaders behave as village chiefs did in traditional Africa.

The dictators thought they could go it alone, taking decisions without

even listening to their advisers. Government money was their money.



Books by Ahmadou Kourouma

The Suns of Independence / Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals / Monnew

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Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals

By Ahmadou Kourouma


Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals is a panoramic look at post-independence western Africa and the dictators that have caused so much harm and grief. Kourouma's book veers between wild fantasy and harshest reality. The presentation of the story (or stories) is impressive -- vivid, humorous, gripping. It sold over 100,000 copies in France, and was awarded several major prizes.

Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals was published in an English translation by the University Press of Virginia in May, 2001. They have presented the book very well: it is a solid translation (of a difficult text), with an informative afterword and bibliography. It is also an attractive volume. no one seems aware that this book exists. The press and the media seem to have taken no notice whatsoever of the book. There may well have been some reviews in local periodicals and academic journals.

Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals is probably one of the five most significant (and best) African novels to appear in English in 2001. Kourouma received the Prix des Tropiques.

Carrol F. Coates's translation, Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals, introduces English-language audiences to Kourouma's irreverent view of the machinations of the African dictators who played the West against the East during the thirty years of the cold war. Profiting from western financial support, the dictators built palaces, shrines, and hunting preserves for their personal gratification as they paraded about with numerous mistresses, marabouts, and advisers.

In the style of a sèrè who sings the praises of the thirty-year career of the master hunter and president Koyaga (a fictionalized Gnassingbé Eyadema of Togo) readers are treated to a brief overview of the French colonization of the "Naked people," hunters in West African mountain country, followed by the account of Koyaga's assumption of power through treachery, assassination, and sorcery.

In an interview Kourouma noted the Togolese assumption that if the people did not turn out to vote for Eyadema in the democratic elections following the cold war, the wild animals would come out of the forest to vote for him. The novel ends with an apocalyptic stampede, although the animals are probably fleeing a bush conflagration rather than running to the polls.

Ahmadou Kourouma Background

Ahmadou Kourouma was born in 1927 in the little town of Boundiali, today a local administrative centre in Côte d’Ivoire. His father was a nurse, and as such belonged to the colonized elite. He was called “doctor” and his rank gave him the right to use the services of Africans subjected to forced labour. But Kourouma was brought up by an uncle who was on the other side of the fence.

He was a master-hunter, a leading member of the brotherhood that stood at the top of the traditional social scale because of the power it enjoyed by virtue of its weapons and the magic it acquired from bonding with nature.

As a student Kourouma took part in protests at the Bamako Technical High School in Mali. Then he was drafted into the French army and ordered to Côte d’Ivoire to participate in a crackdown on the emerging liberation movement, the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain. When he refused to do this, he was drafted into the French colonial army in Indochina, a posting he only accepted because Bernard Dadier, then Côte d’Ivoire’s most famous writer, persuaded him that military experience would prepare him for the anti-colonial war which he believed to be inevitable.

The next stage of Kourouma’s life came when he travelled to France to study science–a field spurned by most children of the African elite. He returned to Côte d’Ivoire just after independence and worked as an insurance executive, but did not stay long. “I was impervious to the magic of the single party, which claimed to be the only form of authority capable of developing the country,” he says. Kourouma was jailed for a few months and eventually went into exile.

His second homecoming, in 1970, was almost as brief. When his play Le diseur de vérité (“The Truth Teller”), was published in 1974, it was deemed “revolutionary”. So he left the country and lived in Cameroon and Togo until 1993, continuing his career in private insurance companies.

At 72, he thinks that his “generation first got things wrong and then wasn’t up to the job.” This was the generation that came after the birth of the concept of Negritude developed by Léopold Sedar Senghor, “who had recognized the Negro’s qualities as a man, but an incomplete man. We naively believed that only colonization prevented Africans from becoming fully rounded people like any other.

"If Africans thieved, for example, it was because of colonialism. If colonialism ended, they would all get down to work. Everyone was going to make sacrifices for Africa. But we didn’t take the reality and psychology of Africa into account. The Suns of Independence was the first book of its kind to emphasize that Africa was partly to blame for its own plight.

"The lure of wealth and power had got the better of Africans. And, like everyone else, intellectuals thought only of lining their pockets.” 

As he says this, Kourouma, who is a friendly giant of a man, bursts into a hearty laugh. “If I didn’t yield to temptation,” he says, “maybe it’s only because I didn’t have the opportunity!”

Ahmadou Kourouma is a writer from Côte d’Ivoire whose relatively slender but highly original output–three novels published over 28 years–draws up an eloquent indictment of the injustices imposed on black Africa.

Learning French

I had no choice in the matter. I didn’t know how to express myself in any other language. My English was poor, and I have never learned Arabic. In school I was only taught French and, like everyone who went to school before decolonization, I wasn’t allowed to speak our mother tongue, Malinke1. So I had to use French to describe Malinke people and tell stories of Malinke life. Some people have criticized me for “bashing” the French language and giving it a Malinke twist. .  .  .

Whatever people might say, I am not trying to change French. What I’m interested in is reproducing to the fullest possible extent the way my characters live and think. My characters are Malinke. And when the Malinke speak, they follow their own logic, their own way of looking at the world. That approach doesn’t go into French. The sequence of words and ideas in Malinke is different from what it is in French. There is a big gap between what I describe and the form in which I express myself, a gap much bigger than the gap when an Italian speaks French, for example. I repeat, my objective is not formal or linguistic. What I’m interested in is reality. My characters must be credible and to be credible they must speak in the novel as they speak in their own language. . . .

The Richness of African Languages

Some people may disagree, but it seems to me that African languages are on the whole far richer than European languages. They have a wide range of words to denote one and the same thing and a multitude of expressions to describe one and the same feeling, as well as many mechanisms for creating neologisms. Malinke alone has around ten of these. African languages are rich in proverbs and sayings which people constantly refer to. So it’s not surprising that sometimes we get bogged down when we use French to describe our lives and our psychological universe. The French language, on the other hand, is the product of a Catholic, rationalist civilization. That’s obvious from its structure, its way of analysing and describing reality. Our language is influenced by fetishist spirituality and is closer to nature.

African Writing as Organic Need

Western authors often speak of writing as a physical, vital, organic need. For you, it is more a way of getting a hearing.

For us African writers, writing is also a matter of survival. When I wrote The Suns of Independence, I wanted to campaign against abuses of social and economic power. That was a vital and absolute necessity! All contemporary French and other European writers have devoted some of their work to the four years of occupation and oppression that their countries endured during the second world war.

Africa Occupied

But in Africa we had 100 years of occupation, and it’s vitally important for us to talk about this and analyse its consequences and effects. We had as many massacres as Europeans did during the last war and under authoritarian Stalinist regimes. In my second novel, Monnew, which was published in 1990, I wanted to get across the message that we too have endured great suffering.

That suffering is also the subject of the novel I recently finished. Its title is En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages (“Waiting for the wild animals to vote”), and it’s based on the tragedy of the Cold War in Africa.

Gratitude & the Courage of Dictators

That remark does not refer to the people “down below”, as we say, but to those “on top”, the dictators’ buddies. Resignation was the only option for the people down below, whom I describe as “coarsened by their beliefs and their poverty, patient and dumb”. The Cold War prevented African countries from finding a way out of their predicament. It kept a millstone around their necks.

Foreign powers gave the orders and pulled the strings, picked the dictators that suited them and sent in their military whenever there was any resistance.

But it was the most brutal, ignorant leaders who won the internal power struggles in African countries.
Yes, and they also had to be cynical. The foreign powers needed them. Apart from a few exceptions, they didn’t want bright people. Those who wanted to defend Africa, who wanted to strike a balance between the two sides by playing cat-and-mouse with them, were immediately eliminated.

Democratization & Getting Rich

But when opposition movements came on the scene at the beginning of the democratization process after the Cold War, they turned out even worse than the dictators.

That’s a fact. The earliest opposition leaders turned out to be drunken, drug-addicted looters without principles or scruples. And the opposition leaders who returned after a long exile were, as I have described them, “persons alien to their country’s people and way of life” and therefore incapable of grasping what was really going on. It’s true that both wanted first and foremost to take revenge and to get rich. Why? Because they all still believed in the mirage that power is all that matters.

Chiefs & Dictators

People had given up and let their leaders behave as village chiefs did in traditional Africa. The dictators thought they could go it alone, taking decisions without even listening to their advisers. Government money was their money. All those who got rich were pawns of the government. The dictator’s power was so absolute that all kinds of things were expected of him.

To give you one example, in my country even today, when a fairly well-known person dies, the family still expects the head of state to pay 10,000 or 20,000 French francs ($1,800 or $3,500) for the funeral!

Democratization & Its Millstones

Since that’s how things were, it’s not surprising that democratization got off to a very bad start. The old power structure and all its works had to be destroyed, because everything revolved around them. It was impossible for anything constructive to be built on the existing foundations, not only by the corrupt dictators and their cronies, but also by the opposition leaders who came back from exile abroad and hadn’t a clue about what was really going on. People always behave in the same way.

As the Malinke proverb says, “The dog won’t give up its awkward way of sitting.”

Brutal Power & Magic
& Other Irrationalities

One criticism that has been made of your most recent novel is that in Africa reality and magic seem to be inseparable. Your anti-hero, the dictator Koyaga, defeats all his adversaries largely because of the strength of his magical powers.

I don’t believe in magic. And when Africans ask me why I don’t, I say that if magic really existed, we wouldn’t have allowed the abduction of 100 million people, of whom perhaps 40 million reached the Americas and 60 million died on the way. If magic really worked, the slaves would have turned into birds, say, and would have flown back home.

I don’t believe in magic because when I was a boy, I saw forced labour. If magic existed, the victims of forced labour would have been able to escape. But in a novel you have to describe your characters’ mentality and ideas. Power and magic are inseparable in the minds of most Africans.

The dictator not only has power and money, he also has the best fetishists and sorcerers. Because they are the best, the dictator is invulnerable and his power is limitless. For the dictator’s entourage and for the people at large, power and magic are one.

So how can Africa be successful in a world where science and technology are increasingly important?
Rationality will gain ground at the same time as democracy, which is still far off but is slowly coming in. It won’t solve every problem, but we already have its foundation stone–the spoken word.

No More Supermen, Opening for True Democracy

Everywhere, we say what we want, and that’s quite an achievement. And one important thing we can say–and see–is that the chief’s almighty power is on the way out. The press can now expose corruption and abuses of power; a leader has to campaign against his opponents in elections; it’s possible to get rich without being a stooge of the government.

The leader is no longer a superman. He no longer has everything going for him. He has to shoulder duties and responsibilities. He is becoming like everyone else. And consequently the magical part of his power is disappearing. . . . we’re making some headway. Before, either there weren’t any elections at all, or if an election was held, the dictator only had to ask for 99 per cent of the vote for his wish to be granted. Now he is.

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Sex at the Margins

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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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