Niamey’s literary and reading fortnight finally took place from 1 to 13 June 98.
It was initially meant to be held in mid-April. Invitations were sent, commitments made, the programme in the bag when somebody realized that the dates clashed with Tabaski and Easter. Hence the new programme, new confirmations, new commitments and unfortunately a few withdrawals, including Emmanuel Dongala and Abderhaman Waberi, who could no longer come.
Early June, and all eyes were riveted on the World Cup. Flights were chock-a-block thanks to the Air France strike, and June was also the end of a highly-agitated school year here in Niger, leaving the literary fortnight’s main target public up to the eyeballs with end-of-year high school and university exams.
In spite of it all, the two weeks were crammed with events, as school meetings, debates, conferences, workshops, forums and literary events succeeded one another at an unusually intense rate. High schools, the university, the national museum, and the Franco-Nigerien and Oumarou Ganda Cultural Centres were abuzz. Every day and all day. Niamey’s much-sought-after, small artistic and literary circle shook off the morose apathy it had sunk into.
Niamey’s authors and artists assembled, which is no mean achievement, and certainly deserves a mention here. Niger’s artistic and cultural life is so undynamic, and events and meetings so rare, that artists tend to stagnate in their individual oases, swamped in mutual ignorance and barren solitude.
The literary fortnight was thus a time of mutual discovery.
First and foremost, Niger’s artists discovered and got to know one another. Projects were born. The comic and children’s book illustration workshop run by Baarli Barutti, led to the creation of an association of Nigerien cartoonists and illustrators.
Lack of access to information on cultural events around the world, on major world trends, was highlighted. And for all creative domains – literature, painting, theatre – as the fortnight was not just a literary event. « This is the first time I’ve met a publisher », « No writer has ever read my work before », and other such reactions symptomatic of a barren solitude, an intense craving for creative interaction.
The fortnight was also the opportunity to discover contemporary African literature thanks to the participation of the Ivoirian poet Tanella Boni, and the Senegalese novelist Boubacar Boris Diop. They chaired stimulating meetings in schools and at the university. They revealed all about how they came to writing, their pet themes, their conception of art, their appreciation of the world’s faltering footsteps at the end of the century. Classic questions, perhaps, but always infused with the same passion as Niger’s concerned youth try to elucidate whether or not Africa can find a less tortuous path. Then, always the same, sudden question: « Do you know any Nigerien authors? »
All of Niamey’s students ask this question. Obsessively, almost. And the answer often falls like a condemnation. No. As was expected. Not that this comes from a lack of curiosity or interest, but rather, testifies to an all-too-well known situation. Nigerien literature exists, but is barely known, poorly distributed, lacks recognition, and is almost always out of touch with the continent’s major literary trends. And everybody seems to manifest the same sense of concern at being absent in the world, the same frustration at being out of touch.
I saw two hundred students attending a conference chaired by Emile Lansman at the University of Niamey on the reception of African theatre in the Francophone world. Two hundred stupefied and increasingly anxious faces as they learned that today’s living and highly promising representatives of African theatre in the Francophone world are called Koulsy Lamko, Kossi Efoui, M’Hamed Benguettaf, Koffi Kwahulé, and other people they have never heard of, nor had the chance to discover live or in writing. They had heard of Sony Labou Tansi, they knew Césaire’s tragedies, Dadié’s comedies, or Cheikh N’Dao’s historic dramas by heart. In short, all the accepted and labeled classics that have been perfectly integrated into the university curriculum which, it is no secret, only very cautiously embraces newcomers.
Fortunately, the literary fortnight brought these contemporary texts to the Niamey public. Literature was projected into the limelight during the literary readings. A dozen actors from Niamey’s different companies lent their voices and bodies to works from Niger, France, Belgium, Canada, Congo, and Côte d’Ivoire in a series of voyages through the theatrical and Francophone literary landscapes orchestrated by Emile Lansman. Intense and emotive moments that make you wish you could see art in public more often.
The literary fortnight would not have been such a success if it had not provoked the self-examination that emerged in the press. The debate began with the association of Nigerien writers’ (AEN) glaring absence. Until recently, it was responsible for organizing the « Book Month » with the backing of the ACCT and the French Mission for Cooperation. Tainted by decades of poor management and divided by internal disputes, however, the AEN is discredited and moribund.
One essential question remains, however: can the Sate and Niger’s associations generate an endogenous dynamic, are its artists organized enough to set up events without driving force of the Franco-Nigerien Cultural Centre – the Franco as it is known here? This question cropped up time and time again in all its possible guises, from a certain nostalgia for better, bygone days, to indignant protest at French cultural imperialism, to criticism of the State’s lack of support, to recriminations aimed at Niger’s cultural players. The debate is far from over. Ultimately the real success of this literary and reading fortnight was to have tickled the nation’s sense of pride, to have encourage a whole range of Nigerien artists to ask themselves, « what are we doing about matters ourselves »?
///Article N° : 5314