In the early 1990s, novelist Chinua Achebe was puzzled to be invited to a meeting of the international financial institutions as they discussed structural adjustment. Well, puzzled for a moment.
Suddenly I received something like a stab of insight and it became clear to me why I had been invited, what I was doing there in that strange assembly. I signaled my desire to speak and was given the floor. I told them what I had just recognized. I said that what was going on before me was a fiction workshop, no more and no less! Here you are, spinning your fine theories, to be tried out in your imaginary laboratories. You are developing new drugs and feeding them to a bunch of laboratory guinea pigs and hoping for the best. I have news for you. Africa is not fiction. Africa is people, real people. Have you thought of that? You are brilliant people, world experts. You may even have the very best intentions. But have you thought, really thought, of Africa as people?
His latest collection of essays, speeches and memoir is excellent. One of my favorite bits:
Some years ago at an international writers’ meeting in Sweden, a Swedish writer and journalist said to a small group of us Africans present: “You fellows are lucky. Your governments put you in prison. Here in Sweden nobody pays any attention to us no matter what we write.” We apologized profusely to him for his misfortune and our undeserved luck!
Nigerian nationality was for me and my generation an acquired taste—like cheese. Or better still, like ballroom dancing. Not dancing per se, for that came naturally; but this titillating version of slow-slow-quick-quick-slow performed in close body contact with a female against a strange, elusive beat. I found, however, that once I had overcome my initial awkwardness I could do it pretty well.
And last but not least.
The British have always claimed that they taught us the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy and we blew it. Nothing could be more absurd. You might as well say you taught someone to swim by letting him roll in the sands of the Sahara.
The book is here.