2 September 2012

Cote d'Ivoire: 'Young Ivorians, Be Aware'

Photo: Alexis Adele/IRIN
Ivoirian security forces restrain a crowd protesting against the "microbes" youth gang rampaging in the commercial capital Abidjan.

Armed with nothing more than his creativity, multi-talented Ivorian artist Pokou has embraced a mission as 'conscience raiser for the youth'. He claims this role with an absolute sincerity and humour that are his defining characteristics.

"Ivorian society is losing its identity and values, and the youth are being misled. They believe that success and a good life can only be achieved through politics," says 32-year-old artist/comedian/humourist/scriptwriter/director Jean-Eudes Pokou.

According to him, young Ivorians need someone to show them that there are other ways to succeed in life. "I am determined to fight that battle," says Pokou, who rejects the label of socially engaged artist. "To say some artists are engaged implies others are not. All artists are engaged in one way or another." Pokou is multi-talented, working in many different disciplines, but doesn't prefer one art form over another. "It's like asking a father which one of his sons he loves most. I do everything," says the graduate of INSAAC, the National Higher Institute of Arts and Cultural Action in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's largest city.

Message behind the jokes

Beyond the humour, Pokou's work is a serious look at the human condition and the need for urgent action. He questions the integrity of Ivorian governance while conveying his frustrations, plight and hopes.

"My goal is not only to make people laugh for the sake of it. Laughter is certainly therapeutic, but more important than that is the message, because it brings about change," says Pokou, who hopes his jokes about politicians will raise political awareness.

Politics and corruption

Pokou abhors the corruption that "gangrenes Ivorian society." Recently, on his way back to Abidjan from a theatre tour across the country, he confronted a police officer who was trying to extort money from one of the passengers at a roadblock, over his allegedly 'expired' ID. While all the other passengers in the bus remained silent, Pokou spoke up and successfully helped the passenger recover his ID without having to bribe the policeman.

Priceless silence

When asked what it would cost to silence his critical voice, Pokou explodes with laughter. "No one can afford it. It's priceless. As long as I breathe and live, I cannot be silenced. I can't imagine myself not doing what I am currently doing. There are many things in our society that need to change. Every time I have an opportunity to bring about a change of mentality in my fellow Ivorians, I will speak out."

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