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Colossal KOUROUMA

by Abdourahman Waberi

Ahmadou Kourouma, The Suns of Independence , Manuscript, f 113

1. Oracle

Physically, a colossus cramped in his carcass, a round head well welded on his trunk, sneering eyes sometimes sleepy, other times while moving.
Square and wide shoulders, driven by the sole strength of the pelvis. A step heavy with age but assured in its unwinding. Sustained attention A continuous listening – Ahmadou doze with one eye to catch you off guard. He wont open a cat’s eye whose stealthy passage of a mouse has disturbed sleep. Man imposes respect as soon as he reaches out to you. He has a firm will, a straight chin and a thunderous laugh“Her tall statue size of Ousmane Sow … hands running along the body”  impressed many. (1) Ahmadou Kourouma is, nevertheless, simplicity made man. I will always remember a humble man with Rabelaisian laughter, never taking himself seriously. A being so generous and so humble that he was the first to be amazed whenever a journalist asked him for an interview or when a reader asked for a dedication. Whenever I found him in Africa, in France or elsewhere, he astounded me by his good nature, his Malinke country side, and finally by this lack of intellectualizing disposition that characterized him and that was frequently laughed at. So easily. Despite the critical success (which he knew very early), the prices and honors (late), he had never lost the essential, in other words the trade with men and the sense of conviviality. Always he’s He was eager to respond positively and warmly to all the demonstrations and solicitations. He did not mind prefacing books, writing command texts when his eyesight was falling and his health was eclipsing. In the company of men, Ahmadou was elsewhere, immersed in his dreams and his thoughts. In any case, he was out of this little literary world with his rites of passage, his conveniences and his tiny society.

I met Ahmadou, I mean Ahmadou in the flesh, a decade ago in Djibouti, at a book fair that should mark a lot and for a long time local spirits. We were both invited to talk about our work as a writer. I, the son back home and crowned with a small success for my first book, the collection of short stories entitled  The Country without shadow. He, the author of two novels staggered over a period of twenty years, a living classic for all of Francophone Africa and beyond, but Paris knew nothing yet. He did what he had to do with warmth and kindness. I remember that one night I was with him in a neighborhood library in Balbala, the big slum that is now in the capital, Djibouti, when a handful of kids came to listen to us religiously, approached skilfully Ahmadou to ask him – summing it would be more accurate – to write about “tribal wars” because the country was still in civil war, the first of its very young history. As usual Ahmadou burst out laughing, mumbled some unconvincing words before taking leave of his feverish children, returned by the Djiboutian civil war. A few years later, Ahmadou published Allah is not obliged , a novel that has known success that we know and that he has obligingly dedicated to the children of Djibouti. I remember that when the book came out, nobody wanted to believe that he had written it at the request of these children. What could have happened in his head to take literally this type of injunction quite common in lands of Africa? A sense of the word given? The desire to take seriously the hopes of children who usually have little voice? Mystery. The laughter of Boundiali’s son is the only tangible answer.

The last time I had Ahmadou on the phone, he told me that he had become a real exile, the power of Laurent Gbagbo considering  persona non grata  in Ivory Coast. His words and writings were no longer tolerated in his country. Worse, a certain press distorted his statements to the French press, slandered him frequently. Worse, part of the opinion under the influence of Ivority rejects it now. In response to this crisis, Ahmadou was anchored this time in the present of the Ivorian situation. He was writing about the urgent situation in his country. (2)

Like others before him, I think of Wole Soyinka, who ended up in jail for attempting to play the intermediaries between the Nigerian federal government and the rebellion of Biafra, Kourouma must have felt deeply torn. Between the anvil of official power and the hammer “northerners” in whose arms he is pushed: “I myself am accused of supporting the rebels because I am a northerner.When advocating a national conference, it is ‘accuses me of wanting to drive Gbagbo off, everything I propose is misinterpreted’ (idem). There remained withdrawal, silence and exile. There remained writing, the only real miraculous weapon at its disposal. The hunter’s son abandoning the spear and the quiver, grasping the feather or tapping nervously on a keyboard, stirring the ink and its ashes, raising the alphabet of interrogations, scrutinizing the reality with a hand in visor. Finally, bequeathing to us a work recognizable by its greater freedom and its grace when it is necessary.

2. Prayer

In the African literary landscape, Kourouma is an atypical case. He studied at the Ecole des Constructions Navales de Nantes, then at the Institute of Actuaries of Lyon to marry the profession of insurer. Nothing predisposed him to literature. And yet, he has profoundly renewed the theme of African literature. The trajectory of man is miraculous. He came to literature by chance, as a result of a series of accidents. During the numerous interviews, he himself told the circumstances that led him to write his first novel  The Suns of Independence. He was coming out of prison. He wanted to testify to the condition of his friends who did not have a chance. Since he could not write an essay without being censored, he wrote this bizarre thing, halfway between novel and political pamphlet. Africa was emerging from colonization. No novelist had yet told the story of independence Africa. Kourouma therefore had no model to relate to. He wrote this first book in intuitive and, in doing so, he invented a new form that had the fortune that we know. Being virgin of any form or aesthetic theory, he was able to show a great originality, a prodigious subtlety in his apprehension of Africa. Its grid of reading of the African universe is less Manichean than that which we propose, for example, a Mongo Beti or a Sembène Ousmane who pose themselves as revolutionaries and ideologues. This is probably why the characters staged by Kourouma in his novels are not victims, but rather cunning – griots, translators, interpreters and mediators – “tricksters” as they are called. Anglo-Saxon anthropology.

An iroko fell on December 11, 2003, peace to his soul!  An ogre who smells of sulfur and incense at the same time. He rests for eternity in the Muslim square of Bron Cemetery (Rhone, France). It’s time to savor and celebrate his work.

(1) Alain Mabanckou, Africultures, n ° 59, April-June 2004.
(2) He told me that this latest novel was well advanced, two-thirds written.
(3) “I am in exile”, interview with Dominique Mataillet,  JA / L’Intelligent , n ° 2189-2190, 22/12 / 2002-4 / 1/2003, pp. 44-45.

Ahmadou Kourouma, the author of the novels,  The Suns of IndependenceMonnewWhile waiting for the vote of the wild beasts , and  Allah is not obliged  died in December 2003.

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