In this essay we will take time to clarify some areas that seem to confuse some people in the on-going Biafra separatist movement in Nigeria. Over the years, as will be expected; the move for the independence of Biafra has undergone some transformations. These changes seem to have created a sort of mixed messages in the minds of both observers and participants. So, at this point it is really important that we try to clarify some of the seemingly ambiguous aspects of the movement.
It is a fact that for some of the participants, those involved in the struggle, many are finding it difficult to come to terms and accept the obvious realities of these changes when they seem to go against some of their assumed or preconceived notions of what the struggle should be about. This is understandable. But in spite of the genuine appreciation of the position of these colleagues it will be foolish if we should ignore the prevailing obvious new realities and facts as they concern the movement. We can only ask that such individuals will be humble enough to find the sincerity and courage to acknowledge these truths and incontestable facts when they are revealed to them.
Right from the onset we take it for granted that all of us who are involved in this Igbo independence project are concerned with the noble idea and task of establishing a functional and viable society or country. With that in mind we will take it that none of us in this movement is in it for the vain pursuit of an imaginary kingdom based on the fancies of some unrealistic “united states” dreams. Such figments of unreflective imaginations are nothing different from the nightmarish one Nigerian concept, which we are saddled with now. Such unreflective idiocies must be avoided by all means if our aim is to succeed and not just thrive but prosper as a new country.
Igbo is a distinctive language, an ethnic nationality of 50 million, a people with definitive unique identities, a linguistic, cultural and worldview that cannot be confused or mistaken for something else by anyone. This exclusive way of life makes them who they are: Igbo.
In this regard therefore, it is necessary to state plainly that the current non-violent move (starting from the later part of the 1990s to the present, 2018) to separate Biafra from Nigeria, as an independent state is exclusively an Igbo project. It is an effort by the Igbo collective to establish a new country exclusively for and by themselves. And we must quickly add that this desire is just, legitimate and altogether wholesome.
Igbo people in Nigeria have specific autochthonous lands, which they have always occupied from antiquity. In these lands, from primordial time the Igbo have always existed there and passed them on from one generation to the next until this present time. It is the Igbo in these lands so described that want to separate their lands from Nigeria into a new modern country with a sovereign independent status.
It is in this fundamental fact that the key to an unclouded understanding of the scope or dimensions and the identities of the new Biafra and its people lies. This fact clearly defines the contrast that exists between the 1967 Biafran struggle for independence and the current Biafran independence movement. The two may sound alike but there is an unmistakable difference between them. In the 1967 Biafra, the lands and peoples of other ethnic nationalities other than the Igbo were included in the physical geographical map of the Biafran country. Indeed some Igbo lands were excluded in the map of the old Biafra. But in this new Biafra it is only the Igbo ethnic nationality and their lands everywhere that make up the new country. As we go on with this discussion, this position of an Igbo-only Biafra will be further explained.
Relevant changes are often necessitated by prevailing circumstances, new knowledge and newly emerging truths. For the benefit of some of our colleagues in this liberation movement we understand that sometimes it is difficult to embrace necessary changes. Most often it is time that is the primary agent of these changes. In Stephen Hawkins’s A Brief History of Time he talks about how difficult it was for him at the initial stage to convince the scientific world to believe in his Big Bang Theory and how even more difficult it has been for him to dissuade the same group of scientists from believing in many aspects of the same theory.
But the truth is that new knowledge and truths will sometimes emerge to supplant former truths or ideas. It is therefore, not a sign of inferior intelligence or inferior moral standards to review or change one’s positions based on new knowledge and truths. Time and the people themselves must always continually determine and create their own realities based on their prevailing circumstances. And it will always take the painstaking reflective patience of the sincere and honest individual to find enough courage and boldness to accept new truths and new realities as they present themselves.
Alternatively, putting it more bluntly, we must say that it will be a fatal mistake when anyone especially those in the centre of the Biafran movement try to ignore or pretend that nothing changes with the passage of time or that such a fundamental reality on which hinges the total essence of the independence movement will be sorted out later on.
The circumstances that produced the two Biafras are not the same
We need to make it clear that though this generation of Igbo people take a part of their inspiration from the just and courageous actions of their forebears who rightly fought to be free as Biafrans, but the truth is that the Igbo of the on-going Biafra or Igbo independence movement also have their own unique reasons for embarking on this new project of freedom. Therefore this new business of Biafra or Igbo independence movement is exclusively the project of the present generation of Igbo people and will be fought and won on this generation’s terms and conditions. The old truism that says that every new generation must fight their own battles and win or lose their own victories could not be truer elsewhere than in this instance.
Briefly, we must mention here, by way of explaining some of those reasons that differentiate the old Biafra from the new: In the past during the 1966 Pogrom the Igbo were not the exclusive victims of the Nigerian government-sponsored killing of unarmed citizens. The other neighbouring ethnic peoples or most of the other people from what was then known as Eastern Region of Nigeria were also among the casualties in the killings. And mostly it was the Pogrom that led to the declaration of an independent state of Biafra from Nigeria with the geographical map of the old Eastern Region serving as the new country’s physical boundaries in 1967. That country of Biafra existed from mid-1967 to the second week of January 1970.
Another important point to note here is that the old Biafra was declared along the then existing Eastern Region administrative territory as established by the British colonial administrators. The boundaries and identities of the people of this new country of Biafra will be determined by the indigenous people, the Igbo by themselves and for themselves.
Just like the presently contested one Nigeria, the old Eastern Region of Nigeria was an arbitrary creation of a foreign colonial power without any due consultation with the natives or consideration of the differences that existed among the native peoples who would be compelled to deal with the consequences of the actions. As it is in Nigeria, the old Eastern Region was made up of peoples with incongruent and irreconcilable worldviews and national aspirations who were forced by the force of colonialism to mix together their fortunes and destinies in one political and administrative structure without the benefit of a commonality of cultural and historical antecedent or heritage which serves to bind a people together and enable them to live in harmony and a progress-promoting environment.
The new Biafra
Due to the continued mistreatment of the Igbo in Nigeria starting from 1970 when the Biafran-Nigerian War ended; the well-documented and publicised marginalisation, persecution and complete exclusion of the Igbo from Nigerian commonwealth and all the affairs of the Nigerian state, a group of Igbo people (known as Ekwenche Research Organisation in the United States) decided in 1996/1997 to revive the quest for the independence of Igbo people from the Nigerian state.
Over the years this quest has evolved but its core agenda remains the same – the determined separation of the Igbo nation and land from Nigeria.
It is important that no one should miss or mix up this fundamental agenda because that is what gives the movement its nature, structure and dimensions. Except the Igbo, this new Biafra has nothing to do with any other ethnic groups in Nigeria, for obvious reasons.
Generally speaking, though the Igbo are adventurous and outgoing, they are not known to be imperialistic or to covet the fortunes, stations or places of other people. It is this national trait of the Igbo, which informs the continued survival of the Igbo practice and reverence for Ikenga Igbo – a belief in the supreme importance of individuals’ personal achievement. The Igbo thrives better when they have the exclusive control of their own space and destiny.
Just as we the Igbo are not interested in the possession or in the sharing of our neighbours’ good fortunes as a result of common citizenship of the same country, we are not pretending to being the redeemers or saviours of these our neighbours either. The Igbo believe that each of their neighbours is capable in their own rights to save, determine and pilot the ship of their own state and destiny by themselves and for themselves.
In Nigeria the only group of people who is resented, despised, hated, persecuted, and generally considered, as the pariah of the state is the Igbo. Just one recent example will suffice here. On 6 June 2017, a group that goes by the name Northern Youth Coalition held a press conference in Kaduna and issued a three-month quit notice to all Igbo people living in what is traditionally known as the northern region. This area covers about 70 percent of the physical map of what is known as Nigeria.
The quit notice, which was backed by the government and people of the north is quite explicit and specifically issued to the Igbo people. In the document that the group read at the press conference it explained clearly why the quit notice was exclusively for the Igbo and not inclusive of other ethnic members of the Nigerian union.
For the sake of emphasis it needs to be repeated here that over the years that the non-acceptance of Igbo people in Nigeria has remained a consistent systemic and systematic programme of both the government and the private citizens of Nigeria. This programme is not lost on Igbo people therefore, the people have made an immutable resolve to move out from Nigeria and form their own separate sovereign independent state. This resolve is also based on the universally accepted principle of Self Determination as the right of all peoples everywhere.
We need to remind our readers that we believe in the unity of all human peoples everywhere, but we are aware of the fact that not all forms of unity are good for all peoples everywhere. Without looking far to illustrate this point we can only invite our readers to take a quick look at the disastrous unity of one Nigeria. From the Nigerian example it is very clear that the only unity that succeed are those that are based on the understanding that such a people that are being united have a unified sense of purpose, that such a people are united in the common pursuit of unified national aspirations, and yoked together in their common cultural ways and worldviews.
With this conviction that not all forms of unity promote strength, harmony and progress, Igbo people categorically reject any unity that is just for the sake of it. In our opinion, nothing can be weaker than all forms of unity that lack the basic ingredients that foster harmony and progress but instead promote resentment, hatred, death and intolerance.
It is for this reason that we know that any new Biafra that will not take these historical facts and realities into consideration is equally doomed from the start just like the one Nigeria which we are fighting to be extricated from.
At this juncture we need to reassure all Igbo neighbours who are living in the contiguous lands around the Igbo, that we recognise the fact that they too may have their own issues or misgivings about the Nigerian union but we also know that just as it is in the real world, each group has their own unique challenges which is peculiar to them. We also know that just as it is only the one who wears the shoe understands where it pinches, the Igbo do not pretend to know or have the answers to their neighbours’ challenges as it applies to them. As good neighbours, the Igbo are always willing to work in partnership with their neighbours to achieve certain goals such as working jointly together to collectively extricate themselves from Nigeria.
Working together in projects of this nature does not mean that other ethnic nations should subsume their unique national identities in the Igbo identity. Should the need arise where the Igbo neighbours will fight alongside the Igbo to win freedom from Nigeria, it will never result in what some misguided individuals erroneously refer to as the “United States of Biafra.” The present Igbo independence movement is not pursuing any such thing. Despite its faults this present generation of Igbo cherishes with pride their unique Igbo identity which they are prepared to own and preserve while working on continually improving and modernising this their collective heritage to remain relevant and to continuously conform with the universal global standards.
It is in this light that we want to state plainly that this new Igbo-only Biafra will not be a closed society. Although the country will be an exclusive Igbo society and a sovereign country, it will also be an open society that welcomes all-comers from everywhere, without discrimination. For the purpose of emphasis we need to state that this Igbo country will especially be more open and welcoming of those who are mistreated, persecuted or pursued from anywhere. So long as all intending immigrants are willing to come in and be assimilated and ultimately become Igbo by practice and identity, they will always have a home in the Igbo country.
With this understanding it becomes clear that the kind of an Igbo-only state that we are talking about here does not mean a closeted extremist or intolerant state. No, it means a state where an oppressed and persecuted people can be and have their lives and properties and rights protected by a sovereign national power. In this Igbo state all people from anywhere in the world who are escaping oppression, persecution or any such thing can come there and find a home and refuge without discrimination.
In this state – an Igbo state, people of all colours and persuasion can come to this state to dream, achieve and prosper without any hindrances so long as they keep the laws of the land and respect the rights of fellow citizens. It will be a state administered under a continually updated set of predictable rules, regulations, laws and order. It will be far removed from any state where the whims and fancies of one person or a few clique of individuals prevail.
There will never be a reason to exclude anyone who comes into the Igbo state who will be willing to live and abide by the norms of their host society. Igbo ways and ideas are in full conformity with the universal standards and practice and all Igbo everywhere own and identify with them with pride and are ever willing to work hard at the protection, preservation and advancement of this their Igboness as a collective bequeathal to subsequent Igbo generations.
Lastly, we want to reassure all people everywhere that this pursuit to establish a safe haven (a sovereign state) for the Igbo who have always suffered resentment, persecution, discrimination and hatred in the hands of their neighbours is a just and legitimate venture and should be supported by all well-meaning individuals, governments and groups everywhere.
Commentator: Osita Ebiem
He is a social affairs commentator and rights advocate.
Why Uganda Needs a Lean Government
The recently concluded parliamentary elections in Uganda has brought the number of parliamentarians to 478 up from 375 in the 9th parliament and all the way up from 92 legislators in Uganda’s first parliament (representing a near 420% increase). In the same period, the population of Uganda has grown to about 42.5m (2018 estimate) up from 7.1m in 1962 (representing a whopping 499% growth in the same period). People may argue that the growth in number of Legislators has kept pace with the growth in population (an average annual growth rate of about 3.3%), but should they?
Taking a closer look at our executive, and you discover that we currently have about 80 ministers (Cabinet and state). When you add other executive appointments like RDCs, ARDCs, Presidential advisors, etc., the size of our presidential appointees, that report directly to the president, makes it not only impossible but extremely discomforting for the head of state. No wonder some of them have been perennially complaining that they can’t even get an appointment with him.
A quick look at the best Governments in the world (the Top 25 well governed countries in the world) reveals Switzerland on top and Cyprus as number 25. What is interesting (although not surprising) to note is that there is no single African country on this list. What is more interesting also is that seven (07) of the 25 countries on the list are also on the list of Top countries with the smallest Executive to GDP per capita. This is a list with the smallest governments (Size) relative to their GDPs. Topping that list is Andorra with only 12 Members on their top governing executive followed by Hungary at 14, Estonia at 15, Luxembourg at 18, Japan at 20, Hong Kong at 21, Singapore at 21, Sweden at 23, USA at 23, Costa Rica at 25 and China at 35. Now, please note that China (People’s Republic) is the most densely populated country at more than 1.3bn people. But these are governed by 35 people including the Head of state.
It is no wonder therefore, that the 7 countries (Sweden, Luxembourg, USA, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, & Estonia) with the leanest governments are also among the best governed. There is a correlation between the size of government and the efficiency of service delivery. Whereas we are busy splitting every village into a district, across the borders and into the global scene, countries are creating trading blocks. It therefore defeats my understanding how we can be aspiring for the EA Community and at the same time splitting districts along small tribal/ clan lines. For example, the split of Mitooma District into 2 constituencies was done in such a way that 3 of the 11 sub counties (predominantly occupied by Bakiga) made a separate constituency leaving the other 8 sub counties with another constituency. Does that bother our leaders? Maybe not. It doesn’t make sense at all, other than quenching the large political thirst by our politicians/ leaders.
My proposal therefore would be to consolidate Uganda’s cabinet to at most 25 members excluding the president and not more than 80 members of parliament (actually, this can be kept with in less than 50 members, with a good formula which I will delve into in my future articles). This should automatically kick out members on the affirmative action since members have now matured and can compete effectively. Also, the Army representatives should not have a place in a multiparty dispensation considering that they are serving soldiers. We should go back on to a consolidation path rather than a disintegration path (for example why have more than 10 representatives in greater Bushenyi when only 2 or 3 would suffice. Or even one), and the same can be said of the Kabale Region, Kisoro, Kasese, Fortportal, Masindi, greater Masaka, Wakiso, Kampala, Jinja, Soroti, Lira, Apach, Kapchorwa etc. We would end up with high quality representatives, who are more willing to work for the people and are not easy to bribe. They would be more accountable…
Lastly, I would propose a Lean cabinet with only 10 cabinet and 15 state ministers as below:
Cabinet Positions (Ministries)
2 Education, Culture & Entertainment
3 Commerce (Finance, Trade and Investment)
4 Infrastructure (Transport, energy)
5 ICT & Innovation
6 Legal & Constitutional Affairs (Attorney General)
7 International Relations
8 Defence & Security affairs
9 Health & Human Services
10 Prime Minister
1 Land and Agriculture
2 Sports & Entertainment
3 Culture & Social Affairs
4 Financial Inclusion (Cooperatives etc)
5 Finance & Planning
6 Transportation (Road, Railway, Air, Water)
7 Urban & Rural Planning
8 Energy Services
9 Internal Security
10 External Security
11 Tourism & Market Promotion
12 Youth & Women affairs
13 Presidential affairs
14 Civil & Public servants
15 Research & Development
With the above lean government, I would be ready to launch Uganda into Middle Income economy and beyond!, Please note, there is no slot for the Vice president in my cabinet!
Commentator….Martin Bakundana, a CMCRC research scholar
Soyinka prize in illiteracy
On 13 July 2018, the 84th birthday of Olumo Wole Soyinka, the 1986 Nobel Laureate for Literature, I honour him by revisiting a debate that is raging on the Internet over what many call my misreading of his work, especially with reference to my interpretation of his play, Death and King’s Horseman
On 13 July 2018, the 84th birthday of Olumo Wole Soyinka, the 1986 Nobel Laureate for Literature, I honour him by revisiting a debate that is raging on the Internet over what many call my misreading of his work, especially with reference to my interpretation of his play, Death and King’s Horseman. Literary experts have been marvelling about the “Author’s Note” that accompanies Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka.
Most playwrights leave it to the directors and producers of the play to interpret it as they wish but Soyinka was worried that most experts were misreading the play. He took the unusual authoritarian step of stipulating how the play should be interpreted but the critics appear not to notice and have continued to misread the play, in my own humble opinion. Soyinka left clues that would guide readers to decode his original intention in writing the play but most literary critics miss the point and some accuse me of being the mis-reader.
The very first sentence in the author’s note may have led many critics astray by stating that the play is based on real historical “events which took place in Oyo”, which the author defined as “an ancient Yoruba city of Nigeria”. This is misleading in a number of ways that literary critics should have been able to understand. To say that the events took place in 1946 would be to localise the time and space of the dramatic events whereas in the world of theatre, events do not take place exclusively in the setting but also on every stage where the play is produced.
Soyinka expected that literary theorists would understand that the playscript is not simply an archival document or ethnographic report but the work of original creation even when based on real events.
The play was not expected to be read, as the verbatim report of a tragic case that took place once upon a time. This is true of all works of creative writing that are supposed to be inventive no matter how much resemblance there may be between fiction and reality. In fact, many writers include a disclaimer that that any resemblance to real events was unintentional. As a matter of fact, the same can be said about reality genres that are full of inventions too. Soyinka clearly stated in the first paragraph of his author’s note that he made “changes” in the narrative “in matters of detail, sequence and of course characterisation”.
He also informed the illiterate critics that he deliberately set the play back a few years “while the war was still on, for minor reasons of dramaturgy.” Here, Soyinka is guiding the would-be producer away from a simplistic historical interpretation of the play as being only relevant to the case of 1946 given that dramaturgy grants artistic license that defies the laws of historical specificity. In addition, Soyinka may have misled the interpreters of the play by saying that Oyo was an “ancient Yoruba city of Nigeria”. Here he could be challenged by historians who may point out that Oyo was an ancient Yoruba Empire and not simply a city and that by 1946, it was no longer simply a Yoruba city but a multicultural one.
Moreover, nothing “of Nigeria” can be said to be ancient because Nigeria itself is a modernist invention by colonisers. The hint about the Nigerian setting of the play should have encouraged the critics to understand that the play is not only about a Yoruba tragedy but about a Nigerian tragedy. The reference to “while the war was still on” should have massaged the memory of the critics to remind them that the play was published only five years after a tragic genocidal war in Nigeria in which Yoruba elites played a leading aggressive role along with other ethnic elites in Nigeria. This play, in my lay opinion, is better understood, as part of the soul-searching by Soyinka after he was released from solitary confinement for opposing the genocidal war against the Igbo. Why were highly educated Yoruba leaders the ones who cheered on the genocide against the Igbo in Biafra?
Also, Soyinka indicated that those who were interested only in the factual account of the case of 1946 should go and read it in the British National Archives in Kew. He also pointed out that those who wanted to read a more exact historical re-enactment of the case should consult the “fine play in Yoruba (Oba Waja) by Duro Ladipo”. In other words, Death and the King’s Horseman is not that kind of historical re-enactment nor is it the kind of “misbegotten’ German television film about the case. The play was a more urgent intervention while Soyinka was in exile following the end of the war and his release from solitary confinement for having the audacity to oppose tyranny. Unlike his other plays, he did not wait for the play to be produced before he published it. I believe that Soyinka was directly and indirectly challenging his fellow Nigerian intellectuals to account for their opportunism in supporting a genocidal war that took 3.1 million lives in 30 months.
In the third paragraph of the author’s note, Soyinka declared that the “bane of themes of this genre” is that once the text appears, “they acquire the facile tag of ‘clash of cultures’”. He rejected such a label as “prejudicial” in the sense that it is prone to “frequent misapplication” and also because the label “presupposes” a potential equality in every given situation between the cultures of the coloniser and the colonised “on the actual soil of the latter”. Soyinka went on to award “the overseas prize in illiteracy and mental conditioning” to the writer of the blurb of the American edition of his novel, Season of Anomy, for “unblushingly” stating that the novel is about the “clash between old values and new ways, between western methods and African traditions”.
Soyinka explained that it is due to “this kind of perverse mentality” that he was forced to warn future producers (and critics) of the play to avoid “a sadly familiar reductionist tendency” and instead attempt to capture the “the far more difficult and risky task of eliciting the play’s threnodic essence.” Experts on the work of Soyinka are baffled by this injunction and wonder openly what he was banging on about? What is Soyinka trying to hide? He was trying to reveal something.
I offer the original interpretation that Soyinka was referring to the genocide against the Igbo which was the theme of the novel that he referred to, Season of Anomy, in which he recounted the eye-witness account of how fellow Nigerians hunted down tens of thousands of innocent Igbo men, women and children and massacred them in a pogrom that led to the secession of the Eastern region and the intensification of the genocide. In that novel, he mocked the archaeologists for poking around in search of fossilised bones while fresh blood flowed like river in the country and they did not seem to be bothered.
He also challenged the sociologists who came with “erudite irrelevances” about marriage and divorce but refused to join him in opposing a genocidal war. The novel depicted the Marxists who were locked up in a mental asylum as phrase-mongers who failed to recognise the revolutionary situation in the country and instead rallied in support of the genocidal military dictatorship rather than turn the civil war into a liberation war. To suggest that the novel was about the clash of cultures was a strategy to condition the mentality of Nigerian intellectuals towards the acceptance of the propaganda that the Igbo who led the struggle for decolonisation were primitive tribalists perhaps because they had no chiefs while the ethnic groups that ganged up against them were more civilised because they were monarchical, according to the ideologues of colonial domination.
Walter Rodney also observed that to call the genocide against the Igbo a tribal war would be to call Shell BP a tribe (along with the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union) and Ikenna Nzimiro argued that the Marxists in Biafra were engaged in class struggles. The “threnodic essence” of the play refers to funeral songs in Greek tragedies and I believe that Soyinka was inviting the producers of the play to imagine a national mourning for the 3.1 million killed in Biafra that the country has refused to mourn. Agwuncha Arthur Nwankwo has been calling for a National Day of Igbo Mourning to be recognised by the Nigerian government as part of the atonement.
In the final paragraph of the author’s note, Soyinka observed that an alternative structuralist interpretation of the play is to see it as a cruel joke on the British colonial District Officer. He quickly dismissed such a reading as distasteful and added that he deliberately avoided writing dialogue or scenes that would support such a misinterpretation. He dictated that, “No attempt should be made in production to suggest it”. This sounds like an angry response to critics who choose to misread his works for ideological reasons while ignoring the concrete conditions that his works address.
A prominent Marxist literary theorist that I admire, Biodun Jeyifo, who is an expert on the work of Soyinka, was invited by the British Broadcasting Corporation to write about any work of literature that he saw as being representative of the global culture. He chose to write beautifully about Death and the King’s Horseman, as an anti-colonial play that tried to subvert the use of the Queen’s English by creating a “future” tradition of the Anglophone that was more figurative than the English language.
He invoked the work of Marxist cultural studies by Raymond Williams and by Stuart Hall to suggest that the other Englishes around the world serve to subvert the domination of the world by Standard English. I pointed out that his interpretation is too superficial for a Marxist because the “thredonic essence” of the play was not to show that Africans could speak English better than the English. I suggested that a cultural studies reading of the play would not have focused exclusively on the beautiful writing or language of the play but would have tried to see the challenge to monarchism and oppressive traditions in the play.
Jeyifo told me privately that I should go and read the play again because it is not against the monarchy or against ritual suicide but simply against the colonial domination of African cultures. I admitted that I could be accused of misreading the play but I called it a strategic misreading and wondered if it is possible for an expert on the work of Soyinka to misread it. Soyinka seems to think so and that is the whole point of his detailed telling off of the experts in his author’s note.
Contrary to the claim that Death and the King’s Horseman is only an anti-colonial play, Soyinka concluded his author’s note by stating that, “The Colonial Factor is an incident, a catalytic incident merely.” To him, the central “confrontation” or conflict that he tried to resolve in the play was “metaphysical” in the sense that it played out in the world of “the Yoruba mind – the world of the living, the dead and the unborn, and the numinous passages which links all: transition”.
Soyinka was puzzling about the metaphysics of the Yoruba worldview that made it possible for the best educated characters in the play to be the ones who cheered most vociferously for Elesin to abide by the tradition that expected him to kill himself in honour of a dead king. Similarly, Soyinka was wondering why the best educated Yoruba were the cheer-leaders of the genocide against the Igbo. Soyinka advised producers to try and capture this tragedy by using music to represent the macabre dance to the “music from the abyss” by the intellectuals who danced while millions were being slaughtered in Biafra.
I am not an expert in dramaturgy but I love the work of Soyinka. I cited his essay on Neo-Tarzanism in my criticism of the film, Black Panther, which I called an example of neo-Tarzanism. Following the serialisation of the criticism, I was invited by the KPFK public radio in Los Angeles to discuss the film with an Ethiopian publisher and an African American director of the Pan African Film Festival. During the discussion, the Ethiopian said that we should not condemn the presence of monarchies in Africa because there were popular emperors such as Mansa Musa and Haile Selessie who were admired by Africans and by the African diaspora.
The director of the Pan African Film Festival questioned my reference to Soyinka because he saw Death and the King’s Horseman as an indication that Soyinka was a monarchist who supported even the tradition that the horseman should commit suicide to honour the dead king. As Killmonger asked derisively in the film, I asked, this is your king? I stated that Soyinka used that play and almost every play of his to undermine the institution of the monarchy and call for democracy, which he is on record as admiring in Igbo culture. He spared the life of the Horseman in the play and his other tragedies – Kongi’s Harvest, Madmen and Specialists, King Babu; his novels, his poetry and his memoirs all support my interpretation of his anti-monarchical orientation.
Since the experts who have studied his work have focused almost exclusively on the structuralism, I propose to offer a post-structuralist or deconstruction radicalisation of his body of work to show that the tragedy of the state violence especially against the Igbo is at the centre of the conflicts that he has been trying to resolve. Just as the genocidal war was waged without a cease fire for humanitarian interventions, the author coincidentally instructs on page 8 of Death and the King’s Horseman that “The play should run without an interval.”
I agree with critics who will charge that I am misreading Soyinka here. If so, I will admit to a strategic misreading that is necessitated by placing the text within the context of a recent history of trauma that the author did not simply witness as a bystander but one in which he actively tried to stop the genocide and earned himself solitary confinement without trial. Sociologists approach the work of writers by taking into consideration, the context of the private and the public lives of the authors whereas literary theorists may concentrate exclusively on the technical, language, or structural aspects of the script as instructed by T.S. Eliot in his foundational essay, Tradition and Individual Talent.
What I am offering is a sociology of literature interpretation of Soyinka and I am certain that the rebel in him may force him to disagree with my interpretation and award me a national illiteracy prize. I am not contending that all existing interpretations of Soyinka are wrong. I am only saying that there is something missing in the community of Soyinka interpretations and I contend that what is neglected by critics is not minor but a central aspect of his work – his self-sacrificial opposition to the Igbo genocide in particular as a foundational part of his oppositional aesthetics in the face of tyranny.
Commentator: Biko Agozino.
He is Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, United States of America.
The voice of the people is NOT the voice of God
Over the past seven months, ever since the military coup that ousted former Zimbabwe dictator Robert Gabriel Mugabe in November last year, the country has been inundated with several slogans and mantras meant to legitimise and justify those who took power – however, what is most painful is the use of blasphemy, through the abuse of God’s name for political expediency
Over the past seven months, ever since the military coup that ousted former Zimbabwe dictator Robert Gabriel Mugabe in November last year, the country has been inundated with several slogans and mantras meant to legitimise and justify those who took power – however, what is most painful is the use of blasphemy, through the abuse of God’s name for political expediency.
Although, Zimbabwe is, by far, not new to blasphemy by politicians – having witnessed the shameful comparison of Mugabe to our Lord Jesus Christ, and baseless claims by shadowy prophets that he had been specifically anointed by God to lead the nation, and no one was supposed to challenge him – but, the continued abuse of Jehovah’s name is worrying, to say the least.
Possibly, as a direct result of Mugabe’s claim that he was specifically appointed by God to lead this country – and that only He could remove him – those who ousted him have sought to justify their actions by insinuating that their actions were inspired by God.
Otherwise, how else can one explain the now all too familiar mantra claiming that, “the voice of the people is the voice of God”?
First of all, as every Zimbabwean knows, Mugabe was not removed by the people, but by the military, as he was held under house arrest, whilst being pushed to resign.
The call for people to go out onto the streets to call for his resignation was just a smokescreen for what was truly happening behind the scenes, in order to give impression of a popular uprising, so as to camouflage the military action – and, as in fact did happen, avoid international ramifications.
Let us not forget that the call for mass action came after the military had already intervened.
This, by any stretch of the imagination, can never be said to be the voice of God!
Secondly, even if we were to accept that what transpired last November was indeed a popular uprising, what justification is there to claim that this was the voice of God?
Since when has God spoken through popular or mass action?
As much as I am a firm believer in democracy and democratic values, we should separate these from the voice of God – as these are fundamentally divorced from each other.
God does not – and has never worked – through mass or popular action.
In fact, most acts of rebellion against God in the Bible were carried out through popular and mass action.
A couple of examples immediately come to mind – for instance, the mass call for God’s only begotten son Jesus Christ to be crucified – nearly everyone cried, “crucify Him!”.
That was not the voice of God.
Another example is when the children of Israel constantly demanded that they be returned to bondage in Egypt, whenever their plight in the wilderness became unbearable – even leading to them creating an idol for them to worship when Moses was up the mountain talking with God.
Furthermore, the children of Israel, later on, collectively demanded a human king from the prophet Samuel – an act that greatly pained God, as it was a direct rejection of His rule.
Several times, from that point onwards, the children of Israel – together as a mass – disobeyed God, as they made their own popular decisions that were not directed by Him.
It is, thus, clear that God never spoke through the people as a collective.
In fact, the true voice of God was always met with resistance from the people, as it was highly unpopular – and it came through His genuine prophets.
If ever there were to be Gallup polls in those days, the people with the lowest approval ratings would have been the genuine prophets of God – as the voice of the people was always contrary to that of God.
Even during the days of the apostles, the voice of God that they spoke of was seldom received well, as it was not the voice of the people – leading to widespread persecution and even death.
Similarly, today is not any different – as the voice of the people is surely not the voice of God.
The desires of humans are always mostly of the world and of the flesh, and are not necessarily of the Spirit and inspired by God.
Similarly, Zimbabweans’ heed to go onto the streets in November last year, was inspired more by long-term suffering and pain that they had endured under Mugabe, than an instruction from God.
There was never any genuine prophet of God who had come forward to lead the nation with a direct message from Him – as did Moses – in calling for Mugabe to “let His people go”.
What Zimbabwe, and the world over, lacks are genuine prophets of God – who are truly sent and speak His instructions.
As I have written so many times before, what we have today are mere soothsayers, predictors and healers – from whose power only themselves know – who are more like sangomas, rather than prophets of Jehovah God, who relay His messages.
They are better at predicting what is going to happen, or telling someone their phone numbers, and healing the sick, than actually transmitting messages from God.
The genuine prophets of God were instructed by Him to convey very important messages, and even to appoint leaders that He would have specifically chosen – whilst, at the same time keeping those leaders in check.
Which leaders, have our so-called prophets today, ever appointed as a direct instruction from God?
If the current leadership is truly from God, which prophet was sent to appoint and announce them?
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I do not recall ever seeing or hearing of a prophet who was sent to announce to Mugabe that God had said that he should step down, and anointing a new leader – as did Samuel when he told Saul, whom he had anointed earlier on, that God had rejected him, after anointing David.
Even Father Fidelis Mukonori – who was heavily involved in the talks between the military and Mugabe leading to his resignation – at no point, did he ever claim that he had carried a message from God for Mugabe to step down, and Mnangagwa to take over – but, made it very clear that he was just one of the negotiators.
In fact, that is why the current leadership would rather hide behind “the voice of the people’” because God never sent any prophet to appoint them.
Predicting a future leader, or the death of a leader, is not prophecy from God, but mere soothsaying – just as a sangoma would do – but, God directly sends His prophets to be directly involved in the appointment of His chosen leader.
Genuine prophets rebuked and corrected those leaders whenever they went against God’s word, as did Samuel to Saul – when he disobeyed His instructions – and Nathaniel to David – after he had committed adultery with Uriah’s wife.
Similarly, other prophets as Elijah and Elisha were sent by God to rebuke and carry instructions to kings and the people – whose messages proven highly unpopular.
However, today we have populist prophets, who are after making as many powerful friends as possible, so as to freely make their millions of dollars from fleecing the people, and shoddy dealings.
They would rather sup with leaders, even when they are corrupt, or abusing and oppressing their own people.
Genuine prophets of God are not there to make friends, or please any section of society, but are strictly there to convey what Jehovah would have instructed them – most of which makes them more enemies than friends, especially from the ruling elite, and the general population, as most of us are prone to go against God’s Word.
If ever we witness a so-called prophet who says or does things that are meant to endear him or herself to a certain section of society, then they are not of God – as with biblical times, genuine prophets were more isolated and hated by nearly everyone.
Yet, these so-called prophets we have today seek favour from men (people), especially from those in power, or the general population – so that they may attend their churches and give them money.
Therefore, as much as leaders would want to be accepted by the people, or to win democratic elections, there can never be any justification to blasphemy against Jehovah – and it is such a shame that those who claim to be men and women of God never stand up against such acts.
The voice of the people is through the democratic process, but the voice of God is through His genuine prophets – and the two are very different.
As a relatively democratic country, Zimbabweans should campaign freely and peacefully – based purely on their policies and manifestoes – but, should never ever abuse the sacred name of God for their selfish political gains.
God is not against democracy, but let us pray for His blessings for our nation, without bringing His name into disrepute – as that will only spell further disaster for our nation.
Commentator: Tendai Ruben Mbofana.
He is the Programmes Director with the Zimbabwe Network for Social Justice (ZimJustice).
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