Les grands, by Sylvain Prudhomme, L’Arbalète, Paris, 2015. Souveraine magnifique, by Eugène Ébodé, Gallimard, “Continents Noirs”, 2014. What purpose do economists serve if they all say the same thing? Manifesto for a pluralist economy, Editions Les liens qui libèrent, Paris, 2015. Political hybridity and resistance in the countries of the South, edited by Nancy Thede, Karthala, Paris, 2015. Africa Unite! Une histoire du panafricanisme, by Amzat Boukari-Yabara, La Découverte, Paris, 2014.
At the beginning of the book, Dulce Neves dies. This death plunges Couto, her former lover (a first love), the great guitarist of the Super Mama Djombo band in Guinea-Bissau, into a deep depression. Like James Joyce’s Ulysses, the novel takes place over a single day. The reader follows Couto, as he wanders through the city streets, into bars, to visit his former musician friends, who decide to hold a big concert in memory of Dulce. The preparation for the concert takes place alongside the second round of elections, in which a brave candidate, denouncing the fact that the country is being held hostage by the army and drug traffickers, is leading in the polls. Everyone fears an imminent coup d’état. The novel alternates between music and politics; indeed it links music and politics. Gomes, Dulce’s husband, the fearsome commander- in-chief of the country and future author of the coup d’état, was one of Amilcar Cabral’s charismatic guerrilla leaders in the war against the Portuguese. Some of the musicians of the Super Mama Djombo band (the band providing the soundtrack to the country’s independence), including Couto, fought against the Portuguese occupier under his orders. Using small brushstrokes, the author navigates between past and present, music and politics, hatred and friendship, life and death. Haunted by the death of Dulce Neves, this sensual, spellbinding novel, infused with great musicality, is an ode to life, to pleasure and to love. It has just won the Prix de la Porte Dorée awarded by National Centre for the History of Immigration. “I am honoured and touched to receive this prize, said the author, recalling his Italian and Portuguese links and his life in Casamance and in Burundi. I recognise myself in the message that it carries: the affirmation of the richness of a heritage created over centuries of different horizons. Immigration, exile, I would be tempted to see them as the forerunners of what human existence may have to confront.”
This is also a novel of “national disenchantment”, to use the expression of the Tunisian Hélé Beji. Implicit in the narrative is the question of the failure of independence. Couto, like Koné Ibrahima, the hero of Ahmadou Kourouma’s novel in Les Soleils des indépendances, has contributed to the liberation of the country. At the end of the day, both he and the nation are reaping a bitter harvest. But this defeat is in reality a victory seen from the other side: Couto and his band, in the same way as Amilcar Calbrar, are the true heroes of the country.
In 1996, two years after the Rwandan genocide, the Chadian poet Nocky Djedanoum and Ivorian journalist Maimouna Coulibaly (founders of the literary festival Fest’Africa) put a proposal to several African writers to go to Rwanda in the framework of a project entitled “Rwanda: Writing from a duty to remember”. The aims of this initiative were two-fold: to try to understand the unspeakable and to try to recount it. In 2000, a second group of other writers, historians and intellectuals went with the authors in residence in Kigali to present the novels to the Rwandans. The Cameroonian Eugène Ébodé was part of the delegation and he made the acquaintance there of Souveraine Magnifique, who subsequently became the heroine of his last novel, the winner of the Grand Prix Littéraire d’Afrique noire. Twenty years later, the novelist returned to Rwanda in the footsteps of the young woman and tells her story. Caught up in the genocide, Souveraine Magnifique, hidden on top of a family wardrobe, was forced to be a helpless witness to the slaughter of her parents by their Hutu neighbour. Into Eugène Ébodé’s microphone, she recounts the tragedy which plunged her country into mourning. She remembers how she fled towards the Congolese border and describes how she was taken in by Sara and Souleymane Babazinga, a Muslim Hutu family, and her return to the village of her birth, some fifteen years after the genocide, forced to live alongside her parents’ executioner.
In this book which straddles the realms of the personal memoir and the novel, the real facts are revised and corrected by fiction, to successful effect. With small brushstrokes and a consummate narrative skill tinged with humour, Eugène Ébodé plunges his readers into the heart of the daily lives of the “long ones” (Tutsis), the “short ones” (Hutus) and the “shortest ones” (Pygmies). He describes at length the operation of the traditional Rwandan court, the “Gacaca”, and the difficult conditions of reconciliation after the genocide. Therein lies the originality of the text in comparison to all the other novels devoted to the Rwandan genocide. Unlike L’Ainé des orphelins by Tierno Monénembo, Murambi by Boubacar Boris Diop, La Phalène des collines by Louksy Lamko, or novels with an autobiographical tone by Scholastique Mukasonga, which are more inclined to dwell on the circumstances under which the genocide took place and its consequences, Eugène Ébodé focuses his narrative on forgiveness and the role of women in this process of learning to live together again. Souveraine magnifique thus complements his earlier novels which feature other strong female characters: Alice Sitoé in La Divine colère or Rosa Parks in the novel of the same name – the African-American who refused to give up her seat to a White on a bus in Alberta, on 1 December 1955, which sparked a vast civil disobedience movement leading to the abolition of the segregationist laws in the United States.
Souveraine magnifique expands and confirms a particular tradition of literary history of postcolonial Africa which has produced great female figures, including Penda in Les Bouts de bois de Dieu by Sembene Ousmane, La Grande Royale in L’Aventure ambiguë by Cheick Hamidou Kane, Kadidja in Amkoulel l’enfant peul by Amadou Ampâté Bâ and Chaïdana in La Vie et demie by Sony Labou Tansi.
Any democratic society needs pluralist economic analyses. It must be admitted that since the beginning of the 1990s and the defeat of Marxism- Leninism amid the ruins of the Soviet Union, liberalism has broadly dominated economics departments in the academic world. In the opinion of the French Political Economy Association (AFEP), a stand had to be taken against this “single worldview”, if critical thinking was to be maintained. Seven of its specialists were commissioned to prepare this book, edited by André Orléans: Philippe Batifoulier, Bernard Chavance, Olivier Favereau, Sophie Jallais, Agnès Labrousse, Thomas Lamarche and Bruno Tine. Their mission: to explain why it is necessary to teach a pluralist economy, respectful of minority positions, and distrustful of too homogenous, a worldview.
This committed manifesto starts from the aborted reform of how this subject is taught in French universities. Under the pressure of those that the authors call the neoliberals, led by Professor Jean Tirole, Nobel Economics laureate, the Secretary of State for Higher Education, Geneviève Fioraso, agreed to withdraw a draft decree which was to create a new discipline – Economics and Societies – presented as likely to promote a more heterodox education. The paradox in this case was the fact that a liberal economist requested the State to intervene in the academic world and a minister of the Left acceded to his request.
The authors explain how the marginalisation of movements other than neoliberalism had led to a strong decrease in “heterodox” university lecturers. According to their calculations, only 22 of the 209 lecturers recruited between 2000 and 2011 were not affiliated with the liberal school, i.e. scarcely 10.5% of such staff. This phenomenon has also been seen in other countries since the beginning of the 1990s.
The authors claim that societies and markets are running risks because of the failure to adopt critical standpoints. They believe that the liberal politics prevailing in recent years have had a serious impact on the lives of millions of citizens. In support of their thesis, they cite mass unemployment or the increase in poverty. In their view, the dominant mainstream theory has been wrong.
For example, the authors recall this comment made in 1978 by the economist Michael Jensen: “No other proposition in economics has more solid foundations than the hypothesis of market efficiency.” According to their analysis, this broadly adopted and circulated idea contributed to the current over-financialisation of the economy, despite studies suggesting caution against the speculative dynamic. They make the case that critical voices should be given a greater role, seeing in them a “healthy counterbalance”. They regard the creation in France of a new discipline entitled “Economics and Society” as necessary to ensure that there are standpoints that can offer some opposition to those of the liberal school of thought. As economists and activists, they even mention a petition at the end of the book on their association’s website: assoeconomiepolitique.org.
Used to characterise diffuse, sometimes disparate, elements in the political, economic or anthropological sphere, the concept of “hybridity” is a source of controversy in the academic world. “Transculturation”, interbreeding? Africa is achieving unprecedented fusion between the institutions inherited from the colonial powers and the wave of democratisation that took place in the 1990s, on the one hand, and certain older, indeed traditional, political processes on the other hand. Starting at the local level, this collective work tries to sharpen the focus to gain a better understanding of the global issues affecting the relations between countries of the South and those of the North: Africa and Latin America, for example, lend themselves to power management case studies at the level of villages, cooperatives or community organisations.
“Political hybridity” is part of an approach which makes it possible to move beyond simplistic or binary visions of the societies in question in Benin, Mali, Bolivia, Ecuador or Peru. It facilitates understanding of the multiple dynamics and complex forms that participatory democracies can take on. This “bottom to top” approach highlights the different forms of solidarity and political participation in the countries of the South.
Drawing on the work of Michel Foucault and Nestor Garcia Canclini on acculturation or of Edouard Glissant on the creolisation of the world, Hybridité politique et résistances dans les pays du Sud falls into category of a critique of eurocentrism and liberal democracy, a style of government which is not the sole preserve of the countries of the North but which also exists in the countries of the South. The purpose of this essay is not, however, to correct the precolonial memory or to remain imprisoned in a fixed, more “authentic” culture. On the contrary, the aim is to see and understand the plasticity of the so-called “traditional cultures”, porous, permeable and changing.
Taking Bolivia as an example, the book analyses two styles of democratic practice in two villages: in the first, municipal elections are based on the corporate vote; in the second, they operate on a different system of rotating power, based on the formula that “everyone has a turn”. The study on Senegal shows that local democracy resembles a tool for cultural resistance and affirmation and indeed even of re- appropriation by the Sufi Islamic brotherhood tradition: the vote is strongly dependent on instructions received from the marabouts, religious leaders and district imams. At the end of the book, the debate is still open: are we to speak of re-appropriation of political liberalism or is this a political liberalism embedded in a secular way within local traditions?
Cécilia Emma Wilson
With a PhD in History, this historian whose origins lie in both Benin and Martinique narrates the genesis of Pan-Africanism, a movement with no borders, simultaneously a doctrine of political unity and a movement of ideas and emotions, tinged with Black nationalism and revolutionary ideology. The author ignores none of the complexities or contradictions at the root of Pan-Africanism but he prefers to speak of Pan-Negrism on the one hand and of Pan-Africanism on the other. While Pan-Africanism cannot be reduced to institutional definitions, nor can it be limited to a strictly regional concept. It is rooted in the transnational to create unity of culture and identity, as Amzat Boukari- Yabara explains in this essay. It is a bold premise since Pan-Africanism is plural and has also undergone many changes in the course of history. Where the denunciation of capitalism, the slave trade and colonialism meet, it forms part of the struggles for independence and, beyond that, for freedom. Pan-Africanism is justified, explains the author, by its ambition to release Africa from the human, economic and identity yoke imposed by the former colonial powers and America. This fresco of the intertwined histories of the Africans and the Afro-descendants analyses the relations of domination of African history through the identification of certain paradoxes. For example, the African-American Christian missions in Liberia are at the root of the increasing tensions between the indigenous Muslim populations and the Christian Afro- descendants. Another example is the issue of a Black state in Latin America instead of returning to the African ancestral land.
Cecilia Emma Wilson
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Book reviews n°47
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As far as some Europeans are concerned, Africa is not a continent. It’s a country. All Africans are therefore brothers and all know one another. People forget, or claim to forget, that Africa...
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