- Requiems for Revolutions:Race-Sex Archetypes in Two African Novels
Nuruddin Farah's A Naked Needle (1976), and Ayi Kwei Armah's Why Are We So Blest? (1972), are both novels set in failing revolutions in postcolonial states, one a decade after independence and the other immediately in its wake. They are also novels that in their treatment of racially mixed marriages and relationships make considerable play, either of a serious or satiric kind, with race-sex archetypes inherited from colonialism. This article will attempt to determine the value the authors attach to the latter paradigms and what connection they have, if any, with the process of revolutionary decline.
Koschin, the mercurial narrator of Farah's novel, is at once raconteur and reporter, romantic revolutionary and astute political commentator, idealist and realist. At the visit to Mogadiscio of his English fiancée Nancy, three years after General Syad Barre's Soviet-backed military coup of 1969, Koschin is still determinedly celebrating the "revolutionary" event that ended the chaos of colonial parliamentary models: "Before this blessed Revolution, Nancy, there were over sixty political parties in this Country of Curiosity. . . . Each major tribe had a party to its name, each major party had a major tribe to support her" (99).1 His euphoria, however, [End Page 55] is a self-consciously hollow one, maintained as it is only by suppressing his growing awareness of the Supreme Revolutionary Council's betrayal of the Revolution's original ideals of economic independence, sexual equality, and tribal dissolution. These betrayals, and Somalia's subsequent drift toward tribal oligarchy and an Islamic-based totalitarian dictatorship, complete with state surveillance and police terror, will preoccupy Farah in his following trilogy of novels, Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship (1979-1983), in which we hear that Koschin himself has been arrested and reduced to a vegetable in one of the state's mental asylums.
In A Naked Needle a number of contradictory currents converge, without quite making contact, in Koschin's saturative revolutionized consciousness. He can be both critical and-before the American woman Barbara-defensive of the state's degradation of Somali womanhood. Although he takes pride in the government's recent scripting of the Somali language, he remarks ominously that Somalia is still an "oral society" where there is an embargo on written information and where, since there is "no government-fixed price" for anything, one has to trust the vendor; a garrulously oral creature himself, he is thus an unwitting accomplice to the political hypocrisy of the new literacy and to the regime's use of oral-based techniques of surveillance and repression to "short-change" the people, a phenomenon that Farah will deal with at length in Sweet and Sour Milk (1979) and Sardines (1981). Most startlingly, Koschin's defiant individualism, which is deeply suspicious of propagandist art, government indoctrination programs, and the deification of generals, is at odds with a naive revolutionary idealism that "turns a dead ear" (the phrase is his own) to evidence of the gathering forces of political repression: the bandaged feet of Bulxan just back from the police cells, his friend Mohamed's razor-cut after a political argument with his barber, and the menacing police car hovering over the last pages of the book, all of which Koschin blithely ignores. The liberal humanist Mohamed, who sounds the first warnings of the "terror and horror from dawn to dusk" ushered in by the revolution, accordingly accuses him of "stinking" from holding ideas in which he does not really believe. At the same time, Koschin's alert critical eye falls upon instances of national corruption, political betrayals, and foreign intrusions that are becoming impossible to ignore, notably nepotistic appointments to the foreign service, a neocolonial education system with Italian as its medium of instruction, the strengthening Soviet presence, the Somali elite's flocking to join African intellectuals in United Nations' offices and Western universities, and the behavior of their home equivalents at the Europeanized Mogadiscio Club:
The so-called intellectuals of Somalia, the brightest sons and daughters of Puntland, the best that have made home with a degree in their hands, almost all of them, or...