Henri Lopes, 86, Who Straddled Literature and Politics in Africa, Dies

Henri Lopes, a author and former prime minister of the Republic of Congo whose pioneering fiction mocked the abuses of African leaders however who later served one of many continent’s most brutal, died on Nov. 2 in the Paris suburb of Suresnes. He was 86.

His loss of life, in a hospital, was introduced by the Republic of Congo’s embassy in Paris.

Mr. Lopes’s twin profession spanned the youth of each African nationhood and the continent’s literature. He was richly rewarded in each spheres, with high positions in politics and diplomacy and prestigious literary prizes.

His 1982 novel, “Le Pleurer-Rire” (“The Laughing Cry”), satirizes a brutal and choleric African dictator and is considered a foundational work in African literature. His “Tribaliques,” a pugnacious brief story assortment printed in 1971 and a lot written about since, was an early depiction of the shortcomings of a nascent African society riven by ethnic rivalries.

Mr. Lopes (pronounced LO-pez) completed his profession because the Republic of Congo’s ambassador in Paris, retiring in 2015. His nation, a former French colony, lies throughout the Congo River from the a lot bigger Democratic Republic of Congo, as soon as a Belgian possession.

Mr. Lopes’s journey via ministries, ideologies, rulers and literary favor summed up the selection — and the dilemma — confronted by African intellectuals in the latter half of the 20th century: Go together with the management in energy or reside precariously.

He went alongside. He was the Republic of Congo’s second-most-famous citizen, and he by no means broke with the primary, the nation’s president, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who has dominated the nation nearly repeatedly — aside from a five-year hole after shedding an election in 1992 — since 1979.

“The Laughing Cry,” which satirizes a brutal dictator, is considered a foundational work in African literature.Credit…through Readers International

In the 1960s and ’70s, with the nation newly impartial, the soft-spoken, mild-mannered Mr. Lopes was successively its minister of training, minister of knowledge, minister of justice, international minister and chairman of the Revolutionary Court, which tried enemies of the state. He was prime minister from 1973 to 1975, then director of the get together newspaper, then finance minister. Along the best way he helped write the nationwide anthem.

“We were trying to govern the country, while learning it,” he stated in his final interview earlier than his loss of life, in a documentary film by Hassim Tall Boukambou that shall be launched in January.

When Mr. Sassou-Nguesso, a former military colonel, retook energy in 1997 after a civil struggle, he remembered his previous comrade from the Congolese Workers Party. Mr. Lopes was already in Paris, having served as UNESCO’s deputy director normal for Africa.

“So Sassou had someone who gave respectability to his regime, and Henri Lopes was able to stay in Paris,” Sekou Camara, who directed a World Bank venture in the Republic of Congo and who had recognized Mr. Lopes since childhood, stated in a cellphone interview.

Afterward although, Mr. Lopes “never had the courage to detach himself from Sassou,” stated Andrea Ngombet, the chief of an opposition group in exile, who was as soon as given a present of books by Mr. Lopes.

“There is always a way of compromising you in these regimes,” he stated in an interview, noting Mr. Lopes’s “grand villa” at Suresnes.

For Mr. Lopes’s funeral in Paris on Nov. 14, Mr. Sassou-Nguesso dispatched 4 ministers from his authorities, together with the prime minister, as a part of an entourage of 27.

The “central paradox” of Mr. Lopes’s profession was, on the one hand, his lucid view of the darkish corners of African politics and, on the opposite, his benefiting from them, stated Brett L. Carter, an knowledgeable on the Republic of Congo and an assistant professor on the University of Southern California. “I don’t know how he reconciled that.”

Mr. Ngombet famous that “his and Sassou’s destinies were tied together.”

“He managed to acquire a kind of material ease that was not compatible with his functions,” he stated.

Mr. Lopes was appointed ambassador in Paris, the nation’s most necessary diplomatic posting, in 1998. During his tenure, there have been quite a few human rights abuses in the Republic of Congo, together with an notorious bloodbath on the port of Brazzaville, the capital; rigged elections; the torture and imprisonment of political opponents; and the extensively documented corruption of Mr. Sassou-Nguesso.

“I’m describing the Sassou government as a mafia,” stated John F. Clark, a professor at Florida International University and writer of a guide on the Republic of Congo’s historical past and politics.

The Congressional Research Service wrote in 2019 that “corruption is widespread” in the nation, with Mr. Sassou-Nguesso’s household possessing actual property value tens of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in Paris alone, lengthy a topic of investigation by the French authorities. The Republic of Congo, wealthy in oil, is extraordinarily poor; most of its wealth is concentrated in the presidential palace.

Mr. Lopes by no means took a place about corruption and different abuses below President Sassou-Nguesso. Even in his 2018 memoir, he had nothing to say concerning the president after he regained energy in 1997. Credit…through JC Lattès

Yet for all his literary superstar, Mr. Lopes by no means took a public place in opposition to these abuses. His 2018 memoir, “Il est déjà demain(“It is Already Tomorrow”), has nothing in any respect to say about Mr. Sassou-Nguesso as soon as he regained energy.

“I worked with him up until the point that I left the embassy,” Mr. Lopes defined in an interview with Jeune Afrique journal. “So, I have a duty to hold back,” he stated. “I could have made excuses for him, which would not have been credible. Or I could have criticized, even though I had just left his team. So, I took the risk of saying nothing.”

His widow, Christine, stated in a phone interview from Suresnes that Mr. Sassou-Nguesso had been her husband’s “brother, his companion and his friend.”

Before he served the president, Mr. Lopes had been celebrated for his literary accomplishments. He gained the Grand Literary Prize of Black Africa in 1972 for “Tribaliques.” And 21 years later he obtained the coveted Grand Prize of French-speaking Countries, from the last word arbiter of the French language, the Académie Française, for the body of his work.

In 1992, in the French newspaper Le Monde, the critic Alain Salles in contrast Mr. Lopes to Patrick Modiano, a future French Nobel laureate in literature, writing that “the phantoms of colonization and decolonization have replaced those of the Occupation and the Purge” in Mr. Modiano’s fiction set throughout World War II.

At his loss of life final month, Le Monde wrote that Mr. Lopes had “early on been one of the pioneers of ‘African literature,’ as it was conceived at that time.”

By the time “The Laughing Cry,” thought-about his most vital novel, was printed in 1982, Mr. Lopes was properly conscious of the disappointments of decolonization, having lived via a number of coups d’état and the March 1977 assassination of President Marien Ngouabi, below whom he as soon as served. His portrait of the character Bwakamabé, a dictator, in “Laughing Cry” is savage:

“I, I am the father. And you, you are my children,” Bwakamabé says, rejecting the thought of a vote. “You should give me advice, with frankness. But if you are afraid of my reactions, and you want to spare me, you should shut up respectfully.”

Henri Lopes was born on Sept. 12, 1937, in what was then Léopoldville, later Kinshasa, the capital of what was then the Belgian Congo. His mother and father, Jean-Marie Lopes, a small landowner, and Micheline Vulturi, had been the mixed-race kids of Belgian and French colonizers who had fleeting unions with native women, a proven fact that weighed closely on the light-skinned Mr. Lopes’s sense of himself, his place in Congolese society and his place in the Sassou-Nguesso authorities.

“Being mixed race didn’t just mark me; it made up my identity, my essential existence,” he as soon as informed an interviewer for the French journal Le Point. And it left him considerably alienated. As Professor Clark, of Florida International University, put it: “He’s not in the interior of the mafia. If you’re part of the mafia family, but an outsider, you are never fully trusted.”

Mr. Lopes studied on the Sorbonne — his mom, divorced, had married a Frenchman, who introduced the younger Henri with him to France — and joined a number of African scholar unions. In the mid-1960s, he taught on the École Normale Superieure de l’Afrique Centrale in Brazzaville earlier than being recruited into the federal government, as was widespread with younger males who had been educated.

In addition to his spouse, his second, Mr. Lopes is survived by 4 kids from a earlier marriage: his daughters Myriam, Annouk and Laure, and his son, Thomas.

About his lengthy profession in politics, Mr. Lopes would typically inform interviewers that he had most popular writing. But for a lot of, his political engagement overshadowed his literary achievements.

As Professor Carter, of U.S.C., stated, “To the extent to which he put his accomplishments in the service of the regime, many Congolese will never forgive him for that.”

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