What you need to know:
- The celebrated author breathed his last on March 18, 2012.
- His memoir is an invaluable text for those who wish to understand the history of Africa in general.
March 18 is a memorable day for literature enthusiasts as it marks the day one of the Africa’s great authors Albert Chinualumogu Achebe breathed his last, precisely on March 18, 2012.
Indeed it is impossible to mention Anglophone African literature without the name of Achebe coming up. He is among the few writers who continued writing up to the last days of their lives.
Before his demise, Achebe gifted millions of his readers with a memoir, There was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra (2012), which attracted many prominent reviewers, among them the African icon Nelson Mandela who described him as “The writer in whose company the prison walls fell down.”
As we commemorate the falling of this Iroko tree of Africa, it is his last book, the memoir, I would wish to focus on.
There was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra is a very invaluable text for those who would wish to understand the history of Africa in general and Nigeria in particular.
While Africa is not a monolithic entity that can be summarised by a person writing a book based on his experiences in his country, there are some characteristics that cut across most African countries, the most prominent being civil war.
Out of the fifty-four African countries, more than half have experienced civil wars, mostly related to leadership, ethnic discrimination, either real or imagined, search for inclusivity, suspicion, disrespect for constitution, term limits, botched elections etc.
Thus it is true to say that Chinua Achebe, to a greater extent, represented Africa in his tales.
Apart from narrating his personal life, Chinua Achebe takes us through the Biafra civil war that happened between 1967-1970.
According to Achebe, the war was caused by ethno-religious violence and anti-Igbo pogroms in Northern Nigeria, a military coup, a counter-coup, and persecution of Igbo living in Northern Nigeria.
Control over the lucrative oil production in the Niger Delta also played a vital premeditated role. The creation of Biafra was so important to Achebe and his Igbo people that he volunteered to move around the world lobbying world leaders to support their cause.
Unfortunately to Achebe and his Igbo people and, perhaps, fortunately for Nigeria, the Biafra country lasted for a short time as Nigeria won the war and recaptured the Biafran region.
Todate, African countries have continued to suffer the devastations of civil wars which are fuelled by the same concerns that pushed the Igbo of eastern Nigeria to take up the arms to demand their rights.
The vivid description of the events leading to, during and, after Biafran war is a mirror that candidly reflects on the realities of African countries.
The loss that happened in the Eastern region and indeed the whole Nigeria is what African countries continue to suffer today. Rebuilding the structures destroyed by the shelling tanks and artilleries continue to take a toll on the already cash-strapped African countries, hence denying their citizens basic needs. Avoidable deaths of innocent souls also continue to happen and many other losses.
At 82, Achebe knew his time was nigh. He therefore took his time to gift his readers with a book that enables them to get a clear understanding of not only Achebe the man but also his ideology.
What hails Africa
Through the text, they also get to understand that which hails Africa in a practical way other than the description captured in his collection of essays, The Trouble with Nigeria (1983), since in the memoir, he is a part of the events.
Indeed his memoir is one of the best gifts his loyal readers got just a year before his demise.
As we commemorate the passing on of this great African icon, the only gift we can offer him is to shun the intra and international animosities that fuel conflicts leading to these wars and co-exist peacefully. By so doing, Achebe’s spirit will continue resting in peace knowing that we have achieved the ideal Africa that he envisioned.
Dr Mutuku wa Muneeni teaches literature at Kenyatta University’s Main Campus