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Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Penpoints, Gunpoints, and Dreams:
An Interview by Charles Cantalupo
No African writer has as many major, lasting creative achievements in such a wide range of genre as Ngugi wa Thiong'o. His books include novels, plays, short stories, essays and scholarship, criticism and children's literature. His fiction, non fiction and drama, from the early 1960's to the present are frequently reprinted. He is the founder and editor of the groundbreaking, Gikuyu-language journal, Mutiiri. Political exile from Kenya, Ngugi - as he is known worldwide - is currently the Erich Remarque Professor of Languages at New York University, with a dual professorship in Comparative Literature and Performance Studies.
Baudelaire writes, "De la vaporisation et de la concentration du moi. Tout est la." ("The dispersion and the reconstitution of the self. That's the whole story.") It's not. This is a primary message of African literature and art today. Ngugi wa Thiong'o is one of its primary exemplars.
This interview focuses on Ngugi wa Thiong'o's book of essays, Penpoints, Gunpoints, and Dreams: Towards a Critical Theory of the Arts and the State in Africa (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1998). Based on the four lectures he was invited to give at Oxford University in 1996, as a part of the Clarendon Lectures
in English Literature series, and subtitled "Towards a Critical Theory of the Arts and the State in Africa," the book moves freely and universally, from Plato to Okot p'Bitek, pre-ancient Egypt to postmodern New York; the Macaulay, colonial minute to Marx to Mau Mau: from the war between art and the state to "the beautyful ones...not yet born." In the book's preface, while Ngugi gratefully recalls a pleasurable and productive stay at Somerville College, he also notes, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, perhaps, a feeling of rebuke from "a huge portrait of Queen Elizabeth I...[on] the wall of the dining-room of Jesus College for my unfavorable reference...to her edict of 1601 in which she had called for the expulsion of black people from her realm." At Somerville, the college of Margaret Thatcher when she was a student at Oxford, Ngugi feels "another rebuke for [his] claims...that the capitalist fundamentalism of which she and Reagan were the leading apostles was wreaking social havoc in the world and generating other forms of fundamentalism in opposition or alliance." His apartment abuts "Margaret Thatcher Court."
The interview takes place on a mild and gray Veteran's Day afternoon. A landscape of missing ceiling panels, hills and valleys of paper, mail clutter, catalogues, piles of folders that have never been vertically filed, books, empty bags, quite far-back issues of African literary journals, and many half filled boxes of Mutiiri, Ngugi's NYU office looks out on a rare, mercifully undeveloped patch of downtown Broadway. Noticing that Ngugi has lost his voice due to a cold, I sympathize. He replies that characters in his new novel lose their voices, too.
NWT: My voice is back.
CC: Good. Many of your first publications appeared in the Makerere University English department's literary magazine, Penpoints. You call your new book of essays Penpoints, Gunpoints, and Dreams. What are some of the connections between the two? Is the repetition deliberate?
NWT: Yes, there is a connection. Penpoints is a good name: penpoints - the power of the pen. I was interested in the power of the pen. The echo is there.
CC: The subtitle of your new book is "Towards a Critical Theory of the Arts and the State in Africa." Much of your previous non fiction - Decolonizing the Mind and Moving the Centre, for example - might be described in similar terms. What provoked you to continue in this vein? What new critical and political issues for you in the last five years make these new essays further departures "towards" formulating an aesthetic as well as taking a political stance?
NWT: Two things. Although I'm calling it "Towards a Critical Theory of the Arts and the State in Africa," a better or more appropriate subtitle might have been "A Performance Theory of the Arts and the State in Africa." The question of performance is more pronounced here than in any of my previous works. That is quite important to me. Second, in this text I'm much more interested in the nature of art and the nature of the state, and their relationship: something which I have not explored in my previous works. I've touched on the subject here and there but without a coherent framework. Art's war with the state is basic to the nature of art and the nature of the state, any state. There is always the possibility of conflict between the state and art.
CC: The concept of "performance" has become a uniting theme in your work. You write of it "in the narrow sense of representation of an action as in theater and in the broader sense of any action that assumes an audience during the actualization. The concept of performance is opening out new possibilities in the analysis of human behavior, including literature. The exercise of power, for instance, involves variations on the performance theme." Indeed, you are a professor of Performance Studies. What drew you to this new scholarly discipline? How did your life and writing prepare you, perhaps without your knowing it, for this new field? There is a sense in your writing that you are learning from it at least as much as you are contributing to it with your work.
NWT: Of course, I've been in theater all my life. I've worked in community theater in Kenya: in the Kamirithu Community Educational and Cultural Centre. And this, of course, brought me into conflict with the state in Kenya. My work in theater has been a preparation for this. I have also gained from using the term as a conceptual tool. So much in society depends on "performance. " It provides new insights into certain behaviors. It is central to so many things. For example, you can't have religion without performance: performance, weekly, daily. Think of all those festivals. Think of performance in a wide sense. Performance enables people to negotiate their way through the various realms of being. Performance is a means for people to realize their unknown, even if it's only in the imagination. Performance is a very important concept. I have learned from it, but also I have been involved in it.
CC: Is an emphasis on "performance" a way of advancing postcolonial critical discourse? As you discuss it, the concept of "performance" would seem to broaden and, perhaps, revitalize postcolonial studies. NWT: Yes, and not only the postcolonial but many disciplines. The concept of performance can also be used to look at some of the older disciplines and reinterpreting some of the older texts. For example, Elizabeth Claire's work on performance and dance in Jane Austen has let us see what we hadn't before in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Performance is a concept that enables many things to be looked at differently. In classical writings, too, like Plato, for instance, the context of the dialogues is a performance in the dramatic sense. If you look at Plato's Republic, the dialogues exist within the larger context of their dramatization and, furthermore, the contexts of dramatic and religious festivals. There is a kind of performativity all around. The concept, however, must not become too wide or so broad that "anything goes." I take, for example, two features like representation and the assumption of an audience to be very important. In other words, a farmer planting crops ordinarily for the production of whatever he wants to eat or sell could be called a performance. But if I'm demonstrating as a farmer that I plant crops so that people can come and see how this is done, that would be a performance that is assuming that there is an audience. Even though this is an act I am actually doing, I am representing another action. The audience is very important.
CC: Another large, perhaps parallel theme in this book is orature. You write that "Orature...is not seen as a branch of literature but as a total aesthetic system, with performance and integration of art forms as two of its defining qualities. It is more basic and more primary than the other systems of the literary, the theatrical, and the cinematic because all the other systems take one or more of their main features from orature." You consider orature, "a unifying force," including "the four aesthetic systems of the written, the oral, the theatrical and the cinematic." You argue that "The centrality of orature to all the other systems calls for a reconfiguration and regrouping of disciplines" in which "their hierarchical ordering...is denied" and there is an end of "the historical rifts separating theorist, critics, and practitioners." What are some of the critical, historical and geographical factors that have led you to such a conclusion? How has it influenced and changed your own writing and thinking?
NWT: If you look at orature in all societies, classical or contemporary, it refuses to draw very firm boundaries between disciplines, genres or forms. If you take a story, an oral narrative for instance, it will contain dance or music. The work might also involve audience participation, a chorus, or even the audience
as a chorus. Often there are songs themselves or songs that involve dance variations. In some cases the word for the song and dance is the same. A song, a proverb, whatever: it suggests other forms. As important, performance is central to the study and realization of orature, as well as narratives, proverbs, whatever you do. Performance is central, unifying. There is a performance to space, to architecture, to sculpture. The assumption in classical orature is that the boundary between the natural world and the supernatural is fluid. In terms of aesthetics, the integrative aspect of orature is a very important element. Many disciplines and activities come under the umbrella of orature. The theater is a halfway house in which the realization of the drama is for it to become orature. The realization on stage of a musical composition embraces the concept of orature. While it integrates the many different possibilities of performance, orature also allows for the differences, for example, among narrative, song or drama.
CC: Orature and performance work together. Is performance a means to embracing orature?
NWT: Performance is central. They are not synonymous. Performance is what distinguishes orature from literature, even in the most obvious way: when you are reading a novel, you don't need a performance.
CC: You're completing a new novel. Are there ways in which your thinking about orature and performance has affected the novel?
NWT: Yes, but we won't go into too much detail about it because writing is a complicated process. Performance is central to the new novel. It is a state of performance. The characters are engaged in the constant performance of their own being for the narrative. You never quite know who they are. Often they reinvent themselves through performance. Even I, as their author, do not know where or how the whole novel is going to end except in the constant performance of their own being.
CC: Is this a reinvention both in public and private?
NWT: Yes. The characters in this new novel constantly reinvent themselves. I don't know if they are making progress because I've only done the first two drafts. My wife, Njeeri, is now reading it. She's at the house and maybe you should call there.
CC: For sure - I'll call later. In the meantime, you may recall that William Blake called the Bible "the great code of art." In the introduction to Penpoints, Gunpoints, and Dreams, you assert that "The goal of human society is the reign of art on earth." Taken out of context, this could almost sound like a kind of fin de siecle aestheticism for the 20th century much like what happened at the end of the 19th century in the West. The slightest familiarity with your work, however, reveals anything but the aesthete. What do you mean by "the reign of art?"
NWT: I associate my concept of art with creativity, movement, change and renewal. I'm thinking of a much more ethical society than what we have now. This "reign of art" would subsume or transcend the coercive nature of the state: a more ethical, more human society that is constantly renewing itself; art embodies this. I remember, historically speaking, a time when there was no state because I grew up in a society where literally there wasn't a state, at least in its centralized form. Art precedes the formation of the state. The state embodies a static concept of conservation, holding back. Of course, when the state is also controlled by a class, it is an instrument for much more for holding back of society. Creativity, art embodies the principle of what our hands do anyway: change. Creativity is really the essence of what is God and what is human. God is changing: we change the environment, we change when we plant, when human beings sow. When human beings plant one seed, this will produce more seeds out of one. We take what we raise and transform it for the better. We see many transformations, like the advance of science and technology, although their benefits these days do not necessarily go to enhancing the lives of the majority of the people.
CC: This brings us back to the war between art and the state. A bomb hits the garden.
NWT: The central logic of both art and the state is for each to work itself free: which creates opposition. In reality, however, it is not always absolute. There is sometimes an attempt at mutual corruption. The state will corrupt art. Art will try to influence the state. Some artists try to align themselves with the state.
CC: Yet you describe the "war between art and the state" as "really a struggle between the power of performance in the arts and the performance of power by the state - in short, enactments of power." You assert that "The performance space of the artist stands for openness; that of the state, for confinement. Art breaks down barriers between people; the state erects them." What of an alliance or at least a correspondence between art and the state. Historically, maybe we have seen moments when this has been possible, but has it ever lasted? Are there any benefits when art and the state work together?
NWT: The moment you open out democratic space, this is important for art: you also open the space for creativity. Historically there are moments of great, revolutionary change when you can see art and the state anticipating and almost together working out a new world. Art anticipates a new world. Revolutionary forces in society are always anticipating that world. But once a state, even a revolutionary state, comes to power, the very nature of the state is to hold back. A permanently revolutionary state is almost an impossibility. Even a revolutionary state has to pass laws. It has to constitute what it considers to be stability of some kind. It's aim is to repeat itself.
CC: You write that "There is no state that can be in permanent revolution. Art, on the other hand, is revolutionary by its very nature as art"; and "Art has more questions than it has answers... The state, on the other hand, has plenty of answers and hardly any questions. The more absolutist the state, the less it is likely to ask questions of itself or entertain questioning by others."
NWT: Even a novelist at his poorest does not want to reproduce his previous work. I think of art in terms of permanent revolution. Permanent, constant revolution is not inherent in the nature of the state and its operations. Constant revolutionizing, reinventing itself is inherent in the nature of art. The artist considers reinventing himself all the time. The state has to conserve. Therefore, the possibility of conflict is always there.
CC: You write "Where...there is no democracy for the rest of the population, there cannot be democracy for the writer." What is the role of African-language writers in contributing to economic, political, and cultural empowerment, strengthening civil society and current, emerging democratic traditions and governance, and reforming the language of African political discourse?
NWT: All over the world art is constantly attempting to return language to the people. Any moment of exceptional literary achievement in a national tradition signals a writer's return of language at its fullest to people in their daily life. In the context of Africa, writers need to return to the languages actually spoken by the people to enlarge the space of people's understanding to include more experiences. A writer makes a language for its speakers to comprehend their universe better than ever before. African languages can play a big role in Africa's democratization, its spiritual awakening and enhancement. But that spirit is repeatedly crushed because English and French continue to dominate a continent where most people speak African languages.
CC: Penpoints, Gunpoints and Dreams contains an extensive re-interpretation of the allegory of the cave from Plato's Republic. Roughly speaking, you argue that the dominance of European languages in the critical discourse of the majority of African intellectuals sets them, so to speak, forever outside the cave: the space of which they neither re-enter nor open. You also offer Ayi Kwei Armah's novel, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, as a kind of alternative to Plato's story. For example, replacing Plato's ideal, incorruptible, true philosophers with Armah's "beautiful ones" who are to lead the African state of the future, you write, Such intellectuals, whenever they are born, will grow their roots in African languages and cultures. They will also learn the best they can from all world languages and cultures. They will view themselves as scouts in foreign linguistic territories and guides in their own linguistic space. In other words, they will take whatever is most advanced in those languages and cultures and translate those ideas into their own languages. They will have no complexes about borrowing from others to enrich their own....They will see their role as that of doing for African languages and cultures what all writers and intellectuals of other countries and histories have done for theirs.
What led you to Plato?
NWT: "The Beautyful Ones Not Yet Born" is a very beautiful phrase. The image of the cave is very distinct.It's an image with a logic that goes against Plato's philosophy itself. The assumption of the allegory of the cave that philosophers who see the light must come back - that an elite should come back to the people in a cave - goes against Plato's advocacy in the same book of an hierarchical society with categories like philosopher kings, the warriors and guardians of the state as opposed to its more lowly workers. Such an elite in fact does not return to the people. My work in performance has led me to re-examine more and more, or go back to and revisit classical Greece. I've found that it was a very oral society. To think of that society being literate in terms of writing is a 20th-century projection. In reality, we see a very oral society. Socrates, for instance, is working within theories of orature, conversing in the market place. Dialogues take place as he's coming from there or going to a festival. They take place in and around the house, by the fireside. He's not a writer. In a sense, this society exemplifies a kind of orature and Socrates is actually a philosopher within the oral tradition. Plato's dialogues assume a kind orality. Even bad translations cannot kill or hide this. It is everywhere.
CC: In Decolonizing the Mind (1987), you describe the condition of most African intellectuals being educated only in Europhone languages as "literally ...[a] split between the mind and the body of Africa, producing... nations of bodiless heads and headless bodies. The community puts resources in the education of a people who will never bring home their share of knowledge." In your new work, you write [A]n intellectual is a worker in ideas using words as the means of production. It means that for Africa the thinking part of the population, the one with the pool of skills and know-how in economics, agriculture, science, engineering is divorced from the agency of social change: the working majority. At the level of economics, science, and technology Africa will keep on talking about transfer of technology from the West. There are countless resolutions about this in regional, continental, and international conferences. Yet the African intellectual elite ... refuse to transfer even the little they have already acquired in the language of the majority below....knowledge researched by sons and daughters of Africa, and actually paid for by the entire working majority who need it most, is stored in European-language granaries. There can be no real economic growth and development where a whole people are denied access to the latest developments in science, technology, health, medicine, business, finance and other skills of survival because all these are stored in foreign languages. Ignorance of progress in ideas is a guarantee against rapid economic growth. Do you see any signs that the African mind and body need not be split by language in the future? As you yourself write, "If some of the best and most articulate of the interpreters of African total being insist on interpreting in languages not understood by the subject of their interpretation, where lies the hope of African deliverance?"
NWT: In Greek mythology, Zeus employs Prometheus to make men out of mud and water but, in pity for their state, he steals fire from Olympus and gives it to them. The image of fire is very strong for me. It is central to knowledge...light, technology, heat. Fire changes things. Fire is almost everything. I'm not surprised that many people used to worship the sun. They were not all that wrong in seeing the sun as God, the source of everything. The question is whether Prometheus leaves the fire to the gods or gives it to humans. Does he give them the fire or does he say that they can only use this fire when they come up the mountain. The whole idea is that he brings the fire to them. But where is the fire when we African intellectuals refuse to dialogue in African languages, the language of the vast majority of our people?
CC: Citing Marx's observation "that an idea grasped by the masses becomes a material force," you suggest that "language is obviously the best, the cheapest, and the most effective way of disseminating such ideas." Does this imply that the discouragement and outright suppression of education and writing in African languages, even now in a postcolonial era, is a deliberate means of social and political oppression of, perhaps, the worst sort?
NWT: If and when African intellectuals are progressive, for example, through an emphasis on democracy, there can still be a fundamental contradiction about their ideas if, as in the biblical parable, their light is hidden under the bushel basket of European languages that the majority of the people do not understand. In this sense, African intellectuals continue, ironically, a tradition of their own enslavement. They are like people who work for a feudal lord. Their happiness, even though they are honest, depends on working in his house. Their sense of being connects to their constant narration of what goes on around the feudal lord, his comings and goings.
CC: American slave plantations also had their house hands and field hands.
NWT: We are operating with European languages where there are African languages whose space we could be opening out.
CC: Are you suggesting that writers and scholars make a deliberate choice of language and that there is no "sitting on the fence" concerning this issue amidst the struggle of African people for greater cultural, political
and economic empowerment within a democratic space?
NWT: Yes. After much wavering, I came to this conclusion in my book, Decolonizing the Mind. But in Penpoints ...[and]Gunpoints I take a firmer position. I look at language and a whole history of interpretation
over five hundred years. I trace the issue of plantation slavery and how language is used as a way within the plantation of keeping practical communication bound exclusively to itself. Not only are various African
languages suppressed as a means of communication among the slaves. Colonial plantations themselves enforce their own language as a means of enclosure, be they English, French or Spanish. They never meet unless through conquest or reconquest. The colonizing power in Africa of Europe similarly keeps people bound to its languages. Yet the struggle of African people in the "New World" also takes the form of creating new languages. These people's conditions of life also mean a struggle to construct the world in their own terms. Thus we find Creole languages, patois and much more. Africa should learn from that tremendous struggle to recompose a new world: to create new languages that owe their being to African languages. Colonizing principles are very clear about the role of language. The widespread practice of linguistic engineering would create a vast army of Africans whose interpretations in the languages of their colonizers would reinforce their power over their subjects.
CC: Linguistic engineering: this sounds a little like 'ethnic cleansing.' To recognize the hyper-conscious and deliberate imposition of colonial languages and not merely their absorption is a horror, indeed.
NWT: Ironically, in not working more through African languages we are continuing, even when we are conscious of it, a neocolonial system that still binds African people. At an economic level, Africa produces raw materials that are processed in Europe and returned to Africa. At the level of culture, we see the same pattern. We draw our own resources in African languages and this is processed in English or French and then brought back as a finished product in French or English for African consumption. And still it does not reach a level of consumption as great as if it had remained in African languages, in the same way that gold that is mined in Africa and brought back from Europe is too expensive and inaccessible to all but the few. In the same way, we draw upon the linguistic resources and life of Africa, even in political struggles, and they are processed in English or French. But when they are brought back in this form they are lost and inaccessible to the vast majority of the population who only speak African languages.
CC: You call "the ascendance of capitalist fundamentalism and the Darwinian ethical systems which it is generating ... the mother of all fundamentalisms, religious and nationalistic." You insist that "there should be no ambiguity about the necessity to abolish the economic and social conditions which bring about the need for charity and begging within any nation and between nations, and language should sensitize human beings to that necessity." "Art," you claim, "should join all the other social forces in society to extend the performance space for human creativity and self-organizations and so strengthen civil society." You even predict that "just as it was the case in some pre-capitalist societies, it is possible that ...[in]a post-capitalist society, production will be geared not towards social domination of others but towards meeting human needs, culture and creativity." Is a "reign of art" precisely in African languages a key to democratic empowerment and success in such a struggle?
NWT: The empowerment of African languages is clearly part of this process. If we look at the period in our history when questions of privatization and profit become the barometer for progress in society instead of class solidarity, what do we find? Consider Yugoslavia now with its ethnic massacres and when there was more emphasis on class solidarity. The moment we come to a post-cold war de-emphasis of class begins a new period of ethnic fundamentalism. It corresponds to a puritanism of capitalism. This fundamentalism of finance capital occurs within the same period of all sorts of other fundamentalisms, sometimes even in alliance with it, as in Christian-right fundamentalism; or in opposition to it. How do we fight against this force of fundamentalism, whatever form it takes, which seems to threaten people who often do not understand what is threatening them, as class solidarity has been de-emphasized in recent thinking in favor of national wars, ethnic and religious boundaries or whatever seems to present some kind of assurance and stability more readily known? Art connects. It says that human beings are connected. Art says, "Look. We are connected. It's like ecology. Human beings are connected: trees to animals to other human beings." Art tends to say, "we
live in one universe, you know?" Art seems to emphasize spirituality, the spiritual expression of human life.
CC: The role of art is to break through fundamentalisms?
NWT: Yes. To break boundaries and borders that separate.
Ngugu wa Thiong'o has written over twenty books, including I Will Marry When I Want (drama), Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, Detaineed: A Writer's Prison Diary, Njambe Nene and the Flying Bus (children's literature), and many novels, historical and experiemental.
Speech by Frantz Fanon
Speech by Frantz Fanon at the Congress of Black African Writers, 1959
Wretched of the Earth
Reciprocal Bases of National Culture and the
Fight for Freedom
Colonial domination, because it is total and tends to over-simplify, very soon manages to disrupt in spectacular fashion the cultural life of a conquered people. This cultural obliteration is made possible by the negation of national reality, by new legal relations introduced by the occupying power, by the banishment of the natives and their customs to outlying districts by colonial society, by expropriation, and by the systematic enslaving of men and women.
Three years ago at our first congress I showed that, in the colonial situation, dynamism is replaced fairly quickly by a substantification of the attitudes of the colonising power. The area of culture is then marked off by fences and signposts. These are in fact so many defence mechanisms of the most elementary type, comparable for more than one good reason to the simple instinct for preservation. The interest of this period for us is that the oppressor does not
manage to convince himself of the objective non-existence of the oppressed nation and its culture. Every effort is made to bring the colonised person to admit the inferiority of his culture which has been transformed into instinctive patterns of behaviour, to recognise the unreality of his 'nation', and, in the last extreme, the confused and imperfect character of his own biological structure.
Vis-à-vis this state of affairs, the native's reactions are not unanimous While the mass of the
people maintain intact traditions which are completely different from those of the colonial
situation, and the artisan style solidifies into a formalism which is more and more stereotyped, the intellectual throws himself in frenzied fashion into the frantic acquisition of the culture of the occupying power and takes every opportunity of unfavourably criticising his own national
culture, or else takes refuge in setting out and substantiating the claims of that culture in a way that is passionate but rapidly becomes unproductive.
The common nature of these two reactions lies in the fact that they both lead to impossible
contradictions. Whether a turncoat or a substantialist the native is ineffectual precisely because the analysis of the colonial situation is not carried out on strict lines. The colonial situation calls a halt to national culture in almost every field. Within the framework of colonial domination there is not and there will never be such phenomena as new cultural departures or changes in the national culture. Here and there valiant attempts are sometimes made to reanimate the cultural dynamic and to give fresh impulses to its themes, its forms and its tonalities. The immediate, palpable and obvious interest of such leaps ahead is nil. But if we follow up the consequences to the very end we see that preparations are being thus made to brush the cobwebs off national consciousness to question oppression and to open up the struggle for freedom.
A national culture under colonial domination is a contested culture whose destruction is sought in systematic fashion. It very quickly becomes a culture condemned to secrecy. This idea of clandestine culture is immediately seen in the reactions of the occupying power which interprets attachment to traditions as faithfulness to the spirit of the nation and as a refusal to submit. This persistence in following forms of culture which are already condemned to extinction is already a demonstration of nationality; but it is a demonstration which is a throw-back to the laws of inertia. There is no taking of the offensive and no redefining of relationships. There is simply a concentration on a hard core of culture which is becoming more and more shrivelled up, inert and empty.
By the time a century or two of exploitation has passed there comes about a veritable emaciation of the stock of national culture. It becomes a set of automatic habits, some traditions of dress and a few broken-down institutions. Little movement can be discerned in such remnants of culture; there is no real creativity and no overflowing life. The poverty of the people, national oppression and the inhibition of culture are one and the same thing. After a century of colonial domination we find a culture which is rigid in the extreme, or rather what we find are the dregs of culture, its mineral strata. The withering away of the reality of the nation and the death-pangs of the national culture are linked to each other in mutual dependences. This is why it is of capital importance to follow the evolution of these relations during the struggle for national freedom. The negation of the native's culture, the contempt for any manifestation of culture whether active or emotional and the placing outside the pale of all specialised branches of organisation contribute to breed aggressive patterns of conduct in the native. But these patterns of conduct are of the reflexive type; they are poorly differentiated, anarchic and ineffective. Colonial exploitation, poverty and endemic famine drive the native more and more to open, organised revolt. The necessity for an open and decisive breach is formed progressively and imperceptibly, and comes to be felt by the great majority of the people. Those tensions which hitherto were non-existent come into being. International events, the collapse of whole sections of colonial empires and the
contradictions inherent in the colonial system strengthen and uphold the native's combativity while promoting and giving support to national consciousness.
These new-found tensions which are present at all stages in the real nature of colonialism have their repercussions on the cultural plane. In literature, for example, there is relative overproduction. From being a reply on a minor scale to the dominating power, the literature produced by natives becomes differentiated and makes itself into a will to particularism. The intelligentsia, which during the period of repression was essentially a consuming public, now themselves become producers. This literature at first chooses to confine itself to the tragic and poetic style; but later on novels, short stories and essays are attempted. It is as if a kind of
internal organisation or law of expression existed which wills that poetic expression become less frequent in proportion as the objectives and the methods of the struggle for liberation become more precise. Themes are completely altered; in fact, we find less and less of bitter, hopeless recrimination and less also of that violent, resounding, florid writing which on the whole serves to reassure the occupying power. The colonialists have in former times encouraged these modes of expression and made their existence possible. Stinging denunciations, the exposing of distressing conditions and passions which find their outlet in expression are in fact assimilated by the occupying power in a cathartic process. To aid such processes is in a certain sense to avoid their dramatisation and to clear the atmosphere. But such a situation can only be transitory. In fact, the progress of national consciousness among the people modifies and gives precision to the literary utterances of the native intellectual. The continued cohesion of the people constitutes for the intellectual an invitation to go farther than his cry of protest. The lament first makes the indictment; then it makes an appeal. In the period that follows, the words of command are heard. The crystallisation of the national consciousness will both disrupt literary styles and themes, and also create a completely new public. While at the beginning the native intellectual used to produce his work to be read exclusively by the oppressor, whether with the intention of charming him or of denouncing him through ethnical or subjectivist means, now the native writer progressively takes on the habit of addressing his own people.
It is only from that moment that we can speak of a national literature. Here there is, at the level of literary creation, the taking up and clarification of themes which are typically nationalist. This may be properly called a literature of combat, in the sense that it calls on the whole people to fight for their existence as a nation. It is a literature of combat, because it moulds the national consciousness, giving it form and contours and flinging open before it new and boundless horizons; it is a literature of combat because it assumes responsibility, and because it is the will to liberty expressed in terms of time and space.
On another level, the oral tradition - stories, epics and songs of the people - which formerly were filed away as set pieces are now beginning to change. The storytellers who used to relate inert episodes now bring them alive and introduce into them modifications which are increasingly fundamental. There is a tendency to bring conflicts up to date and to modernise the kinds of struggle which the stories evoke, together with the names of heroes and the types of weapons. The method of allusion is more and more widely used. The formula 'This all happened long ago' is substituted by that of 'What we are going to speak of happened somewhere else, but it might well have happened here today, and it might happen tomorrow'. The example of Algeria is significant in this context. From 1952-3 on, the storytellers, who were before that time stereotyped and tedious to listen to, completely overturned their traditional methods of storytelling and the contents of their tales. Their public, which was formerly scattered, became compact. The epic, with its typified categories, reappeared; it became an authentic form of entertainment which took on once more a cultural value. Colonialism made no mistake when from 1955 on it proceeded to arrest these storytellers systematically.
The contact of the people with the new movement gives rise to a new rhythm of life and to forgotten muscular tensions, and develops the imagination. Every time the storyteller relates a fresh episode to his public, he presides over a real invocation. The existence of a new type of
man is revealed to the public. The present is no longer turned in upon itself but spread out for all to see. The storyteller once more gives free rein to his imagination; he makes innovations and he creates a work of art. It even happens that the characters, which are barely ready for such a transformation - highway robbers or more or less antisocial vagabonds -, are taken up and remodelled. The emergence of the imagination and of the creative urge in the songs and epic stories of a colonised country is worth following. The storyteller replies to the expectant people by successive approximations, and makes his way, apparently alone but in fact helped on by his public, towards the seeking out of new patterns, that is to say national patterns. Comedy and farce disappear, or lose their attraction. As for dramatisation, it is no longer placed on the plane of the troubled intellectual and his tormented conscience. By losing its characteristics of despair and revolt, the drama becomes part of the common lot of the people and forms part of an action in preparation or already in progress.
Where handicrafts are concerned, the forms of expression which formerly were the dregs of art, surviving as if in a daze, now begin to reach out. Woodwork, for .example, which formerly turned out certain faces and attitudes by the million, begins to be differentiated. The inexpressive or overwrought mask comes to life and the arms tend to be raised from the body as if to sketch an action. Compositions containing two, three or five figures appear. The traditional schools are led on to creative efforts by the rising avalanche of amateurs or of critics. This new vigour in this sector of cultural life very often passes unseen; and yet its contribution to the national effort is of capital importance. By carving figures and faces which are full of life, and by taking as his theme a group fixed on the same pedestal, the artist invites participation in an organised movement.
If we study the repercussions of the awakening of national consciousness in the domains of ceramics and pottery-making, the same observations may be drawn. Formalism is abandoned in the craftsman's work. Jugs, jars and trays are modified, at first imperceptibly, then almost
savagely. The colours, of which formerly there were but few and which obeyed the traditional
rules of harmony, increase in number and are influenced by the repercussion of the rising revolution. Certain ochres and blues, which seemed forbidden to all eternity in a given cultural area, now assert themselves without giving rise to scandal. In the same way the stylisation of the human face, which according to sociologists is typical of very clearly defined regions, becomes suddenly completely relative. The specialist coming from the home country and the ethnologist are quick to note these changes. On the whole such changes are condemned in the name of a rigid code of artistic style and of a cultural life which grows up at the heart of the colonial system. The colonialist specialists do not recognise these new forms and rush to the help of the traditions of the indigenous society. It is the colonialists who become the defenders of the native style. We remember perfectly, and the example took on a certain measure of importance since the real nature of colonialism was not involved, the reactions of the white jazz specialists when after the Second World War new styles such as the be-bop took definite shape. The fact is that in their eyes jazz should only be the despairing, broken-down nostalgia of an old Negro who is trapped between five glasses of whisky, the curse of his race, and the racial hatred of the white men. As soon as the Negro comes to an understanding of himself, and understands the rest of the world differently, when he gives birth to hope and forces back the racist universe, it is clear that his trumpet sounds more clearly and his voice less hoarsely. The new fashions in jazz are not simply born of economic competition. We must without any doubt see in them one of the consequences
of the defeat, slow but sure, of the southern world of the United States. And it is not utopian to suppose that in fifty years' time the type of jazz howl hiccupped by a poor misfortunate Negro will be upheld only by the whites who believe in it as an expression of nigger-hood, and who are faithful to this arrested image of a type of relationship.
We might in the same way seek and find in dancing, singing, and traditional rites and
ceremonies the same upward-springing trend, and make out the same changes and the same impatience in this field. Well before the political or fighting phase of the national movement an attentive spectator can thus feel and see the manifestation of new vigour and feel the
approaching conflict. He will note unusual forms of expression and themes which are fresh and imbued with a power which is no longer that of invocation but rather of the assembling of the people, a summoning together for a precise purpose. Everything works together to awaken the native's sensibility and to make unreal and inacceptable the contemplative attitude, or the
acceptance of defeat. The native rebuilds his perceptions because he renews the purpose and
dynamism of the craftsmen, of dancing and music and of literature and the oral tradition. His
world comes to lose its accursed character. The conditions necessary for the inevitable conflict are brought together.
We have noted the appearance of the movement in cultural forms and we have seen that this movement and these new forms are linked to the state of maturity of the national consciousness. Now, this movement tends more and more to express itself objectively, in institutions. From thence comes the need for a national existence, whatever the cost.
A frequent mistake, and one which is moreover hardly justifiable is to try to find cultural expressions for and to give new values to native culture within the framework of colonial domination. This is why we arrive at a proposition which at first sight seems paradoxical: the fact that in a colonised country the most elementary, most savage and the most undifferentiated nationalism is the most fervent and efficient means of defending national culture. For culture is first the expression of a nation, the expression of its preferences, of its taboos and of its patterns. It is at every stage of the whole of society that other taboos, values and patterns are formed. A national culture is the sum total of all these appraisals; it is the result of internal and extensions exerted over society as a whole and also at every level of that society. In the colonial situation, culture, which is doubly deprived of the support of the nation and of the state, falls away and dies. The condition for its existence is therefore national liberation and the renaissance of the state.
The nation is not only the condition of culture, its fruitfulness, its continuous renewal, and its
deepening. It is also a necessity. It is the fight for national existence which sets culture moving and opens to it the doors of creation. Later on it is the nation which will ensure the conditions and framework necessary to culture. The nation gathers together the various indispensable elements necessary for the creation of a culture, those elements which alone can give it credibility, validity, life and creative power. In the same way it is its national character that will make such a culture open to other cultures and which will enable it to influence and permeate other cultures. A non-existent culture can hardly be expected to have bearing on reality, or to influence reality. The first necessity is the re-establishment of the nation in order to give life to national culture in the strictly biological sense of the phrase.
Thus we have followed the break-up of the old strata of culture, a shattering which becomes
increasingly fundamental; and we have noticed, on the eve of the decisive conflict for national
freedom, the renewing of forms of expression and the rebirth of the imagination. There remains one essential question: what are the relations between the struggle - whether political or military - and culture? Is there a suspension of culture during the conflict? Is the national struggle an expression of a culture? Finally, ought one to say that the battle for freedom, however fertile aposteriori with regard to culture, is in itself a negation of culture? In short is the struggle for liberation a cultural phenomenon or not?
We believe that the conscious and organised undertaking by a colonised people to reestablish
the sovereignty of that nation constitutes the most complete and obvious cultural
manifestation that exists. It is not alone the success of the struggle which afterwards gives validity and vigour to culture; culture is not put into cold storage during the conflict. The struggle itself in its development and in its internal progression sends culture along different paths and traces out entirely new ones for it. The struggle for freedom does not give back to the national culture its former value and shapes; this struggle which aims at a fundamentally different set of relations between men cannot leave intact either the form or the content of the people's culture. After the conflict there is not only the disappearance of colonialism but also the disappearance of the colonised man.
This new humanity cannot do otherwise than define a new humanism both for itself and for
others. It is prefigured in the objectives and methods of the conflict. A struggle which mobilises all classes of the people and which expresses their aims and their impatience, which is not afraid to count almost exclusively on the people's support, will of necessity triumph. The value of this type of conflict is that it supplies the maximum of conditions necessary for the development and aims of culture. After national freedom has been obtained in these conditions, there is no such painful cultural indecision which is found in certain countries which are newly independent, because the nation by its manner of coming into being and in the terms of its existence exerts a fundamental influence over culture. A nation which is born of the people's concerted action and which embodies the real aspirations of the people while changing the state cannot exist save in the expression of exceptionally rich forms of culture.
The natives who are anxious for the culture of their country and who wish to give to it a
universal dimension ought not therefore to place their confidence in the single principle of
inevitable, undifferentiated independence written into the consciousness of the people in order to achieve their task. The liberation of the nation is one thing; the methods and popular content of the fight are another. It seems to me that the future of national culture and its riches are equally also part and parcel of the values which have ordained the struggle for freedom.
And now it is time to denounce certain pharisees. National claims, it is here and there stated,
are a phase that humanity has left behind. It is the day of great concerted actions, and retarded
nationalists ought in consequence to set their mistakes aright. We, however, consider that the
mistake, which may have very serious consequences, lies in wishing to skip the national period. If culture is the expression of national consciousness, I will not hesitate to affirm that in the case with which we are dealing it is the national consciousness which is the most elaborate form of culture.
The consciousness of self is not the closing of a door to communication. Philosophic thought
teaches us, on the contrary, that it is its guarantee. National consciousness, which is not
nationalism, is the only thing that will give us an international dimension. This problem of national consciousness and of national culture takes on in Africa a special dimension. The birth of national consciousness in Africa has a strictly contemporaneous connexion with the African consciousness. The responsibility of the African as regards national culture is also a responsibility with regard to African-Negro culture. This joint responsibility is not the fact of a metaphysical principle but the awareness of a simple rule which wills that every independent nation in an Africa where colonialism is still entrenched is an encircled nation, a nation which is fragile and in permanent danger.
If man is known by his acts, then we will say that the most urgent thing today for the intellectual is to build up his nation. If this building up is true, that is to say if it interprets the manifest will of the people and reveals the eager African peoples, then the building of a nation is of necessity accompanied by the discovery and encouragement of universalising values. Far from keeping aloof from other nations, therefore, it is national liberation which leads the nation to play its part on the stage of history. It is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness lives and grows. And this two-fold emerging is ultimately the source of all culture.
Source: Reproduced from Wretched of the Earth (1959) publ. Pelican. Speech to
Congress of Black African Writers.
Marxism and Anti-Imperialism in Africa
Social Roots and Social Function of Literature, Trotsky.
Philosophy Archive @ marxists.org
Sekou Toure Vive l'lndependance!
Time, february 16, 1959. pp. 24-30
On the hot, dusty football field just outside Conakry, the graceful, black-skinned Guinea women danced tirelessly, sinuously. Blue silken turbans, spangled with gold flashed in the blazing sun as they stomped, glided, clapped their hands and leaped about. The clanking of the xylophones rose to fever pitch, then died away. Three griots (West African minstrels) —one in a leather cape adorned with bits of mirror, another carrying a musket, and the third strumming on a one-string gourd guitar-wailed out a chant in honor of the man who for two solid hours had been, the center of all the attention. Finally, Sekou Toure, 37 President of the new Republic of Guinea, a trim figure in a European busine suit, rose and raised his arm.
"Vive l´independance!" he shouted,and three times the crowd roared back, "Vive l´independance!" "Vive l´Afrique!" he shrieked in a voice close to frenzy. Once again, the cry was three times repeated. There was no reason for Toure to do more. The crowd had een and heard him, and that was enough.
Needed: New Maps
Broad-shouldered and handsome. Sekou Toure is as dynamic a platform performer as any in all Black Africa. He is the idol of his 2,500.000 people, and the shadow he casts over Africa stretches far beyond the borders of his Oregon-sized country. As the head of the only French territory to vote against De Gaulle's constitution and thus to choose complete independence, he has been suddenly catapulted into the forefront of the African scene. Last week somnolent, picturesque Conakry was getting to know how it feels to be the capital of an independent nation. France, Britain and the U.S. were busy setting up embassies; there had been trade missions from East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia; and last week the first ambassador arrived—from Communist Bulgaria. When Toure decided to say no to De Gaulle, he cut adrift a land that has only 200 university graduates, a literacy rate of 5%, and an average annual income of most peasants of about $40. But Africa today is in no mood to be practical. Guinea's big gamble was just the thing to capture the imagination of 185 million blacks plunging headlong toward independence. As week after week the drive picks up momentum. Africa seems in perpetual need of new maps. When Toure was born Liberia and Ethiopia were the only independent states on the continent. Today there are another eight—Egypt, the Soudan, Libya. Morocco, Tunisia, the Union of South Africa, Ghana and Toure's own Guinea. In the land known as "Black Africa" four more territories—the Cameroons, Togoland, Somalia and the vast land of Nigeria, Britain's biggest colonial possession-will be free by 1960.
In Paris last week the Premiers of twelve former French African territories met with De Gaulle for the first time as heads of autonomous states within the French Community-and everyone present was mindful of the missing man, who had decided to go it alone: Sekou Toure . In Britain's domain, Prime Minister Sir Roy Welensky of the Central African Federation (Nyasaland and the two Rhodesias) has been plumping for independence within the Commonwealth by 1960. Even Belgium, which until 1957 denied the vote to both blacks and whites and relied on efficiency and prosperity to keep the natives quiet in the rich Belgian Congo, has promised to move "towards independence without fatal delays but also without inconsiderate haste."
The hard fact is that haste is just what the Africans want. Nyasaland echoes with the fulminations of Dr. Hastings Banda ("To hell with federation!") and the cries of "Kwacal", meaning the dawn of freedom. Kenya's smart, articulate young Tom Mboya was not speaking for his country alone when he bluntly told the Europeans to "scram from Africa." There have been riots in Nyasaland, and the recent bloody eruptions in the Belgian Congo tore away the last shred of illusion that economic paternalism is enough to stem the tide. Today, Black Africa seems to be getting a kind of Mason-Dixon line of its own. Down East Africa and across the bottom of the continent runs a high plateau (4,000 ft. to 6,ooo ft.) from Kenya to Cape Town, in this area lives the bulk of Africa's white or "European" population, as well as half a million Asians. Whites, with black labor, have built and settled these lands, and are determined to stay there, and to stay in control. The militancy of their views increases, as does the density of the white population, the farther south the traveler goes, climaxing in the dour and relentless apartkeid of the Union of South Africa.
The black men, mainly in the west of Africa, who are leading their illiterate millions to freedom talk mystically of an eventual United States of Africa and of something called the African Personality. Their own personalities range from the demagogic Dr. Banda and the French Congo's Premier Abbe Fulbert Youlou, who is not above "blessing" ballpoint pens and then selling them to gullible schoolboys just before exams, to Senegal's erudite and sophisticated Leopold Sedar Senghor, poet and lion of the Paris salons, who said upon hearing of Sekou Toure s vote of no: "Poor Sekou. Never again will he stroll up the Champs Elysees."
Part dedicated idealist and part ruthless organizer-perhaps the best in Black Africa-Guinea's Toure should have problems enough just coping with the disruption that inevitably came with independence. But he, too, has dreams as wide as a continent. "All Africa," says he, "is my problem." In a sense, he was born in the right place and with the right ancestry to favor a big role. Though Africa was, until the Europeans came, the continent that could not write, it had known its times of glory. Guinea was once part of the powerful Mali Empire that stretched from the French Sudan, on the upper reaches of the Niger, to just short of West Africa's Atlantic Coast. When its 14th century ruler, the Mansa (Sultan) Musa,
made his pilgrimage to Mecca, he traveled with a caravan of 60,000 men, and among his camels were 80 that each bore 300 lbs. of gold. He built his wife a swimming pool in the desert, and filled it with water borne in skins by his slaves; he turned the fabled city of Timbuktu into a trading center and a refuge for scholars. But such medieval empires one by one faded away. Gradually the history of Africa became, not the story of those who
Guinea women and girls working on a "human investment" project. (F. Gigon)
The purest gold, a kind of grass, a species of hen and an urge for haste.
lived there, but of men named Livingstone, Stanley, Peters and Rhodes,
and of countless anonymous adventurers in search of gold, ivory and slaves.
In 1815 Europeans began penetrating the thick forests of Guinea, which was to give its name to a coin of purest gold, a kind of grass, and a species of hen. Among them was a young Frenchman named Rene Caille, who, dressed as an Arab, talked of his captivity by the Egyptians, was accepted as a Moslem and was able to make his famed journey safely to Timbuktu. After him other Frenchmen came, and eventually, by the "rules of the game" laid down by the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 for spreading civilization throughout darkest Africa, French hegemony over the area was recognized. The "scramble for Africa" was on, and there was little the Africans could do about it.
One man who did was Almamy Samory Toure, who pledged himself to an enemy chief and became a slave so that his captive mother could be released. Like the Biblical Joseph, he rose to head the enemy tribe, fought the French until 1898 when he was captured. The French swarmed over French West and French Equatorial Africa and Madagascar—an area 14 times the size of France. But the legend lived on of the warrior Samory, whom Sekou Toure claims as his grandfather.
Aside from this lofty connection, Toure's childhood was singularly unmajestic. One of seven children of an impoverished peasant farmer, he attended a school of Koranic studies at Kankan, eventually wound up in a French technical school. Even after he was forced to quit school, he nagged his friends who were still going to tell him what they had learned, started to read everything he could lay his hands on. In time he became a French colonial treasury clerk in his own country, but his real interests were something else. When the treasury tried to muffle his shrill union talk by sending him to a post outside the country, he quit and became fulltime head of the Guinea branch of France's Confederation Generale du Travail.
French officials have vivid memories of the Toure of those days. "He was impossible," says one. "Always making trouble." At that time the trade union movement of France was Communist- controlled, and the Communists began taking an interest in the young man who wore those smart European suits and could hold an audience spellbound for hours, whether speaking, French, his own native Malinke, or Soussou, the language of the singing and dancing people of the coast. Toure was brought to Europe, visited Warsaw and Prague, came back spouting Marxism. The founder of Guinea's first labor union, he was the power behind the strikes of 1953, which brought to French African workers their first major concessions. The workers' hero, he began to take on that mystical aura so valuable to African leaders. Once, when a political opponent happened to drop dead a few days after Toure attacked him in a
speech, word went around that the tongue of Toure had the power to kill.
[Note. However, another rumor run through Guinea that the death of veteran politician Yacine Diallo —it was him— was not a supernatural incident; instead, it was the result of foul play in the form of criminal poisoning. People still believe, today, that Sekou Toure, himself, was implicated in the sudden death of a formidable challenger. Andre Lewin's has written an account of the legislative sessiom during which Diallo and Toure clashed verbally. Yacine died that night. — Tierno S. Bah.]
In the days when Toure was just beginning to emerge, the most powerful politician in French West Africa was Felix Houphouet- Boigny, and to this day Houphouet-Boigny is the strongman of the rich Ivory Coast. He organized the Rassemblement Democratique Africain (R.D.A.) as a popular front for various French African political parties, which in Paris voted with the Communists. Young Toure was at his side in the R.D.A. Already a power in labor, Toure now became a formidable figure in politics. He rose from membership in Guinea's legislative assembly to mayor of the capital city of Conakry (pop. 70,000), and finally to Deputy in the French Assembly in Paris, where Houphouet-Boigny already sat. There, Toure began his maiden speech to a Chamber empty except for a few members buried in newspapers. As he spoke, the newspapers were dropped; the absent Deputies began filtering back to their seats. By the time he had finished, the Chamber was full. Already Toure was beginning to grow apart from his older colleague from the Ivory Coast. Houphouet-Boigny, now mellow with the years, broke with the Communists, came to be regarded by the French government as their indispensable African; he was laden with honors, the one African usually included in every French Cabinet. Toure reorganized Guinea's R.D.A. along Marxist lines. He set up a powerful new union (700,000 members) free of Paris direction both Communist and non- Communist, stomped out all opposition at home, and at times resorted to burning the homes of those who stood in his way. He had become the most powerful man in Guinea. When France put
through the Loi-cadre in 1957, which kept control of each territory in the hands of a French governor but gave Africans the right to elect their own No. 2 man as vice president of the Executive Council, Toure was ready.
Under the law his powers were limited, but no one could have made more use of them. Like Ghana's Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah, who has waged relentless war against the traditional tribal power of the Ashanti chiefs in his homeland, Toure tackled the tribalism that plagues all of Africa. He summoned the French commandants de cercle—the French equivalent of the British district commissioners — asked them what they thought of the chiefs who were running Guinea's 240 cantons. The commandants were delighted to help: this chief was lazy, that one corrupt. As a matter of fact, the whole cantonal system had degenerated into a kind of feudal thievery that was costing the government at least 400 million francs ($1,140,000) a year. With his devastating list of particulars in hand, Toure summarily abolished the chieftaincies. When the chiefs howled, he published the French list of charges against them. When the French officials howled in turn, it was too late.
With the chiefs out of the way, he set up more than 4,000 village councils, elected by universal suffrage. This grass-roots democracy was something new to French Africa, and in the hidebound Moslem region of Fouta-Djallon even some women got elected. "The election of women, griots and former slaves," declared Toure expansively, "is the mark of a veritable prize of political conscience, a spiritual revolution."
For a while, Paris forgot its former misgivings about Toure and beamed with satisfaction at the progress that the little country of rivers, steamy swamps, rocky hills and dry savannahs seemed to be making under its Marxist leader. Since De Gaulle's wartime days as the Man of Brazzaville, when the colonies rallied to his cause, France had been taking a new interest in her southern empire. While, before the war, the whole of French Africa got only one-eighth of what France poured into her other overseas territories, it has since received more than $2 billion. Of that, $79 million has gone to Guinea.
The End of Assimilation
The Loi-cadre was in itself a revolutionary move in French colonial thinking. It meant the end of the concept of a French republic "one and indivisible" and of the tradition of cultural "assimilation." But for all France's concessions, and for all the money it belatedly spent on schools (there are still only 250 in Guinea), on building the port of Conakry, on roads and on the battles against such scourges as malaria, sleeping sickness and leprosy, Toure made no secret of the fact that he regarded the Loi-cadre as only "a first step in an irreversible process." He even went to Paris to discuss "the next step," and when told that the new law clearly defined Guinea's place, snapped: "We are not here to be told what the law is. We are here to make the law." Coming to power last May, Charles de Gaulle made his dramatic offer to the French African territories: they could have the choice between (a) complete independence, (b) autonomy within the French Community, or (c) the status of a department of France. Toure charged that the whole idea of a French Community— which came close, but not close enough, to the British Commonwealth—would only continue "our status of perpetual dependence, our status of indignity, our status of insubordination." When De Gaulle stopped off at Conakry on his swift tour of Africa before the referendum, Toure thundered in his presence: "We prefer poverty in liberty to riches in slavery." Angrily, De Gaulle canceled a diner in time he was to have had with Toure, and the split was final. A few weeks later, 95% of the people of Guinea voted no to the De Gaulle constitution.
"We do not wish," Toure had said, "to settle our fate without France or against France." But De Gaulle at first was quite willing to
carry on without Guinea. Paris announced that all French functionaries would be withdrawn within two months.
Toure's brash reply:
Remove them in eight days.
While French shopkeepers and businessmen stayed on, 350 officials and
their families began moving out. French justice stopped. A ship heading for Guinea with a carload of rice went to the Ivory Coast instead. Radio Conakry temporarily went off the air. The Guineans charged that the departing French were taking everything—medical supplies, official records, air conditioners, even electric wiring. The governor's palace was being stripped when Guineans found that some of the furniture that was to be shipped to France actually belonged to Guinea. Thereupon a comic-opera, two-way traffic began at the palace, with the French hauling things out and the Guineans hauling things in. When Toure and his willowy second wife (daughter of a French father and a Malinke mother) moved into the palace, they did not even have a telephone.
Though the people of Guinea rejoiced, Toure banned all demonstrations, announced: "This is no time for dancing." More than any other African state, Guinea was on its own. The British had bequeathed to Nkrumah a prosperous Ghana. President Tubman, who runs Liberia as Boss Pendergast once ran Kansas City, has the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. as the biggest employer in his land. The Sudan, after getting its independence, is calling back British technicians. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia has Swedes training his air force, Indians running his state bank, Americans running the airline, and French Canadian Jesuits running the state university.
Ghana's Nkrumah & Toure (A.K. Deh)
Dowry: $28 million.
Over Conakry, a city of sleepy charm with its thick-walled, whitewashed houses, its cool green mango trees, its shops and bars that bear the stamp of France (Le Royal, St. Germain, A la Chope Bar, Chez Maitre Diop), an air of harassed improvisation fell. For lack of help, ministers had to do the secretarial work while visitors clogged their waiting rooms. Telephones did not work, clerks scuttered about looking for the only copy of the diplomatic list. Messages were sent in to the Minister of Health while he was performing surgical operations.
"I am Everybody."
Had it not been for the special talents of the man in the Presidential Palace, the newborn nation might have come apart at the seams. But Toure combines the Marxist genius for organizing with an almost mystical view of himself as the father of his people. He is most at home talking to village headmen, acts as if all their problems are his own. Though raised a Moslem, he now refuses to pin down his faith in public. "I am Protestant, Catholic, Moslem and fetishist," says he. "I am all faiths. As President, I am everybody." As a politician, he is everybody too.
Though no Soviet-style Communist, Toure rules his country not through government but through a single party. The 4,000 local committees of the Parti Dimocratique de Guinje (P.D.G.) provide one committee for every 600 men, women and children. Since the committees are freely elected each year, Toure boasts that his system is "total democracy," organized "from the base to the summit." "The government," he goes on to explain, "has no role in the party. It is the party that has the role in the government." And what of Parliament? Says Toure's No. 2 man, President Diallo Saifoulaye of the National Assembly:
— "Parliament is an institution for the legalization of party decisions."
— Why, then, should it bother to debate?
— "There is practically no discussion in Parliament. Discussion is for journalists."
Toure is also showing a marked desire to trade with his old Communist friends. He has reached agreements with the East German, Czech and Polish trade delegations amounting to 30% of Guinea's normal foreign trade. They will get all of Guinea's palm kernel nuts, about half its bananas and coffee. The Soviet Union may buy the rest of the coffee crop. Last week Toure set up by decree a special state trading agency to handle his new business—a move that greatly distresses local businessmen, who fear that he wants to channel private trade through government agencies.
They Must Work.
In a desperate attempt to compensate for the loss of French services, Toure, who can get by with only three or four hours of sleep a night, began driving his countrymen as hard as himself. He is not nicknamed "The Elephant" for nothing. "Men of Africa must work," he said. "In underdeveloped countries, human energy is the principal capital." To the wild beating of tomtoms he inaugurated his "human investment program" —a campaign of "travail obligatoire" that bears a disturbing resemblance to the communes of Communist China, as well as to the corvee, or forced road labor, of the ancient regime in France. Actually, the program so far involves little more than innumerable local work bees in which a whole village will turn out to clean streets, cut back underbrush, make bricks for a new school. "A year from now," Toure told his people, "you will no longer be able to see a single young Guinean girl, torso naked, carrying two bananas on a platter, going out to engage in prostitution. We have our will, our arms and legs, and we know how to work," declared Toure grandly—but arms and legs were not enough. And so one day last November the President of Guinea flew off to pay a state visit to Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. The two men soon had both Paris and London gasping.
"Inspired by the example of the 13 American colonies," they announced, they were forming a union of their two countries. The French press saw the whole deal as a British plot to undermine France's prestige in Africa. The London Daily Express asked just as indignantly: "Is Dr. Nkrumah planning to bring a foreign territory into the British family of nations?" Toure flew home with the promise of $28 million from Nkrumah.
Since then, surprisingly little has been heard about the union. So far the two countries have not even set up the constitutional and economic commissions they promised. Instead, Guinea has been snuggling up to France, which has gradually swallowed its indignation over the man who said no. Last month Guinea negotiated a series of agreements which to a considerable extent place the country squarely back in the French Community. It will:
• stay in the franc zone
• keep its foreign exchange in the Banque de France
• once again get technical assistance from France
[Note. The deal collapsed the following year with the creation of the Guinean Franc, March 1, I960, followed a couple of months later by the Ibrahima Diallo Plot. This Time's article was published four months into Sekou Toure's presidency, who invented the expression "The Permanent Plot" and institutionalized a rule of terror and cyclical repression. The purges and the bloodletting went on unabated for the next quarter of century at Camp Boiro and elsewhere, until the dictator's death of heart failure in 1984, in Cleveland, Ohio. Toure's military successors (Gen. Lansana Conte, Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, Gen. Sekouba Konate) sought to imitate his tyrannical policies, namely the systematic violations of human and constitutional rights. And Alpha Conde, the current and "democratically elected " president, has been doing likewise since his 2010 inauguration, thereby further worsening the plight of post-colonial Guinea. — Tierno S. Bah]
In lands where it has no diplomatic representation, France—not Ghana—will speak for it. In four short months Guinea has apparently learned that independence is a relative thing. It will not be easy for Africa to be completely itself, for no other continent has been so swept by foreign influence. Islam stretches not only across its top, but deep into the south as far as the lower reaches of the Belgian Congo. Northern Nigeria is as rigidly Moslem as Saudi Arabia, and political meetings in Guinea come to a halt at sundown, when everyone troops out, shucks shoes, and bows to Mecca. Throughout most of Africa the ubiquitous East Indian minority, tirelessly busy at trade and commerce, has also left its mark: the "European" towns of East Africa take more after Bombay than after any city in Europe. In Kenya a member of the Legislative Council may rise to speak, dressed in a skirt shaped after his Luo tribal costume of skins, but a flunky in knee britches and silver buckles carries a mace, as in the Mother of Parliaments.
"Ghanocracy Does Not Interest."
The African leaders who cry so loudly for independence have also learned that, beyond a certain point, Africa's problems become not so much those between blacks and whites as between Africans themselves. For generations French West Africans have feared the Senegalese, who were the first to join the French in subduing them. The Senegalese in turn fear the lean, desert-dwelling Moors, who are fighting men with a long tradition of trading in slaves. In Houphouet-Boigny's Ivoiry Coast there have been recent race riots against African immigrants from Togoland and Dahomey. The figure of Nkrumah no longer looms so large as it did, for Nkrumah's high-handed suppression of those who oppose him has offended other leaders. "Ghanocracy," snorts Premier Mamadou Dia of Senegal, "does not interest us."
And Premier Sylvanus Olympio of Togoland, on Ghana's border, wants to delay his own country's independence until Nigeria gets its in 1960, on the simple theory that Nigeria's 34.7 million people would never bow to Nkrumah's 4,800,000.
Nevertheless, however impractical it may sound at times, the yearning for a United States of Africa is real. Last month's creation of the Mali Federation —loosely encompassing the four former French territories of Senegal, the Voltaic Republic and the Republics Dahomey and Sudan—seems likely to be the pattern of things to come.
[Note. Just like the Ghana-Guinea union, the Mali Federation was short-lived. First, it shrank to two members (Senegal and Sudan), then it disintegrated in I960, the year of its founding. — Tierno S. Bah]
The tide now running in Black Africa is toward independence, regional groupings, and a sort of African authoritarianism that pays its respects to Western democratic forms but rests on older habits of strong rule.
Though Toure's own constitution for Guinea carries a special article authorizing "the partial or total abandonment of sovereignty in the interest of African unity," he himself has not made up his mind to join the Mali Federation. Yet, as the man who cut loose from France and has so far avoided the disaster that seemed bound to follow, he could well be the figure about whom an increasingly independent French West Africa would rally. Africans are impatient at having their history written by others. Guinea's Minister of Education is already planning new textbooks to paint such heroes as Samory not as bloodthirsty savages, but as the Caesars and the Charlemagnes of Africa. Future texts will hardly be able to ignore the man of whom the jigging, clapping, Guineans sing:
Everybody loves Sekou Toure.
Independence is sweet;
Nothing is more beautiful than to be independent chez soi.
Vive Sekou Toure !
Vive Sekou Toure, our clairvoyant chief!
1. One of the "rules" was that no nation could set up a "sphere of influence" in Africa unless it had effectively occupied the area. Some immediate results: the Germans rushed into the Cameroons, driving the British merchants out; the British hastily set up the Oil Rivers Protectorate on the Niger Delta to keep the Germans out; the French sent garrisons into West Africa, occupied Conakry in 1897.