Chinua Achebe, dead at 82

Renowned Nigerian author Chinua Achebe passed away last night in Boston, Mass. He was 82.

Achebe was the father of modern African literature, and a fearless critic of dictatorships in Nigeria and across Africa.

His last book, “There Was a Country” gives a moving personal account of the Biafra War. It is a great book (just read it a couple of weeks ago), and a fitting closing chapter to Achebe’s career (see Chimamanda Adichie’s review in the LRB here).

Achebe is most famous for the classic “Things Fall Apart.” The book has sold over 12 million copies and has been translated into more than 50 languages.

My favorite of his many books is “A Man of the People,” an astonishingly prescient critique of politics and governance in Nigeria (and by extension Africa) written in 1966. One of the characters, Chief Nanga, could have been a typical politician in many an African country today. The book ends with a coup, presaging the high levels of political instability that rocked much of Africa into the mid 1990s.

Chinua Achebe will forever be immortalized in the hearts of those of us who loved his work and admired his activism.

Together with those who wrote in the immediate post-independence era like Soyinka, Ngugi, Bitek, Tutuola, Okigbo, Ba, Armah, Liyong, and others, their works inspire and challenge us in equal measure; with reminders that there was a time in the giddy early sixties when things could have been different for Africa, that it wasn’t inevitable that things would fall apart.

Achebe’s take on the trouble with nigeria

Chinua Achebe has an editorial piece in the NY Times on the prospects for economic and political development in Nigeria. Below is an excerpt that I think applies to most of Sub-Saharan Africa.

During the colonial period, struggles were fought, exhaustingly, on so many fronts — for equality, for justice, for freedom — by politicians, intellectuals and common folk alike. At the end of the day, when the liberty was won, we found that we had not sufficiently reckoned with one incredibly important fact: If you take someone who has not really been in charge of himself for 300 years and tell him, “O.K., you are now free,” he will not know where to begin.

This is how I see the chaos in Africa today and the absence of logic in what we’re doing. Africa’s postcolonial disposition is the result of a people who have lost the habit of ruling themselves, forgotten their traditional way of thinking, embracing and engaging the world without sufficient preparation. We have also had difficulty running the systems foisted upon us at the dawn of independence by our colonial masters. We are like the man in the Igbo proverb who does not know where the rain began to beat him and so cannot say where he dried his body.

HT Erin.