in the shadow of the regime, the “Latin Quarter” of Central Africa

in the shadow of the regime, the

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Franco-Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou in Manosque, southern France, in September 2018.

An ancient literary effervescence in the shadow of a regime that has accumulated decades: writers from Congo-Brazzaville, recognized and celebrated throughout the French-speaking world, are among the most critical voices of President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, 37 years in power and candidate Sunday, March 21 for a fourth term.

“Sunday in the Congo, it will not be an election, but a masquerade”, says one of the most famous authors of this little “Latin Quarter” from Central Africa, Emmanuel Dongala.

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“Everyone already knows the name of the winner: Denis Sassou-Nguesso. I bet he will claim a victory in the first round with a score between 60 and 70% “, says the author of AFP “Group photo by the Congo River”, who lives in the United States.

The best known of Congolese writers, Alain Mabanckou, let it be known on the eve of this election that he had withdrawn to write. In 2016, the author of Lights of Pointe-Noire had been at the forefront to denounce the contested re-election of Denis Sassou-Nguesso and “The long silence” by François Hollande.

“I do not expect anything from the election of March 21”

“Should we recall, Mr. President, that these African tyrants have most often survived thanks to the protection of France”, wrote the Franco-Congolese author in his open letter to the French president at the time. Mr. Mabanckou had even claimed that he was banned from staying in his home country. Authorities had denied it.

In this small country of 5 million inhabitants, writers were fellow travelers of the regime (officially Marxist-Leninist until 1991). Henri Lopes was Prime Minister in the 1970s of President Marien Ngouabi (assassinated in 1977), then Ambassador to France.

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Writer of miscegenation, Mr. Lopes has never distanced himself from the regime, unlike the former Minister of Culture Mambou Aimée Ngali (1997-2002), who was in opposition. “I do not expect anything from the election of March 21”, says the playwright, Congo’s first high school graduate in the 1950s, author of a play, Women’s Gold, on arranged marriages in a traditional Congo. “I think he’s tired, that he has to retire”, says Ngali, 85-year-old playwright interviewed by AFP on President Sassou-Nguesso, 77.

The policy and the denunciation of African dictatorships are at the heart of the work of the father of Congolese letters, Sony Labou Tansi, a cult author twenty-five years after his death, with his novel Life and a half on the excess and cruelty of a bloodthirsty tyrant.

The influence of the Savorgnan-de-Brazza high school

Sony Labou Tansi and the poet Tchicaya U Tam’s are the tutelary figures of Congolese literature, whose authors are published by major Parisian publishing houses (Gallimard, Seuil, Actes Sud).

“This effervescence was born at the end of the 1950s with those we called the evolved” [expression en usage dans l’ancien Congo belge pour désigner les Congolais scolarisés pendant la période coloniale]. At the time, Brazza and Kinshasa were one “, argues Henri Lopes in an interview with Young Africa in September 2020.

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This influence is also attributed to the fact that the Savorgnan-de-Brazza high school was the only high school in all of French Equatorial Africa, attracting intellectuals from all the countries of the area. “They planted the seeds of the Congolese literary flourishing with the creation of the review Liaisons, where literature, sociological studies, and political discussions mingled ”, continues Emmanuel Dongala.

French writer who left Brazzaville in childhood, Wilfried N’Sondé claims the ancient history of the kingdom of Kongo – which stretched from Angola to Gabon before colonization – in his sumptuous novel One ocean, two seas, three continents on the slave trade. This kingdom was illustrated by a “Culture of art and sophistication. We are dealing with peoples who have an ancient culture ”, he emphasizes.

His last stay in Brazzaville dates back to April 4, 2016, “Just after the elections, there was heavy weapon fire. I stayed 24 hours and I was repatriated. “The intellectuals and artists of the diaspora play a very important role, but they will never replace the citizens who are fighting on the spot, concludes Emmanuel Dongala. the change will come from within. “

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