Ahmadou Kourouma is an Ivorian writer and political activist. Quand on refuse on dit non (When We Refuse We Say No) is the first book I have read from him and it will not be my last. This book is truly influential, throughout conveying part of the history of Ivory Coast and its people, it forced me to consider key questions in regards to history. What is really history? How history is shaped? What should I consider as history and why learning my ancestor’s history is fundamental on a personal level?
The book touches on many things but what most certainly caught my attention is the idea that our sense of identity can be fragmented and that history can break us free.
Reading this book has been inspiring, it taught me the importance of getting to know our people’s history when constructing our personal history.
What are we talking about?
We read the book throughout the eyes of a former child soldier Birahima, who returns to Ivory Coast as a demobilised child soldier only to find that another war has broken out.
Birahima wanders the countryside, from Christian south to Islamicized north, seeking safety from death squads out to kill Muslims. His companion, Fanta, a teacher, schools him on the history of their country, Ivory Coast, from the colonial era through the post-independence period. This the story of Ivory Coast’s descent into ethnic cleansing and it can be understood as a message of tolerance to stop the chaos.
What are the most important things I learn from it?
We should always question the history we are taught
Some of the facts presented in the book describe events I was taught but I was completely unaware of most the things I read. A lot of things struck me and urged me to deepen my knowledge on the history of Ivory Coast, andmost generally of West Africa and to keep looking for different voices.
It reminded those lines I have read from the novel Homegoing of Yaa Gyasi, without paying much attention to it.
“We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history you must ask yourself, Whose story am I missing?, Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there you get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”
History to reconstruct yourself
I am not from Ivory Coast but one of its neighbouring countries, therefore the history of Ivory Coast is intrinsically linked to the history of my country.
Getting to know another voice in regards to what I consider part of my heritage has been a journey. I understood how vital that is for constructing my sense of self. You acquire a sense of confidence when teaching yourself about your history and your legacy.