LE PRÉSIDENT FONDATEUR DE LA TRÈS DÉMOCRATIQUE RÉPUBLIQUE DE GONDWANA
Inspired by the highly amusing commentator Mamane on RFI Afrique (Radio France Internacional Afrique), this collage highlights the foibles of leadership in the fictitious country he calls Gondwana, somewhere in Africa. In keeping with Mamane’s parodies, this collage is a commentary on the nature of power, how it is embodied, projected, and perpetuated by the Chief.
Animist powers, raw natural resources, a tribal patronage system, not to mention the stability of available maize (food) and water lend legitimacy to the Chief, ever wary of challenges to his authority. Above him, on the upper left, an Akan Benfra bracelet streams a ray of maize across to a woman pouring ground maize from one gourd to another.
Forming the Chief’s head are various masks clustered under the upper jaw of a crocodile. Other symbols of power include hands grasping a rhino horn and a throwing knife.
Below, his foot nailed in place forever is paired with a dinosaurs’ hind claw. The crafty, wily leader with crushed dollar bills forming his chest blends into the chameleon, long seen as having the same attributes as he. The front left leg of the chameleon blends into the soft hand holding the Chief’s sword.
Next to the foot is Ghana’s Nkruma, one of Africa’s first independence leaders, revolutionary and visionary but ultimately autocratic, unfortunately setting the path for many who, like him, would later attempt to cling to perpetual power. Hidden at the base of the chief’s chair as an extreme example of the intoxication of power, a crowned Bokasa, self-proclaimed emperor of the Central African Republic, peeks out on his postage stamp.
To one side, a bull elephant wearing a revolutionary red beret eyes the Chief with the hope of supplanting him. All too often, the successful aspirant promises democratic change only to end up mirroring the ambitions of the one he deposes, hence the diamond-studded lion head pinned to his beret.
The Chief, seated on his cowrie-outlined serpent throne also straddles a red Cadillac of 60s vintage. (Today, the Cadillac has given way to high end Mercedes Benzes, and the crumpled dollar to Swiss francs, Euros, and Yuan. In east Africa, those in power are often referred to as the WaBenzi, i.e., the tribe of the Benz.)