Book Review: Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote by Ahmadou Kourouma

The sora Bingo, storyteller and singer, assisted by his responder Tiecoura, fool and initiate in the cathartic phase, narrates to the dictator Koyaga the donsomana of his life.


A purificatory narrative, this entails honesty. As Tiecoura, to whom everything is permitted, says: “We will tell the truth, about your dictatorship, your parents, and your collaborators. The whole truth about your dirty tricks, your bullshit, your lies, your many crimes and assassinations…”


And so they proceed, describing Koyaga’s “Naked People” and their relationship with the French, his mother and his father, who fought in the trenches of WWI, his prowess as a master hunter and his service in the French army in Indo-China and Algeria, his role in the achievement of independence by the “Republic of the Gulf”, the coup and bloodletting that brought him to power, and the decades of his rule. They also tell the story of minister of information Macledio and his wanderings through the villages of West Africa. This is set in the framework of traditional magic, of shamans and marabouts and prophecies and magical items.

Koyaga’s story is linked with the other dictators of Africa and their coups, murders, and excesses. This is only lightly fictionalised, with Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote a fairly obvious roman a clef — Koyaga is Gnassingbé Eyadema of Togo and the other leaders include Bokassa, Mobutu, Houphouet, and Haile Selassie — and some of the more fantastic episodes are all too real. The new threat which has prompted the rite of purification is democracy, now in vogue with Western governments which had previously supported anti-communist dictatorships.

As a study of African dictatorship, Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote is more revealing than most works of history. It manages this while working as a novel, a powerful evocation of myth and history that fits perfectly into the framework of its telling. Kourouma holds us spellbound while he teaches us the landscapes of West Africa, real and imagined.

It was translated from French by Frank Wynne

A book review by Danny Yee © 2005



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