Those literary gannets and prize committees taken aback by the waves of brilliant African fiction and poetry landing on their desks should look at the raw material served up to writers every day on the continent. It takes nothing away from these writers’ creative genius to contrast the life and death importance of political struggles in Africa, as well as helter-skelter social change, with the bland canvas of much electoral politics and social discourse in the West.
Take Zimbabwe, where the struggle to succeed nonagenarian President Robert Mugabe is worthy of a Shakespearian tragedy or history. Should Mugabe be cast as King Lear? He has the years but not the beard. Nor does he show any sign of recanting or remorse, or even of weakness in his old age. He has artfully procrastinated for a decade as he pretended to consider the claims to two rivals. In common with many First Ladies in Africa, Mugabe’s wife Grace is likened to Lady Macbeth.
Mugabe’s condemnation this week of Vice-President Joice Mujuru for treachery, without producing a scintilla of evidence, suggests another parallel – Prince Hal’s casting aside of his old friend Falstaff. In Harare, the governing party’s elective congress is well underway and pundits are already forecasting the outcome: it will be no Agincourt but the King will put down the rebels. That, however, will not clean out the stench of corruption and deadly rivalries in the court. As they seek a guide to the unfolding plots in the party, some politicians may reach for a copy of Hamlet and turn eagerly to the dénouement in the final act.