Translated from French by Bhakti Shringarpure and Sara C. Hanaburgh
This novel is set in an unnamed African country and starts against a backdrop of civil unrest. The head of the secret service, Col. Asante Kroma, is looking for the deposed president, N’Zo Nikiema. He is under orders to kill the president by Frenchman Pierre Castaneda, who had for many years been a close associate of the president.
But Kroma does not need to carry out his orders. Going into a little well-hidden house down a narrow street, the colonel comes across the dying president. The house belongs to Mumbi Awele, Nikiema’s mistress, whose six-year-old daughter Kaveena was brutally murdered a few years earlier. The investigation into the murder did not lead anywhere, and it was never clear who was responsible—although suspicions pointed to one of the two men at the top.
Kroma finds the president’s papers and his letters to Mumbi and decides to stay in the house with the corpse. Bit by bit he pieces together the history of Nikiema and Castaneda and the events that led up to Kaveena’s murder. It is a story of unbridled greed and lust for power—the kind of power that corrupts absolutely.
Nikiema and Castaneda met while working for a French mining firm. Both men were ambitious and hungry for power (Castaneda for the country’s natural resources). Together they overthrew the French colonisers and led the country to independence. Nikiema became president but the two men ruled (and despoiled) the country together. Castaneda became the man in the shadows advising the increasingly dictatorial Nikiema, but the partnership fell apart after Kaveena’s murder. Eventually, Mumbi’s avenges her child and brings down the regime.
Boubacar Boris Diop is one of the best-known writers of Senegal. Kaveena is a gripping story that exposes not only with corruption but foreign powers’ greed for Africa’s natural resources. The book is narrated by Kroma, interspersed with Nikiema’s letters. Diop creates a claustrophobic atmosphere as Kroma spends day after day locked in the house with the corpse. And what he uncovers is equally grim. This is not an easy read but one well worth the trouble.