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There was a country….

January 17, 2013

Indeed there WAS a country – a personal history of Biafra:  Chinua Achebe

I must admit, to my total and eternal shame that until I read Half of a Yellow Sun, that powerful novel by Chimamanda Adichie, I had no idea that a country called Biafra once existed.  This personal memoir of Chinua Achebe brings to life that country with its courageous citizens whom great efforts were put into place to annihilate.

The book starts gently enough with a very succinct biographies of his parents, his school years, meeting his wife, Nigeria’s march to Independence to then enter into heavy topics such as the role of the African writer and Post-Independence Nigeria, which was so badly dealt with – corruption, misrule, ethnic prejudices especially towards the Igbo people that the secession that followed was just a case of when rather than if.  And then the rest of the book recounts that terrible war: the economic blockade and the starvation endured by the Biafrans, the silence of the United Nations, the impotence of the Organisation of African Unity; but also and most importantly the courage of the Biafrans before the silence of the rest of the world, save from people like President Julius Nyere of Tanzania, Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda, Gabon’s Omar Bongo (father), Ivory Coast’s Houphouet-Boigny.  These countries’ support meant that Biafrans could feel that someone else understood their struggle.

Some might say that Chinua Achebe’s account of the Biafran war perhaps doesn’t factor such elements like Real Politik, which plays such a big part into a support a country might expect to receive in its fight for freedom.  He actually mentions that element but as he makes clear, this memoir is a personal memoir.  Nonetheless he argues and wonders if Real Politik  should justify the atrocities perpetrated against a people during the 30 months the war lasted.

I really enjoyed this book, as I knew I would but what’s more it challenged me.

On the role of the writer, he writes that “to be a serious writer is to be a committed writer – to speak for one’s history, one’s beliefs and one’s people, especially when others cannot.”

On Post-colonialism: “Africa’s post-colonial disposition is the result of a people who have lost the habit of ruling themselves.”

On Africa’s longest serving “presidents”, the quotation marks are mine and I will suggest that you read the postscript: The example of Nelson Mandela.

On this memoir: “It is for the sake of the future of Nigeria, for our children and grand-children that I feel it is important to tell Nigeria’s story, Biafra’s story, our story, my story.”

May many of us seek to also tell our stories lest they are told for us.


From → Memoirs

  1. Still haven’t gotten a chance to read this, but really hope I am able to soon. It would be really interesting to read his perspective on the Biafran war.

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