A book can be a little time bomb. Professor of sociology and anthropology at the Omar-Bongo University in Libreville, Joseph Tonda discreetly tried to drop his by publishing, last May with Karthala editions, Afrodystopia. Life in another’s dream. Had it exploded, he would have already been excommunicated from the community of African intellectuals for intelligence with the neocolonialist enemy.
For the moment, the book, which is enjoying relative success in bookstores in France, is raising the temperature in instant messaging forums, where colleagues from French-speaking Africa are hearing the author’s trial, as it is true that , in this community, the hunt for intellectuals suspected of “stigmatising the continent to please white people” becomes a full-time activity.
Enjoyment and frustrations
Even if it means casting a spell on an essay that smells of Tarzan exoticism, you might as well propose it as a subject of debate. Already, you have to open the book and enter it without tripping over the title, Afrodystopia. O paradox! Laboratories in the humanities and social sciences are plagued by the newspeak that George Orwell, the master of dystopia, denounced, however, omnipresent in the pages. Tonda, like most of her colleagues, is difficult to read. But let’s not throw stones at him more than incense without listening to his words.
The anthropologist attempts to explain the continent’s misfortune by the fact that, under the empire of triumphant neoliberalism, Africans have erected money as the “supreme value”. To support his analysis, the researcher highlights the phenomenon known as “night husbands”, dream entities who have sex with men or women while they sleep. “These entities provide extreme enjoyment to those they visit, and the experience is so physical and powerful that, at the same time, it transforms them in real life into zombies”, explains the author in an interview to a French daily. And Tonda adds that these people, who are no longer able to work, go and seek deliverance in revivalist churches.
“Night husbands” are figures of the imagination that symbolize all unrealized and unrealizable desires
For the academic, this dream is neither more nor less than the expression of an “accumulation of frustrations linked to the material conditions in which individuals struggle. The money that is lacking, the house that one cannot build or buy, the studies that one cannot undertake… In short, the night husbands are all these obstacles and all these frustrations which are transformed, by the work of the dream, in faceless, nameless, ageless and even genderless entities… They are figures of the imagination that symbolize all unrealized and unrealizable desires. Who has ever dared to establish a link between night husbands (witchcraft) and capitalism? We widen our eyes.
Let us note all the same, to deplore it, that this essay is based on a phenomenon – night husbands – existing but marginal. Moreover, the reality he describes is as old as the Bantu peoples. To exist, it did not wait for the colonizer’s money and even less for the Pentecostal churches. Still, true or false, the statement deserves to be questioned. The author tickles our intelligence by giving a new interpretation to the psychic life of contemporary African society, when it is established that the latter has been deeply and lastingly affected by colonial and postcolonial situations.
Besides, Life in another’s dream perhaps explains, too, the propensity of the African ruling class to privilege its selfish interests at the expense of the general well-being. She who is moved by an irrepressible desire to keep or accumulate power to dominate and submit her fellow men. In any case, Joseph Tonda is convinced: “This is the structure of misfortune in which our societies are locked up. To get out of it, the anthropologist advocates the “intellectual revolution”. The formula is too vague to commit, but it costs nothing to approve it.
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The “night husbands”, between witchcraft and capitalism – Jeune Afrique
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