Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, standing on the Manchester Docks at the James River in Richmond, Virginia on April 25, 2010. (Photo: Ana Edwards), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Chinua Achebe, 82, Brought Anti-Colonial African Literature to the World
His novels and essays revealed the impact of the West on culture and society
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease are perhaps the best known novels not only to emerge from Africa but the entire world. The author of these classic works which embodied a clear anti-colonial theme, Chinua Achebe, passed away on March 21 in Boston.
Achebe had been living in the United States for many years where he taught at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Statements and articles paying tribute to the iconic writer have been pouring out since the news of his death was reported widely throughout the international community.
Born on November 16, 1930 in the West African state of Nigeria which was colonized by Britain during the late 19th century, Achebe came from the Igbo nationality largely based in the eastern region of the country. His observations during his upbringing informed his literary style and themes.
In 1948 he went to study medicine at the Ibadan University, however, after one year he realized that literature was his calling. His first novel, Things Fall Apart, was published in 1958, just two years before Nigeria gained its national independence.
This book was the first in a trilogy which examined the devastating impact of colonialism on African culture and society. It was followed by No Longer at Ease published in 1960 and Arrow of God which was released in 1964.
Things Fall Apart features Okonkwo as the protagonist who represents the challenges that Africans faced with the onset of imperialism on the continent. No Longer at Ease was set in the late 1950s just prior to the advent of national independence when the protagonist, the grandson of Okonkwo, returns home after being educated in Britain.
The principal character takes on a position within the colonial civil service and finds that his salary is inadequate for taking care of himself and his extended family. He later takes bribes and is caught and prosecuted by the British.
In the third novel, Arrow of God, the story is based on a truthful account of a traditional priest who refuses to collaborate with colonialism. The novel illustrates the degree of resistance to colonialism that existed in Africa with the invasion of the Europeans.
Achebe and National Consciousness in Nigeria
As Achebe grew into a nationally and internationally recognized literary figure he also became well known as a broadcaster in Nigeria. He would edit and produce programs for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).
It was during this period that he met a young student from Ibadan University, Christie Chinwe Okoli, who he would marry. The couple had four children.
By 1966 contradictions within the national independence movement in Nigeria were reaching a boiling point. His fourth novel, A Man of the People, dealt with a corrupt minister in the federal government and ends with the advent of a coup.
The novel was almost prophetic because in 1966 a failed coup and a military seizure of power set the stage for the massacre of many Igbos. These developments gave birth to a secessionist effort known as Biafra which attempted to create an independent state for the Igbo people in the east of Nigeria.
In 1967 the Biafra war began in the east of the country. Achebe supported this secessionist movement which was doomed to fail.
As a result of superior military capability of the federal military government and the international isolation of the Biafra movement by the Organization of African Unity, a blockade of the eastern region resulted in massive famine and death. By 1970 the Biafra government surrendered to the military.
A long period of national reconciliation in Nigeria during 1970s took place. Nonetheless, the country did not achieve stability with the carrying out of additional military coups and the assassination of Gen. Muhammad Murtala in 1976.
By the later 1970s, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo took power and laid the groundwork for the reemergence of bourgeois democracy. In 1979 a national presidential and parliamentary election was held which brought President Shehu Shagari to power.
His government was reelected in 1983 only to be overthrown in another military coup at the beginning of 1984. This military regime lasted for 18 months when Gen. Muhammad Buhari was overthrown by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
While elections were held in 1993, before the results could be announced, Gen. Sani Abacha nullified the results and took power. A wealthy businessman, M.K.O. Abiola, was thought to have been the winner. Abiola was imprisoned and later died in detention in 1998.
The same fate would befall Gen. Abacha who died shortly after Abiola. The country would return to civilian rule in 1999 with the ascendancy again of Gen. Obasanjo, this time as a politician.
Achebe by this time had left Nigeria. His criticism of the post-colonial process and successive military rulers created a political situation that was not conducive for his work.
He would take up a teaching position in the U.S. and continue to write. Unfortunately, in 1990 he was paralyzed in a car accident and would remain wheelchair bound for the rest of his life.
Achebe will be remembered for his literary contributions and his fierce criticism of colonial and post-colonial African society. His books will remain a mainstay of libraries and classrooms for many generations to come.
Nigeria today has still not overcome the legacy of imperialism. Despite its vast oil wealth, there is profound inequality within the country.
Although billions of Naira are earned annually from the extraction and export of oil, the wealth of the country has not been distributed equally. There are still regional conflicts in the country with armed insurrections among the Boko Haram in the North and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta in the South.
However, in order for real development to occur in Nigeria, there must be a break with the imperialist and neo-colonialist economic and political models. There has to be a national program for the reconstruction of the country based upon the interests of the workers, farmers and youth of the country and this effort must be linked with the broader struggle throughout Africa and the world.