The rest is silence…

Posted on January 22, 2013

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Today’s pants are better than tomorrow’s knickers – Burkina Faso proverb

zongoI’m guessing that this proverb is the equivalent of our birds in hand rather than in bushes, but I don’t think I’ll delve further into that analogy. Maybe it also speaks to the Serenity Prayer, found in many forms over the centuries but inscribed in its current incarnation by Reinhold Niebuhr. Either way, it reminds us that if we concentrate on today, tomorrow will take care of itself – if tomorrow comes.

In most of my blogs I’ve concentrated on the work rather than the writer.  It is impossible to take this approach with Norbert Zongo’s The Parachute Drop.  Not because the book isn’t worth writing about, but because to read it without understanding the cost to its writer is to lessen its impact. Norbert Zongo is my equivalent of a tree that fell in the forest that I didn’t hear.  In fact, he’s a whole Amazonian silence.   I feel ashamed to say that I had never heard of him, nor that the act of writing (he was editor of an anti-government newspaper) would lead to his assassination in 1998 – a crime for which the perpetrators were acquitted.  This silence is, in large part, because our news is filtered by a (unavoidable?) system of editing that directs our gaze on those areas of the world that (it believes) interest an English-speaking world.  On this globe, Burkina Faso is not drawn.   But I, too, have been wilfully deaf. Oh, I’ve read dissident literature. I studied two centuries of Latin American political essays in my B.A. And, as a teenager, I read Solzhenitsyn, Havel, the Hungarian Revolutionary Poets, Goytisolo, Buero Vallejo among others.  Yet, in a long list of political writing, I have never read any from sub-Saharan Africa.  I’m ashamed to say, I haven’t even picked up Long Walk to Freedom and I was one of those who wouldn’t eat Cape apples during apartheid and sang along with gusto to The Specials’ ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ and Peter Gabriel’s ‘Biko’ wearing my ‘Rock Against Racism’ t-shirt.   My reading has been entirely guided by my British education and a British publishing industry.  This project is showing me that the world is a far bigger place than I knew.

Zongo’s Parachute Drop is overtly political. It is a thinly veiled allegorical exposé of what he saw as the ‘Mobutuization’ of African politics in general, and Burkinabè politics in particular.  In the novel, a dictator, one we recognize all too well from the likes of Amin, Mugabe, Taylor, is toppled with the help of overseas ‘advisors’, in a military coup.  There is little sense that this new power elite will be any different from the last nor that foreign influence will release its grip on African politics anytime soon.  Zongo’s language, plot and characterizations are as simple and straightforward as his purpose.  This is not great literature, but it is worthy. Worthy in its ambition and worthy of being read thoughtfully.   It offers a horrible insight into life in a corrupt regime and the dreadful price paid by those who choose to speak out and must be silenced.

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