How powerful is Ghana in Africa

Africa as the center of the world

Abdourahman A. Waberi: "In the United States of Africa", Verlag Hamburg, 159 pages

Market in Accra, capital of Ghana: The novel by the writer Waberi plays with clichés that the West has towards Africa (AP)

In his novel, the African writer Abdourahman A. Waberi turns the world political situation on its head. After that, his continent is rich and in North America and Europe the people are starving who absolutely want to go to Africa. The allusions almost roll over, are amusing and refreshingly biting.

Upside down world - the United States of Africa, rich, powerful, swimming in abundance, besieged by immigrants from the northern fringes, a place of longing for people from Europe, which was divided, destroyed, and starving in ethnic wars, and starving North America.

The French-speaking writer Abdourahman A. Waberi, who was born in Djibouti under French colonial rule in 1965, has come up with around 150 pages of his novel "In the United States of Africa", a satire on the current global political situation, with all the clichés and prejudices that the West cherishes towards Africa, plays snappy and amusing. He turns the situation on its head: The cities of Djibouti, Asmara and Addis-Ababa have merged into a modern, glittering, booming economic conglomerate with high-tech industry and ultra-modern means of communication. In gloomy suburban settlements, in guest workers' homes, disenfranchised illegals dream of snatching a piece of prosperity. But in the rich African nations the aversion to the refugees is growing, Nazi-like troops hound immigrants, and professors demand the deportation of all illegals.

Abdourahman Waberi, professor of English-language literature at Wellesley College in Boston, a highly trained African intellectual, knows very well that such a satirical alienation can open your eyes. By holding up a mirror to the rich industrialized countries, the all-too-well-known arguments against Africa's refugees from civil war and famine, thus mirroring their originators, they appear in a new light, revealing their macabre and inhumane core.

The writer forces his readers in the West to question their own behavior, but at the same time he criticizes the Africans, because in his novel there are precisely those conditions in Europe that are currently considered typical for the continent: tribal battles, warlords, bitter poverty, biting hunger of large parts of the population, catastrophic hygienic conditions, epidemics, technical Middle Ages.

Abdourahman Waberi has chosen an omniscient narrator who on the one hand describes the general situation in the United States of Africa and on the other follows the fate of the young woman Maya. Although she comes from France, she was adopted by African development workers as a toddler and grew up in Djibouti. The girl's classmates make it clear early on that she doesn't belong because of her white skin and blonde hair. Maya is all the more sensitive to racial and ethnic discrimination and feels connected to immigrants. She expresses her compassion, her pity, and her indignation in sculptures and sculptures, making a name for herself as a sculptor in Africa's art scene. When her adoptive mother dies, she decides to go in search of her birth mother, travels to Paris sunk in chaos and actually tracks down the old woman. But she finds the conditions under which the people live there unbearable. She flees back into her world, frightened, and henceforth helps from afar.

Waberi's parable reads like a poem: the language is highly poetic, the images and metaphors are amazingly colorful, the ideas are brilliantly clear. The allusions almost roll over, are amusing and refreshingly biting. The writer loves contortions and puns. For example, McDonalds becomes the Sarr Mbock fast food chain. The slender bronze figures Djiatto Mehdi, i.e. Giacometti, appear as well as the famous smile of Mouna Sylla, Hollywood becomes Haile Wade. Reference is also made to the great names in African literature. However, you have to be very knowledgeable in French poetry to recognize the twisted quotations from Rimbaud, for example. In the afterword, the translator Katja Meintel kindly 'translates' one or the other. She did fantastic things. Their glossary also explains a lot that would otherwise remain a mystery to readers who know little about African culture.

You should enjoy the novel like a good wine, let Waberi's words melt on your tongue, then they unfold their full effect.

Reviewed by Johannes Kaiser

Abdourahman A. Waberi: In the United States of Africa
From the French Katja Meintel
Nautilus Verlag Hamburg 2008, 159 pages, 16 euros