Page 1

International Journal of English and Literature (IJEL) ISSN 2249-6912 Vol. 3, Issue 2, Jun 2013, 109-116 © TJPRC Pvt. Ltd.

WHITHER FREEDOM, WHITHER DEVELOPMENT V. SWARNALATHA Professor, Department of Humanities and Sciences, Srinivas Ramanujan Institute of Technology, Rotarypuram, Anantapuram, Andhra Pradesh, India

ABSTRACT The Paper Entitled ―Whither Freedom, Whither Development‖ attempts to take a look at Soyinka‘s vision of Africa post-independence. His latest Book,‖ Of Africa/Harmattan Haze on an African Spring‖ is a collection of Essays which throws light on the state of the art of African development and attempts to confront the historical and spiritual roots of Africa's crisis where Nigeria stands in for Africa's broader plight. The essay discusses the different phases of Wole Soyinka‘s thinking and his concern for Africa. From the very beginning he has shown an revolutionary tendency for equality and justice. He is a passionate writer who brings out his patriotism and aversion for inhumanity and injustice in his oeuvre of writings. He laments the underdevelopment of Africa even after a long period of self governance. The disturbing aspects of colonialism, slavery and now corruption continue to haunt him even at the ripe age of 79 years. He is optimistic that Nigeria will become a silicon valley one day provided it has good governance.

KEYWORDS: Harmattan Haze on an African Spring, Wole Soyinka‘s Thinking INTRODUCTION Any literary artist consciously or unconsciously communicates his tastes and ideals about the profundity and complexity of men and societies through his works. In this context, two Nigerian authors—the Nobel-winning playwright and poet Wole Soyinka and the celebrated novelist Chinua Achebe—attempt to confront the historical and spiritual roots of Africa's crisis where Nigeria stands in for Africa's broader plight. The authors—among Africa's greatest intellectual giants—have been consistent and courageous critics of misrule on the continent for decades, stances which put their lives at risk and forced them to flee their native country. Both authors see hope in Africa's indigenous religious and political traditions. Soyinka‘s new book "Of Africa‖ /‖Harmattan Haze on an African Spring‖came out about the same time as Chinua Achebe‘s ‗There was a Country‘. They are clearly the most important new books on Africa and deserve to be thoroughly debated and discussed. Belonging to a unique generation of African writers and intellectuals who came of age in the last days of colonialism, Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe have witnessed the promise of independence and lived through postcolonial failure. Soyinka‘s motivation for writing the book was his search for an African humanism that could counter the deadly consequences of religious fanaticism. He deeply comprehends the pressing problems of Africa, and, an irrepressible essayist and a staunch critic of the oppressive boot, he unhesitatingly speaks out. Soyinka claims to remain convinced that the writer should be committed to the restoration of the permanent values-justice, freedom, and human dignity in the society. In this latest new work, Soyinka offers a wide-ranging inquiry into Africa's culture, religion, history, imagination, and identity. He seeks to understand how the continent's history is entwined with the histories of others, while exploring Africa's truest assets: "its humanity, the quality and valuation of its own existence, and modes of managing its environment—both physical and intangible (which includes the spiritual)." Soyinka‘s new book is a 200-page polemic that


110

V. Swarnalatha

attempts to understand the contradictory nature of African politics, both in the colonial, and post-colonial period. Written in the style of an elaborate academic essay, it seeks to ask questions rather than answer them, and to explore issues, not to magically solve them. Fully grasping the extent of Africa's most challenging issues, Soyinka nevertheless refuses defeatism. With eloquence he analyzes problems ranging from the meaning of the past to the threat of theocracy. He asks hard questions about racial attitudes, inter-ethnic and religious violence, the viability of nations whose boundaries were laid out by outsiders, African identity on the continent and among displaced Africans, and more. Soyinka's exploration of Africa relocates the continent in the reader's imagination and maps a course toward an African future of peace and affirmation. From the early stages of his life and professional career he has believed that the writer must first of all, be true to himself, and that he must be independent and original He urges Africans to remember their continent's traditions and recognize that tolerance is at the center of African spirituality. Soyinka at the level of social action can be regarded as a progressive idealist in the sense that his involvements in and utterances on specific social problems indicate a fervent preoccupation with social injustice and an aversion to oppressive institutions. A reading of Soyinka‘s writings from the very beginning reveals that he goes beyond the definite social and political situation to a fundamental concern for the quality of human existence. His plays deal with problems, which nagged the African society as a result of transformation that overtook the post independence Nigeria. His writings are directed against society itself and its power structures. He uses his oeuvre of writings to register his dissatisfaction with the political authority in his country and an idealist who is highly critical of the social order. He uses his writings as a vehicle to show his feelings and uses it as an instrument to bring about social change. Soyinka is actively committed to social justice and he has been an outspoken, daring public figure deeply engaged in the main political issues of his country and Africa, and he has become a symbol for humane values throughout the continent.. In early 1967 he once told a gathering of African writers: ―The time has now come when the African writer must have the courage to determine what alone can be salvaged from the recurrent cycle of human stupidity…. It is about time that the African writer stopped being a mere chronicler and understood also that part of his essential purpose is to write with a very definite vision…he must at least begin by exposing the future in a clear and truthful exposition of the present.‖1 Soyinka presents the emerging African elite at war with its society. He, by analyzing the prevalent mood, aims at forcing the society to recognize the true nature of its problems. He feels: ―If the writer feels committed or involved or if he feels a compulsion within him to write the truth, then he surely has the right to try and build the kind of society in which he can write this beautiful literature, the beautiful words.‖1 He claimed to remain convinced that the writer should be committed to the restoration of the permanent valuesjustice, freedom, and human dignity in the society. He is also aware of the writer‘s responsibility within the increasing pace of social change taking place in the society. Soyinka is a speculative thinker and his persistent call to African writers is to demonstrate that they have a heavy responsibly towards their country. He sees the literary artist as a redeemer who can guide and inspire the society He said, ―When the writer in the society can no longer function as a conscience, he must recognize that his choice


Whither Freedom, Whither Development

111

lies between denying himself totally or withdrawing to the position of the chronicler and post-mortem surgeon.‖1 He believes that drama should be made to reflect the way of life and the social aspirations of the people. He holds that much is wrong with independent Nigeria and calls to attention the evils of the society- the great division between the rich and the poor, the lack of social amenities for the lower classes, the corruption, ,nepotism, greed, barefaced intolerance and political dishonesty. He strongly believes that the creative writer should never be silent about these things. He sees it as a business of writers to expose these evils as a means of bringing about social and political reforms. He has an uncanny knack of reading the symptoms, and diagnosing the malady. He believes in liberty. In an interview in 1973, he said, ―I have a special responsibility, because I can smell the reactionary sperm years before the rape of the nation takes place.‖2 In an interview at Zimbabwe, he said: ―….When one is a writer, one‘s imagination is engaged by the very complexity within the society, the interaction of the characters that make up the society. ..Whether one is merely working out a personal problem in relation to one‘s own place within that society that also motivates a number of writers. I think…that may be at the level of social commitment and the problem that rises for the indivividual who, is after all, a human entity. Every individual, is in a sense, unique-and that combination of psychology, sociology, or history,or environmental effects-these are also legitimate and inevitable areas of fascination for any writer.‖2 In the African society this conflict between tradition and modernism is a deep one. The African society is communal whereas the western society is individualistic. Africa emerging from the cocoon of colonialism,found itself in the grip of western ideas. The ideas were progressive but the coalition of the two strands of culture became a painful experience. This led to a distinction between the modern and the traditional.People in the period were caught in a whirlpool.They are between the anvil and the hammer and are engaged in the shaping of a new life. The protagonist waits for the opportune moment to strike the right chord, but sometimes he does not succeed. In his writings the writer wants to communicate some message. His reactions are not class based. He is only interested in the shaping of the human psyche. The power to change the course of mankind is in the hands of leaders and strong men. These men sometimes make decisions prompted by their self-will and petty interests, rather than the highminded considerations for the welfare of the society. Soyinka‘s plays have always had for their background that sensitive period which is called the transitional period. Africa was ravaged by colonialism and it was passing through a socio-economic stage,which produced the protagonists who tread the path of progress and attempt to rouse the conscience of their society. .His characters, the Professor, Kamini, kongi,Baroka and Bero are some of the protagonists in his plays who are interested in their own welfare whereas Igwezu, Lakunle, Eman and Olunde are among those who have the welfare of the society uppermost in their mind. They assert their will in order to rehabilitate the society, to make it a better place to live in. We can see the reflection of this transition in many of his plays. Many of his plays beginning from The Swamp Dwellers, The Lion and the Jewel, The Dance of the Forests, Madmen and Specialists, The Road as well as his essays and interviews display his almost desperate concern for the society. In almost all his writings he reveals a world of broken traditions and cultural chaos. The very modernism, which has given a facelift to Nigerian social and economic life, has also endowed the westernized class with ways of exploiting their own classes.


112

V. Swarnalatha

Modern Africa is nagged by psychological problems. It follows absurdly the fashion of Europe at a distance and never catches up. Soyinka seems skeptical of the cost of progress and brings out the paradoxical nature of progress.In his view, man is a product of his environment and the society and his response to the situation is of significance. Any man, especially one belonging to the freshly emerged from ther colonial grip, is a product of a long process of adaptation and development. The environment influences his disposition and his total world view. In turn, he too influences the society af which he is a part. He believes in maximum freedom for human beings and is prepared to sacrifice almost anything. He observes ―I believe there is no reason why human beings should not enjoy maximum freedom. In living together in a society, we agree to lose some of our freedom. To detract from the maximum freedom socially possible,to me, is treacherous. I do not believe in dictatorship-benevolent or malevolent..‖1 His plays show that he dreams of rebuilding the society. He is desirous of changing the entire social set up and is interested in the welfare of the society. He has a sense of social obligation and has a faith in the future of the society. He believes in the socialist,democratic complexion of the society and mentioned it in an interview with Biodun Jeyifo: ―I happen to believe and accept implicitly what goes under the broad umbrella of social ideology,believing this to be a logical principle of communal organization and true human equality.‖ 1 Soyinka is an artist interested in twilight zones-between night and day, or life and death. It is clear that he has a fascination for the areas of transition. And yet he does not reject modern life, in the maneer of Yeats, Eliot or Pound. He believes that it can only recover its meaning and its soul by a full hearted espousal of African values and civilization.. The political,social,religious and economic arrangements of Yoruba land offer a system which only needs re-interpretation to act as a blue-print for tomorrow. The social and class mobility which urbanization and industrialization are imparting to Nigeria; the growth of huge multiethnic communities like Lagos,Kano or Benin; the emergence of serious class-conflict for control of the levers ofstate power are all apparently irreversible developments. Soyinka‘s concern is for man on earth. His focus is on man, human nature, and man in conflict with God, religion, established institutions and nature itself. He is a conscience keeper of his society. He is greatly concerned about the well being of his society and he endeavours to correct the follies implicit in change through ridicule. He dramatizes the conflict and correspondences between city and village, tradition and modernism, conflict of ideas and visions of illusion and reality. He meaningfully stimulates and even provokes the African society by adopting certain dramatic and theatrical devices.. Once when asked that he seemed to wear three caps of the poet, playwright and the novelist, and whether there was any conflict between the three, he replied, ―Yes, well there are more than three caps. One which you omitted to mention is that first and foremost I wear the cap of a human being.‖3 During the presentation of the book, some leading intellectuals from divergent fields of business, political economy, education, the arts, public service and journalism, along with Soyinka sat down to examine a contentious continent lying prostrate and stagnant in the sun, seemingly refusing to yield to every entreaty to stand up and stride along like the others.Some complimented whereas some criticized the contents of the book. Their role was to examine the book in the light of Africa‘s poor development index and respond to some of the issues Soyinka raised concerning the continent‘s retarded growth in spite of its huge material and human resources. Former Minister of Education and World Bank senior official, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, congratulated Soyinka for his


Whither Freedom, Whither Development

113

book and said ―Harmattan Haze on an African Spring‖ provided a glimpse into the choices, especially economic individuals that have been made and how those choices have impacted on the collective on the continent. She said while the book looks at why Africa still remained undeveloped, the question that had to be asked is, ―What is the essence of the human being? Is there a process of development for Africa that we missed as originally conceived? Who determines the success or successionisaton of their views of development to be so difficult? And who is that person that defines the context for that development?‖ She stated that Soyinka‘s book is such that will force readers to re-examine the continent‘s developmental issues again, whether the lack of development is as a result of alienation of the individual from his African roots. While comparing Singapore with Africa,she cited the Singapore example as a people who had a certain mindset at independence to prove to the ‗whiteman‘ that there was no reason for the whiteman to have governed them in the first place since they were capable of doing it themselves. And so they worked at it and today, Singapore is a model country for development. She concluded, ―A single description of Africa is intellectual slothfulness‖ the West has perpetuated against the continent, a proposition Soyinka disproves in his book. Director, Lagos Business School, Prof. Pat Utomi, opined that, while Nigeria‘s problems are traceable to leadership, there are other indicators to watch out for as impediments to growth namely, value problem, collapse of culture and institutions. He said there is nothing Singapore did that Nigeria hasn‘t done, yet the gap between the two is still wide because the discipline to ensure values, culture and institutions work has been lacking. said although Africa‘s spirituality is dynamic, it is easy to link the colonial experience and how things were done in Nigeria. He said Nigeria‘s woes stemmed from inability to deal with the consequences of individual actions, saying, ―The problem of living in Nigeria is that of living with bad consequences.‖ He argued that while Africa‘s young population has deep technology penetration, the problem is how to harness that penetration to give momentum for real development. He noted that 2012 has been a bit of a paradox, and added that his ―fears had been how to pluck failure from the jaws of progress. We are still managing ourselves poorly and we may not be able to derive much from the Africa Rising momentum that is gathering.‖ Art collector Yemisi Shyllon argued that until African societies go back to their traditional cultures to rediscover themselves and what is innate to them, the continent would not experience growth. Odia Ofeimun, poet and social critic,point out ominously that Africa is exactly where it was when the slavers from Arab and Europe came calling from the north and south centuries ago, with several acrimonies and internal wrangling going on all over the continent. He said the implication is that Africa will not be able to defend itself again a second time and fall prey to the superior powers of others who are more organised and developed. He said the continent is still plagued with distrust.He lamented, ―Today, we are not building factories and farms for the people to work on. Our problem is about not building factories. We should begin to demand from those asking for our votes, which imported goods they will stop when they get to office so that our factories can begin to work again for the people to be engaged and idle hands put to proper use and not otherwise‖. Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi was of the view that Soyinka was a fine satirist who was known for his many plays and poems and why he had suddenly turned essayist. He wondered whether fiction didn‘t quite solve the problems his society posed and whether it was a submission that fiction — the arts — has failed him as a tool to confront society. Soyinka responded that art has not failed the society, rather it has helped to continually propel the society towards self-examination and the quest for renewal and revalidation. Prof. Aboyade advised that Africans, even as they embraced foreign religions, must indeed go back and recover some of the positive values of their culture and deploy such to help in their march to greatness, especially in the context of globalisation. Astutee banker Elumelu said that Nigeria is full of critics, who ceaselessly bash the country senseless without lifting a hand to help. He urged Nigerians to begin cultivating the healing habit of saying good things about their country.


114

V. Swarnalatha

―We criticise ourselves too much,‖ he said. ―How do we say good things about ourselves to the rest of the world? If all we see and say about ourselves is the bad, how do we want others to say about us? We must begin to use our human capital to propel development.‖Mr. Soyinka is annoyed by the false narratives of the continent, as well by the dangerous new ideologies flooding in from the outside. "Of Africa" is an intellectually robust, book-length essay that attempts to unravel the paradoxes and contradictions plaguing Nigeria and, by extension, Africa. "What is Africa?" the author asks. What we know of the continent is based on mythologies propagated by the early European adventurers, colonialists, postcolonial African leaders and African Americans. According to Mr. Soyinka, the pre-eminent African issue of the 21st century will be a "crisis of religion," and he warns that if "Africa falls to the will of the fanatic, then the insecurity of the world should be accepted as its future and permanent condition.". It gives insight into the man‘s pains when he looks at his beloved continent that has been a subject of all sorts of appellations from outsiders simply because those running the continent have consistently failed to do the needful to change its colour from dark to light. Essentially, the book offers a new reading and rendering of the continent, the choices made or not made, the road taken or not taken and new visions for the future. Soyinka‘s latest work speaks to the outsider looking at Africa from certain jaundiced, racist views; questioning why such perception still persists after many years of independence from colonial rule.It also examines Africa‘s spirituality; holding it up as a fresh ground yet to be explored and exploited to solve Africa‘s many intractable problems, especially religious conflicts that are foreign imports to the continent.He categorically argues that in African religions lies the alternative balm needed to heal a continent with many festering wounds. Soyinka pointed out two observable obstacles to the contradictions that characterize the continent and its lack of development namely, the twin evils of slavery and colonialism, which he said constitute obstacles to overcome for the continent to move forward. While using scientific interplay of the ideas of gravity and motion and their impact on human societies and where Africa fits in relation to its many complexities, he said ―Africa needs to contend with those two in terms of resistance with the poor leadership, corruption, and irredentism. These are two monumental obstacles to which African leaders have failed to respond; two obstacles to organic development. African leaders have failed to overcome these two evils.‖ He cited the failed attempts at Nigeria‘s elections and census enumeration since independence as colonial legacies the country was yet overcome, saying, ―This country is the most notorious in falsifying elections and census results, because it‘s a surrogate country of the British, with the residual effects and control of the two obstacles‖. He, however, argued that overtime the country ought to have overcome these twin evils if there had been visionary leaders. He asked rhetorically, ―Is it not about time we transcended these two by visionary leadership?‖ For the iconic literary artist, ―Africa‘s unexplored geographical resources are capable of propelling society forward, but a total, atavistic, retrogression has overtaken us, with the path not taken has continued to plague us to this day‖. He said the Japanese and Chinese, ―By hanging onto their traditional beliefs, clinging to their traditional core, and refusing to be alienated from their philosophies and ways of life, have managed to bring about development. Cling to what was indigenous to their societies is what has transformed their societies‖. He expressed his abiding faith in the ability of Nigerians to accomplish great things that are capable of causing phenomenal transformation, as evidences of the people‘s immense abilities, which abound all over the world, but that such need to be harnessed — and that‘s the only missing ingredient. He believes that the writer possesses inner light unavailable to the mass of the people, and that it is his duty to use this inspiration and insight to guide his society towards a beautiful


Whither Freedom, Whither Development

115

future. He said ―Nigerians can create a Silicon Valley in Nigeria,‖ he enthused ruefully, ―but it‘s about the leadership. Nigeria has got the brainpower. The possibilities have always been there. Perhaps, we should take the example of China and draw the bamboo curtain and shut ourselves up from the rest of the world and also go by Mbonu Ojike‘s ‗boycott all the bycottables‘ and then see what we can do by ourselves.‖!‖21 He has also proffered regionalism as solution to Nigeria‘s problems of development, noting, ―I have been pushing for a recognition of a rapid, competitive development of regional governments in Nigeria.‖. Yet if Africa has become a geographic shorthand for poverty, disease and tyranny, it is also a place where, as Mr. Soyinka's example reminds us, a single voice of conscience can have an enormous reverberation. The first African to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, Nigerian writer, poet, and playwright who was imprisoned, threatened with assassination, and at times forced to live in exile for his implacable resistance to political tyranny. When he was 33, he was imprisoned without trial for trying to broker a peace with Biafran secessionists, and spent 24 months in solitary confinement in a 4-by-8-foot cell, which he memorably described in a poem written on toilet paper with homemade ink and smuggled out of prison. He has been arrested at least nine times since then, most recently in May at a rally demanding the resignation of Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose re-election is widely believed to have involved vote fraud. He was in exile three times, had a price on his head at least five times, most notoriously in 1997, when he was tried in absentia for treason and sentenced to death by the brutal military regime of Gen. Sani Abacha. But if the spirit of African democracy has a voice and a face, they belong to Wole Soyinka. In the mid-70's, while some black civil rights leaders, such as CORE's Roy Innis, refused to criticize Idi Amin's murderous rampages in Uganda out of some misbegotten sense of racial solidarity, Mr. Soyinka relentlessly campaigned for Mr. Amin's overthrow. When other blacks castigated him for ''race betrayal,'' Mr. Soyinka replied that ''criticism, like charity, starts at home.'' Thus, Soyinka‘s unrelenting fight against injustice,inhumanity and corruption continues even in his twilight years.

REFERENCES 1.

Wole Soyinka, ―The Writer in a Modern African State‖, The Writer in Modern Africa, Uppasala: Scandinavian Institute of African Studies,1968,p.20

2.

Ibid., p.52

3.

Ibid., p.63

4.

Biodun Jeyifo. ―A Transition Interview‖, Transition,42,1973,p.64

5.

James Gibbs.‖Soyinka in Zimbabwe: A Question and Answer Session‖, The Literary Half Yearly, Vol28,No:2, 1987 p . 64-65

6.

Wole Soyinka. In Roscoe, Adrian‘s‖Mother is Gold‖, A Study in West African Literature .Cambridge University Press,1971,p.221

7.

Biodun Jeyifo. ―A Transition Interview‖, Transition,42,1973,p.63

8.

James Gibbs.‖Soyinka in Zimbabwe: A Question and Answer Session‖, The Literary Half Yearly, Vol28,No:2, 1987 p . 87

9.

Anjali Roy, ―Wole Soyinka: Politics, Poetics and Postcolonialism. ‖African Studies Quarterly Book


116

V. Swarnalatha

Review,Volume:8, Issue:4 Summer 2006 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2004. p..322. 10. ‗Of Africa,‘ by Wole So yinka - NYTimes.com,www.complete-review.com/reviews/soyinkaw/ofafrica.htm 11. Africa's Wisdom, Woes Occupy Soyinka's Existence by NPR htm,,December 11, 2012 12. www.africareview.com/...Harmattan-Haze-on-an-African-Spring/-/.../-/in... 13. Harmattan haze on an African spring (1) | The Nation www.thenationonlineng.net › Home › Arts › Life (Midweek Magazine) 14. Harmattan Haze On An African Spring | YNaija www.ynaija.com/tag/harmattan-haze-on-an-african-spring 15. Criticism Starts at Home by Henry Louis Gates jr, Published: August 5, 2004- www. NYTimes.com.htm. 16. Harmattan haze on an African spring (1) Posted by: Segun Ayobolu on January 2, 2013 in Life (Midweek Magazine) The Nation.htm 17. Harmattan Haze on an African Spring… Soyinka‘s rumination on a continent‘s troubled fortune.htm, Friday, 21 December 2012 00:00 By Anote Ajeluorou and Greg(Nigeria-silicon valley)www.nrg guardian news.com 18. ws/Of Africa - Soyinka, Wole - Yale University Press.htm 19. Of AfricaReviewed by George Ayittey The Wall Street Journalwww.,free Africa.org Nov 2, 2012. 20. Wole Soyinka (1934- ) Nigeria.www.raceandhistory.com 21. ―Restitution Before Reconciliation: Wole Soyinka is not ready to forgive those who plundered and dominated Africa‖, reviewed by Akin Adesokan, Special to The Chronicle,– www. SFGate.htm 22. ―In Africa,The Laureate‘s Curse‖, by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, Published: December 11, 2010 –www. NYTimes.com.htm 23. ―There is no ―true‖ Africa‖ by Musab Younis / February 15, 2013, www .prospect magazine.co.uk.in 24. Wole Soyinka: African Shakespeare?by Kwesi Tawiah-benjamin, ModernGhana.com.htm, www.gstatic.com 25. Wole Soyinka: Straight Talking ; Interview by JP O‘Malley ,www.newafrican magazine.com 26. Wole Soyinka - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.htm;enWikipedia.org 27. ―Between Truths and Indulgences‖by Wole Soyinka, www.theroot.com

13 whither freedom full  

The Paper Entitled ―Whither Freedom, Whither Development‖ attempts to take a look at Soyinka‘s vision of Africa post-independence. His lates...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you