'This democratic hold-up is killing Africa': Mamane
An African failed state with an autocratic leader, rigged elections, a complacent international community, angry and persecuted activists: deja vu you may argue. It’s also the ingredients of comedian Mamane’s first movie, Welcome to Gondwana. Released in France on 12 April.
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“This movie deals with reality. All these things happen all over Africa in Gabon, Congo, Cameroun, Chad… There’s a president who doesn’t want to leave power. So, he rigs elections”, says Mamane.
“And the international community is just here to say, OK you’re a democratic leader, you’re a friend, let’s do business together. That’s what is killing Africa today. This democratic hold up!” he exclaims.
Niger born Mamane moved to France in 1991 to complete a PhD in plant physiology. But he soon opted out to gravitate towards the comedy scene and started performing as a standup in France and West Africa. Then in 2009, he joined RFI for a daily 3 minute satirical piece – in French – on the radio with The Very, Very Democratic Republic of Gondwana. A satire on African current affairs set in the imaginary land of Gondwana ruled by unabashed dictator. It is one of RFI’s most popular shows.
Using humour to criticise despots
“For an African artist today, you cannot go on stage and pretend that everything is all right”, says Mamane. He has a knack of making people laugh while addressing issues he takes very seriously, like rule of law, nepotism, frequent power cuts, clean water...
“Our leaders, they just care about themselves, their bank accounts. That’s why so many African are leaving Africa, drowning in the Mediterranean Sea,” he adds. “Or dying of thirst in the Sahara desert.” He believes that the indifference of some African leaders to the plight of their people explains why so many of them would rather face death than endure starvation in their own country.
In a scene in the movie, two Gondwana custom officers arrest a black election observer who shows them his passport to prove he is a Swiss citizen. The custom officers’ reaction is to ask him where he stole this passport. This sort of prejudice – of black Africans towards other black Africans – is one that black people experience at least once in their life.
“We see it every day. I think it’s [some kind of] colonial legacy”, explains Mamane. As if positions of power or importance can only be held by white people. “If you go to a hotel in a big city in Africa, [as a] black man, if you’re not dressed in a suit carrying an attache case, you can’t go in. But as long as you’re a white man, even if you’re wearing shorts, you can go in.”
A prolific writer
Mamane spent a year and a half writing the script of his first movie, Bienvenue au Gondwana or Welcome to Gondwana. And another 7 weeks directing it in Côte d’Ivoire plus a week in France with a 3.5 million euro budget. An English dubbed version is in the pipeline.
Internationally acclaimed musicians like Tiken Jah Foly from Côte d’Ivoire and Awadi in Senegal perform in his first movie. Ray Lema from the Democratic Republic of Congo wrote the music for the film. “Many years ago, I was talking to them about this movie I had in my mind and they said let’s do it,” remembers Mamane. All three musicians share a common vision with Mamane on how they see Africa and what they feel needs to be improved.
Besides his daily offerings on RFI, Mamane is also on Canal Plus Afrique since 2016 with Le Parlement du Rire, the National Assembly of Comedy. Once a year, the comedian organises a comedy festival in Côte d’Ivoire called, Abidjan capitale du rire.
On June 29th, Mamane will join forces with French comedian of Moroccan origin Jamel Debbouze for a comedy festival in Marrakech. It will be called Le Gala Africa and will showcase African artists living in Africa. Mamane later plans a one man show in English in Nigeria at the end of this year. It will be a new show about African territories and their borders as decided at the Berlin conference of 1884-1885.
Follow Mamane on Twitter @mamaneshow
Follow Zeenat Hansrod on Twitter @zxnt