This 1998 work by French-speaking Africa's premier novelist is a vehemently outspoken satire of despotic and corrupt African regimes from the 1960s to the 1990s. It's the life story of Koyaga, dictator and "founding father" of the fictitious West African state called the Republique du Golfe. Koyaga's history is recounted over the course of a "donsomana," a six-night storytelling by a hunters' bard, and the novel reflects this in its six-part form, interspersed with African asides and proverbs.
Koyaga himself is an interesting and contradictory character, though he remains rather underdeveloped as the author concentrates on his political rather than personal life. He's a military strongman who took power through innumerable assassinations and acts of brutality. But Koyaga isn't portrayed as evil--in fact he seems to have been beloved by his countrymen, at least those who weren't constantly trying to kill him. The reader is introduced to and immersed in the perspective of the African tyrant, one who after three decades in power has begun to believe his own self-serving propaganda.
The most interesting sections of "En Attendant le Vote" are those depicting Koyaga's visits to his fellow African dictators. Here the novelist gives us very thinly disguised versions of autocratic regimes of days gone by--Sekou Toure's Guinea, Felix Houpouet-Boigny's Cote d'Ivoire, Bokassa's Central African Empire, Mobutu's Zaire, and even the Morocco of King Hassan II. Each of these leaders lets Koyaga in on his own secrets to maintaining power, and gives him fatherly advice on preserving his own grip. We see otherwise kindly and respected statesmen who jail and torture their own friends, just to be sure of their loyalty. We see presidents who make no distinction between personal and public wealth; it's all theirs for the taking. And we see wily survivors who outwit countless threats to their rule and their lives, clinging to power in the face of tremendous opposition at home and abroad.
Kourouma's novel, in presenting these images, loses some of its narrative punch. The reader, if she's been reading the papers at all over the last decade, already knows how things are going to come out. We know that the 1990s will usher in a wave of "democratization" and "transparent government" (although, like the dictators, we are caught off-guard when it actually occurs in this novel). But along the way we get a rare insight into what it's like to be a dictator, to have an entire nation singing your praises while simultaneously trying to kill you.
At times I wondered why Kourouma didn't simply come out with a collection of historical and political essays about modern African governments. Then I realized that if he were to write about Houphouet-Boigny or King Hassan II the same way he writes of their fictionalized stand-ins, his book would likely be banned in those countries where he'd most want it to be read. "En Attendant le Vote" gets as close as it can to political expose without crossing that line into dangerous territory.