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Fictions of African Dictatorship

Cultural Representations of Postcolonial Power

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Edited By Charlotte Baker and Hannah Grayson

Fictions of African Dictatorship examines the fictional representation of the African dictator and the performance of dictatorship across genres. The volume includes contributions focusing on literature, theatre and film, all of which examine the relationship between the fictional and the political. Among the questions the contributors ask: what are the implications of reading a novel for its historical content or accuracy? How does the dictator novel interrogate ideas of veracity? How is power performed and ridiculed? How do different writers reflect on questions of authority in the postcolony, and what are the effects on their stories and modes of narration? This volume untangles some of the intricate workings of dictatorial power in the postcolony, through twelve close readings of works of fiction. It interrogates the intersections between real and literary space, exploring censorship, political critique and creative resistance. Insights into a wide range of lesser known texts and contexts make this volume an original and insightful contribution to scholarship on representations of dictatorship.

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4. Creation through Inversion: The Carnivalesque Postcolonial State in the Novels of Alain Mabanckou and In Koli Jean Bofane (Eline Kuenen)

← 78 | 79 →

ELINE KUENEN

4    Creation through Inversion: The Carnivalesque Postcolonial State in the Novels of Alain Mabanckou and In Koli Jean Bofane

Authors of the new generation of Francophone African writers, far from rejecting the politically engaged stance of their predecessors,1 are proposing a new form of engagement that, as Odile Cazenave and Patricia Célérier have similarly posited,2 is tentative and often expressed to disturb instead of to transform.3 This disturbance consists of representing what Achille Mbembe has described as the ‘banality of power’ in postcolonial Africa.4 To make my argument, I draw on the concept of the carnivalesque, first proposed by Mikhail Bakhtin and then linked to the ‘postcolony’ by Mbembe in his work On the Postcolony.5 Bakhtin linked carnivalesque elements to ‘non-official’ cultures in early modern Europe,6 but Mbembe states that ← 79 | 80 → obscene and grotesque elements are ‘intrinsic to all systems of domination and to the means by which those systems are confirmed or deconstructed’,7 including in modern-day Africa. In this chapter, I link carnivalesque elements to the novels of Alain Mabanckou and In Koli Jean Bofane. Bofane and Mabanckou, hailing respectively from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo, are representative of the new generation of Francophone authors because both make continuous ‘passages’ between Africa, America and Europe.8 Like other authors of the new generation, they live in exile, and their ‘Africanity is accessory’, as Abdourahman Ali Waberi states.9 Yet, both also participate in colloquia and public events10 to interrogate the position of the francophone African writer and the necessity of engagement.11 These authors mobilize strategies such as their use of the carnivalesque, elements of fetishism and character choice, to represent and depict postcolonial dictatorship. Their fiction illustrates the phenomenon that Mbembe describes, and provides a space to present an alternative version of reality through which they question the performance of postcolonial government, viewed exactly as that: a performance, with its own set of accompanying rituals and conventions.

Considering this, what we need is not to assess whether or not the elements mentioned above are present in the postcolonial state, but how postcolonial literature reflects them and uses them to interrogate the ← 80 | 81 → performance of postcolonial dictatorship. In the first part of this chapter, I look at the supernatural and theatrical elements in the novels of Mabanckou and Bofane. In the second part, I draw on Achille Mbembe’s concept of the ‘aesthetics of vulgarity’ and will consider the significance of orifices and scatology, followed by the representation of the supernatural elements associated with the postcolonial state. I finally examine the role that carnivalesque elements, those silent actors, play in the interrogation of performances of dictatorship and the ways in which character choice helps to shape the representation of the African dictator and produce an alternative version of reality.

The spectacular and supernatural character of postcolonial dictatorship

Theatrical elements are extremely important in the way postcolonial governments define their power, as several scholars have pointed out. In Parades postcoloniales, for example, Lydie Moudileno underlines the function of the imaginary in the construction of postcolonial identities. Achille Mbembe has similarly shown how the power of the state seeks to dramatize its importance through performances that seem to be spontaneous and that will be remembered by the citizens.12 Thus, commenting on public executions, he writes that in the postcolony, even death opens up a space for enjoyment; people are encouraged to laugh about death and give it wild applause. The obsceneness of such performances reveals, as Mbembe writes, the ‘headiness of social forms – including the suppression of life.’13 It seems that postcolonial power is defined by and settled through its theatrical character and ← 81 | 82 → that this ‘is evidence that power is not an empty space. It has its hierarchies and its institutions, it has its techniques’.14

Besides the dramatic components, there is a large space for symbolic elements in postcolonial political life. As Jean-Godefroy Bidima states, political life first of all is a series of negotiations with the symbolic.15 He implies here that postcolonial societies – like all societies – are predetermined by myths, rituals and liturgies.16 Gilbert Durand defines myths as a ‘dynamic system of symbols, archetypes and schemas, a dynamic system that tends, when prompted by a schema, to take the form of a story’.17 Myths may also promote the historical and legendary story of a nation-state.18 When people have a more fixed belief in these myths, it is easier for rulers to play with them and to promote their government. Subsequently, myths may be the object of more or less theatrical performances and may appear in various literary guises. Jean-Godefroy Bidima questions how best to unpick the underlying tendencies or myths that guide the postcolonial government. He states that the plot in literature and novels, in particular, may refer to the falsely innocent representations that rulers use to keep the system intact.19

In his Mathématiques congolaises, In Koli Jean Bofane links political activities to the theatre in his portrayal of modern Kinshasa. Célio Matemona, the protagonist, has grown up in a poor village but because of his mathematical knowledge, he is hired to work for the military officer Tshilombo. Bofane attributes spectacular elements to the activities that take place on the postcolonial political scene. When Célio and his companion Gaucher have to participate in a political meeting this is explicitly ← 82 | 83 → characterized as a ‘mascarade’ by Célio.20 When the army tries to commit a coup d’état, this is also described as a staged play:

Tshilombo avait écrit sa pièce et il allait prendre soin de la délivrer jusqu’au dernier acte, jusqu’à la dernière réplique. Il avait prévu des rebondissements nombreux et passionnants. […] Le casting d’ailleurs était parfait. […] Il jouait là le rôle de sa vie […].

[Tshilombo wrote his play and he would make sure to deliver it until the last act, until the last line. He had planned many unexpected and exciting twists. […] By the way, the casting was perfect. […] He played the role of his life […].]21

Bofane uses the semantic field of the theatre to highlight the dramatic character of postcolonial state activities (‘play’, ‘act’, ‘line’, ‘twists’, ‘casting’, and ‘role’). By underlining the artificiality and insincerity of every activity in the postcolonial state, In Koli Jean Bofane shows the ‘institutionalized chaos’ (le chaos institutionnalisé)22 in his native country and demonstrates the fundamental hollowness of state power. In Congo Inc., le testament de Bismarck, the protagonist Isookanga, who has grown up in a forest village, dreams of travelling to the capital Kinshasa to ‘do business’, but becomes entangled in a nightmare of ethnic cleansings carried out by armed groups. Kiro Bizimungo, a politician, ‘S’en foutait, de la flore et de la faune, comme de sa première balle dans la tête d’un ennemi’ [didn’t give a fuck about the flora and fauna, just as he didn’t give a fuck about his first bullet in the head of an enemy] (80). During the ethnic cleansings, which are described ad nauseam, ‘smiles appeared on the soldiers’ faces’, and there is a general indifference about death among the soldiers.23 This activity has a theatrical character; it is like a ritual in which rhythm is an essential element: people sing ‘Un chant ancestral évoquant des gloires passés’ [an ancestral chant evoking past glories] and ‘Les bottes battaient la cadence et constituaient ← 83 | 84 → des basses puissantes’ [the boots beat the rhythm and constitute powerful basses] (135).

In the novels I discuss here, laughter, spectacle and theatre are used to address grave and serious situations in the postcolonial state and to underline the essentially fictional character of the state. Bofane and Mabanckou refer to the internal division of Africa due to Bismarck’s arbitrary drawing of borders during the Berlin Conference. The title of Bofane’s novel, Congo Inc., le testament de Bismarck, is an explicit reference to the conference. Mabanckou alludes to this in Verre Cassé when the protagonist states:

Je m’en fous aussi de la carte de notre pays parce que ce pays c’est de la merde, c’est des frontières qu’on a héritées quand les Blancs se partageaient leur gâteau colonial à Berlin, donc ce pays n’existe même pas.

[I don’t care […] this country is shit, we inherited these borders when the Whites carved up their colonial cake in Berlin, so this country doesn’t even exist.] (Verre Cassé, p. 174)

Not just the fictional element is used to make a mockery of the government; elements of the supernatural also take part in it.

Towards the end of Mathématiques congolaises, Bofane refers to the fetish-character of the postcolonial government during a public trial: ‘Leurs regards éperdus exprimaient toute leur incompréhension et leur certitude d’être condamnés à l’issue de ce simulacre de procès’ [their distraught gazes expressed their complete incomprehension and their certainty of being condemned as the outcome of this trial-simulacrum] (307). Referencing Baudrillard’s theory of simulacra,24 this trial is presented as a simulacrum, appearing to stand for a real trial, one that does not exist. The incomprehension could be linked to the fact that such a trial ‘[masks] the absence of a basic reality, […] it is of the order of sorcery’,25 it is incomprehensible. The simulacrum, as Baudrillard states, ‘bears no relation to any reality ← 84 | 85 → whatever’.26 By linking the trial to the simulacrum, Bofane underlines the fundamental emptiness of the postcolonial state.

The texts show that since political systems in the postcolony are not based on fixed laws or on a natural logic, politicians and rulers are presented as claiming supernatural powers. Alain Mabanckou refers to the arbitrary character of the presidential election in the postcolony. When the prime minister asks his government to think of a new slogan, somebody proposes a famous citation of Shakespeare. This episode shows that the governors do not even ask themselves anymore if their power is still justified, for it has become self-evident: ‘“Être ou ne pas être, c’est la question”, et le chef des nègres a dit “non, c’est pas bon, nous n’en sommes plus à nous demander si nous sommes ou ne sommes pas, nous avons déjà résolu cette question puisque nous sommes au pouvoir depuis vingt-trois ans, allez, on passe.”’ [‘To be or not to be, that is the question’ and the ‘chief negro’ replies ‘no, no good, we’ve already settled that one, we’ve been in power here for twenty-three years, next!’] (27–8). Mabanckou is probably referring to President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who has been the president of the Republic of the Congo since 1979 (with a four-year interval). Governors define themselves as a fetish, which demands power and sacralization. The myth of autocracy they then create helps them to play with the citizens and to justify their autocratic power.

The aesthetics of vulgarity

As Cécile Bishop27 has shown, the emergence of central African authors such as Henri Lopes and Sony Labou Tansi could be described as a ‘post-independence aesthetic “renewal”’.28 These authors made use of irony and ← 85 | 86 → parody in their texts to demand more freedom against dictators.29 The authors discussed here can be placed in this literary tradition. Laughter in their novels seems often to be forced and exaggerated and goes hand in hand with repugnance, extravagance and horror, which recalls the title of Henri Lopes’ novel Le Pleurer-rire. In Koli Jean Bofane explains in Congo Inc. that during the ethnic cleansings, during ‘Cette barbarie paroxystique’ [this paroxysmal cruelty] (55–6), the postcolonial power shows its grotesque and obscene character. During these kind of activities ‘Le vagin des femmes était détruit, on tranchait les parties génitales des hommes et on les leur introduisait dans la bouche avant de les achever’ [the women’s’ vagina was destroyed, the men’s genitals were cut off and put in their mouth before they were killed] (55). State power and the control over subjects’ sexuality are closely linked. Bofane seeks to show ‘le réel du pays’ [the reality of the country].30 In the description of a bloody operation in the east of the country – that is, the massacres in the Kivu region – it becomes clear that the government does not recoil at obsceneness. The inversion of humanistic values mobilized by critics of the postcolonial government is actually also promulgated by the regime itself:

Simple, mais délicate à appliquer, elle s’intitulait la ‘règle de la soustraction posément accélérée’ et consistait à débiter un homme en morceaux de façon à ce qu’avant qu’il ne se vide de son sang il puisse assister, conscient, au démembrement de son propre corps, son appareil génital dans la bouche’.

[This rule, which was called ‘the rule of the calmly accelerated subtraction’ was easy but delicate to apply. It was composed of cutting a man into pieces so that, before he loses his blood, he could assist, consciously, to the dismemberment of his own body, having his penis in his mouth]. (135)

Mbembe states that for male postcolonial rulers, it is important to possess an active sexual organ and that this has to be dramatized.31 Once Kiro ← 86 | 87 → Bizimungo, one of the political characters in Congo Inc., no longer possesses an active penis, he looks nostalgically back to the period when ‘Son sexe gonflait et durcissait à lui faire mal’ [his penis swelled up and hardened till it hurt] (82). When he dies, immolated by fire, his penis ‘Fut le dernier membre à bouger. En une monstrueuse érection’ [was the last member that moved. In a monstrous erection] (278).

Verre Cassé, the main character of Mabanckou’s eponymous novel, lives in poverty, spending his days in a low-life bar where he records the life stories of the customers. His political importance is minimal, which means that his private parts are not noteworthy and he will not be able to satisfy a woman of great corpulence, both political and physical:

Et puis y a un grand problème technique, je crois que je ne suis pas bien membré, faut être réaliste, et vu les fesses à la balance excédentaire de Robinette, je suis sûr que je passerais la journée à chercher le point G de son Pays-Bas, j’arriverais à peine au point B, et il resterait les points C, D, E et F, donc elle ne serait jamais satisfaite comme il faut. (108)

[And there’s a big technical problem, I don’t think I’m that well-endowed, let’s be realistic, and considering all the excess baggage she’s carrying behind, I’d probably spend the whole day scouring her Nether Regions for her G spot and only ever get as far as her B spot, if that, and still have her spots C, D, E and F to go, so I’d never satisfy her properly]. (Broken Glass, 66)

In Verre Cassé sexual elements are omnipresent. The protagonist ridicules the government commissioner when he describes him as ‘Pédé parce qu’il remuait son derrière comme une femme quand il marchait’ (173) [gay, from the way he wiggled his behind like a woman when he walked] (Broken Glass, 112). His explicit sexualization of the commissioner is typical of the carnivalesque style as described by Mbembe. By focusing on the corporeal, sexual identity of postcolonial power-holders, the author operates a carnivalesque, Bakhtinian inversion of official values, whereby what was held to be ‘high’ is degraded to a new, ‘low’ status, and vice versa.

Besides its obscene and grotesque elements that characterize the power of postcolonial state and invert official values, postcolonial society is dominated by men and characterized by its misogyny. The essential is male pleasure and women are unconditionally subordinated. Bofane writes that ← 87 | 88 → ‘Être femme et jeune de surcroît n’a jamais été un préjugé favorable dans la société actuelle’ [being a woman and moreover young has never been a favourable prejudice in contemporary society] (Mathématiques 155). Women in the postcolony are ‘a tool of the system’ (un outil du système), underlining the importance of male pleasure.32 On the other hand, in the postcolony, men need women. In Congo Inc., Bofane draws a direct link between the postcolonial government and women: ‘Contrôler une région […] c’était également faire main basse […] sur les femmes dont ses hommes avaient besoin’ [To control a region […] was also to walk off […] with the women whom men needed] (78). Thus, women are a tool, used by men to ‘Aider à faire baisser [leur] taux d’endorphine […]’ [help [them] lower [their] endorphin […]] (138). The author here highlights that women in the postcolony are both subordinated and necessary.

The significance of orifices and scatology

Food plays an important role in the carnivalesque, as Bakhtin underlined. Food is a symbol of wealth and power and that is why postcolonial rulers are often described as obese and characterized by their stoutness. The chiefs in the country display their conspicuous consumption in great feasts of food and drink, which make their physique impressive, cause obesity and lead to a ‘flow of shit’.33 This is what Joshua Esty called ‘excremental writing’, with the first symbolic value of excrements being ‘that it marks the fuzzy boundary between inside and outside’.34 Characters in the novels talk about the quantity of excrements produced by such a physique to mock the political system, to invite laughter and to see the rulers as just human beings. However, the ruler’s corpulence is also a body, a physique ← 88 | 89 → that is open ‘in both ways: hence the significance given to orifices, and the central part they play in people’s political humour’.35 As in the novels of Sony Labou Tansi36 and Ibrahima Ly,37 scatological and excremental writing are used to mock the ruling class and to reduce the governors to what they are, to human beings.

In Congo Inc., In Koli Jean Bofane uses a Lingala expression, which he explains in a footnote. The expression is ‘Sœur, ya poids’ and Bofane adds that this means: ‘sister with weight (either financial, in influence or in corpulence)’.38 It seems that he wants to make a connection between nourishment and opulence and that corpulence goes together with power. Waldemar Mirnas, a United Nations officer, thus a character of great political importance, is also characterized by his corpulence: ‘L’embonpoint avait envahi sa taille’ [the stoutness had overwhelmed his length] (225).

Alain Mabanckou similarly often uses references to food, bodily corpulence, orifices and scatological elements in his novels. In Mémoires de porc-épic, a novel based on the idea that every human being has an animal double, a porcupine tells his memoir, the story of his master. He describes that, to try to deceive the sorcerer that the ‘Maître avait alors enfoui une noix de palme dans son rectum’ (140) [master had stuck a palm nut up his rectum].39 He tries to beat the sorcerer, who has an important place in postcolonial society, through scatological practices. Thus, what Mabanckou seems to underline here, is that the political state system being morbid, the only way to behave is in a carnivalesque way. This is not the only example of scatology that shows the protagonists’ character in the works of these two authors. As I will show below, character choice and the way protagonists behave are important elements in these authors’ representation of reality in the African postcolonial state. ← 89 | 90 →

Character choice

The main characters in the novels of Bofane and Mabanckou have trickster characteristics, similar to the use of trickster strategies studied by Pascale de Souza in Mabanckou’s Black Bazar.40 I propose to link the tricksters in the novels of Mabanckou and Bofane to two well-known characters in African oral literature: the Zande trickster Ture and Anansi, a trickster from West Africa and the Caribbean. Like many other tricksters, Ture is a liar, a cheat and a murderer, he is vain, greedy and selfish. He kills his father, tries to kill his brother and he attempts to murder his wife. Ture has sexual intercourse with his mother-in-law and with his sister too. What Ture does is the opposite of all that is moral.41

Anansi is able to transform himself into another animal or even a human being. Tricksters in tales act and speak like humans but have animal characteristics. Like Ture, Anansi is amoral, duplicitous and greedy.42 This transformation and constant identity-change reflects the human activity ‘of making guesses and modifying them in light of experience – the process of ‘schema and correction’’.43 In his classic study, Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard writes that he has to confess that he often had the feeling that ‘there is a good bit of Ture in the Zande character [but] whose personality among ourselves has not been in some degree shaped by characters of fiction with whom he has identified himself in imagination?’44

The trickster, who has a mirror-function, can also be seen as a counterpart of the subject in the postcolonial state. The idea of a mirror is also represented in Mémoires de porc-épic. The porcupine reflects the state of ← 90 | 91 → mind of his master Kibandi. It is ‘Comme si [il était] saisi par la même colère, la même frustration, la même rancœur, la même jalousie que [son] maître’ (188) [as though [he was] gripped by the same anger, the same frustration, the same bitterness, the same jealousy as [his] master] (Memoirs of a Porcupine, 126). These reflections give Mabanckou a weapon to criticize society. He presents the imperfections of the porcupine and he gives him the function of a speculum mentis of his master. Through this character, he indirectly criticizes society. The trickster does what he pleases and what others would probably like to do themselves too. The trickster possibly is a pointer to darker desires.45 The trickster-view enables a form of what cultural critics van den Akker and Vermeulen have described as metamodernism or ‘new sincerity’,46 that is, a return to political engagement, but now in a distinctly ironic mode, that according to them characterizes cultural production after post-modernism. Contemporary African postcolonial writers seek to be sincere, but use sarcasm, humour and irony to depict postcolonial governments. The tricksters show the subconscious desires of human beings in the African postcolonial state. Behind the masks they wear due to social convention, people have the same desires, the same feelings and the same imaginations as does the trickster47 and so the inexpressible is expressed through the trickster’s speech.

Isookanga, the main character of Congo Inc., can be seen as a trickster figure because of his paratopic place. He is a character who lives between two different worlds: he is part of the Ekonda clan, but has a Pygmy father. He never feels at home and this position ‘L’obligeait à rechercher sa véritable place […] politiquement, socialement et surtout physiquement’ (22) [forced him to search for his true position […] in politics, in society and above all physically]. The Ekonda clan on itself discredited in the country, ← 91 | 92 → as Bofane underlines,48 and thus has a marginal status. Célio Matemona, the main character in Mathématiques congolaises also has a paratopic status. Having grown up in a district in a village where people were racked by famine, Célio has studied and is able to enter into governmental circles. His ‘Capacité innée à se fondre dans de nouvelles situations lui rendait la vie plus facile’ [natural capacity to blend into new situations made his life easier] (310). By using the trickster figure, Bofane can show the two worlds that exist in Congolese society.

This paratopic position could be seen as the will to reverse the established order. Célio, for example, enters into two different worlds. He is considered an ‘esquiveur’, or someone who is a cheat, a liar, and not serious at all; one cannot trust the ‘esquiveur’ as he always wants to get around rules and laws. These are typical trickster characteristics. In Mathématiques congolaises Célio even has the will to reverse the established order: ‘En même temps, il avait une envie folle de défier son boss et le système qui le nourrissait’ [At the same time, he had a strong desire to stand up to his boss and the system that fed him] (240). As we see in the characteristics of Ture, his private parts are given special attention, and they can even speak:

Ture’s private parts blurted out ‘Oh! So you’re eating termites, you who were just sleeping with your mother-in-law while they were flying away!’ His mother-in-law’s private parts answered, saying ‘Do you say it is a lie?’49

Isookanga’s private parts are described as a ‘python’ or a ‘boa’ (pp. 194–5) and his powerful organ helps him to punish Aude Martin, who represents the culpability of her Belgian ancestors. His penis takes over and makes decisions for him. Mbembe underlines the importance of active private parts and an active penis. This makes the trickster a carnivalesque character par excellence.

The trickster generally is aware of something before the others know about it, because the trickster has close relations with the divine world. The ← 92 | 93 → divine power of the totem animal is underlined in Mémoires de porc-épic. The porcupine speaks about his power:

J’étais le troisième œil, la troisième narine, la troisième oreille de mon maître, ce qui signifie que ce qu’il ne voyait pas, ce qu’il ne sentait pas, ce qu’il n’écoutait pas, je le lui transmettais par songes, et lorsqu’il ne répondait pas à mes messages, j’apparaissais devant lui. (14)

[I was my master’s third eye, his third nostril, his third ear, which means that whatever he didn’t see, or smell, or hear, I transmitted to him in dreams and if ever he didn’t reply to my messages, I’d appear before him.] (Memoirs of a Porcupine, 5)

Nikola Kovaç writes that the essence of a political novel is ‘l’individu aux prises avec les abus [du] système’ [the individual subject fighting with the abuses of the system].50 Verre Cassé presents the stories of individuals that have been defeated by the system. The main characters in the other novels I have discussed reflect the society that they derive from. In Koli Jean Bofane makes a reference to Obiechina’s statement that it is impossible to find decent people in a government that is itself far from decency:51

Dans un environnement vicié par les odes mortifères de l’uranium, du cobalt, du colombo-tantalite, que peut-on attendre de la part d’individus passés à la centrifugeuse, évoluant dans le contexte d’un réacteur nucléaire dernière génération ? L’irradiation permanente ne ramène pas l’innocence, elle conduit à la rage. (289)

[In an environment contaminated by the deadly odes of uranium, cobalt and coltan, what can we expect from people who have been passed through the centrifuge, people who move in the context of the most modern of nuclear reactors? The permanent irradiation does not bring back innocence, it leads to rage.]

The protagonists in the novels of these two African postcolonial writers have in some cases been the victims of the postcolonial political system. ← 93 | 94 → The trickster figure provides a representation of the postcolonial citizen, formed by this destructive system. This figure’s amoral nature therefore proposes a severe criticism of those who wield power within this system.

Conclusion

Even if writers like In Koli Jean Bofane and Alain Mabanckou seem to reject the direct, politically engaged stance of their predecessors,52 and occupy a paratopic space between Africa, America and Europe, they do criticize and interrogate the performances of African postcolonial dictatorship and government in their novels. In this sense, they participate in the movement of the ‘new sincerity’ described by cultural critics van den Akker and Vermeulen,53 but they do so through a process of inversion of traditional humanistic values. Their representation of the African postcolonial government is sincere, but has a theatrical and satirical character. The semantic field of the theatre, which is omnipresent in the novels of both Alain Mabanckou and In Koli Jean Bofane, attributes a fictional character to the system, through which these authors then interrogate the performance of postcolonial dictatorship. As I have shown, it is possible that mythologizing the postcolonial state creates a stronger belief in the state among its citizens, but it could also be seen as constituting a simulacrum government. Revealing the simulacrum at work shows the fictional and vicious character of the African postcolonial government. Furthermore, In Koli Jean Bofane and Alain Mabanckou underline the supernatural logic of the postcolonial government and describe it through its obscene and grotesque, ‘low’ characteristics. While both use similar narrative strategies, however, there are also differences: Bofane uses the obscene and grotesque to describe the horrors of ethnic cleanings and massacres in the contemporary ← 94 | 95 → Democratic Republic of the Congo, while Mabanckou deploys irony and humour to depict state power in the Republic of the Congo more obliquely, from a greater critical distance.

Character choice is another tool these writers use to present an alternative version of reality in the postcolony. They give individuals that have been defeated by the postcolonial political system the floor and move trickster-figures onto centre stage. Tricksters show the real people behind the masks they wear in carnivalesque society, and by a process of specular inversion present the real imaginations, feelings and desires of disenfranchised citizens in postcolonial society. The way they behave corresponds to the way the political system has formed them. Furthermore, these specular, trickster protagonists have the ability to blend into different worlds, which gives them the possibility to show both sides of the coin. Significantly perhaps, the indeterminate position of their protagonists mirrors that of the two authors, whose ‘passages’ between different continents would seem to put them in a uniquely paratopic position characteristic of many writers of their generation.

By combining carnivalesque and theatrical attributes with trickster characters, Bofane and Mabanckou produce an unsettling image of the postcolonial theatre-state. Through the inversion of values these strategies create, they set up alternative versions of reality, which enable them to question the performances (in various senses of the word) of African postcolonial dictators and the political system.

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Cazenave, Odile, and Patricia Célérier, Contemporary francophone African writers and the burden of commitment (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011).

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De Souza, Pascale, ‘Trickster Strategies in Alain Mabanckou’s Black Bazar’, Research in African Literatures 42.1 (2011): 102–19.

Durand, Gilbert, Les structures anthropologiques de l’imaginaire: introduction à l’archétypologie générale (Grenoble: Imprimerie Allier, 1960).

Esty, Joshua D., ‘Excremental postcolonialism.’ Contemporary Literature 40.1 (1999): 22–59.

Evans-Pritchard, Edward Evan, The Zande Trickster (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967).

Kovač, Nikola, Le Roman politique: fictions du totalitarisme (Paris: Editions Michalon, 2002).

Mabanckou, Alain, Broken Glass. Translated by Helen Stevenson (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2009).

——, Mémoires de porc-épic (Paris: Seuil, 2006).

——, Memoirs of a porcupine. Translated by Helen Stevenson (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2011).

——, Verre Cassé (Paris: Seuil, 2005).

Mbembe, Achille, On the Postcolony: Studies on the History of Society and Culture. Translated by Steven Rendall, A. M. Berrett, Janet Roitman and Murray Last, with assistance from the author (Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).

Michel, Nicolas, ‘Littérature – In Koli Jean Bofane, le Satyricongolais’, Jeune Afrique 2778 (2014) : 98–100.

Moudileno, Lydie, and Frederick Cooper. Parades postcoloniales: la fabrication des identités dans le roman congolais: Sylvain Bemba, Sony Labou Tansi, Henri Lopes, Alain Mabanckou, Daniel Biyaoula (Paris : Karthala Editions, 2006).

Ngal, Georges, Création et rupture en littérature africaine (Paris: Editions L’Harmattan, 1994). ← 96 | 97 →

Obiechina, Emmanuel, ‘Post-Independence Disillusionment in Three African Novels’. In Neo-African Literature and Culture: Essays in Memory of Janheinz Jahn, Bernth Lindfors and Ulla Schild (eds) (Wiesbaden: Heymann, 1976).

Seal, Graham, Encyclopedia of Folk Heroes (Santa Barbara, CA: Abc-clio, 2001).

Vermeulen, Timotheus, and Robin van den Akker, ‘Notes on metamodernism’, Journal of Aesthetics & Culture 2 (2010): 1–13.

Waberi, Abdourahman A., ‘Les enfants de la postcolonie: esquisse d’une nouvelle génération d’écrivains francophones d’Afrique noire’, Notre librairie, 135 (1998). ← 97 | 98 →


1 Most famously the explicit political positions taken by the Négritude generation, that continues to haunt much modern Francophone fiction.

2 Odile Cazenave and Patricia Célérier, Contemporary francophone African writers and the burden of commitment (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011), 48.

3 Cazenave and Célérier, Contemporary francophone African writers and the burden of commitment, 48.

4 This notion is developed by Achille Mbembe in On the Postcolony.

5 For Mbembe, postcolony ‘identifies specifically a given historical trajectory – that of societies recently emerging from the experience of colonization and the violence which the colonial relationship involves’. Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony: Studies on the History of Society and Culture. Translated by Steven Rendall, A. M. Berrett, Janet Roitman and Murray Last, with assistance from the author, (Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 102.

6 Mikhail Bakhtin, L’oeuvre de François Rabelais et la culture populaire au Moyen Âge et sous la Renaissance (Paris: Gallimard, 1970).

7 Mbembe, On the Postcolony, 102.

8 Lydie Moudileno and Frederick Cooper, Parades postcoloniales: la fabrication des identités dans le roman congolais: Sylvain Bemba, Sony Labou Tansi, Henri Lopes, Alain Mabanckou, Daniel Biyaoula (Paris: Karthala Editions, 2006), 107.

9 Abdourahman A. Waberi, ‘Les enfants de la postcolonie: esquisse d’une nouvelle génération d’écrivains francophones d’Afrique noire’, Notre librairie, 135 (1998): 11.

10 See, for example, Alain Mabanckou, Closing remarks, colloquium on the ‘Génocide des Tutsi au Rwanda et la reconstruction des saviors’ (The genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda and the reconstruction of knowledge), 25 July 2008, Kigali, Rwanda, and Le Sanglot de l’Homme Noir, Paris : Fayard, 2012. For In Koli Jean Bofane, see ‘Vivre c’est écrire’, radio programme with In Koli Jean Bofane, RCN Justice & Démocratie, 15 July 2013, and Nicolas Michel, ‘Littérature – In Koli Jean Bofane, le Satyricongolais’, Jeune Afrique 2778 (2014): 98–100.

11 Cazenave, and Célérier, Contemporary francophone writers, 48–50.

12 Mbembe, On the Postcolony, 115

13 Mbembe, On the Postcolony, 116.

14 Mbembe, On the Postcolony, 116.

15 Jean-Godefroy Bidima, ‘Beauté et critique des emblèmes: politiques du visible en Afrique’, Diogène 237 (2012): 107.

16 Bidima, ‘Beauté et critique des emblèmes’, 107.

17 Gilbert Durand, cited in Brunel, Pierre (ed.). Companion to literary myths, heroes and archetypes (Oxford: Routledge, 1992), x.

18 Gilbert Durand, Les structures anthropologiques de l’imaginaire: introduction à l’archétypologie générale (Grenoble: Imprimerie Allier, 1960), 54.

19 Bidima, ‘Beauté et critique des emblèmes’, 100.

20 Bofane, Mathématiques congolaises, 12.

21 Bofane, Mathématiques congolais, 284. My translations, unless otherwise indicated.

22 Literary evening with In Koli Jean Bofane in Genval, as part of Les nuits d’encre, 26 March 2015.

23 ‘Des sourires apparurent sur les visages des soldats.’ (Congo Inc., p. 135)

24 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacres et simulation (Paris: Galilée, 1981).

25 Jean Baudrillard, Selected writings. Translated by Jacques Mourrain and others (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001), 173.

26 Baudrillard, Selected writings, 173.

27 Cécile Bishop, Postcolonial Criticism and Representations of African Dictatorship: The Aesthetics of Tyranny (Oxford: Legenda, 2014).

28 Bishop, Postcolonial Criticism and Representations of African Dictatorship, 20–1.

29 Georges Ngal, Création et rupture en littérature africaine (Paris : Editions L’Harmattan, 1994), 27.

30 Nicolas Michel, ‘Littérature – In Koli Jean Bofane, le Satyricongolais’, Jeune Afrique 2778 (2014), 100.

31 Mbembe, On the Postcolony, 110.

32 Literary evening with In Koli Jean Bofane, 2015.

33 Mbembe, On the Postcolony, 107.

34 Joshua D. Esty, ‘Excremental postcolonialism’, Contemporary Literature 40.1 (1999): 34.

35 Esty, ‘Excremental postcolonialism’, 34.

36 Mainly in La Vie et demie (Paris : Seuil, 1979) and L’Etat-honteux (Paris : Seuil, 1983).

37 In Toiles d’araignée (Paris : L’Harmattan, 1982).

38 ‘Sœur qui a du poids (financier, en influence ou en corpulence, au choix.)’ (Congo Inc., p. 208).

39 Alain Mabanckou, Memoirs of a porcupine. Translated by Helen Stevenson (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2011), 93.

40 Pascale De Souza, ‘Trickster Strategies in Alain Mabanckou’s Black Bazar’, Research in African Literatures 42.1 (2011): 102–19.

41 Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard, The Zande Trickster (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), 28–9

42 Graham Seal, Encyclopaedia of folk heroes (Santa Barbara, CA: Abc-clio, 2001), 8.

43 Barbara Babcock-Abrahams, ‘“A Tolerated Margin of Mess”: The Trickster and His Tales Reconsidered’, Journal of the Folklore Institute 11 (1975): 181.

44 Evans-Pritchard, The Zande Trickster, 29.

45 Evans-Pritchard, The Zande Trickster, 29.

46 See Allard Den Dulk, Existentialist Engagement in Wallace, Eggers and Foer: A Philosophical Analysis of Contemporary American Literature (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), and Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker, ‘Notes on metamodernism’, Journal of Aesthetics & Culture 2 (2010): 1–13.

47 Evans-Pritchard, The Zande Trickster, 30.

48 ‘Nous, les Ekonda, sommes discrédités dans le pays’. (Congo Inc., 20).

49 Evans-Pritchard, The Zande Trickster, 146.

50 Nikola Kovač, Le Roman politique: fictions du totalitarisme (Paris: Editions Michalon, 2002), 48.

51 Emmanuel Obiechina, ‘Post-Independence Disillusionment in Three African Novels’ in Neo-African Literature and Culture: Essays in Memory of Janheinz Jahn, Bernth Lindfors and Ulla Schild (eds) (Wiesbaden: Heymann, 1976), 127.

52 Especially in Le Sanglot de l’Homme Noir (Paris : Fayard, 2012).

53 Vermeulen and van den Akker, ‘Notes on metamodernism’, 1–13.