In an African Prison: A Memoir

In an African Prison: A Memoir

Late in 1976, the French Ministry of State for the Interior banned distribution of a book by Jean-Paul Alata, Prison d’Afrique (Editions du Seuil); the action was taken on the basis of a law of July 29, 1881 that authorizes the government to regulate the distribution of “works of foreign origin that are written in the French language and published abroad and in France.” This law, which had lapsed, was revived in 1939 by a decree-law aiming to prevent the introduction of Nazi writings into France. Alata’s book is not the first to suffer from an aberrant application of what was in principle an anti-Nazi decree.

The present ban, which was brought about by pressure from Sekou Toure, affects a work that strains Franco-Guinean relations. (Jean-Paul Alata is French by birth; subsequently, he opted for Guinean citizenship; in 1975, French authorities, claiming that legally he was a French national, secured his release from prison in Guinea; since his return to France, he has resumed the status of French citizen.) Alata’s book is an account of what befell him in Guinea: a personal friend of President for Lire of the Republic of Guinea Sekou Toure and a well-placed Guinean political figure, A lata found himself one of the numerous Guineans who were tortured in the Borio camp on the sole decision of an autocratic President.

The passages from Alata’s book published here describe a torture scene, collective madness in Conakry, anda telephone conversation between the prisoner Jean-Paul Alata and President Sekou Toure.

Projection Room Technique: January 13, 1971

A harsh light bores through my eyelids. I did not hear the door open, but the guardroom officer is shaking me by the shoulder.

“Get up. The committee’s asking for you.”

Outside, the air is fresh, and there are stars. Once again, the heavy iron-plated door, the high-wheeled jeep in which Adjutant Oulareis waiting for me.

“You’ve been sick, Alata?”

“How do you know that?”

He laughs. “The Minister wants to be kept informed about everything that concerns you. Reprinted, with permission, from the December 1976 issue of Esprit. You’re an important figure. Cisse reported to him that you’ve been sick. It wasn’t serious?”

“When it’s the heart, it’s always serious.”

“Well, show a little understanding presently, and your troubles will soon be over.”

I don’t answer. What have I to answer? By now I am convinced that Ismael is trying to buttress a very fragile pyramid that he’s constructed on lies.