The Coup is primarily a portrait of the many sides of the complex, contradictory Ellelloû. Even his name, chosen because it means freedom, is a mask. He is not only on a quest for the source of the drought, for the mystical essence of Kush, but also for the identity of the traveler himself. It is appropriate that he assumes such roles as orange seller, government messenger, parking attendant, and singing beggar, since he has no clear idea of who he is. To Kadongolimi, his first wife, who has known him all his life, he will “always be a child who had just left his mother’s hip.” Candace, who nicknames him Happy, greets him after a long absence, “Holy Christ, look who it isn’t,” and what he is not may be more obvious than what he is. Candace tries to explain her husband to himself: “You don’t know what you are, you poor little spook. You are the most narcissistic, chauvinistic, megalomaniacal, catatonic schizoid creep this creepy continent ever conjured up.”
Ellelloû, the lover of French poetry, the devoted follower of Islam, cannot remember the names of his children and orders a group of tourists beaten, raped, and machine-gunned. (His soldiers ignore the last order.) He cares about his people and wants to end their poverty yet offers little but revolutionary clichés. While Ezana wants to transform the country with no regard for what would be lost, the colonel wants to revolutionize a place with no resources but its diseases. He seems to revel in its barrenness, prefering Kush, the state of mind, to any realities it might become. That the drought ends when he is overthrown is a damning commentary on the selfishness of his vision.
Ellelloû’s wives serve mainly to fulfill his needs. Wise Kadongolimi is motherly; Sheba, the only one shorter than he, is sexy; Candace, the vulgar American with the powdery white skin, is exotic. Fittingly, Ellelloû is accompanied into exile by the Westernized, artistic Sittina, the wife most like him. Each wife understands Ellelloû much better than he is capable of understanding himself.