A glimpse of African identity through the lens of Togolese literature
Togo, this small West African nation, is still relatively unknown, even in today's jet set world. The western world is only now discovering the numerous advances Togo has made in its social and economic policies, but most of all in its political conjectures. After its Independence on April 27, 1960, Togo had barely begun its journey to democracy when the dictatorship of Gnassingbe Eyadema became the yoke of the people for over thirty-one years, on April 14th, 1967. The consequences of the stranglehold exercised by Gnassingbe was to shut the nation's cultural growth and cause the people to close in onto themselves and build a protective barrier between themselves and the rest of the world. Yet, Togo had great beginnings. It was one of the pioneers of Sub-Saharan literature, publishing in 1929 one of the first true African novels still read today. In 1929, native son Felix Couchoro, was among the first Sub-Saharan authors to write a novel which gave agency to an African protagonist in a story set in Africa, with an African-themed plot, and with a conclusion that aimed at rethinking African society. Couchoro was the first to look deeply into his culture and the social identity of his nation. He brought forth suggestions that would help in Togo's growth and insure its successful battle for Independence. In doing so, however, Couchoro also created great controversy around a subject which continues to plague not only Togolese people, but all Africans who feel pulled in two directions: preserving their authentic traditional customs while taking an active part in the modern world, through economic improvements as well as technological advances. In this dissertation, I will first study Couchoro's flagship novel which was the starting point of this quest for a modern identity, then analyze how subsequent Togolese writers have taken up Couchoro's legacy.
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