University of Aix-en-Provence. France
"The night lasts a long time, but the day comes at last"
(Final words of En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages d'Ahmadou Kourouma.)
For Ambroise Kom has painted an extremely pessimistic picture of the current situation in Africa. Describing "the multi-dimensional bankruptcy of the institutions", he plunges into a sombre recital of ailments which he declares cannot be remedied: "phantom States in search of an undiscoverable democracy; an extrovert economy which is almost entirely controlled by corrupt networks; a disjointed society whose essential services [...] seem irremediably compromised; young people who are crippled, left to themselves in a world without any ethics". This declaration of bankruptcy corressonds too closely with what can be read about the current state of Africa in the press and in the studies by Western specialists for it to be possible to impugn or even attenuate it.
By asking himself the question about the legitimation of knowledge, A. Kom is tightening the screw another turn. He is showing how Africa's ailments are solidly rooted in an "indisputably effective" conditioning. Thrown out to the "periphery", African sees itself forced to submit totally to models which have come from the "centre". And this situation is presented as all the more pernicious in that it remains largely unconscious, despite the efforts of Afrocentrism.
Here again, how can we not agree with Ambroise Kom, when we know what catastrophes resulted from the ethnographic and political exportation of foreign concepts, in the case, for example, of Rwanda and Burundi .
Should we conclude, like Jean-François Bayart, that: "The probability is strong of a return of black Africa "to the depths of the shadows". Not [...] the shadows of "tradition" or "primitiveness", but of its insertion into the international system through the intermediary of an economy of extraction and predation" ?
However, whilst painting a picture of comtemporary Africa which is just as dark as that of A. Kom, the French researcher writes: "Such destabilised societies develop extraordinarily diverse and inventive strategies which confirm that Africa, unduly associated with the idea of tradition in ambient discourse, is in reality a land of choice for change and mobility" (18). And he concludes: "Since the time of Adam, the tree of evil has also been the tree of knowledge" (162).
Even insofar as it hangs on an almost obvious adhesion, Ambroise Kom's reasoning, which is apparently open since it operates essentially through questioning, remains confined within a closed ideology which in fact blocks any possibility of reply.
The speaker sees himself assigned the position of the Other. For he must, whether he likes it or not, recognise that he is the "heir of the coloniser", the heir too of ethnologists of the past and of policies, and as such, responsible for diverting the values of the universal and for conditioning African thought.
So, parodying the words of Marguerite Duras in Hiroshima, mon amour: "What can a tourist do but just cry?", we would be tempted to say: "What can a French intellectual do but just cry?". Or at least, beat his or her breast and delight in "the white man's sobbing"? Because, indeed, we must stop taking the place of the other to "mark out the way towards a future". "The responsibility for work such as this [can] in no event revert to the coloniser or his heirs". On the other hand, it is not so easy for us to avoid the "trap of Eurocentrism".
By putting himself, on the whole, in the camp of what has been called Afropessimism, does Ambroise Kom not compel us in turn to adopt this attitude?
Without letting ourselves become locked in these traps or these facts, we would like to react keenly against such "Afropessimism" which, alas! "a morose delight for some, a poignant despair for others [...] reigns practically undivided"
However, would one not be tempted to believe that the very existence of Ambroise Kom's text gives the lie to his redical pessimism? Are his anguished questionings not in fact a reversal of perspectives? a form of "revolution"? Does he not write: "The problem at the end of this millennium, is no longer one of prosecuting the coloniser and his heirs [...] but rather of asking ourselves about the reasons for the multidimensional failure of our institutions"? and does he not invite African intellectuals to "ask themselves the questions [they] should have been asking about [them]selves"?
All the more so since this type of discourse does not emanate from a solitary voice. Other Africans are trying to analyse the "clawed" ideological system that is paralysing them. As an exemple I can only quote from Axelle Kabou's stimulating book Et si l'Afrique refusait le développement  which "aims to contribute to the reinforcement of any movement of thought aiming to inquire into the causes of the misfortunes of Africa within itself" (back cover). Indeed, the picture drawn by Axelle Kabou is also very sombre, but by throwing the forces of darkness into full light, she calls Africans to wake up and make a declaration of faith in the future.
Of course, it would also be tempting to tell Ambroise Kom what an uncomfortable position it is to be at this "centre". (But was Michel Butor not already saying in 1979: "We were living out the sunset of the notion of the centre"?) To tell him also how many "Western" intellectuals (why this term, anyway?) would like to be able to protest, along the lines of the famous phrase of May 68, "we are all humiliated Africans", giving "African roots" a meaning quite different from the one suggested by the declaration put forward by Ambroise Kom.
I shall quote, fairly randomly, a few works that testify to a less pessimistic and less resigned view of Africa.
Le Printemps de l'Afrique by A. Bourgi and C. Casteran, whilst presenting a catastrophic report on the place, nevertheless highlighted the emergence of hope carried by the young people and the spread of democratic ideas: "Africa is opening its eyes and Africans are finally opening their mouths" (12). It is true that the book dates from 1991.
More recent and more erudite, Besoin d'Afrique by E. Fottorino, C. Guille, E. Orsenna proclaims (back cover): "Africa: because we love her, Besoin [Need] because contempt and its variants, pity, charity, lamentations, prevent us from recording what the world owes Africa today".
Beyond these highly romantic declarations, which cannot fail to leave many Africans sceptical, this book, which in no way endeavours to be a "pamphlet" and modestly states that it is a "walk through the light and shadows of the Africa of today" (7), describes Africa's "vitality" through its youth, its women, its entrepreneurs, its writers, its film-makers. To stay firstly in this realm of the cinema, is the Ouagadougou festival not looking as though it is going to create a place of internal legitimation?
L'autre Afrique, by Serge Latouche, goes much further. As an economist, he suggests the existence of "another Africa", or rather of "other Africas" (27) where a new social system is "in embryo" "between donation and deal". He even considers that Africa as a "laboratory of post-modernity". This thought may offer a seductive alternative to Afropessimism. The bankruptcy, although real, is only that of "official Africa". It is likely that this rather utopian vision of Africa does not completely escape the ravages of what Axelle Kabou calls "Fridayitis" (55), particularly when she is extolling the informal sector. But it is full of nuances and allows us to escape from the traps of binarism.
After having called upon other voices to speak in my place, I shall now take the floor in my own name in order to bring African literature into the debate. Could its recent evolution not appear a powerful testimony of vitality and invention? Just about everywhere we can see the emergence of a "subject of writing", often problematical and torn, but autonomous and inventive, as demonstrated so well in Toulouse in September 1999 by the conference of the Association pour l'Enseignement de la Littérature Africaine (A.P.E.L.A.) [Association for the Teaching of African Literature], appropriately entitled: "The subject in African writing".
The example of Ahmadou Kourouma, without argument one of the greatest novelists in French-speaking Africa, seems to be very cogent. As early as 1968, writing Les Soleils des Indépendances, Kourouma proved that thought that was not "under the influence" could exist in Africa. For at a time when almost the whole of African literature was turning towards the past to settle its accounts with colonisation, and when most writers were even making an uncircumventable obligation of that engaged "counter-literature", he dared to invite his readers to return to the present and to "look at themselves in the mirror", without complacency. At the same time, he invented both a dense new language and forms which were completely independent of the European models, whether they be scholastic or even scholarly.
Publishing his second novel in 1990, having matured twenty years, he used completely new routes. To be sure, at first, he seemed to be going back over the colonial past and to be repeating, late, an outdated movement. But a reading of Monnè, outrages et défis (1990) enlightens us straight away. It is true that this novel goes back through history and in its turn tells the story of the colonisation of Sahelian Africa. However, it is on the people of Soba, the exemplar of all the Sahelians and its old king Djigui that one's gaze is centred. "The White Man" is not spared, but what is most important is the pitiless analysis of the gears into which Djigui and Soba are dragged. And in this analysis, emphasis is placed, in a very original and perspicaceous way, on the deterioration of the expressions of language and its consequences. It would be good to quote the brilliant ending of the novel, where "the hotchpotch of [...] botched slogans" is branded with infamy (287). Does Axelle Kabou not conclude, at the same time: "To see a beginning of development in Africa, nothing less is needed than to begin by unravelling the skein of lies, approximate truths, in which people's mindsets have become entangled" (205).
Kourouma's last book, En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages (1998), attacks the problem of dictatorships, the classic demonstration of the African novel. However, once again, the issue is approached from a completely original angle and in a completely original style. The use of sarcastic zest allows the novelist to keep his burning subject at a distance. Once again, he deals out the blows with impartiality. Without forgetting the perversions of the West, sheltered behind the justifications of the cold war, he also shows up African compromises with ferocity. And above all, he invents a form, rooted in traditional oral forms, but intensely adapted, updated, and radically original.
Can we not see the expression through this work (and several others) of an inventiveness and a creativity calculated to give the lie to all the bad omens? Obviously, it is difficult to believe in the powers of literature in the face of suffering, wars and catastrophes. But at least it is testimony to a stimulating and independent thought.
"What is called Afropessimism is doubtless one of the greatest errors of judgment of the last twenty years. The protean vitality of the black continent could very well produce, some day, the African miracle. This is not a certainty, only a bet and a hope"
Are we not witnessing a new and very dfferent "Ivoirian miracle" with the "coup d'état", at the same time military and peaceful, of Christams 99 in Abidjan? This is what Kourouma seems to believe, when he says in Jeune Afrique (Hors série no.2, January 2000, p.77): "Of course, the coming to power of the military poses a certain number of questions, but we will see later. [...] This is the end of Houphouetism. [...] Democracy is becoming possible". Let us wish for it to be possible to believe him as a man, he who is so clear-sighted as a novelist, and to hope.
(Translated by Linda Pontré)
 see Jean-Pierre Chrétien. "Burundi: pogromes sur les collines". Esprit. July 1994, pp.16-30.
 Jean-François Bayart. La criminalisation de l'état en Afrique. Brussels: Complexe, 1997, p.159).
 Serge Latouche. L'autre Afrique. Paris: Albin Michel, 1998, p.13.
 Axelle Kabou. Et si l'Afrique refusait le développement. Paris: L'Harmattan, 1991.
 Michel Butor and Jean-Marie Le Sidaner. Michel Butor, voyageur à la roue. Paris: Encre, 1979.
 A. Bourgi and C. Casteran. Le Printemps de l'Afrique. Paris: Hachette, 1991.
 E. Fottorino, C. Guille. E. Orsenna Besoin d'Afrique. Paris: Fayard, 1992.
 Serge Latouche. Op.cit.
 Ahmadou Kourouma. Les Soleils des Indépendances. Paris; Seuil. 1968.
 Ahmadou Kourouma. Monnè, outrages et défis. Paris: Seuil, 1990.
 Ahmadou Kourouma. En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages. Paris: Seuil, 1998.
 Philippe Engelhart. "L'homme
mondial". Arléa, 1996, pp.28-29, quoted by Serge Latouche, op.
cit. , p.215.
Madeleine Borgomano has taught at the University of Rabat (Morroco), Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire) and d'Aix-en-Provence (France). She is the Chairperson of the Duras Society. She has published widely (books and articles) in the area of contemporary French and African literatures (Duras, Kourouma, Le Clézio, Sarraute, Simon, P.J. Jouve, Kundera, etc.). Recent publications include "La nouvelle" dans La littérature française du XXe siècle (Paris: Armand Colin, 1995); Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein, de Marguerite Duras (Paris: Gallimard, Foliothèque, 1997) et Ahmadou Kourouma, le "guerrier" griot (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1998).