Ahmadou Kourouma: En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages (Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals)
A brilliant, savage and witty attack on African dictators, this novel tells the story of General Koyaga of the fictitious Gulf Republic, aided by his friends the dictators of the Ebony Republic and the Republic of the Large River. While these ones are fictitious, Kourouma makes numerous references to various real dictators – Mobutu, Hissène Habré, Idi Amin, Houphouët Boigny, Bokassa and others. While the three main characters are fictitious, they are clearly based on these real life models and exhibit many of the traits of these models.
Kourouma tells the story as an African recounting of a legend but with tongue firmly in cheek. He tells the story of Koyaga from his birth up to the present day. Koyaga’s early life is clearly legendary. He is the son of the champion Ivoirian hunter and wrestler, who fights in World War 1 where he bayonets five Germans, before being bayoneted himself. He survives to return home and foment a revolt against the French occupiers but is finally captured and dies. He leaves behind a son – Koyaga – and a wife, also a strong woman and a woman who has magical powers, which she uses to help her son. We follow the life of the son, from his legendary killing of various mythical beasts to his fighting in various French colonial wars (where, of course, he performs heroic deeds). Finally returning home, where independence has now been obtained, he works for the president but is soon involved in a coup to overthrow the president. He and his four conspirators do succeed and, of course, Koyaga eventually has the other three killed (along with many others) to consolidate his power. There are many attempts to overthrow him but he evades them all, thanks to the magical powers of his mother.
The summary – and a very brief summary it is for Kourouma tells a long and complex tale – does not begin to do justice to Kourouma’s skill at both portraying a legend and, at the same time, damning him and all dictators as ruthless and cruel but also naïve and gullible. Koyaga is clearly a larger than life figure, as many of his real life models were but he is also a particularly unpleasant one. Kourouma’s wit and distancing, however, makes the whole story seem that much more real and fascinating. Of course, Kourouma does not just damn the African dictators but has no qualms about attacking the colonialists, particularly the French who created these dictators and the Americans who maintain them, while brutally ignoring the unfortunate Africans who are their victims.
How the dictators were created and how they have survived is a fascinating though harrowing story and Kourouma tells it with skill, passion and wit. This is essential reading for anyone with any interest in Africa whatsoever.
First published by Éditions du Seuil in 1998
First English translation in 2001 by University Press of Virginia
Translated by Frank Wynne