Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Outtakes 2: a conversation with the French-African playwright and novelist Koffi Kwahulé

The second of three outtakes from a conversation I had with Koffi Kwahulé for a special section, "Africa Writes Back," which I curated, edited and wrote for the November issue of American Theatre magazine.

RANDY: In December 1999, the Ivorian army overthrew the government. Although a common event elsewhere in Africa, this was high drama for the Ivory Coast. It was the country's first coup d'etat since independence in 1960. A major reason for the unraveling of the national fabric, embodied by the concept of Ivority (Ivoirité), was the weakening political grip of Houphouët-Boigny, the country's founding father. What, in your opinion, is his legacy?

KOFFI: First of all, I would like to specify that although I belong to the same ethnic group as Houphouët-Boigny, I feel no clemency for him; I was even censored during his rule. But today, I think he is the best thing that has ever happened to Ivory Coast. Although the Ivory Coast, unlike most African countries, had no mining resources to speak of, he managed to turn it into a promising place by opening its territory, then underpopulated and lacking qualified executives, to the arms and brains of other countries. In addition, Houphouët-Boigny’s dictatorship—it was a dictatorship—was less overtly bloody than the ones we still see today in Africa. It was a dictatorship we could describe as “soft,” in the sense that it was based on the corruption of souls, not on the corruption of bodies.
In any case, Houphouët-Boigny’s dictatorship, with the crisis helping, is generally seen today as a prosperous time in Ivory Coast. He is the father of the Ivorian miracle and the pedestal of Ivory Coast. The solid structures inherited from him have prevented the country from blowing up into pieces during the worst of the crisis. Unlike most African nations, which can’t look back at their recent history without being confronted with a series of failures and disillusions, Ivorians, faced with the current problems, know from the example left by Houphouët-Boigny that failure is not inevitable. That’s an invaluable asset for a nation.
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