Ekwe-Ekwe no doubt has Nigeria centrally in mind when he concluded his excellent study by stating: "The African 'nation-state' has now run the course of its bloody trail in history. The greatest challenge facing Africans in the new millennium is to dismantle this state and create new state forms based on Africa's critical re-engagement with its rich cultural heritage." Clearly, the author calls for an extensive decentralisation of the African political landscape "away from the murderous over-centralising ethos of the present 'nation-state.'" In such an outcome of Africa-wide "decentring of existing socio-economic life," Ekwe-Ekwe continetalises the validity of Biafranism as localised, grassroots/community empowerment and democracy across Africa. These new state forms, imbued with an organic sensibility that replaces the widespread alienation of the present, is better placed to build an "advanced civilisation for the people" -- to feed, clothe, educate, house and provide peace and security, and create the enabling environment for the development and enhancement of the human potential.

African Literature in Defence of History: An Essay on Chinua Achebe -- Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe

By Ikechukwu Amazu

(Dakar: African Renaissance, 2001. 186pp. ISBN: 1903625106)

It is not often the case that an author captures and analyses so vividly the salient issues that confront a people in one single publication: generalised conflicts, genocide, dissolving nation-states and failing economies, net outward-flows of capital, murderous and degenerate leaderships, HIV/AIDS pandemic, and real prospects for a renaissance despite a perilous historical heritage. But this is precisely what Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe does in his latest book, African Literature in Defence of History: An essay on Chinua Achebe, in response to the current socioeconomic conditions that Africans face. And the author does it with penetrating and captivating brilliance. The book ranges across intellectual disciplines such as conflict theory, critical theory, politics, history, literary criticism, and jazz criticism with such breathtaking poise and pace that have come to define the committed scholarship of Professor Ekwe-Ekwe in the past 20 years.

Ekwe-Ekwe discusses Chinua Achebe's stupendous contribution to Africa's literary and historical scholarship in five chapters, or rather five parts of the book as each could flourish as a compendium of a study on its own right with those evocative single-worded philosophical captions that the author employs which alert the reader to the cyclical motion of history that the book projects so convincingly: Retrieval, Transition, Exposition, Involution, and Reconfiguration.

In African Literature in Defence of History, Ekwe-Ekwe's intention is not just to undertake a critical appraisal of Achebe's entire literary journey text by text since Things Fall Apart (1958), as it is often the 'conventional' norm of such an enterprise, but he goes much beyond that objective. He constructs a compact study of 186 pages of African history and politics of 500 years that validates Achebe's enviable premier position in African letters and historical studies. To arrive at his conclusions, the author engages in an intensive examination of the scholarship of an impressive assemblage of scholars with varying ideational and disciplinary backgrounds which include Diop, Asante, Marx, Uchendu, Ngugi, Isichei, Chinweizu, Segal, Beaud, Eagleton, Soyinka, Davidson, Rodney, Nwoga, Perham, Schurmann, Larkin, Fanon, Nnoli, Onimode, Cabral, Ekundare, Hegel, Wilmot, Trevor-Roper, Hill, Darwin, Izevbaye, JanMohamed, Hume, Arinze, Conrad, Seligman, Kipling, Carey, Morrison, Ikpeze, Knox, Ogbaa, Aluko, Dabydeen, Hammond, Busia, Dudley, Jeyifo, Jablow, Osundare, Spencer, Cuvier, Magdoff, Innes, Emenyonu, Wright, Amadiume, Maier, Galeano, Wallerstein, Obiechina, Oliver, Omotoso, Nzimiro, Irele, Goulbourne, Sofola, Larson, Ki-Zerbo, Macebuh, Nzegwu, Hall, Evans-Pritchard, Gilroy, Anyanwu, Hobsbawm, Equiano, D'Souza, Edwards, Drechsler, Fryer, Bhabha, Ake, Ade-Ajayi and Williams.

"No other African intellectual," Ekwe-Ekwe contends on the European sphere of the Euro-Arab aggression on Africa, "has consistently affirmed in their works the African historicity that eurocentricism is ever keen to deny than Chinua Achebe." He adds: "Achebe's writings in the past 40 years amount to a twin-track ingeniously crafted and rigorously-expressive interrogative epic of the African humanity during the course of the past 500 years." For Ekwe-Ekwe, the Arabs, who still occupy an arc of African lands from the northwest Maghreb of present-day Morocco to the banks of the Red Sea in Egypt to the north-east, passed on the baton of conquest to the Europeans as from the 15th century. These dual historic invasions constitute what the author describes as the "incomparable double-jeopardy character of the African holocaust" that neither perpetrator has formally acknowledged nor made restitution. He argues that African World relationship with both the West and Arabs in this new millennium should be based on the unambiguous African demand for justice and reparation from the latter.

Ekwe-Ekwe offers a perspective reading of Things Fall Apart that circumscribes the definitive contours of African history during the epoch, namely the catastrophic conquest and occupation of the continent by the European World -- and the earlier Arab invasion and rampage. Following Cheikh Anta Diop, the author argues that an apt summary statement that best describes the impact of this tragic outcome of history on each and every African people is the "loss of national sovereignty," an outcome which Achebe, in Things Fall Apart, demonstrates with such compelling literary urgency in respect to the Umuofia/Igbo World's confrontation with Europe. Okonkwo's suicide, as the novel draws to a close, symbolises the collapse of Umuofia/Igbo sovereignty, which is formally authenticated by Obierika's moving narration. This narration is at once a dirge for the fallen hero of the resistance and an implicit affirmation made by Obierika (Ekwe-Ekwe describes him as the organic intellectual, observing and analysing the fast moving historic developments of his age -- the people's historian) of the "Pyrrhic character" of the British victory: "The regenerative seeds of the African reclamation of national sovereignty are sown right there on the ground." This is evident in the declaration and tactical gasps of silence encapsulated in Obierika's historic statement of recall and recourse made to the [British] Commissioner as both discuss Okonkwo's suicide. In other words, Obierika gives notice, albeit subtly, of the people's intent to pursue the restoration of their sovereignty from the conquest in due course. To underscore the truism of this assertion as the future of British-occupied Nigeria soon shows, the Igbo, as Ekwe-Ekwe demonstrates, "constituted the political spearhead (as from the 1940s) that led to the termination of British rule in the country in 1960." As a result, the British ensured that the 'troublesome' Igbo were excluded from premier political power as the former planned to 'depart,' instead handed over Nigeria to a reactionary Hausa-Fulani political leadership that was not troubled in any way by an indefinite British occupation of the country. Six years later, as this leadership embarked on the perpetration of the Igbo genocide and the Biafra War that caused the death of three million Igbo, Britain had another opportunity to inflict further punishment on the Igbo by wholeheartedly throwing London's immense military and diplomatic support to its Nigerian surrogates.

These events in Umuofia are telescoped further afield as Ekwe-Ekwe maps out a pan-African cartography for their applications and implications. He criticises Kole Omotoso's claims in the latter's Achebe or Soyinka? that the European conquest of Yorubaland was less of a tragedy for the Yoruba (who were more willing to "compromise and accommodate -- as it was a -- mere episode, a catalytic episode only") in contrast to the Igbo who felt the "encounter [could] only be negative in terms of the effects on Igbo culture and its ways." To the contrary, Ekwe-Ekwe shows empirically that the consequences of the conquest on the Yoruba, beginning with the pre-conquest holocaust of enslavement and transportation, were horrendous as the course of the holocaust exacerbated the intra-Yoruba civil wars of the 19th century and the concomitant exportation of millions of Yoruba to the Americas and elsewhere. In the end, more Yoruba were exported to these enslaved destinations overseas than the Igbo or any other nations in the region. Just as it was for the Igbo, the Akan, the Wolof, the Ibibio, the Ijo, the Efik, the Bakongo, the Baluba, the Fon and hundreds of other African peoples, so also was it for the Yoruba: the loss of national sovereignty was a catastrophe. African scholars and political elites who failed to recognise the cardinal facet of this feature of African history were neither likely to successfully theorise and organise the trajectory for successful liberation, nor embark on the wide-ranging transformative reconstruction required in the country after the restoration of national sovereignty. The irony, though, is that despite Ekwe-Ekwe's sharp criticism, most African political leaders who have been in power in the past 40 years (since the termination of formal European occupation) are more likely to adhere to Omotoso's reading of African history. Now we know why Africa has been such a disaster since!

Besides the masterly codification of the planting of those "regenerative seeds" for African liberation, Achebe also observes (in Things Fall Apart) the birth of the European World's rationalising scholarship of conquest. This is anthropology and the corresponding tributaries of its knowledge system of denial, deceit and distortion or what Ekwe-Ekwe terms "Africophobism." The chief protagonist in the novel who proclaims its emergence is the District Commissioner. The Commissioner's account of history, as expected, excludes the African from its central corpus -- instead, he consigns this humanity to a marginality (just a "reasonable paragraph") that even to this day still defines the logic and main thrust of the European World's academic and media work on Africa and its peoples. Crucially, though, Ekwe-Ekwe demonstrates that the Commissioner's declaration amounts to the delineation of the conjunctural landscape of imperial arrogance and deceit that Achebe himself (as a conscientious African World intellectual) confronts head on in his literary mission to affirm African historicity and contribute to the materalisation of Obierika's confidence on the drive towards restoration of lost sovereignty. As a result, Achebe joins that golden league of African World literary, historical and artistic intellectuals whose works and careers constitute the vanguard for African peoples' liberation during the epoch. These include Christopher Okigbo, Leopold Sedar Senghor, James Baldwin, W.E.B. Du Bois, Cheikh Anta Diop, Kenneth Dike, Frantz Fanon, Ben Enwonwu, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane.

Ekwe-Ekwe's evocative analysis of the historic contribution of African American jazz musicians to this liberation struggle must be read for an appreciation of what is no doubt a seminal contribution to pan-African studies. Significantly, Ekwe-Ekwe had dedicated one of the two books he published in 1990 on Biafra (The Biafra War, Nigeria and the Aftermath) to the renowned saxophonist, John Coltrane. It was only recently that I found out what the Coltrane "connection" with Biafra was! I met someone at a conference who was in Lancaster University whilst Ekwe-Ekwe was a doctoral student. My acquaintance recalled that "as Herbert spent hours and hours in his flat writing up his thesis in the summer of 1980, all you heard at the background was the music of Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Charles Mingus. Herbert was always quick to note that a dual tragedy struck African people in 1967 -- the untimely death of Coltrane and the Nigerian war of genocide in the fledgling Republic of Biafra."

As in all Ekwe-Ekwe's past books, essays, articles, and lectures, Biafra features prominently in African Literature in Defence of History. The author is clear and emphatic about what the war in Biafra was about:

Biafra was a war of genocide, a war that was waged in its totality (with all the annihilative indices that this particular war strategy connotes) in a very limited expanse of territory (Africa's most densely populated area outside the Nile valley) where the victims did not have access to a "neutral" or friendly contiguous state for refuge and respite. The war was waged to overwhelm and destroy the corporate ability of the Igbo people to resist an aggression triggered because they were simply expressing their inalienable fundamental human right to feely decide to belong or not to belong to a political relationship in the wake of the most horrendous spate of massacres.

The Igbo lost about 100,000 people in those massacres across northern Nigeria and elsewhere in the country in 1966 and the subsequent 3-year war that began after the Nigerian attack of Biafra in July 1967 cost the lives of 3 million Igbo people -- a quarter of their total population at the time. Ekwe-Ekwe observes that no Igbo family in the world was not affected by this tragedy, the worst that any single African nation had suffered in 200 years. Furthermore, "those who ordered and sustained the war against the Igbo" had the unenviable record -- and responsibility - of clearing the undergrowth from which the gruesome killing fields that have since littered Africa expanded almost inexorably." Following Biafra, the resultant and expanded "killing fields" have now stretched from Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa through Rwanda and the Congos in Central Africa, and to Uganda and Ethiopia in the East resulting in the death of an additional nine million Africans. Thus, a frightening total of 12 million Africans have been slaughtered across the continent by degenerate African leaderships in the past 37 years ago -- beginning with the launch of the Igbo genocide.

Ekwe-Ekwe emphasises the role of the decadent Yoruba political leadership led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the Igbo genocide -- a point that observers such as Odia Ofeimun, the failed poet whose only claim to fame is that he was once an aide to Awolowo (even if ignominiously dismissed from this position by the man he now spends most of the time lionising through endless hallucinatory sketches) will only continue to ignore at their own peril. Awolowo, the wartime Nigerian minister of finance and deputy chairperson of the war cabinet, enunciated and fanatically championed Nigeria's notorious "starvation as weapon/quick kill" strategy on Biafra which resulted in the death of 90 percent of the total Igbo war casualty. Just in case this savage crime did not achieve its intended object of finality soon after the fall of Biafra in January 1970, Awolowo pursued and implemented the £20.00-limit financial/economic strangulation on those Igbo who survived the holocaust.

Chief Awolowo was motivated by what Ekwe-Ekwe aptly describes as the "virulence of Igbophobia," which had wracked the personality of the ex-leader of the Action Group since he was outclassed and outmatched by the superior intellectual and progressive political project of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe in the turbulent Nigerian politics of 1940s-1960s. Awolowo was just a sadist, not a sage, or some other fanciful accolades that Ofeimun and his acolytes tend to claim (except of course that sadistic sages do exist); he was an opportunistic sadist, nonetheless, who, in 1967, had found the "window of opportunity" -- at last -- to contribute to the execution of the genocide of a people who for 20 years were positioned in the assured vanguard in the course of the liberation of Nigeria from the British occupation, and had relegated his reactionary politics of chauvinist exclusiveness to the backwaters. If Awolowo were alive today, he would be a principal defendant on a charge for a "crime against humanity" in an international court of tribunal examining his role as well as others (many who are alive and still occupy important positions in Nigeria's public life) in the Igbo genocide of 1966-1970. Ekwe-Ekwe insists that as well as having lodged their case for restitution from the Nigerian government in the Justice Oputa Human Rights Commission, the Igbo must reserve the right to seek full reparation for this crime "beyond Nigeria's territorial jurisdiction."

Besides inaugurating the "killing fields" of Africa, the planners and executioners of the Igbo genocide and those who subsequently identify with their goals, have since ran the affairs of Nigeria with the disaster that everyone across the world has come to note. They all, including current President Obasanjo who is afflicted by the same debilitating Awolowoist syndrome of Igbophobia, are all trapped in the quagmire of genocidal imperatives. As Ekwe-Ekwe shows, Nigeria ceased to develop since 1966 when the Igbo were chased, clobbered, and gunned down all over the place. There was a far greater measure of human ingenuity and drive developed and displayed by the Igbo in besieged Biafra from 1967-1970 than in all of Nigeria during the period and since -- i.e. 1970-2003.

Ekwe-Ekwe no doubt has Nigeria centrally in mind when he concluded his excellent study by stating: "The African 'nation-state' has now run the course of its bloody trail in history. The greatest challenge facing Africans in the new millennium is to dismantle this state and create new state forms based on Africa's critical re-engagement with its rich cultural heritage." Clearly, the author calls for an extensive decentralisation of the African political landscape "away from the murderous over-centralising ethos of the present 'nation-state.'" In such an outcome of Africa-wide "decentring of existing socio-economic life," Ekwe-Ekwe continetalises the validity of Biafranism as localised, grassroots/community empowerment and democracy across Africa. These new state forms, imbued with an organic sensibility that replaces the widespread alienation of the present, is better placed to build an "advanced civilisation for the people" -- to feed, clothe, educate, house and provide peace and security, and create the enabling environment for the development and enhancement of the human potential.

Professor Ekwe-Ekwe has written a key book of transformation for all African peoples. It is an important contributing discourse on the African renaissance. This is a book that will be studied rigorously. It is a compulsory read and, given its interdisciplinary range, it is highly recommended to undergraduate and postgraduate social sciences, arts, law and business studies -- and, I dare add, to others who wish to read a major study about Africa in this new millennium.

Originally appeared in multiworld.org.


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