Kongi, who is said to be modelled after Kwame Nkrumah and Hastings Banda (respectively, Ghana’s and Malaur’s first post-colonial leaders), is a post-colonial leader who has recently ascended to power following a strong war of decolonization. Both Nkrumah and Banda possessed an eye for style, and it is this obsession with self-presentation, i.e., presenting “a picture,” that affects Kongi, with the majority of the play devoted to his preparation for the public meeting at which he will take over the emblems and symbols of traditional power forcibly, but with the apparent consent of Oba Danlola, thus eliminating the only source of institutionalized opposition.
Kongi’s Harvest as post colonial play
The primary focus of the satire in the first part of Kongi’s Harvest is Kongi’s obsession with transforming himself into an imaginary omnipotent leader; and as we see the lengths to which he will go to accomplish this transformation, we become conscious of the obsession’s obsessive existence, and the laughter gives way to the realization that such madness is not amusing but destructive. When the play begins, Kongi and members of the Reformed Aweri Community, his replacement for Oba Danlola’s Aweri Council, are preparing for Kongi’s public investiture as the new national Leader.
However, it is worth noting that the primary objective is to find a suitable picture for the government, including the cabinet, as we hear from one of the ministers. By the time the Fourth Aweri proposes that positive scientificism should predominate in their “pronouncements,” it is clear that Soyinka is mocking Kwame Nkrumah’s political philosophy, which he dubbed “consciencism.” What is also self-evidently contradictory is the adoption of “positive scientificism” for self-evidently illogical purposes.
It is obvious that the picture chosen suits Kongi’s muddled view of the relationship between politics and science. The Reformed Aweri’s obsession with Gradgrindian precision indicates that this may also be an indication of the Dickensian influence on Soyinka mentioned by James Gibbs in his biography of the writer. As in Dickens’s Hard Times, the cobbling together of disparate ideas in the name of science results in a tragic conclusion.
Additionally, Kongi’s uncritical acceptance of something contrary to tradition as a suitable ideology for the new regime can be interpreted as a symbol of Lakunle’s tradition project in The Lion and the Jewel’s uncritical preference for modernity over tradition. Furthermore, it is a case of the past haunting the present, as Kongi and his Reformed Aweri are profoundly uncertain about their standing in comparison to Oba Danlola and his Aweri Council’s old order.
Equally striking is the fact that the Reformed Aweri are themselves at the dictator’s mercy. For example, the regime’s picture is chosen primarily for sycophantic reasons, and the urge to satisfy Kongi stems from living in constant fear of his unreasonable punitiveness. They have reason to fear him as someone who has forced them to fast in order to create an image of the regime: “fasting under duress,” as one of the most hungry Aweri puts it, they are not unlike Oba Danlola, whom Kongi imprisoned for refusing to hand over the position of the Yam Harvest Festival’s spirit, which entails ritualistically blessing the lar.
To a certain degree, the Oba is free because he understands that his incarceration is based on a sound theory; nevertheless, the Aweri must concoct a principle to explain the regime’s survival and the existence of their own fraternity. Even so, they cannot stop the vacuity of it all.
Indeed, Kongi’s ignorance is such that he increasingly denies them the fiction of autonomy or the mask of being advisors instead of telling them what to do: “disputate.” After months of sleepless deliberation over the regime’s image, the Organizing Secretary informs them that “the Leader’s image for the next Five-Year Development Plan will be that of a benevolent father of the nation… The Keyword is Harmony.” Contrary to popular belief, Kongi views them not as wise men” or “Magi,” but rather as automata, he can bend at will, as well as punch.
As satire gives way to sombre recognition of Kongi’s power’s wanton destructiveness, and as his adversaries’ plans to dust him become increasingly elaborate, the reader or audience realizes that the initial comic dismemberment of Kongi was merely a prelude to the violent eruption of what the dictator had previously repressed.
His indestructibility is shown by his ability to keep everything under control. In typical dictatorial fashion, several former trusted officials, including his mouthpiece, the Organizing Secretary, flee for fear that his paranoid disposition will point the finger of blame at them and have them executed.
As several characters in the play observe, Kongi is a poseur, a man who is constantly aware of the world watching him; he sits on his mountain, looking out on the world while simultaneously being visible to it. Such an approach to living seems to have taken its emotional toll; Kongi is hysterical, and in the final scene, he delivers in mime what we are told is a four-and-a-half-hour speech.