There Was A Country by Chinua Achebe: My Review!

Why would I review an Author’s personal account of the realities of his time on a page that deals with fiction and development issues? Drawing from a background of literature and history, I believe that  the book ‘There was a Achebe_review1Country’ by Chinua Achebe gives deeper insight into the development of the country Nigeria. It gives relevance to the past and the future of our world perhaps projecting the need of a better perspective for younger generation trying to understand their root.

This book comes littered with thought provoking poems that gives the right ambience to the issues discussed. It speaks of an era when renowned authors responded to development issues using fiction writing that produced satiric works like ‘Before the Black out’ by Wole Soyinka and Man of the People by Chinua Achebe amongst others. It tells of the role of a writer in social and national development. Chinua Achebe emphasizes that ‘if a society is ill, the writer has a responsibility to point it out’. It highlights the political position of creative writing in the advancement of development in any era.

Beyond this, the book indeed has placed a moral lens on how we as young people view our history and our past leaders (villains and heroes alike). It helps one position the intentions of the many giant nations, especially the western nation in the development of Nigeria. It is here to help us look through our national pathologies and indeed unlearn things that will stop ugly history from repeating.

The Biafran war remains a very political issue; it is not spoken of without raising a tribal dust. Its realities are barelyBLM-Biafra-Flag-Waving-Large known to people like me who were born three or four decades ago. For most of us, Biafra was that war that failed to divide Nigeria; it’s when the people of Ibo descents wanted a country of their own. Not many of us have strived to understand clearly the roots of this desired separation. Perhaps it has been politically hidden in our education. As the Author clearly asked, ‘why has the war not been discussed, or taught to the young, fourty years after its end?’

Reading this book, momentarily estranged me from my generation and I kindled to the life and truth of the Author’s generation, it gave my life more depth, meaning and resonance. I understand the war began not just as a result of belligerency raised by some primitive Ibo tribe. It was not a war between progressive nationalist and retrogressive tribal bigots. By Achebe’s projections, it started with a military coup that was misconstrued and given a tribal colour, it was stirred by a pogrom committed severally against a group. It was fuelled by manifold rivalry allowed by a complacent government.

When you read of the Asaba and Calabar Massacre, amongst others followed by the many pogroms that preceded it in Nigeria, you may like myself be tempted to ask if an apology by the incumbent leaders at the time was enough? Did this belated apology change the fact that there was genocide in Biafra? Will it change the alterations their acts had done to the present day people and their families who as the children of yesterday watched their father and brother’s Chinua-Achebe10--AFP-bloods splashing on their faces and settling in violation on the earth?

I am not trying to raise a settled dust, No! The dusts are not settled! Again and again they rise with the tornadoes of many injustice and cycles of inter-ethnic and inter-religious killings littered all over Nigeria. They are there in the life and family of the many Ibo fathers, who were Biafran casualties, who wake up spontaneously angry, violent and abusive to wives and children for reasons they do not know. Perhaps they still duck under cover, hear the howls of pain, picture Biafran babies with washed out ribs and blown out bellies starved into submission in a landscape where the air is heavy with odours of blood. Hmmnn…to the children of yesterday, there is a cry for justice. To the children of today, there is a hunger for peace. But there will be no peace without justice.

Achebe’s personal accounts, gave an insight into the genesis of election rigging (another national cancer) as an eclectic seed of the West. The manipulations of the embittered British Colonists aided the transfer of power to the then most conservative elements in the country hence inspiring the perpetual death of faith in genuine democracy. The character of the independence given to the country Nigeria came with so much ease that one would wonder if it were not a Greek gift.

13201_biafrapound1_1_jpg52d5260fbadee7189d2c5a2cc71cdbe7This book showcased landmark events that could have catalyzed development in Africa. But rather our leaders compromised or altered them with mediocre thinking which enshrined our government. Perhaps we may need to ask what our acclaimed altruistic leaders had done with the ingenuity of the Biafran scientist and think-tanks who fourty decades ago, could pilot planes and generate technologies they used to fight their cause. These people survived for years refining their own oil and maintaining their vehicle with no western aid or resources. What happened to the indigenous skills of this group of people who did what the Europeans may have tagged impossible for Africa in that time? In three years of the war, necessity gave birth to great inventions which if integrated into national development could advance a nation and perhaps a continent. But alas, we buried them all, we buried true African independence with the memories of men and women en-masse that died for theirbook1 faith.

The late writer paid his last due by putting in our hands the gift of a little history book and now I can confidently say that ‘There was a Country’! I am always of the opinion that our African fathers failed us by their choices and decisions in a revolutionary era. Now I am tempted to say that my generation may be on the verge of failing our children by being complacent and not questioning many past and present conventions, for fear that we will raise another dust! But must Biafra come again?

 

 

 

 

By Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Is the Marriage Market Stillborn?

‘… If the bride price is not paid, the bride will die at childbirth’. These words thwarted every ambition for happiness, books (1)progressive living and well-being for the character ‘Akunna’ in Buchi Emecheta’s ‘the Bride Price’. The author used this work as a medium to explore several social issues of which for me, the marriage economy falls into. The theme focused on the politics around establishing a marriage in our society. An important strand in the conflicts it projected is the contentions around the dowry. One will ask why the bride price of a woman is so important. In ‘Akunna’s 400_F_49638666_kfrIsxJnFg2vQurfpzWy2XHMd8ddqzARexperiences, we see a poignant story of faith in the economic difference being educated can make in a woman’s bride price. Through several social upheavals twisted along cultural lines, this work does not just expose how cultural beliefs can rape the mind. It adds to the existing body of knowledge that reminds us of the importance of marriage, not just for meeting physiological needs, but also for its economic benefits as it indirectly contribute to the local economy of people.

According to Margaret Mead, marriage is a socio-economic arrangement where consideration is made of wealth, class and job skills wealth of the man and woman. For better or worse, marriage for Akunna’s society had more than a social relevance. While it is portrayed to be protecting a withering culture of class and caste, the relevance of any victory the ‘Ibuza’ culture might have had in this work is most conceivable in today’s world from an economic lens.

It is not in doubt that marriage is the lifeblood of the economy. Believe me, where the economy is, that is k1312803714413356-3d-marriage-word-sphere-on-white-backgroundwhere all governments pitch their tents. This is proven through by the realities of the over-protectiveness of the rules of engagement for the marriage institution by many states in the world. Within international development, civil right debates are dominated around issues on whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to get married or not, arguments have been made on the emotional and cultural implications of this. Most interesting is the economic dynamics of this new paradigm to private and social benefits. But the fear for the unknown impacts of legalizing non-heterosexual union decades away keeps the decisions hanging. All of this speaks of the importance of marriage to the local, national and global governance.

While many states consider the pressures of legalizing homosexual marriages, most African countries like Nigeria do not find it a images (10)threat. So I am often caught in my thought wondering what the consequences are for my country and others alike.

While the pressure pots are yet to hit our constitutional door steps, shouldn’t we first of all soften on the stance of whether gays and lesbians should get married and worry more on what is happening to the commitments at the heart of the already established marriages?  What in the society has influenced the increase in divorce rate, the desensitization of stigma around single parenting, the delay in age of marriage and more so the rising choices for homosexual relationships? Is there a collision of forces? what precisely has influenced this paradigm shift on the part of men and downloadwomen to produce a loveless economy laced by rising impression that marriages is bond-less and a terminable institution?

Commitment is the core of every marriage. The global economy is driven by sexual, emotional and other forms of commitment between two (or maybe more) people. At the induction of every marriage commitment, a tree of economic growth is planted that increases many sectors of the economy. Need I say that marriage has been the springboard for producing a nation’s labour force? But that core, is threatened heavily, so is the economy.

bld016719Many elucidators have given numerous perspectives in response to the evolving trends; some have charged falling sex ratios, changes in supply and demand balance, rise in age of commitment, amongst others. But then, different societies may have their account of what is changing the pattern of the wind that drives marriages.

Zainab Alkali’s ‘The Stillborn’, gives an insight which may account in certain ways to the position of young women. It represents a 51QTyupPXRL._SL500_AA300_shift in mindset that has organically taken root coming from a disenchantment of a failing marketing approach. De Beauvoir states that ‘marriage is the destiny traditionally offered to women by society’. Marriage is a woman’s destiny, and the hunger to fulfil that destiny injected into every young woman is reinforced with the carrots of a heterosexual intensely romantic relationship dangles just everywhere. With all naivety, the character of ‘Li’ in ‘the Stillborn’ hung to the dream of a romantic marriage that will provide material and emotional support and be the answer to all her problems. In ‘Li’s theory, all she had to do was provide him sexual satisfaction, cook his meal and cuddle him to her breast, and then the dreams will come true.

love-carrots-low-res-iStock_000013121473MediumLike her friend ‘Faku’, these women became disillusioned as their belief and faith in marriage meeting their needs remained a stillborn. Marriage was not a Siamese twin relationship where their heart beat together and two halves made a whole. They had believed a lie, for them, pursuing the promises of the carrot was like chasing a moving target. Finally, there is a shift in mindset for the women and a redefined approach to seal the cracks on the wall of their life. Their new understanding redefines marriage and their expectations; it recasts the patriarchal society and the favoured role given to men. Questioning conventions, ‘Li’ uses her new mindset as a weapon of self empowerment.

Such disillusionment and rapid changes in the economy has raised many daughters of ‘Li’ who see it more practical ???????????????????????????????????????for educated single women to sustain themselves and their children without a man’s help. The traditional value of marriage keeps withering away by the day, in the mind of a man, maybe the character of ‘Habu’ saw commitment to ‘Li’ as a constrain, controlling and confining him to the eventual robbery of his masculinity.

Like gold, diamond and currency markets, the marriage market can suffer swing in prices with small changes to the supply and demand ratio. Such swings can be caused by a changing perception. In the case of marriages today, the swing hits strongly at the level of commitment given by individuals in the institution and those outside.

10318535-married-couple-bride-and-groom-figurine-inside-a-roll-of-us-dollar-banknote-bills-isolated-on-whiteThe lack of that organic growth in the culture that sustains marriage in the heart of people needs attention of everyone interested in sustaining economic growth driven by marriage.

Succinctly, this review has not given an explanation of what is happening to marriages, it only suggests and adds to existing perspectives using works of fiction. The views that the characters in ‘the Stillborn’ conceptualizes may again give insight on how to progressively focus on sustaining our socio-economic development, considering that individual and family patterns fit into larger socio-economic structures of our society.download (1)

Nonetheless, how high the demands for marriage will be in the future will depends on what approach of  development each person and the society adopts. If we choose to consider a holistic approach that prioritizes the well-being and happiness of the people, the marriage concept may suffer a shock as individuals will define marriages on the backdrop of happiness, self esteem amongst others. But if we choose economic approach, then it may continue to survive just the way it is.

-Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Fiction and Development

 -Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Remember reading about  Erin Gruwell and the 150 students who used writing to change their life in ‘The Freedom Writer’s Diary’, it demonstrates the power of writing as a tool for social change. Similarly, I could understand why writers are often the enemies of tyrant governments around the world. The unrest created by their work is a proof that the act of  writing can be an emancipatory force for change. Like painters, writers weave words together to create colours, lines and stories that are undoing silences in many societies.

All I learnt about the Nigerian Civil came from stories, novels, poems, dramas amongst others. ‘The Casualties’ by John Clark2Pepper Clark brought the realization that I too was a casualty of a war that hit the dust long before my birth. My knowledge on different cultural practices have been highly influenced by writing of people from different landscapes. Most of these works have been fictional, making secret the names of people and places they wrote about but yet one can understand their message, as though belonging with them.That is the strength of literary fiction in passing knowledge.

In the wake of many development issues which has become a global challenge, I have begun to ponder on the power  different works of fiction have in dispersing knowledge on international development issues. How have they presented the alterations in social structures in our society in the past and present?  How are they forecasting the changes in nature, in the future of our social institutions, and life in general?

The need to explore these questions further gave birth to a column on Compass Newspaper (a Nigerian national newspaper) of which this blog springboards. In the first edition, we considered how “Fiction writer Peter Abraham envisioned a new country, through his work ‘Tell Freedom’

6568430-MHe landscaped an egalitarian society that will break out of a womb infested with racism.  His work gave insight into the social structure at the time of writing, depicting strongly in his narratives what it was like to be caught in the skin shades of white, black and in between”.

 The works of Ngugi wa Thiong’o  was mentioned exploring  the impacts of an imperialist type of governance in his historical fiction ‘Weep not Child’. It has been stated that Mau Mau uprising arguably set the stage for the Independence of Kenya. ngugi1The intricacies that played out and the different masks the organisation had worn over the years in the anti-colonist turmoil were represented in the intrigues of ‘Weep not Child’. Capturing the hopes of a character Ngotho, he characterizes the saviour of the Kenyan people as the son of their soil and no longer the British Colonist. In this way, one will arguably say that ‘weep not child’ held within a prophecy of the future governance of Kenya. The emergence of Jomo Kenyatta as the first president of the Kenyan republic is arguably a testimony to this.”

Not forgetting to mention Chinua Achebe’s ‘Man of the People’, it represents a post colonial Africa and principally Nigeria, where corruption and conflict of interest had become the order of the day amongst leaders. Most striking of this work of fiction is its climax in a coup d’état which arguably gave it relevance as a prophetic piece predicting the near future of many African countries. Shortly after the publication of this piece in 1966, Nigeria survived series of violent transitions very similar to the one that our dear Chinua Achebe had written about.

Away from the African landscape, consideration is given to the renowned work of George Orwell in Animal Farm. Animal farm was an anti-soviet work of fiction personifying different leaders of the Soviet Union revolution at that time through animal characters like ‘Old Major, Napoleon, Snowball and others.

animal-farmThe deliberate use of  pigs to characterize the ruling class is indeed offensive to the dictatorial government of the Soviet Union in that era. In retrospect, the use of animal characters by George Orwell at that time goes to tell of poor human right practices restricting freedom of speech as is today against the International human rights law. This in all speaks of the impacts of totalitarian indoctrinations as even educated people are unable to express their true opinions in this landscape and others where democracies are weak.

These examples show that fictional works are not just a figment of a writer’s imagination created to amuse and entertain readers. Literary fictions have catalysed changes in development and are continuously acting indirectly as custodians of history. A line up of different historical period in the life of a society captured through their fictional works can contribute hugely in deciphering a pattern in their development or under-development, it will also portray their responses to social challenges at different times.

International development issues are seen from multidisciplinary binoculars as they cover huge areas like governance, environment, human right, poverty, amongst others. All of this have been presented in different platforms, most especially in academic and policy papers.  Perhaps for its lack of quantitative data, literary fiction remains questionable as an authoritative source of knowledge in the field of development.

However, I imagine that how  literary fiction has contributed in giving context to social concepts, explaining patterns of qualitative changes in different social frameworks, can be explored using relevant works of fiction. In subsequent posts and editions of the fiction and development column, I intend to make inferences on modern day development issues, linking them to the themes, characters, scenes amongst other things in existing works of literature. I hope this helps the understanding of how fiction writers are using characters and themes to identify, critic, advocate and also compare local, national and global issues that are significant to international development.

Suggestions are highly welcomed!