Interview with Ahmadou Kourouma, by Boniface Mongo-Mboussa

Paris, October 1998
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With the publication of his first book Les Soleils des Indépendances in 1968, Ahmadou Kourouma gave rise to a trend that posited Independence as African literature’s main theme. On a narrative level, Kourouma sought inspiration in the oral traditions, integrating Malinke into French syntax. In 1990, he published Monné, Outrages et défis, the tragic epic of the Soba people led into colonization by their King, Djigui. His latest novel, En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages, focuses on relations between dictatorial power and magic in the Cold War period.

The titles of your novels are always strikingly judicious. Does it take you as long to choose the titles as it does to write the books?
Perhaps not quite as long. But it does take a while… The initial title of this latest novel was Le désoumana purificatoire du guide suprême, but I decided it was too long-winded…
African History plays a prominent role in both En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages and Monné, Outrages et défis. It’s as if you wanted to combine history and literature all in one.
Exactly! African History plays a central role in my latest books. In Monné, Outrages et défis, I wanted to examine the colonial period. Here, I illustrate the consequences of the Cold War in Africa. The current mess we are in comes from this war. It gave rise to monsters. They are on their way out, but the compressing effect is still there.
Do you think Africa’s destiny would have been different if the Cold War had not taken place?
Absolutely. If we had begun with democracy, for example, we would now be living something different in Africa.
It is no secret that you fought in the French colonial forces in Indochina. Colonial wars feature very prominently in your latest novel. Can we take this to be autobiographical?
There is an element of autobiography in this novel, not least because I fought in Indochina, but also because I know the historic period described En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages pretty well. There is also an ethnological dimension, however: I « consulted » a certain number of ethnological texts before writing this book.
Animals are also very present, and in particular totemic animals. What does this stem from?
It simply comes from the fact that we live with nature, with animals in Africa. They are of course not as numerous as they used to be in my childhood and youth. But they live on in my imagination. I often refer to the oral traditions, to tales and legends, in my writing.
What inspires the irony?
The oral traditions, of course. Irony is one of the techniques used to capture and hold the audience’s attention during an oral performance.
In Les Soleils des Indépendances, Salimata, the wife of the main protagonist Fama, was almost as important a character as her husband. In En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages, there are practically no female characters.
You know, dictatorships are eminently masculine in Africa. There is the mother character, but she is secondary.
One last question. You often refer to colonization, but colonization is ambiguous. How do you consider the colonial relation?
Colonization brought something to Africa. It radically changed the face of the continent. It facilitated contact between populations. In a sense, it opened Africa up to the Western world. But it also did Africa a lot of harm, as slavery did for that matter. It must be said that colonization was almost inevitable… What is certain is that Africans also have a share of responsibility in what happened to them: in slavery, in colonization, as well as in the Cold War.

///Article N° : 5319


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