Les catapilas, ces ingrats

Venance Konan. Les catapilas, ces ingrats. París: Jean Picollec, 2009.

Les Catapilas, ces ingrats is the latest novel by the most popular writer in Côte d'Ivoire. Venance Konan uses fiction to review the recent history of Cote d'Ivoire, including coup attempts, the crisis of 1999 and the armed rebellion of 2002, while focusing on what he considers to be the key question in Ivorian politics: identity and the rejection of foreigners.

The story is based around the character of Robert, a man in his fifties who is elected president of the youth in an ordinary village on the coast of Côte d'Ivoire. Like many native Ivorians, Robert has sold his land to immigrants to the country. These foreigners are the Catapilas of the title, because their farming skills are reminiscent of the famous Caterpillar tractors and machinery. The dispute over land ownership when the economic crisis arrives begins to poison coexistence, as has been the case in Côte d'Ivoire over the last decade. Venance Konan uses humour and sarcasm to depict a village in which everyday life – weddings, funerals, getting together to watch a football match, a beer in the bar – is gradually polluted by the political conflict between the governing party and the opposition.

Les Catapilas, ces ingrats is the second novel in which Venance Konan examines what he calls "the foreigner issue" using the same backdrop and same characters (the previous novel, Robert et les Catapilas, was published in 2005). The author is a strong advocate of tolerance, and reminds us that everyone, in Africa and elsewhere, is a foreigner at some point. And that the problem in his country is that the lessons of past crises have not been learned, and that politicians continue to manipulate the issue of identity in their own interests.