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Nation-Building, Propaganda, and Literature in Francophone Africa / Edition 1

Nation-Building, Propaganda, and Literature in Francophone Africa / Edition 1

by Dominic Thomas


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 2900253215542
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 11/28/2002
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

About the Author

Dominic Thomas is Assistant Professor in the Department of French and Francophone Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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Nation-Building, Propaganda, and Literature in Francophone Africa

By Dominic Thomas

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2002 Dominic Thomas
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-34157-0



Engineering History and Engineering Literature

When an old person dies in Africa, it is the same thing as a library burning. — Ahmadou Hampaté Ba

The time will come when Africa will write its own history. — Patrice Lumumba

State involvement in the production and dissemination of ideology has been investigated with specific reference to the ex-Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, China, and Latin America, but it has been ignored in the francophone sub-Saharan African context. Nation-Building, Propaganda, and Literature in Francophone Africa attempts to redress this imbalance by exploring a complex African reality and consideration of culture and politics. This book offers scholars and students of African literature, comparative literature, and francophone studies a framework with which to think about the political and ideological consequences of structuring literary works according to the political persuasions of state apparatuses. For political scientists and historians, the book explores those processes that culminated in independence and delineates the complex path of post-independence politics, the transition to democratic rule, and the civil conflict of the late 1990s. In its attempt to engage a broad range of readers across disciplinary boundaries, this book suggests how this approach might in turn stand to impact and influence the future of interdisciplinarity, while also contributing to thinking on nationalism and postcoloniality. In order to obtain a more accurate view of the formation of modern African nation-states and to better understand the complex and complicated mechanisms associated with the process of engineering history and engineering literature, I draw upon a broad range of anthropological, historical, and sociological information. This information offers access to the specificity of the Congolese context, articulates the uniqueness of the Marxist-Leninist era, and locates writings according to the political context in which they were produced.

The construction of cultural and national identities has often been inseparable from the discourse of nationalism in the African context. In an attempt to move beyond Benedict Anderson's groundbreaking book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, I have adopted what could perhaps be described as a more proactive term, namely the engineering of the nation. While my usage of this term shares many of the qualities Anderson attributes to the notion of "imagining," it is also indebted to Stalin's concept of "the engineers of the human soul," which was used to describe state-sponsored writers, and Noam Chomsky's invocation of "consent" as something that can be "manufactured" through propagandist structures. In its incorporation of revolutionary and reconstructive practices, the term engineering then has the possibility of situating those voices attempting to exercise control over the various mechanisms of power, while recognizing that this pluralism emerges from often antagonistic coexistence, that its polyvocality inherently functions, negotiates, and competes at different levels, and that various identities are not freely or independently formed but rather mechanically clash in a constitutive framework. Furthermore, this book suggests that Anderson's emphasis on the widespread nature of print culture that allows for the imagination of the nation may not provide an adequate framework with which to explore the complexity of the postcolony. In the case of the Congo, the nation has been engineered top-down by ideologues and state-sponsored official literature, which has in turn been challenged by orality and non-official and diasporic literature.

The fundamental question that emerges concerns the mechanisms through which power is acquired, maintained, and manipulated in colonial and postcolonial spaces. The object of this book is to locate those agents — colonial, national, transnational — responsible for the cultural, political, and social processes explored in the area of investigation. For example, colonial expansionism during the post-Berlin Conference era (1884-85 onward) witnessed the collaborative practices of assimilationist and missionary tendencies for the purpose of deploying the mission civilisatrice, while négritude, Pan-Africanism, Socialism, and Marxism-Leninism, among other theoretical models, generated particular conditions for the elaboration of post-independence decolonizing objectives. Since the 1980s, numerous political and social transitions have occurred in African states, and this change has been somewhat paradigmatic in terms of the innovative measures it has brought to African conceptions of democracy. The African context offers a unique opportunity for the exploration of the disorientation that has accompanied political transition, and it is taken up in later chapters of this book. Attempts to remedy problems have been provided by truth commissions (South Africa), National Conferences (Benin, the Congo, Togo), and democratization movements (Cameroon, the Côte d'Ivoire, former Zaire) that have allowed for the articulation of new modes of expression, foregrounding testimony as a way of achieving alternative versions of postcolonial events, enabling perpetrators to demonstrate their humanity, but also victims to articulate narratives that official history has declared nonexistent. These testimonies then have the possibility of enacting healing, restitution, reparation, retribution, and reconciliation, and ultimately bringing states to democracy.

To this extent, the Congolese context provides a striking model for the exploration of nationalism and postcoloniality, since having declared itself a Marxist-Leninist state and pursuing relationships with China, the Soviet Union, North Korea, and Cuba, the Congo maintained strong economic links with France. Indeed, Chinese and Soviet influence is often neglected in thinking about Africa but of pertinence to the framework of this book, given the close cultural and political ties enjoyed by many postcolonial African governments and their ideological counterparts in Beijing and Moscow. Through a consideration of official literatures of the state and the influence of cultural paradigms associated with these other discursive realms — notably Socialist Realism and Soviet-style state-sponsored literature, Chinese nationalism and Communist-sponsored literature — this book underlines links with sociocultural frameworks that offer valuable insight to the issues addressed in the African context. Furthermore, this framework broadens considerably the field of sociocultural discourse by insisting not only on imported Occidental aesthetic codes and formulations but also on foregrounding Chinese and Soviet influences in the context of nation-state building located outside of Imperial and neocolonial frameworks. Recognizing the significance of these ideological experimentations, this book reflects on sociopolitical events associated with the reconfiguration of nation-states that coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and the rectification of the Chinese revolution. Links are also made with other communist and post-communist societies, where transitions would ultimately contribute to the demise of the People's Republic of the Congo in the early 1990s, but also through the analysis of the work of Emmanuel Dongala to a more encompassing notion of African history, one that Edouard Glissant suggested in his book Caribbean Discourse by incorporating Africa, the Caribbean, and continental America in his framework. Through a focus on texts by official writers and some of the more strikingly original examples offered by the writings of Henri Lopes and Sony Labou Tansi, connections are made to questions of political reform and shifting ideological alignments.

The history that is important to the context of this book is developed in later chapters. Yet, it seems important to highlight that on both sides of the Congo River lie geographic spaces that for most of the twentieth century have traded various forms of the name Congo, often generating considerable confusion among observers of regional politics. Indeed, the genealogies of many of the writers treated in this book and the contextual framework of their texts are located in these respective topographic entities. On the left bank of the river lies the newly established Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly known as the Republic of Zaire under Mobutu's leadership) with its capital Kinshasa (ex-Leopoldville), while on the right bank is the considerably smaller Republic of the Congo, with its capital Brazzaville. Brazzaville served as the capital of French Equatorial Africa from 1910 to 1960, and, significantly, it was in Brazzaville that General de Gaulle himself staged the famous 1944 Brazzaville Conference that paved the way for debate on decolonization. The confusion surrounding the use of the word "Congo" reflects the interconnectedness of the two "Congos" (French and Belgian), betrays the complex history of the region, and underlines the difficulties associated with the referentiality of African territories, given the complex and complicated historical origins of such alignments.

Questions of dependency are inextricably linked to the postcolonial context where, as Achille Mbembe has argued, "to account for both the mind-set and the effectiveness of postcolonial relations of power, we need to go beyond the binary categories used in standard interpretations of domination." What is more, "it is only through a shift in perspective that we can understand that the postcolonial relationship is not primarily a relationship of resistance or of collaboration but can best be characterized as convivial, a relationship fraught by the fact of the commandement and its 'subjects.'" The pertinence of this symbiotic relationship is crucial to the context of recent discourse on African literature and culture because as Paul N'Da has stated in his book Les intellectuels et le pouvoir en Afrique noire: "No matter where one finds power relations there will always be inequality; and all power relations are about domination. ... In the most general sense then, power can be defined as the sum total of the people, structures, public and private mechanisms and means in and through which social domination manifests itself."

The elite nomenclature generated by colonial mechanisms and "promiscuous" power relations in the Congolese postcolony has been unique in terms of the interaction and interplay between the state and literary production, and the connections between prominent political figures and key literary figures. The Congo is thus all the more interesting, given the number of authors who have held and continue to hold important government positions — most notably Jean-Baptiste Tati-Loutard, Antoine Letembet-Ambily, Sylvain Bemba, Henri Lopes, and Tchichelle Tchivela — and because leaders such as Marien Ngouabi and Denis Sassou Nguesso outlined official guidelines for cultural productions and solicited the assistance of writers for the purpose of disseminating their policies. The analysis of Henri Lopes's work provides the occasion to explore testimony and reconciliation while highlighting the problematic status of this prominent author in a somewhat ambiguous position between two spheres of discourse. In an incisive article that explores the relationship between cultural practitioners and the state, Tanella Boni (herself a novelist from the Côte d'Ivoire) stated that "regimes have their writers in the same way that the Kings of Europe once had jesters and the Chiefs of pre-colonial Africa their griots and storytellers."

Indeed, the relationship between literature and politics is especially interesting in the Congo, where the post-revolutionary Marxist-Leninist elite exercising governmental authority between 1969 and 1991 sponsored an official literature of the state. This has made it possible to distinguish between a "nationalist" or "official" literature that is inseparable from the discourse of the state and the imperatives of ideological utility, and a "national" or "non-official literature" that is more concerned with the construction of a nation and which attacks the state for its failure to recognize autonomous political or literary identities. Nation-Building, Propaganda, and Literature in Francophone Africa questions this apparently binary structure in order to reveal the complexity of the intersections between these mutually constitutive bodies of literature. While official writers defended a specific vision of society and dedicated their creative activities toward achieving those ends, a competing cultural elite represented by avant-garde resistance authors (sometimes censored, and almost exclusively published abroad) menaced this monolithic construct.

Non-official authors subscribe to the nation-building process but attack the state for its failure to effectively construct such a space. Thus, the state rather than the nation comes under attack, since the power mechanisms which come under its aegis determine whether or not an individual can ever have the occasion to "self-realize." While there are many intersections between the diverse body of writings, non-official authors do not participate to the same degree and to the same effect in engineering the nation as the more accessible and affordable texts of their official counterparts. Ignoring and producing texts independently of the hegemonic power of party control, denouncing the homogeneity of official writing, and undermining and exposing the postcolonial political elite to the scrutiny of outsiders, nonofficial authors stand as testimony to the possibility of producing a literature that remains engaged with the postcolonial reality while nevertheless foregrounding and allowing for newer kinds of aesthetic articulations. Furthermore, as the chapter that focuses on Sony Labou Tansi shows — and this is where Mbembe's work on the postcolony has become so important — orality and popular culture challenge and compete with printed literature, given their non-elitist status, thereby delimiting literature's function in engineering the nation. Thus, while print culture engineers the nation and legitimizes it, successive elitist nationalist governments have denied orality its due and valorized instead print culture from a modernity-based perspective. This book insists on the importance of considering the multiple voices that have contributed to the discursive realm since independence, while exploring diverse contributions to print culture — novels, plays, poems, newspapers, political cartoons, and propaganda.

Following the publication of Jean-Paul Sartre's preface ("Orphée noir") to Léopold Sédar Senghor's Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française in 1948, even négritude became increasingly politicized and came to play a significant role in the politics of nationalism in the post-independence structuring of newly sovereign countries. In fact, early precursors for committed literature were already available in the African context through such publications as L'Etudiant Noir, La Revue du Monde Noir, and Légitime Défense (published during the 1930s), and perhaps most significantly with the creation of the publishing house Présence Africaine in 1947. Indeed, political engagement was considered a moral, ethical imperative at the time. One can measure just how strongly some writers felt about this by considering Mongo Béti's impassioned attack on Camara Laye's novel L'enfant noir for what he considered to be its lack, if not even absence, of explicit political commitment. The revolutionary, nationalistic overtones inherent to such a discourse are apparent, and it is this nationalistic dimension that Frantz Fanon fastened on in his critique of Senghorian négritude in Les damnés de la terre. For Fanon, political independence would provide the necessary circumstances for the autonomous development of national cultures, and African leaders soon recognized the importance of controlling both political and cultural mechanisms. Writers such as Ahmadou Kourouma and Yambo Ouologuem at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s threatened prevailing political and literary models; Ouologuem in particular set out to demystify and deconstruct the Senghorian view of the African past by juxtaposing the image of a violent, pre-colonial Africa, and arguing that violence was not simply a product of the contact with colonialist powers.


Excerpted from Nation-Building, Propaganda, and Literature in Francophone Africa by Dominic Thomas. Copyright © 2002 Dominic Thomas. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents

Preliminary Table of Contents:

Preface and Acknowledgments
Note on Translations
List of Abbreviations and Acronyms

1. Introduction: Engineering History and Engineering Literature
2. Official Writers: The Engineers of the Congolese Soul
3. Sony Labou Tansi: Commitment, Oppositionality and Resistance
4. Henri Lopes: Collaboration, Confession and Testimony
5. Emmanuel Dongala: History, Memory and Reconciliation
6. National Conferences and Media Decentralization in Francophone Africa


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