Posts Tagged ‘Venance Konan’

Fifty years of independence – pull the other one…

January 22, 2012

Venance Konan is an Ivorian writer, journalist with an acute knack for satire. This he applies in spades in a book that came at the very end of an entire year of earnest celebrations. Independence – 50 years ago. From Kinshasa to Mogadishu via Bamako, Dakar and Abuja; everyone had a thing or two to say about how things went, could have gone better, who’s to blame for the state of play – and so on.

Konan, whose own country also celebrated 50 years of Independence, has decided to rain a little on those earnest parades. His offer: the Afro-sarcastic chronicles. Mostly Francophone.

You see, France and Africa live together like a big family in a lovely village. It was founded in the early 1960s by France’s post-war president Charles de Gaulle (whose biggest achievement, Konan writes, ‘was that he made the whole world believe that France had helped defeat Germany’) and his special Africa advisor Jacques Foccard, whose job it was to make sure that the ex-colonies would take on board ‘the very good idea of staying friends with France’.

Now, all big families go through spots of bother. There are a few bad apples, some people decide to leave the village (bad), there are family plots and family gossip and family in-fighting, lots of people get killed (unfortunate) but most of the French-African family have stayed together in their lovely village. In fact, the village has grown. Former Belgian Congo has joined, for instance. They also tried to wrestle Biafra from Nigeria but that didn’t work. Neither did Rwanda.

Konan walks us through the French-African village and tells us wry miniature stories about the one party state, money, soldiers and coups. He also touches on the Holy Grail of Development. ‘That means, living like White People,’ he asserts, ‘and having snow in your country.’ He notes that the comrades from the former Soviet Union took this very literally by shifting a bunch of snow bulldozers to that unhappy country called Guinea. Guinea, you see, left the French-African village before it had actually properly been built and some say it is still paying the price for its deviant behaviour.

Two former pillars of La Françafrique. The late president of Gabon, Omar Bongo Ondimba (right) and Jaques Chirac (left)

Development – that also means having to work with NGOs. They’re nice, those NGOs, Konan writes. They teach us how to breastfeed, how to work, how to shit, how to make love with our wives, how to organise elections… Also nice, he notes, are the Chinese. They sell us crap, build cheap roads and stadiums and palaces and give us money. And in return (because we’re nice too) we have given them our forests, fish, minerals, oil, even our women. Strangely enough, he concludes, the Chinese don’t want our women. Maybe that’s because they bring their own brothels too…

The village has seen many prominent inhabitants come and go. Konan portrays a whole bunch of them. Not all of these mini-biographies are good (Mobutu for instance) but others work very well. Take Sarko, the one who celebrated his victory in a night club, ‘divorced his wife to marry one that looked better’, tried to get his son a prestigious job. Could have been one of us, Konan concludes but then he ruined it all with that idiotic speech he made in Dakar in 2007. Dakar is, of course, home to Abdoulaye Wade, who on New Year’s Eve 2011 bored the nation to death with an address that was both inaudible (he’d lost his voice) and interminable. Konan says of Wade that he’s ‘got ten thousand ideas every day. Most of them bollocks,’ he continues, ‘but because he’s the president nobody can tell him that…’. On New Year’s Eve Wade promised the exasperated Senegalese – wait for it – driverless trains…

For me, the best part of Chroniques afro-sarcastiques is the series of personal dramas that befall ordinary people. Kipré, the ultranationalist who sees another ultranationalist friend come back wearing very nice clothes. He’s been…to France. Kipré decides to give that France a try after all. Kadidiatou, a lovely nice and very determined girl who uses the internet café in search of a white husband. She receives humiliating treatment online. Or Dagobert, the young man who has an affair with an elderly French female who then sends him money and a ticket so he can be in the sweet company of his lovely Djenéba who lives in another town in France. I’m not going to tell you all of them. Buy the book!

Personally, I’d love to have seen Venance Konan have a go at that ultimate do-good icon of the French-African village, Bernard Kouchner but he does make short work of another bleeding heart, Dakar-born Ségolène Royal (and ex-wife of presidential hopeful François Hollande). Another highly obvious job – and most welcome too! – would have been putting the weekly magazine of the French-African village, Jeune Afrique, through the grinder. But he does a good job of ever-so-gently demolishing the village’s radio service, RFI.

In short, I thoroughly enjoyed these Chroniques afro-sarcastiques and am looking forward to Konan taking aim at the next crop. Apart from Kouchner and Jeune Afrique, may I suggest logistics chief and West African port collector Vincent Bolloré, Guinean president Alpha Condé (big buddy of Bernard Kochner), Ivorian president Allassane Ouattara, Christine Ockrent (until last year a very Big Shot in France’s state media and partner of – sorry, there he is again – Bernard Kouchner), France Télécom, the International Criminal Court, Air France (nicknamed “the taxi” in Conakry), oil, José Eduardo dos Santos, oil, Idriss Déby Itno, oil, the child abductors of L’Arche de Zoë – and of course the next president of France. And why not – Jacques Chirac! Does Bono speak French? Then please throw his sanctimonious ass in here too, grand merci M. Konan!