Things Fall Apart is legendary Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s most popular novel. However, my favorite work of his is Anthills Of The Savannah.
An anthill, or ant colony, has thousands and sometimes millions of inhabitants. They have workers, soldiers, a Queen, princes, princesses, nurses, farmers and sometimes even slaves. Are we in our cities and our nations just glorified ants and the ants themselves miniature humans? After all spied from a great height we look just like ants, and looked at and studied closely ants seem to have just as much complexity, and even intrigue, as we do.
Chinua Achebe has for years now lived and taught in the upper reaches of American academia. But that was not always the case. He was born and raised in Nigeria, a promising intellectual who came of age in the period of independence. Trained in missionary schools, his family though was rooted in African oral and spiritual traditions.
When the tumultuous conflicts of the immediate post independence period broke like a storm over Nigeria (Africa’s most populous nation), Achebe was in the thick of things as a reporter, poet and diplomat. Though said to be fiction, Anthills has the ring of truth, doubtless because it is based on harrowing events he lived through and experienced first-hand.
Three men dominate the tale: Sam, Chris and Ikem. They went to school together until college when Sam went to Sandhurst, the British military academy. Sam would end up the head of state after a military coup ejected the civilian leadership in the mythical country called Kanga. His friend Chris would emerge as The Minister of Information and Ikem would become the editor of the national newspaper.
The precipitating incident, the thing that sets the novel in motion, is a drought in a distant province. Chris urges Sam, or His Excellency, as he is referred to by all, to go and visit the area. Sam adamantly refuses to do so. No sooner does he make his final, furious refusal than a boisterous delegation arrives from the province seeking an audience.
How His Excellency, Sam, responds to them and the implications of his response carries us through to the end of the novel. These are some of the key spell-binding passages to look out for. An execution scene early in the novel, the profound detailed comments of the elder of the delegation from the drought stricken province, the party at His Excellency’s mansion, and Chris’s lecture to a large gathering of the students near the end of the tale.
In addition to the three men there are two women at the heart of the story, Beatrice and Elewa the girlfriends of Chris and Ikem. Chris and Ikem, I believe are two aspects of the author’s own character. Both fight for “justice for the people,” but Ikem is much more outspoken than Chris. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of these five main characters.
How many, many books have been written about the politics and economics of Africa? How many courses are taught on the topic of African development? But I doubt that any of them can get as close to the heart of what is happening in the Motherland as Achebe does in his magnificent novel, Anthills of the Savannah.
By; Dr. Arthur Lewin, author of Africa Is Not A Country: It’s A Continent, www.AfricaUnlimited.com