Really enjoying Chinua Achebe’s collection of essays ‘The Education Of A British Protected Child’, passed on to me my extremely educated friend (thanks D!) who probably thought it would improve my mind. And if he did, he was right! My favorite essays so far are ‘What Is Nigeria To Me’ and ‘Spelling Our Proper Name’ and ‘Africa’s Tarnished Name’.
In the former, Achebe shares some of his recollections of early Nigeria including the Biafran war, as he explores his feelings towards his home country. Despite the fact that Nigeria’s first anthem refered to the country as ‘our sovereign motherland’ while the current one invokes instead a father image, his conclusion is that ‘Nigeria is neither my mother or my father. Nigeria is a child. Gifted, enormously talented, prodigously endowed and incredibly wayward.’
He urges his fellow Nigerians to see themselves as the parents of Nigeria, who nurture and contribute to her growth, and not her children, from whom presumably they would demand sustenance. As a result, he says ‘a generation will come, if we do our work patiently and well – and given luck – a generation that will call Nigeria father or mother. But not yet.’
Absolutely timely words for my generation in almost every African country I can think of! May we be the ones who bring the change Africa needs.
In ‘Spelling Our Proper Name’, he dispels the myth of Africa as a dark continent with little going on until it was discovered by the Europeans. He sees the ‘denigration of Africa and its people’ as deliberately propagated to achieve European political and economic ends. He gives a great example of Benin in modern day Nigeria, that was described by a Dutch traveller in AD 1600 as comparing rather favorably with Amsterdam, including a main street that was seven or eight times wider than the Dutch equivalent! 250 years later, just before the British sacked and destroyed the same city, they described it as a barbaric city full of repugnant sacrifices like human sacrifices. One ‘whose barbarism so revolted their civilized concience that they simply had to dispatch a huge army to overwhelm it’. He gives a similar story of the MweniCongo (later known as king Dom Afonso 1) of Bukongo (in present day DRC) who read and spoke Portuguese and whose kingdom even sent embassies to Lisbon and Rome in the 16th century. The Portuguese eventually destroyed his kingdom to get slaves for their Brazilian colony, and 350 years later, writer Joseph Conrad described the same place where this impressive kingdom had stood as ‘the heart of darkeness’.
In ‘Africa’s Tarnished Name’ he continues to discuss the deliberate demonizing and catricaturing of Africa in order to support the Atlantic slave trade and Europe’s colonization of Africa, terrible events which stretched over almost 500 years. European authors invented an Africa ‘where nothing good happens or has ever happened’, one that needed to be liberated by Europeans.
His quote that ‘the Africa of colleges is understandably of little interest to avid lovers of unexplored Africa’ rings true even today. In the tradition of ‘Blood Diamond’s’ phrase ‘This is Africa’, much of today’s media still harps on Africa’s negatives, with little emphasis on the things that are working. Even ‘our own’ media has bought in to this picture. I always point to the huge volume of pictures and videos of burning Kenya in 2008 as an example. How come there are so few pictures out there of American deaths in Iraq (over 12k dead)? As a result, many Africans, especially in diaspora, have an embarrasment about themselves and their continent.
As I read, I recall the great words of the song ‘Africa’ by the Mavuno Worship Project. ‘Africa… rise up, stand up, this is your moment, this is your time!’ I’m glad to be alive today. And by God’s grace, I hope to be part of the greatest generation this continent has ever seen.