Manfred Loimeier is a German literary critic specialising in African literature. Here he explores Ahmadou Kourouma’s principal motivations for writing in an interview with the author. This interview is a complement to two previous interviews with the author published in issues 12 and 31 of Africultures.
In your novels, you describe the meeting between African and European cultures. Why has African culture not succeeded in successfully opposing European culture?
Because culture goes hand in hand with the power of the State. Europeans are stronger – they colonised us. They have developed a good deal more means and African culture has been forced to follow European culture.
In your novel, En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages you characterise the prototypical African dictator. Why are African politicians so obsessed with power?
They were fascinated by power, but that was during the cold war. At that time, the West supported those in power, letting them get away with everything, and they were free to do what they liked. This doesn’t just apply to Africa; it’s the international context that created these dictators.
Is this a consequence of patriarchal society, or the patriarchal structure of traditional societies in Africa?
Yes. In Africa, traditional society still exists. It’s disappearing but in any case, the dictators used African society to do whatever they wanted.
Your way of Africanising the French language has been interpreted by Madeleine Borgomano as a rebellion against linguistic rape.
(laughs) I think that the French have their own language. They have raped many peoples but they want their own language to remain pure. It’s just not possible. French dominates in our countries because there are 300 million of us and we use French to communicate. Wolof speakers don’t understand Malinké. That’s why I have made it a personal rule to allow my French to take on some of the particularities of the African way of speaking. I changed the French so that it could capture the play on words. I did this in several ways I took African words and Frenchified them, I took French words and had them change meaning.
You wrote En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages as a Donsomana. What is this?
Donsomana is what we call gest. It’s a form of flattery it’s used by griots. The griot says what the hunter did – he flatters him. He talks about his past, his family, everything that he’s done of any importance.
The novel is interwoven with magic. What is the role of magic in Africa?
What you call magic is traditional African religion! You’re Catholic, you follow the religion of your country. Well, for us it’s magic. Muslims have Muslim religion mixed with magic. The same goes for Catholics.
Do we need to keep on reviewing Africa’s history?
Of course! We think it’s important to make history. I wrote the book about wild beasts to point out that Westerners made it possible for the dictators to take hold in our countries. And now that the Cold War is over, they’ve forgotten about us. They said that Communism had been bad for the Eastern block but they never said that the Cold War hurt us. I brought this story up again to show that they’ve forgotten about us and to show that it was a challenge. I took up the challenge with En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages.
You have previously written about colonialism, neo-colonialism, independence and anarchy. What are you going to write about in your next novel?
(laughs) About the Cold War again! There’s a dictator – I had to put up with him in Guinea – in Conakry. The Guineans told me to write about their dictator during the Cold War. He acted as if it was a popular democracy but he killed a lot of people. Dictatorship is still on the programme! (laughs)
In an interview you said that you wanted to bear witness to your times. Is that the reason for the autobiographical passages in your novels?
Yes. I have decided to bear witness to my times. That’s why I talked about it in En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages, in Allah n’est pas obligé and in my latest novel I talk about a dictator who really existed. I’m a witness. In Africa, as writers we are obliged to bear witness to our times because we have to answer the challenges of the West. One of my novels is less well known, even though I think it’s my best. It’s Monnè, outrages et défis, which I wrote over a period of 20 years. It talks about colonisation. The French were occupied for four years and they keep talking about it over and over again! They would like us to associate ourselves with them in saying how much the Germans made them suffer. But we have to talk about ourselves, about the fact that we suffered a century of colonisation! That’s what I want to do. And Monnè, outrages et défis demonstrates this. It took me 20 years to write the book – and much thought. It’s well constructed but no one’s interested in it because it’s not written for the masses … so there you go! (laughs)
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