Congolese writer slams leaders as 'torturers'

2016-03-17 21:18
French-Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou poses in Paris. (Joel Saget, AFP)

French-Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou poses in Paris. (Joel Saget, AFP)

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Paris - A Congolese author and one of the world's best known writers in French accused the government of Congo-Brazzaville of being "torturers" on Thursday as the country prepares for a presidential election this weekend.

Alain Mabanckou - a fierce critic of President Denis Sassou Nguesso's attempt to win a third term on Sunday - hit out as he took the chair of the prestigious College de France in Paris.

He lambasted the authorities for snubbing his inaugural lecture on Thursday - the first time a writer has been asked to hold the artistic chair of one of France's most renowned educational establishments - telling French radio, as long as "they remain [in the Congo] doing their culture of torture and barbarism, I will stay here [in Paris]."

Earlier Mabanckou, 50, best known in English for his comic novels "Broken Glass" and "Black Bazaar", had been scathing about the officials' absence.

"If the Minister of Culture of Congo-Brazzaville cannot find the time to come to the college, then I will give him the title of Minister of Lack of Culture," the novelist told French media.

'Rainbow French'

"I know I have angered them and the culture minister is getting himself all excited, shaking somewhere," he said on France Inter radio, bemoaning the "disastrous cultural policies" of many African governments.

Mabanckou's latest novel, "Petit Piment" (Little Pepper) has been seen by some as a satire on the three decades of Sassou Nguesso's rule, which began with him as head of a one-party socialist state.

The author, a professor at UCLA in California, vowed he would use his year at the College de France to highlight African writing and give it its proper place in the pantheon of French letters.

"Some think still that Africans don't have literature like some think that Africa has not entered history," he said, referring to a controversial speech by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.

"That is not true," he said, "We have no need to enter into history, we are history. The history of France was also stitched by its black sons... France is not really a white Judeo-Christian country," he said, taking up equally hotly disputed remarks by one of Sarkozy's former ministers.

While English literature has embraced its global diversity, he argued, France has been slow to do so. "French is not just spoken along the Seine or in Cafe de Flore", the one-time Parisian watering hole of writers and philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, he said.

"The French language is also the crackle of Abidjan, of all that happens in Dakar.... It is that multicoloured, rainbow French that I look for," he said.

The College de France is a uniquely French institution where any member of the public can attend lectures given by acknowledged experts in their fields on a variety of subjects including medicine, law and mathematics.

Read more on:    denis sassou nguesso  |  congo  |  central africa

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