Of the rich array of popular genre forms that fill book and video shops across the African continent, few engage as complexly as crime novels and films the profound crises of selfhood, sovereignty, and collective obligation wrought by the neoliberal formations of governance imposed on African nation-states by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s structural adjustment programs. African creative artists have long tempted their local readerships with the tales of moral corruption, guile, and hard-boiled individualism that are the stock-in-trade of pulp fiction, but it was not until after the implementation of neoliberal governance policies beginning in the early 1980s that popular crime works began to overshadow the social and historical realist narratives and bildungsromans that dominated African literary production from the late colonial era. Where those genres facilitated the cultural production of the imagined national community for the continent’s young nation-states, this emergent body of detective mysteries, police procedurals, trial dramas, and noir thrillers enlists the popular crime tale’s generic preoccupations with unchecked desire, social order, and state authority to interrogate the twinned problematics of individuated self-interest as elucidated by neoliberal ideals of economic self-government and governmental capacity to secure public welfare and security in the wake of market-driven structural adjustment programs. With a focus on Wahome Mutahi and Wahome Karengo’s satirical hardboiled detective novel, The Miracle Merchant (2003), and Abderrahmane Sissako’s film Bamako (2006), my article analyzes one example of how African writers transfigure the crime genre to engage the epistemological crisis provoked by neoliberal governance formations.

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