Considered by some to be Francophone Africa’s’ answer to the Chinua Achebe, the late Ivorian writer and political activist, Ahmadou Kourouma is easily one of Africa’s most celebrated authors. Born in 1927, in the Ivory Coast, Kourouma belonged to the Malinke ethnic group and was raised by an uncle. From 1950 to 1954, he served in the French army in Indochina, following which he moved to Lyon, France to study mathematics.
After the Ivory Coast became independent in 1960, Kourouma returned home, where he soon came under persecution from the regime of ex-President Felix Houphouet-Boigny. He was imprisoned, and eventually he left the country, spending many years in exile, first in Algeria (1964–1969), then in Cameroon (1974–1984) and Togo (1984–1994).
In a 2003 interview with Vincent Genot, Kourouma describes the circumstances that led to his exile.
“In 1963, Ivorian President Houphouet-Boigny, who feared conspiracies like the plague, threw all the young “leftists” in prison. I was accused of participating in the plot of “Black Cat” and being a fetish! Finally released, because my wife might make noise, in France, I was deprived of work. This led me to write, to defend my colleagues arrested. Then I left the country to Algeria.”
Kourouma published his first novel, The Suns of Independence in 1968.The book conveys through Fama and Salimata, the husband and wife at the heart of the story, the confusion that torments many Africans when a traditional and a later, more materialistic culture collide. In the words of Africa Today, it “eloquently captures the bitter frustration and anguished oppression of the African people in the post-independence era.”
The Suns of Independence has been described as “perhaps the most strikingly original francophone African novel to date, hailed by some as the first truly African novel in French, and condemned by others for its unapologetic disregard for standard French syntax.”
In 1998, Kourouma published En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages, (translated as Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote). The book, a satire of post colonial Africa based on Togo’s ex-President Gnassingbé Eyadéma, tells the story of a hunter who is transformed into a dictator.
Allah is Not Obliged, Korouma’s fourth novel was published in 2000, and won the Prix Renaudot, one of France’s most esteemed literary prizes. It tells the story of Birahima, an orphan who becomes a child soldier when traveling to visit his aunt in Liberia.
By the time Kourouma passed away in 2003, he was working on a new book, When We Refuse They Say No, a sequel to Allah is Not Obliged, in which Birahima the young hero, returns to the Ivory Coast as a demobilized child soldier only to find that another war has broken out.
Such was the Kourouma’s legacy that the Economist eulogized him thus, “With his death, African literature lost one of its best writers and most ferocious satirists, whose novels received numerous literary awards.”
Sources: Wikipedia, The Economist, Oxford Campanion to French Literature, Others
Selected Books by Ahmadou Kourouma
- Allah is Not Obliged (2007)
- Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote (2004)
- The Suns of Independence (1997)