Tuesday October 2, 2012
Remembering Nigeria's civil war
By BEN SIMON
NIGERIA’S Chinua Achebe (pic), often called the father of modern African literature, released his first major work in years last Thursday with a long-awaited memoir centred on the war that nearly destroyed his nation.
There Was A Country: A Personal History Of Biafra chronicles Achebe’s experiences during Nigeria’s 1967-1970 civil war, which saw his native eastern region, dominated by the Igbo ethnic group, secede as the Republic of Biafra.
The split came largely in response to massacres of Igbos in Nigeria’s north and saw Achebe, author of the revered novel Things Fall Apart (1958), speak out forcefully in support of the move.
The tensions that ignited the Biafran conflict, which left around one million people dead, including many from starvation, are largely settled.
Experts, however, say a Biafra memoir from the 81-year-old Achebe is urgently needed in a country that remains deeply fractured on other levels.
“Achebe is sustaining the debate on integration, on unity and on oneness,” says Dapo Thomas, a history professor at Lagos State University.
The octogenarian remains a towering figure in Nigerian and African literature, though he has been based in the United States in recent years where he has been a professor at Brown University in Rhode Island. He travels infrequently due to a 1990 car accident that left him in a wheelchair.
Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, about the collision between British colonial rule and Igbo society, remains a landmark work 54 years after its release.
“Just as we read Shakespeare, it’s not possible for any student in this department to graduate without reading the works of Chinua Achebe,” says Adeyemi Daramola, head of the English department at the University of Lagos.
His legacy is secure in Nigeria but his absence has been felt, says Daramola. “For Achebe to have been away for so long, we have indeed missed him.” – AFP