The Open Sore of a Continent: A Personal Narrative of the Nigerian Crisis

The Open Sore of a Continent: A Personal Narrative of the Nigerian Crisis

by Wole Soyinka

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On November 10, 1995, the Nigerian military government under General Sani Abacha executed dissident writer Ken Saro-Wiwa along with eight other activists, and the international community reacted with outrage. From the Geneva based International Commission of Jurists (who called the executions a criminal act of state murder) to governments around the world

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On November 10, 1995, the Nigerian military government under General Sani Abacha executed dissident writer Ken Saro-Wiwa along with eight other activists, and the international community reacted with outrage. From the Geneva based International Commission of Jurists (who called the executions a criminal act of state murder) to governments around the world (including the United States) who recalled their ambassadors, to the Commonwealth of Former British Colonies, who suspended Nigeria from the group, the response was quick, decisive, and nearly unanimous: Nigeria is an outcast in the global village. The events that led up to Saro-Wiwa's execution mark Nigeria's decline from a post-colonial success story to its current military dictatorship, and few writers have been more outspoken in decrying and lamenting this decline than Nobel Prize laureate and Nigerian exile Wole Soyinka.
In The Open Sore of a Continent, Soyinka, whose own Nigerian passport was confiscated by General Abacha in 1994, explores the history and future of Nigeria in a compelling jeremiad that is as intense as it is provocative, learned, and wide-ranging. He deftly explains the shifting dramatis personae of Nigerian history and politics to westerners unfamiliar with the players and the process, tracing the growth of Nigeria as a player in the world economy, through the corrupt regime of Babangida, the civil war occasioned by the secession of Biafra under the leadership of Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, the lameduck reign of Ernest Sonekan, and the coup led by General Sani Abacha, arguing that "a glance at the mildewed tapestry of the stubbornly unfinished nation edifice is necessary" to explain where Nigeria can go next. And, in the process of elucidating the Nigerian crisis, Soyinka opens readers to the broader questions of nationhood, identity, and the general state of African culture and politics at the end of the twentieth century. Here are a range of issues that investigate the interaction of peoples who have been shaped by the clash of cultures: nationalism, power, corruption, violence, and the enduring legacy of colonialism. In a world tormented by devastation from Bosnia to Rwanda, how do we define a nation: is it simply a condition of the collective mind, a passive, unquestioned habit of cohabitation? Or is what we think of as a nation a rigorous conclusion that derives from history? Is it geography, or is it a bond that transcends accidents of mountain, river, and valley? How do these varying definitions of nationhood impact the people who live under them? Soyinka concludes with a resounding call for international attention to this question: the global community must address the issue of nationhood to prevent further religious mandates and calls for ethnic purity of the sort that have turned Algeria, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Sri Lanka into killing fields.
Soyinka brings a lifetime of study and experience to bear on his writing, combining the skills of a poet and playwright with the astute political observations of a seasoned activist. An important and timely volume, The Open Sore of a Continent will be required reading for anyone who cares about Africa, human rights, and the future of the global village.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Soyinka, brilliant as always, clearly and succinctly introduces the reader to the political situation of his native Nigeria....An important book and absolutely essential in understanding the crisis that faces not just Nigeria, but Africa as a whole."—Emerge

"Crammed with vivid observations that will add life to moribund, academic debates over national identity....By the last page of Mr. Soyinka's book, I felt myself both enriched and exhausted."—Robert D. Kaplan, The New York Times Book Review

"Soyinka's political writings have always combined polemical force with expository grace, and his stinging characterization of Nigeria as a failed state is no exception."—Foreign Affairs

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Nobel laureate Soyinka, who now divides his exile between London and Cambridge, Mass., has been an eloquent voice of protest against Nigerian authoritarianism and kleptocracy. Here, he collects previous lectures in which he describes Nigeria's recent predicament, condemns the country's illegitimate leaders and muses about questions of nationalism and international intervention. For those unfamiliar with recent Nigerian history, this book has some rough patches: Soyinka doesn't always contextualize his comments as a journalist would. Still, his condemnation of despotism and his call for international sanctions remain a challenge to the world community. He opens and closes the book with the story of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a leader of the Ogoni minority, whose 1995 execution, which made world headlines, signals to the author both the beginning of ethnic cleansing and the disintegration of the state. Soyinka recognizes his homeland's flawed origin but suggests that its politico-military elite, not its people, have squandered Nigeria's nationhood by annulling the recent elections and curbing dissent. He also regrets that the promise of pan-Africanism has dwindled to local salvage efforts. He concludes by proposingwithout specifying who should do sothat "a structured pattern of regional conferences" be initiated to stave off future Yugoslavias and Rwandas.
Library Journal
Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian novelist Soyinka tells how Nigeria, which once had the highest potential in Africa, has become a beggar nation. The irony of the situation lies in the fact that, once united by collective national interest, Nigeria is now pulled apart by conflicting ethnic identities, each striving to achieve its own agenda. Strangely, while dwelling on the execution of gifted writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni leaders, the author glosses over the role that foreign oil companies have played in this tragedy. The Ogoni are victims of oil revenues and pollution. It is against a background of such travesties that opportunism has led to dictatorship and the collapse of civic and civil society. -- Louise F. Leonard, University of Florida Libraries, Gainesville
Kirkus Reviews
Nobelist Soyinka (Art, Dialogue, and Outrage; Ake) takes on the despotic regime of his native Nigeria in this series of scathing jeremiads. From its first days of nationhood, Nigeria has been plagued by an almost endless succession of violence, spectacular corruption (over $12 billion in oil revenues from the Gulf War just disappeared), and ethnic rivalries. The latest round of troubles began in June 1993, when national elections were voided by a repressive military coup. Soyinka himself went into exile, where he has served as a strong and constant protesting voice (even if, as he admits, he failed to vote in the elections). But the world took little note until the recent trumped up trial and hasty execution of writer Ken Saro-Wiwa along with eight other activists. But despite forceful protests and threats by other countries, the tacit fact is that Africa has been left to the Africans. Any solutions will have to be home-grown. So as Soyinka traces the roots of what went wrong in 1993, he also meditates on the meaning of nationalism and nationhood. This is a vital issue for a country as divided as Nigeria, its arbitrary borders enclosing innumerable tribes as well as three major religions. Soyinka's vague, half-hearted solution is what he calls an ethical "remapping." This is to be accomplished by a series of regional conferences in troubled parts of the globe like Nigeria. As Soyinka notes: "The history of many nations is so flawed that it screams constantly for redress." But as Canada has shown, even reasoned, ethical attempts at redress have proven difficult, although at least not fratricidal. Unfortunately, Soyinka's righteous, angry words are unevenly delivered.Often awkward, even strained, his prose has a rushed journalistic feel to it, certainly a far cry from the polish he displays as a playwright and memoirist.

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Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
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W.E.B. Du Bois Institute Series
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Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

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