202.1: Josué Guébo:: from My country, tonight 202

To understand the political and social ruptures that Josué Guébo addresses, it is essential to have a little history. In 2011, the year My country, tonight was published, reconciliation efforts led to the Ivory Coast’s first presidential election in nearly a decade. Ethnic violence had characterized a 2002-2007 civil war, after which a north/south division remained informally. The 2011 election gave way to five months of violence referred to as the second civil war. While Guébo is interested in the questions of national identity that have tormented the country, rather than directly address questions of ethnic difference Guébo has expanded the political discourse; he sees the violence as a condition of the neocolonialism that Kwame Nkrumah forecasted as the last stage of Imperialism in Africa.

In My country, tonight Guébo mocks the narratives of progress imposed by colonizers—first, and most fundamentally, by the French; then, more broadly, by international institutions that overwhelmingly represent Western interests (the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, etc.). Guébo sees a continuous line of exploitation between the transatlantic slave trade, memorialized by forts and former slave-holding structures along the West African coast, and these international institutions that organize and itemize African labor and resources from afar. In an interview in December 2011, Guébo addressed the post-election violence by explaining that “we have this unique and historic opportunity to be contemporaries of Bernard Dadié and we have no right to ignore what takes place, these concerns about the question of our self-determination. I do not deny the fact that Côte d'Ivoire is in the grip of some contradictions but I say that some minor questions here are overblown to hide the essential problem. All African countries will have to one day revisit the problem of their relationship to the West.”

Bernard Dadié is widely considered the godfather of Ivorian literature. He is sometimes referred to as a Négritude author, though his poetry’s Romantic tropes and vernacular style were at odds with Aimé Césaire’s French surrealism, and the cultural specificity in Dadié’s work sat un-easily with Léopold Sédor Senghor’s pan-African ambitions. In My country, tonight, Guébo confronts colonialism’s legacies, and its permutations, through a pan-African sensibility, but one that is focalized through a site-specific, national consciousness. For some Ivorians, the Ivorian conflict has been considered a second independence movement, a further extraction from French colonial (and post- or neocolonial) policies of assimilation.

In the following excerpt from My country, tonight, Guébo considers that there are those Africans who have always collaborated with a colonizing power, seduced by its promises. He elides naming any contemporary culprits, any individuals, group of Ivorians, or ethnicities as misled and, therefore, misleading. Instead, he chooses to portray such enemies of national well-being as an allegorical race: the house of roundworms. In this way, Guébo critiques the legacy of colonialism and the role of sympathizers while he avoids inflaming ethnic resentments. The Ivory Coast’s violence is surely also rooted in the long, complicated relationships between ethnicities, but it is also a country, after all, that is actively seeking reconciliation. Todd Fredson
translated by Todd Fredson

from My country, tonight


Through the open artery of the city
My memory bulbous
As the dune
Of a cacao pod
Deportee
The master relegated his sons
Roundworm
Beans
Poor spoils
From mandibles
Into the dustbins of history





          *           *           *





There was the roundworm
Son of the saprophyte
Who sold the navel of his mother
For a ladle of tapioca
A cretin
Fastened
On the thigh
Of his lineage
The house of roundworms
From living memory
Measures as far as his own
Soul
Arm’s length
From a sack of salt





          *           *           *





Along the railways
Of history are the hands
Of the whip
Pimp –procurer
Assistant to slave round-ups
The house of the roundworms
From living memory
Measures as far as his own
Soul
Arm’s length
From the bag of salt
An emptiness
Sold at the cost
Of glass jewelry
In the marketplace
Of counterfeits





          *           *           *





This race dreams
Dreams
Of irons at its
Feet
Like a heap of stones
Dreams
Of ballet slippers
Assistant to predation
Like one who is tasked
With strangulations
This race dreams
Dreams
Foreman
For the master
Blocking our awakenings
This race dreams
Dreams
Irons at its
Feet





          *           *           *





But tell me what’s the point
Iron at the foot
Of a mind
Already under orders?

It dreams in squads
Launched against the current
Of our thirst for freedom
Pursues the breath
From hateful ventriloquists
This race dreams
Of iron at its
Feet
Like a heap of stones
Dreams
Ballet slippers





          *           *           *





Gravestone
Of Sankara 1
Stones
At the head
Of Lumumba 2
Nyobé 3
Moumie 4
Stones
Stones
Of ophidian
Friendships
Guaranteed
To tumble
Tumble
Torrentially
Torrentially





          *           *           *





Gorée 5 will become
A place of worship
Only by the measure
Of my caesura
At last sewn shut

Gorée will become
A celestial stela
After the extremity of
My fraternal kin
Is finally restored
Gorée will become
Solemn stone
At the lapsing of my apathy
Denounced finally

Gorée will become
Radiant rock
In the stoning
Of my somber complicity
Gorée will become
A marvelous halo
In the extinction
Of my fratricidal ritual
Gorée will become
A place of worship
Only by the measure
Of my caesura
At last sewn shut

And that’s why
Even for you
Roundworm of service
There will still be room
To unlearn
To unlove
To unlearn
To unlove
My mother’s son was he
Hunched enough
To sell his own mother’s navel
At the price of millet

Beyond the anvil
Beyond the last wave
My hand will stay open for you
Roundworm of service
So that one day
In our grip
The eclipse
Exquisite death
Of these intestinal
Blades

Roundworm of service


1. Thomas Sankara was a charismatic revolutionary who became president in 1983 of Upper Volta, which he renamed Burkina Faso. Sankara began implementing dramatic populist-minded reforms but was assassinated in 1987.

2. Patrice Émery Lumumba was an independence leader and the first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Opposing the Belgian-backed secession of a mineral-rich province, Lumumba was deposed and executed three months after being elected.

3. Ruben Um Nyobé was an anti-imperial leader who initiated armed struggle against the French in Cameroon; in 1958 he was killed by the French military.

4. Félix-Roland Moumié was the anti-imperial leader who replaced Nyobé in Cameroon’s fight for independence. Working from Guinea in exile, Moumié traveled to Geneva. He was fatally poisoned with thallium while at a restaurant by the French Secret Service.

5. Former slave port on the coast of Dakar, Senegal.