The Guise of Exceptionalism compares the historical origins of Haitian and American exceptionalisms. It also traces how exceptionalism as a narrative of uniqueness has shaped relations between the two countries from their early days of independence through the contemporary period. Exceptionalism is at the core of every national founding narrative. It allows countries to purge history of injurious stains, and embellish it with mythical innocence and claims of distinction. Exceptionalism also builds the bonds of solidarity that forge an imagined national fellowship of the chosen, but it excludes those deemed unfit for membership because of their race, ethnicity, gender, or class. Exceptionalism, however, is not frozen. As a social invention, it changes over time, but always within the parameters of its original principles. Our capacity to reinvent it is dependent on the degree of hegemony achieved by the ruling class, and if this class has the infrastructural power to gradually co-opt and include the groups it had once excluded.
In Africa, the development of “dictatorship fiction” as a vehicle for depicting the authoritarian state arose more slowly than in other parts of the world. The dictator novel emerged earlier in Latin America, as the region’s anticolonial disengagement preceded that of Africa. Thus, the Latin American variant of this literary genre has been extensively studied, but until now there has been no comparable exploration of the fictional and dramatic representations of tyrannical regimes in Africa. In Unmasking the African Dictator, Gichingiri Ndigirigi redresses that imbalance with a collection of essays that fully examine the figure of the “Big Man” in African arts.
This volume features twelve articles from both established and emerging scholars who undertake representative readings of the African despot in fiction, drama, films, and music. Arranged chronologically, these essays cover postcolonial realities in a wide range of countries: Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, the Congo, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda. Included here are a variety of voices that illuminate the different aspects of dictator fiction in Africa and in the process enrich our understanding of the continent’s literature, politics, and culture.
This work features a foreword by formerly exiled Kenyan novelist, poet, and critic Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Ndigirigi’s own extended introduction reviews the overarching themes found in the collection and summarizes each of the artistic works being examined while placing the individual essays in context. A pioneering study, Unmasking the African Dictator examines the works of several major authors of dictator fictions like Achebe, Ngugi, Farah, and Tamsi, among others. It is an ideal resource for both undergraduate and graduate courses on African literature, culture, and politics.
Gichingiri Ndigirigi is an associate professor of English at the University of Tennessee. He is the author of Ngugi wa Thiong'o’s Drama and the Kamiriithu Popular Theater Experiment.
When the Republic of Guinea gained independence in 1958, one of the first policies of the new state was a village-to-village eradication of masks and other ritual objects it deemed “fetishes.” The Demystification Program, as it was called, was so urgent it even preceded the building of a national road system. In Unmasking the State, Mike McGovern attempts to understand why this program was so important to the emerging state and examines the complex role it had in creating a unified national identity. In doing so, he tells a dramatic story of cat and mouse where minority groups cling desperately to their important— and outlawed—customs.
Primarily focused on the communities in the country’s southeastern rainforest region—people known as Forestiers—the Demystification Program operated via a paradox. At the same time it banned rituals from Forestiers’ day-to-day lives, it appropriated them into a state-sponsored program of folklorization. McGovern points to an important purpose for this: by objectifying this polytheistic group’s rituals, the state created a viable counterexample against which the Muslim majority could define proper modernity. Describing the intertwined relationship between national and local identity making, McGovern showcases the coercive power and the unintended consequences involved when states attempt to engineer culture.