Memory/History, Violence, and Reconciliation: Introduction

Maureen N. Eke Marie Kruger Mildred Mortimer

Research in African Literatures, Volume 43, Number 1, Spring 2012, pp. 65-69 (Article) Published by Indiana University Press DOI: 10.1353/ral.2012.0020

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Vol. and power and the institutional contexts in which they are enacted. history. and Sierra Leone are outstanding examples in this regard—have worked towards achieving significant cultural and political self-transformations through institutional mediations that range from nationally televised Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to local negotiations of restorative justice (as in Rwanda’s gacaca tribunals). 43. we ask how African writers have • RESEARCH IN AFRICAN LITERATURES. 1 (Spring 2012). EKE. These new developments—as the agents behind them have fostered a reinvention of African identities by deft “manipulation of ‘indigenousness’ and ancestral descent” (Mbembe 86)—have been responsible for the dissolution of existing territorial. colonial fictions of race and ethnicity left Africans with troubling and problematic categories of identification that have proven opportune vehicles for political manipulation. regional.M EMORY/ HISTORY. AND MILDRED MORTIMER. a history of violent conflict. All too often. GUEST EDITORS A number of African nations have been born out of. these nations—South Africa. © 2012 • . In their attempt to redefine the interactions of national. MARIE KRUGER. A ND R ECONCILI ATION Introduction MAUREEN N. and moral frameworks. Yet the reconciliation of highly stratified societies appears impossible without examining fundamental questions of identity. or find themselves emerging from. and local communities. V IOLENCE . In this complex cultural and historical landscape. No. we see these struggles acquiring a new intensity and ferocity in not a few places on the continent as new corporate or privatized forms of sovereignty and violence have emerged. Rwanda. And if the African postcolonial era ushers in intranational struggles over access to and allocation of resources. institutional.

past wounds. . as Martha Minow suggests. Within this group. (un)recovered histories. the massacres. the works our essays explore resist such annihilation by giving voice to memory. and institutional contexts that enable and/or disable attempts at reconciliation. and reconciliation. involved in the investigation of individual and collective responsibilities? As territorial borders and institutional structures shift towards new configurations. history. acknowledged the humanity of the other. a study of Gilbert Gatore’s novel Le passé devant soi [The Past before Us]. “[a] most appalling goal of the genocides. and geopolitical differences among the nations (real and fictitious) portrayed in the works our essays address. in the construction of “new” national communities? To what extent does the discovery of the “truth” about the past reveal hidden and forgotten histories? How do the dynamics of gender intersect with efforts at social restoration and collaboration? In spite of national. in general. and truths. We called for articles that address the following questions: To what extent do institutions of national and colonial modernity. These articles include studies of prominent African writers and directors such as Assia Djebar. . what are the new relations of servitude and coercion. Boima Fahnbulleh. systematic rapes. as well as the relationship between memory and history. This collection of essays for Research in African Literatures emerged from a panel organized and chaired by Maureen N. The works we examine in this collection of essays suggest that the process of reconciliation serves as a conduit for gaining access to experiences of trauma. We three editors of this cluster of papers first presented papers at the panel and subsequently decided to propose them to RAL as a study of the themes of memory. In examining these texts. and nations (real or fictitious) that have experienced genocidal violence arrive at some way of making sense of their experiences.” (1). such as TRCs and local tribunals. and tortures has been the destruction of the remembrance of individuals as well as of their lives and dignity . political. The essays in this volume. the essays also problematize the nature of justice and truth. the experiences of genocidal violence have a commonality—the obliteration of human life and dignity. Eke at the African Studies Association Meeting in Chicago in 2008. Elizabeth Applegate examines a narrative that centers on the Rwandan genocide. as well as those of emerging voices: Leonora Miano. recuperating the dignity of those who have been wounded. If. individual and collective. The articles that follow focus on the search for and negotiation of truth through the process of reconciliation in a variety of African nations—from Algeria and Liberia in northern and western Africa to South Africa and the eastern African countries of Kenya and Tanzania. What are the different . imagined new discourses on rights and responsibilities and. impact contemporary political relations? How are public spaces and legal institutions. and in particular discourses of race and ethnicity. therefore. Applegate’s article. cultural. memories. Gilbert Gatore. interrogate the ways in which the writers. Euphrase Kezilahabi. Three articles focus on francophone works. thus. We invited submissions that explore African writers’ engagement with the historical. violence.66 • RESEARCH IN AFRICAN LITER ATURES • VOLUME 43 NUMBER 1 engaged with processes of restorative justice. and Ramadan Suleman. individuals. but also of collaboration and support. in postcolonial African societies? What is the role of memory and history. discusses the issues of identity and reconciliation posed by a text that questions the power of writing as a means to reflect “reality” and as a practice that allows Rwandan survivors to reconcile with their traumatic pasts.

MAUREENN. South Africa and Liberia. Louisette Ighilariz’s memoir. the concept of home. Mortimer draws upon three sources–Assia Djebar’s fiction. Mildred Mortimer puts the focus on the Algerian War. Aaron Rosenberg translates the search for new discourses on rights and responsibilities into the Tanzanian context when he discusses how artists such as Euphrase Kezilahabi and Saida Karoli challenge official narratives of power. with women’s spaces and women’s minds becoming battlefields in Africa’s civil conflicts. and how its traditional dimensions are eventually challenged by the trauma engendered by the experiences. the articles by Aaron Rosenberg. is redefined by terrorism. how it is appropriated by the insurgents to force the cooperation of the villagers. and David Mastey as well as the review essay by Catherine Muhoma further expand the geographical purview of this special issue. and how do . In other words. In contrast to studies of texts specific to Rwanda. and Karoli’s multilingual song performances in Swahili. Rosa Mistika. In their discussions of individual and collective memories of violence in Kenya and Tanzania. uses several different iterations of a folktale depicting a swallow and a toad to suggest that identity and personal history can be reinvented. examining the historic role of women within the North African nation’s liberation struggle. His arguments thus engage with two central questions examined in this volume: How have African artists imagined “new” ethnic and national societies in their creative works. normally a place of tranquility and security. solutions will not be limited to a mere return to previous social structures. Rosenberg maintains that even if official cultural scripts subject women to violent and traumatic experiences. There are details that might recall conflicts throughout Central Africa as well. Kezilahabi’s wellknown Swahili novel. Janice Spleth’s article takes us to a fictitious community in an unspecified African country. and English are intended to expose patriarchal institutions that shape gender identities within ethnic and national communities. and Danièle Djamila Amrane-Minne’s historical studies—to address two interrelated questions posed by the theme of this volume: To what extent does the search for the “truth” about the past reveal hidden and forgotten histories? How do the dynamics of gender intersect with efforts at social restoration and collaboration? The three texts are forms of testimonial literature that attest to the extreme physical and psychological demands of intense political engagement: the activist risks losing her life at any time.EKE. her essay explores the ways in which literary texts negotiate the issues of violence and of remembering as a reconciliatory process. Spleth’s analysis of Miano’s novel focuses on her depiction of women’s place in this imaginary community: how it is defined at the beginning of the novel. the nature of the civil war depicted there shares military and political characteristics with insurrections resembling those in Liberia or Sierra Leone. as the critic notes. Although Léonora Miano’s L’Intérieur de la nuit (Dark Heart of the Night) is set in an African country not clearly associated with any real nation and carries a completely fictitious name. Luhya. In Spleth’s view. but that processes of reconstruction can also provide opportunities for new visions. In keeping with the themes of this issue.GUESTEDITORS • 67 ways of recuperating the “reality” of a horrific event? Le passé devant soi. Miano’s fictional exploration of war and its consequences suggests that as divided nations strive for reconciliation.MARIEKRUGER.ANDMILDREDMORTIMER. the creative interventions of both artists demonstrate that cultural memory is always open to social revision and change. Marie Kruger.

revealing “truths” long ignored or even deliberately denied in official government reports. Specifically.68 • RESEARCH IN AFRICAN LITER ATURES • VOLUME 43 NUMBER 1 the dynamics of gender intersect with their efforts to envision alternative communities? His essay also allows this volume to transition beyond Anglophone and Francophone texts and to consider creative media and languages often sidelined in postcolonial scholarship. it is ultimately the Liberian reader. the film employs a representational style that intends to represent the trauma of the past and its posttraumatic resonance in the present. His comparative analysis of two Liberian authors shows the extent to which their coming-of-age narratives reflect the mandate of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission “to identify the complex origins of the fourteen-year civil war that devastated the West African state from 1989 to 2003. an innovative and internationally successful Kenyan journal of creative and noncreative writing. and journalist who risked her life in the fight against the apartheid regime. David Mastey’s examination of contemporary Liberian literature reminds us that various other truth and reconciliation commissions have taken place on the African continent in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. and [to] recommend measures to prevent future conflicts. The eyewitness accounts of the Kenyan violence offer the reader rare insights into its causes. and. Kwani? 5 courageously stands out in having brought to light the hidden and forgotten memories of the politically motivated troubles. Thus. the role of the audience as an active witness to the traumatic memory of politically motivated violence. situated in the contemporary present. highly subjective point of view. Kruger examines the devastating effects of traumatic memory on the film’s protagonist.” He argues that. and the challenges of translating such memories into different artistic media emerge as recurrent themes in the articles collected in this special issue. With its frequent temporal shifts. Catherine Muhoma’s focus in her review essay is the work of memorializing done in the pages of Kwani? 5. Kruger argues that the main character’s painful journey recognizes the moral ambivalence of a victim who has to learn to forgive herself for a past for which she holds herself responsible. Marie Kruger’s article on the South African film Zulu Love Letter extends the focus of this volume by considering cinematic representations of politically motivated violence and the profoundly disabling ramifications of such violence for individual and social bodies. While the South African TRC provides a prominent institutional model for restorative justice and the transition to democracy. Thandeka Khumalo. even though the narratives feature protagonists who advocate for an inclusive national identity. The common themes reappearing in these testimonials (economic deprivation. Indeed. [to] determine its perpetrators. the revelation of forgotten and hidden histories. and self-conscious narration. a political activist. in Muhoma’s assessment. but also demonstrates the aesthetic and ethical challenges of rendering personal pain accessible to an audience often far removed from the experience of the victim. mother. who has to engage with the fictional events and accept fellow citizens of different ethnic affiliations if the objectives of the TRC—national reconciliation and unity—are to be successfully implemented. Select testimonials about the 2007 postelection violence in Kenya have been reproduced in the journal. the film not only reflects the limitations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as an official space of reconciliation and forgiveness. struggles over land ownership and ethnic marginalization) .

papers. loss. We hope that our readers will find this group of essays informative and cause for reflection as they explore the themes of memory. We offer these essays as works that are engaged in a conversation with one another on the themes of the collection.EKE. We three editors. Yet. Berkeley: U of California P. and reconciliation. Boston: Beacon.” In conclusion. Print. Justice and Reconciliation Commission to succeed in establishing a democratic and accountable form of governance. 2001. suspicion. and Kenya in an effort to contribute to current debates that are agitating both African studies and postcolonial studies.MARIEKRUGER. • • • • • . Print. Achille.” were in different geographical locations: Maureen in Michigan. Martha. we managed to adhere to the deadlines imposed for abstracts. On the Postcolony. Marie in Iowa. history. 1998. Minow. we would like to note that the logistics of bringing this volume to fruition were somewhat complicated. the United States. and the final revised copy. We are very pleased that the essays represented in this collection bring together scholars from academic institutions in Mexico. it will be necessary that “the narratives of pain. the “three M’s. violence.MAUREENN.GUESTEDITORS • 69 subvert the government’s politically opportune amnesia and instead demonstrate the manipulation of ethnic identity in the struggle for access to essential resources. hatred and anger find their place in the congregation of remembrance. Muhoma concludes that for institutions such as the Kenyan Truth. Mimi going back and forth between Colorado and France. Between Vengeance and Forgiveness. WORKS CITED Mbembe. with the cooperation of our contributors.ANDMILDREDMORTIMER.

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