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.
"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
"His words command attention and respect....In clear prose, it sketches the vicissitudes of Nigeria intermixed with global topics."--Choice
"Provides valuable, in-depth, as well as introductory, information on Nigeria.... The Open Sore of a Continent is a timely addition to world affairs and the state of nations. Failure to heed Soyinka's words and insight could prove costly to a world that has seen too many Bosnias, Chiles, and Somalias."--Copley News Service
"Tak[es] full measure of the predicament of African's most populous country.... For the reader, what is perhaps most interesting is Mr. Soyinka's colorful account of how Nigeria, the world's seventh largest oil producer, and a nation that less than a generation ago seemed on the verge of industrialization, fell back into the ranks of the world's least developed countries and has become a near-pariah state."--Howard W. French, The New York Times
"Soyinka, brilliant as always, clearly and succinctly introduces the reader to the political situation of his native Nigeria by providing a historical context that puts the events of the past 17 years into perspective.... The Open Sore of a Continent is an important book and absolutely essential in understanding the crisis that faces not just Nigeria, but Africa as a whole."--Emerge
"The 1986 Nobel laureate uses his country's reversion to dictatorship to examine the very concept of nationhood, in which he still sees possibilities."--The New York Times Book Review (And Bear in Mind)
"The Open Sore of a Continent is crammed with vivid observations that will add life to moribund, academic debates over national identity. Its narrative is applicable not only to postcolonial Nigeria but to the former Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union as well, places where institutional and economic decline sharpened ethnic divisions and cracked the facades of imposed 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
"These powerful essays offer a disturbing portrait of a nation operated for the benefit ofa narrow oligarchy and thoughtful musings on the nature of nations."--Booklist starred review (November 1996)
"Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian playwright and essayist Soyinka has been protesting the horrendous and tragic politics of his native country for more than 30 years, and the sting of his lashing wit, depth of his profound knowledge, heat of his rage, and beauty of his eloquence are all evident in this instructive and bracing jeremiad."--Booklist (May 1996)
"An eloquent voice of protest against Nigerian authoritarianism and keptocracy.... Here, [Soyinka] 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."--Publishers Weekly
"Nobelist Soyinka takes on the despotic regime of his native Nigeria in this series of scathing jeremiads.... 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."--Kirkus Reviews
"Soyinka's main subject is nationalism, and his fearless discussion of its vicissitudes will likely be the most lasting contribution of this book. Africans are not the only people who need to rethink the idea of the nation; Soyinka in his bravery gives all readers a chance to examine the meaning of late-century patriotism."--he Village Voice
"Soyinka's powerful prose brilliantly sketches the dilemmas plaguing Africa's demographic giant and reveals the stark choices facing Nigeria.... 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
"This remarkable collection of essays...often assumes a prophetic air--a kind of prophecy akin to that of Old Testament seer, who were given as much to social and political analysis as they were to predicting the future--and reveals that there is hope is places like Nigeria, contained in the tireless quest for humanitarian civility in the face of corruption and dastardly political intrigue."--The Washington Post
"What finally gives this small, intense volume such ethical authority is that Soyinka's vision is addressed to the human race. He leaves no doubt that the line in the old Nigerian national anthem--`though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand'--could and should apply to all of us."--Worldview