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Ivory Coast – Laughing for peace

Overcoming a crisis is never easy, but laughing about it can make it lighter. Maybe that is why L’Afterwork – a prime time radio show broadcast by Abidjan’s Radio Nostalgie – is so successful.

In early 2013 those in charge of the network were wondering how to replace the program previously aired in that time slot. They decided to place their bet on a comedian – Yao Patrick, better known as Chuken Pat – and a presenter, Jean Jacques Varold. Their success went beyond all expectations: at present, Radio Nostalgie has even more listeners than Radio France Internationale when L’Afterwork is on air.

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The audience is the most broad one that can be imagined. Most listeners are ordinary Ivorians who, when the show is aired, are usually stuck in the traffic of Abidjan on their way home. But L’Afterwork has also raised the attention of more powerful people: a dozen ministers and some opposition figures have been in the studio when the program was being recorded, which is quite awkward, since L’Afterwork mainly mocks politicians from the country and the rest of Africa. “For years we have had problems with all these presidents, (…) so we thought, why not turn the game on its head and play around with them?”, said Varold recently, who has now quit the show in order to begin a TV career.
That is how things went, in the first two seasons of the show. The ageing former Ivorian president Henri Konan Bedié, for example, is the favourite target of Germain Koloko, who makes a perfect imitation of his voice. Realism, in fact, has a great importance also when it comes to satire: another comedian, Mala Adamo, has a true gift for Sahelian accents, but he recently confessed that he had to practice a lot before managing to impersonate the former ruler of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaoré. He speaks, Adamo says, “a very good French, but with a Burkinabé accent”.

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This is very peculiar and different, for instance, from the one of Niger’s Mahamadou Issoufou: every character is studied in depth, every broadcast carefully programmed through a daily reading of the newspapers and a meeting, before going on air.
News being the main source of inspiration for Chucken Pat and his colleagues, there is almost no high-profile figure who is spared ironic criticism; not even Dominique Ouattara, the wife of the Ivorian head of state, who happens to be a shareholder of Radio Nostalgie. The president himself is often referred to as Alasco Bill, a double reference to his first name – Alassane – and the time he spent in America for his studies and as deputy managing director of the IMF. Chucken Pat does not think that sketches such as these can be seen as disrespectful. On the contrary, he says “I’m saying something about the state of the society in which we live by painting a caricature of its leaders”. Moreover, the comedian feels that by saying something about the politicians, he also sends them a useful message. A show such as

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L’Afterwork “allows our leaders – he recently told journalists – to see themselves as the people see them. They don’t have the time to go into the bars and restaurants and find out what people think of them. We do that. So when they listen to us they reflect: “Ah – so that’s how people see us?” and that is a good thing”.
This might be one of the reasons why the show has never been subject to any political pressure: another, however, is certainly the attitude of the authors and comedians. It’s once again Chucken Pat who explains what this means: “We can make caricatures out of our leaders but we must also respect them. We must be subtle. After all, we have gone through difficult times and what we do also serves to advance the peace we now have”. A very similar opinion on the purpose of the show is Varold’s, who in turn makes a reference to the civil war which ravaged the country twice in the 2000s. “It’s a sort of collective therapy for people in Ivory Coast” – the former Radio Nostalgie star was quoted by Jeune Afrique as saying – “When we know what we left behind us and what we suffered because of policies, it seems incredible that today we can laugh about it”.

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“We can pass messages that others cannot. Our force is that we manage to do this without causing upsets”, Adamo adds, but everybody in the crew knows that even the most ample freedom must recognize its limits. So did L’Afterwork, when choosing not to feature a caricature of former president Laurent Gbagbo, due to appear before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he must face counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. “He is the only one who could not defend himself from our parody”, the comedians say.

David Maggiore

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