Achebe, soldier with a pen, rests

2013-03-24 10:00

Chinua Achebe (82) was named the “Grandfather of African literature” after the news of his death on Friday.

We agree, but add, “A father of modern literature”.

Achebe was everything a writer should be – an activist who wielded his pen like a sword, a historian, a truth teller and a hero.

His novel Things Fall Apart is a first in the canon of postcolonial African literature, capturing as it still does the quintessential uncertainties of being free of chains and the lure of power’s seductive ways: the ephemeral smell of hope and the stink of decay.

His novels – Anthills of the Savannah, No Longer At Ease, Things Fall Apart – are testament to his literary achievement, with their ability to appeal to audiences across borders, continents and generations.

Until his death, Achebe was a truthsayer who refused to bow to power.

He declined two Nigerian honours in protest against what he saw as continued infractions of democratic principles.

While many great artists have become courtiers of the powerful, Achebe never walked that path.

He believed the role of the writer was to side with the dispossessed and the oppressed.

Throughout Nigeria’s years of military government, Achebe remained a thorn in their side, holding up an international mirror to the egregious impact on Africa’s giant oil country.

He said: “Nigeria is what it is because its leaders are not what they should be.”

Achebe was also an essayist who wrote mostly about his own country, but in ways so perceptive that his various theories are often used to analyse other postcolonial democracies.

This son of the soil now rests with a life’s work done.

And as the continent moves towards a more hopeful future, history will record his part in achieving it.

Famously, it was he who said: “If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own.”

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