Saturday, 14 May 2016

Chinua Achebe’s twin-portals of engaging historic witness

(Father of African Literature: visiting Umeå, Sweden, in the autumn of 1988 [19 October 1988] to launch the Swedish translation of his Anthills of the Savannah, 1987)

Portal-I: Aftermath of pan-European conquest and occupation of the African World
[The European conquest of Africa] may indeed be a complex affair, but one thing is certain: You do not walk in, seize the land, the person, the history of another, and then sit back and compose hymns of praise in his honour. To do that would amount to calling yourself a bandit; and you won’t to do that. So what do you do? You construct very elaborate excuses for your action. You say, for instance, that the man in question is worthless and quite unfit to manage himself or his affairs. If there are valuable things like gold and diamonds which you are carting away from his territory, you proceed to prove that he doesn’t own them in the right sense of the word – that he and they had just happened to be lying around the same place when you arrived. Finally if the worse comes to the worse, you may even be prepared to question whether such as he can be, like you, fully human. From denying the presence of a man standing there before you, you end up questioning his very humanity …[I]n the [European conquest] situation presence was the critical question, the crucial word. Its denial was the keynote of [this conquest’s] ideology. (Chinua Achebe, “African Literature as Restoration of Celebration”, Kunapipi, 12, 2, 1990: 4; emphasis added) 
Portal-II: Aftermath of Igbo genocide, the foundational genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa, 29 May 1966-12 January 1970 
[Nigeria’s] wartime cabinet, it should also be remembered, was full of intellectuals like Obafemi Awolowo and Anthony Enaharo and super-permanent secretaries such as Allison Akene Ayida among others who came up with a boatload of infamous and regrettable policies. A statement credited to … Obafemi Awolowo and echoed by his cohorts is the most callous and unfortunate: All is fair in war, and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder’. It is my impression that … Obafemi Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition of power, for himself in particular and for the advancement of his Yoruba people in general. And let it be said that there is, on the surface, at least, nothing wrong with those aspirations. However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbo … at the time as the obstacles to that goal, and when the opportunity arose – the Nigeria-Biafra War – his ambition drove him into a frenzy to go to any length to achieve his dreams. In the Biafran case it meant hatching up a diabolical policy to reduce the numbers of his enemies significantly through starvation – eliminating over two million people, mainly members of future generations. (Chinua AchebeThere was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra [New York: The Penguin, 2012], p. 233; emphasis added)
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