Chinua Achebe on Nigeria: People who have lost the habit of ruling themselves

"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."

Chinua Achebe, 1930-2013.

Earlier this month, the novelist Chinua Achebe, now Professor at Brown University in Rhode Island in the United States, wrote this assessment of contemporary Nigerian politics and society on The New York Times op-ed page:

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.

So what is Achebe’s prescription?

What can Nigeria do to live up the promise of its postcolonial dream? …I foresee that the Nigerian solution will come in stages. First we have to nurture and strengthen our democratic institutions — and strive for the freest and fairest elections possible. That will place the true candidates of the people in office. Within the fabric of a democracy, a free press can thrive and a strong justice system can flourish. The checks and balances we have spoken about and the laws needed to curb corruption will then naturally find a footing. And there has to be the development of a new patriotic consciousness, not one simply based on the well-worn notions of the “Unity of Nigeria” or “Faith in Nigeria” often touted by our corrupt leaders; but one based on an awareness of the responsibility of leaders to the led and disseminated by civil society, schools and intellectuals. It is from this kind of environment that a leader, humbled by the trust placed upon him by the people, will emerge, willing to use the power given to him for the good of the people.

Not to take away from Achebe’s insights, but the The New York Times has a habit of asking novelists to write about African politics.

Further Reading

Blind to the matatus

The future of Kenya’s matatus (commuter buses) and their inherent place in the capital Nairobi’s culture and society, is all but absent in the government’s neoliberal vision for urban planning.