Magazine article New African

The Pitfalls of Occupation Thinking

Magazine article New African

The Pitfalls of Occupation Thinking

Article excerpt

The late French playwright, Jean Anouilh wrote perhaps his most famous play Antigone, during the Nazi occupation of France. The play reprises the eponymous Greek tragedy by Sophocles about the clash between idealism and power, the ensuing battle for the remains of a dead traitor--and dead brother--and the unravelling of it all.

With the Nazi censors keenly watching and the French Resistance forces not far behind, Anouilh colours his narrative so that in later years arguments would revolve around whether the play was, as it strongly suggested, a parable urging on the latter or whether it was a subtle endorsement of the pragmatism of the Vichy regime's collaboration with its occupiers.

Anouilh, already coming under the influence of the likes of the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and the novelist, Paul Camus, attempts to outmanoeuvre his critics with the trick of surrealism: "Each person has a role," says Antigone to her sister, Ismene. "[Creon, the King] must make us die, and we, we must go and bury our brother. That is how it has been distributed."

This was the fatalism of occupation, inescapable as much in the drama, as in the lived reality of the audience that understands its echoes.

Occupation literature, or its twin, liberation literature is decades out of fashion. Its heroes are dead, have exited the stage. (Or else have not; they took power, overstayed and have soured into it, setting up the stage for a new tragic drama, which is to say, a farce.)

As is conveyed across this issue, the realities of occupation have rarely ever been so apparent. If the novelists are unavailable for comment, the drama lies elsewhere--in the dizzying intricacies of dollars and cents with many zeroes attached to them. Exit the poet, enter the bean counters and the removal men.

At the end of May, the African Development Bank issued a caution that the debt levels in several African countries had reached unsustainable levels. Much of that debt was private commercial paper sold though bond issuances on the cheap--the now notorious Eurobond flotations. Now that the value of African currencies were falling, mostly on the back of falling commodity prices, the real danger, says the AfDB lies in the fact that the repayments will have to be made in hard currency, precious little of which is coming into the coffers. …

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