Sunday, April 22, 2018

Burkina Faso: The Parachute Drop, by Norbert Zongo

I was delighted to come across the Global Anthology, a website which highlights a piece of literature from every country in the world. Many countries are represented by links to short extracts, but the entry for Burkina Faso linked to a pdf the entire text of Norbert Zongo's The Parachute Drop (though lacking the introduction mentioned by Ann Morgan in her review). This downloaded beautifully to my newly acquired e-reader so I took it on holiday last week so that I could finish off the "B" countries.

Norbert Zongo was an investigative journalist. Though the novel is set in the fictional African republic of Watinbow, it has been suggested variously that the novel is a thinly disguised critique of Togo, or of Burkina Faso itself. I suspect that in discussing the misuse of power by African leaders in newly independent countries, it is applicable to quite a few African countries. Gouama, the 'Founding President and Clairvoyant Guide' of Watinbow is a deeply flawed and ruthless person, who imprisons Marxists, and students suspected of being Marxists, assassinates former loyal friends, and believes in sorcery, so that he uses the body parts of those he has had killed for bizarre rituals.

However, he is in some ways naive, and finds himself manipulated by advisors he had trusted, so that he loses power in a military coup, and finds himself stranded deep in the countryside, trying to reach safety in the form of the neighbouring country, where he believes the president will come to his aid and assist him to regain power. In the course of his arduous journey, he is assisted by local farmers and fishermen, some of whom turn out to be the very students he had earlier imprisoned, and who had managed to escape execution.

I found the portrait of Gouama surprisingly sympathetic, showing both his evil side and his humanity and, at times, good intentions. The students who assist him, however, come across as more one-sided. While both colonial governments and the new leaders of African independence (whether civilian or military) are shown as deeply flawed, the Marxists are shown as good people who care for the needs of the poor and who believe that "development" means nothing unless the people have better healthcare and enough food to eat. While this may be the case, I feel that there are flawed individuals involved in any political movement, and that Marxist governments are no better (though sometimes no worse) than other types of government in this respect.

Nevertheless, though it was clear early on that the book was written to convey a political message, I found it an engrossing story.

The Parachute Drop was translated by Christopher Wise, and originally published by Socialist Stories.

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