Central African Republic

Sub-Saharan Africa, all too often afflicted by financially dubious officials and vindictive strongmen, is the sort of place where a satirist can find rich pickings. Unfortunately they might not let you get away so easily with such scrumping. It’s not very surprising then that ten-a-penny laughs aren’t the first thing to comes to mind thinking about the region and, beyond that, local satirical titles hardly have the sort of familiarity that sends the tip of your tongue wagging.

Yet they do exist: in Senegal, Le Cafard libéré; in Burkina Faso, the Journal du Jeudi and l’Etaloon; in Benin, the Canard du Golfe; in Guinea, Le Lynx; in Mali, Le Canard déchaîné; to name a couple.1 (It’s interesting how many of these countries – of the Francophonie, or France’s former colonies in North Africa – take their satirical lead from their former liege, with, as you can see, a proliferation of ‘canard’ or duck-related names, or wordplay on that particularly esteemed title.)

Of the various recent misfortunes to befall the region there is none more tragic than the Central African Republic. CAR, a typically arbitrarily carved-out ex-colonial country with an extraordinarily arbitrary name, has seen vicious internecine fighting between Muslim militia (known as the Séléka, who staged a coup) and Christian militia (known as the anti-balaka). Deeply exasperated French and African peacekeepers are trying to keep space between them; this has now been going on multiple months.

Like its kindred in the sub-Sahara, cartooning as comment is something of a rarity in the CAR. There are some active practitioners (page in French), the most prominent among these being Didier Kassaï, who has been active since the late 90s. Kassaï has worked for various news sheets and knows how to chalk up a snipe or two.

Kassai 2013

Drawn by Kassaï in 2013 in anticipation of elections in the CAR in 2014. Title: ‘On your bags of salt, get set, go!’ (play on ‘à vos marques, prêts, partez!’, the French three-command racing cue) The politician is balancing various essential resources, with the sack of promises most vulnerable and dependent on the top. Thought: “Just a little more effort again and that’ll do for 2014. I hope I’ll have everything ready!” Sign: ‘Population in distress’

Things have taken more of a serious turn in Kassaï’s work after the most recent spate of violence late last year, however. Kassaï has taken up refuge on the French journal La Revue dessinée, where he is now regularly documenting the unfathomable horror of the CAR débâcle in something of a more palatable and accessible way – although no less morally involving.

Screen shot 2014-04-02 at 23.25.29

Extract from Kassaï’s illustrations on La Revue. (media in French)

Kassaï has humbly said that his work is better known (and indeed rewarded) than his person, ironically no thanks to the black market in the country, which has made some of said illustrations cheaper to get hold of than other longer albums of his. But he doesn’t seem overly exercised by this. He wants to spearhead appreciation and practice of his craft in his country; and its visual potency is the main thing. “The cartoon is, for me, the only effective weapon [La bande dessinée est, pour moi, la seule arme efficace],” said Kassaï in 2011.2 A solid faith, when all others in the land have lost all pretence to pacifism.

1. List taken from an article of May 2012 on Global Voices, an international citizen blogging website.
2. Quoted from an interview from 2011 with Takam Tikou, an online literary review website for children and young people in Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean and South Asia, run by the National Centre for Children’s Literature in France. (French)

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