Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Required reading

There are many things necessary for adequately preparing to teach about Nigerian government and politics: getting a handle on regime structure; understanding the demographics and economics of the divisive cleavages and appreciating the underlying nationalism in the country; recognizing the extent of corruption and its cultural context; admitting that Nigeria's colonial experience (and contemporary relations with the West) was (is) informative and devastating… There's not space here to complete the list.

In many ways, I don't think any of us can do justice to Nigerian government and politics without reading some of Chinua Achebe's work.

Everyone mentions Things Fall Apart, his incredible portrayal of Nigeria in colonial times, and a great novel. I'd argue that Man of the People is even more appropriate for students of comparative politics as an image of grassroots politics in Nigeria. Anthills of the Savannah is an insightful investigation of friendship and the politics of military dictatorship. My students were assigned the last two novels (and most of them enjoyed reading them).

The classic essay “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ ” offers Westerners valuable lessons in racism and ethnocentrism. The essays in Home and Exile add to that African perspective.

If you don't have time for reading Achebe now, put his name on your summer reading list.

Bearing Witness, With Words
“If you don’t like someone’s story,” Chinua Achebe told The Paris Review in 1994, “write your own.”

In his first novel and masterpiece, “Things Fall Apart” (1958), Mr. Achebe, who died on Thursday at 82, did exactly that. In calm and exacting prose, he examined a tribal society fracturing under the abuses of colonialism…

What sticks with you about the novel is its sensitive investigation, often through folk tales, of how culture functions and what it means. Mr. Achebe… had plenty to say about notions of traditional masculinity, as well, not to mention his braided observations about nature, religion, myth, gender and history.

The novelist grabbed the subject of colonialism “so firmly and fairly,” John Updike wrote in The New Yorker in the 1970s, “that the book’s tragedy, like Greek tragedy, felt tonic; a space had been cleared, an understanding had been achieved, a new beginning was implied.”…
See also Chinua Achebe, African Literary Titan, Dies at 82

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At 9:25 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Chinua Achebe peered deep into the Nigerian psyche

"Achebe's telling of stories and his command of the English language was such that the moment you picked up a Chinua Achebe book, putting it down became almost an impossibility. His understanding of the culture of his Igbo people, my people, was also virtually unrivalled…

"As compared to a lot of people, Achebe was a man of character, who refused not one, but two national honours because he was not at peace with the way Nigeria is being run. Only if our government(s) had been reading…

"In yet another seminal piece, The Trouble With Nigeria, he said, 'In spite of conventional opinion, Nigeria has been less than fortunate in its leadership. A basic element of this misfortune is the seminal absence of intellectual rigour in the political thought of our founding fathers – a tendency to pious materialistic woolliness and self-centred pedestrianism.'

"There you have it. He was probably the first to identify something that a few Nigerians are beginning to come to terms with, that our founding fathers were not all that great…"


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