By Noel A. Ihebuzor
Twitter abounds in twitfights – fights between foes as well fights between former friends who have now parted ways for one reason or the other. When fights are between former friends who now find themselves on different sides of the political divide, the clashes tend to be very mean and vicious. The acrimony betrays the persisting bitterness and hurt that one party or both feel over the parting of ways. It is as if the fighters ignore one basic fact of life which is that some good friends must part someday, and that associations do not all always last forever. In life, friends do often fall out and part ways. This basic truth appears to be lost on quite a number of persons. Such persons hold on to a position which I call the permanence of associations and immutability of views position. Parting of ways or rethinking of positions by the other party are often very strongly resisted to the point where the person who decamps or changes his/her view is often treated as a deserter, a defector and a sell-out.
Positions of the type described above abound in the thriving twitter political party activist community. (I use this term to describe a community of persons who use Twitter mostly to actively promote the cause of a particular party. Members of this group, the political party activist group, must be distinguished from political activists. The former tweet and blog more like political party agents. The latter maintain more objective positions and tweet on governance, political, and accountability issues without favouring any political party. This distinction is important as a lot of unnecessary misunderstanding is caused by a conflation of the two terms).
In this political party activist community, change of positions and perceptions is viewed as a clear indicator of defection and desertion, offenses that are seriously viewed. Such changes are viewed as some form of social “apostasy”. And apostasy is perceived as a grievous sin, a perception that is most accentuated in communities with tendencies to self-ascribed moral righteousness. “Apostates” must be condemned to “social” disgrace and demise. Apostates must be treated as social lepers. They are to be ridiculed and subjected to all forms of social pressures. And all of this because apostates are a danger to the group they left. They possess a Snowden-type risk potential and precisely because of this, their credibility must be seriously eroded and progressively destroyed.
Matters are also not helped by the attitudes of the deserters/defectors, these modern day social apostates, themselves. Like most fresh converts to new faiths and belief systems, these social apostates consistently betray excessive zeal typical of neophytes as they try to settle in to their new camp. Most exhibit a tendency to dwell on and detail the evils of the groups they have left, a tendency that irks that group and one which then further exacerbates the already seething acrimony between the deserter and his/her former associates. Soon, the leaders, gate keepers, enforcers, whips and foot soldiers of that group are up in arms, defending the honour of their group and attacking the deserter. They have recourse to a variety of strategies in doing this.
These strategies include naming, recalling of previous tweets which the attacking group believes are diametrically opposed to the deserter’s current position and shaming the deserter. The deserter’s reasons for leaving are trivialised, ridiculed and made to look pecuniary and materialistic. The tweets and comments of the “apostate” are unearthed and hurled in his/her face just to show how inconsistent and unreliable he/she is. The strategic goal here is to call attention to glaring inconsistencies between present position and previous tweets – the end game is to undermine the credibility of the defector. Taunts abound. Wicked jibes and hurting jabs fly around. A campaign of name calling is unleashed on the deserter, a campaign where no punches are pulled and which may even go as far as in one case to saying that a deserter was so poor that he “used to drink garri” in his undergraduate days. People watch from the sides, either amused or too frightened to wade in as the gladiators engage in bloody, vicious but mutually demeaning bouts and jousts.
The attack on the defector is an eye opener and dampener to those within the circle who may have been contemplating either changing camps or moving to more neutral positions. The message to such persons is clear. This is what you are likely going to get should you ever desert us. The attacks are thus not fortuitous but have a functional intent – to discourage and deter other potential deserters. Successful defection deterring strategies keep members in – once you are in, you cannot leave – a bit akin to what I call the Hotel California syndrome – you can check out anytime you want but you cannot leave!
Most deserters/defectors act as if they cannot understand the flurry and fury of the attacks on them. A little reflection should make any deserter/defector understand why those attacks are necessary and likely to come.
- First, a defector must realise that his/her defection is a threat to his/her former associates. You know too much. Your former associates are not sure how much you will give away. They will want to put you away socially for good before you can do their group any harm. Basic survival principle, not ideology or any higher order principle, I believe, is what drives the chief whips of your former group as they come after you.
- Secondly, a defector must also realise that he/she is also a threat to the his/her former associates in the sense that he/she is a reminder to those inside that they too could defect one day. Now, that must be an uncomfortable feeling because it introduces some gnawing doubts in the minds of persons who cannot afford to have their present beliefs or rightness of their present positions tested/questioned. Remember what George Santanaya said about some group of persons re-doubling their efforts in situations of doubt – well a defection creates one of such a situation.
- Thirdly, a defector should realise that his/her defection hurts the pride of his/her former associates. And when people are hurt, they hit out, and hitting out on impulse does not subject itself to the controls and norms of rational conduct.
The foregoing should enable the deserter to understand the onslaughts against his person. Desertion is not cost-free. You should expect them to come after you. But you must not fight them each time they come after you. Choose your battles! Don’t go galloping into every battle! One key aspect of successful military strategy is knowing which battles to fight and which ones to walk away from. Walk away, avoid the fight – even if they call you “Coward of the County”. Walk away, “walk on by”. If you do not respond, they are likely to get tired and find other things to spend their energies on.
This write-up would not be complete without a brief mention of what happens in the camp that receives the “decampee”. It is simple. The strategy of attack and damage is reversed:
The new “decampee” is presented as someone who has seen the truth, who has suddenly become aware of the folly and evil in his/her previous ways, one who has seen the sinfulness and greed of former associates and as one who now regrets ever associating with such evil people in such an evil party. The devil, who is a convenient scapegoat, takes a good bashing in this new dance of the converted and the redeemed.
- The decampee’s conversion narrative is cleverly spun and elevated to achieve about the same dramatic intensity as Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. A blind eye is suddenly developed to everything that the new convert and prized acquisition ever said whilst a member of the opposite side.
- New spins are put on any comments such a convert may have made on persons, character flaws, fat bank accounts, crimes and indiscretions of members of the group he/she is now joining. Damaging comments on how non-electable some members of the receiving group are get blacked out! An unwritten rule which places an embargo among the “faithful” on ever remembering or writing on these telling social comments, except to excuse them as either slippages or works of the devil immediately comes into effect.
- A package of rewards and incentives, including mentions and praise, is made available to the new convert to encourage continued membership…and all is rosy and honky-dory until there is a falling out. And then the dogs of war are unleashed and we are back full cycle.
There are some lessons in all of this. And I will summarise these as bullet points
- Be careful who you associate with on Twitter.
- Be careful who you dine with
- If you must dine with the devil, go with a long spoon.
- You do not have to belong to the “in-crowd” to be relevant.
- Do not let others be the ones to determine your relevance
- All that glitters is not gold.
- Shine your eyes
- Free your mind
- Use your mind.
It is good to belong on social media but please do not sell yourself or your soul to belong. You can use social media to grow, to learn, to engage and to share but that same social media can kill your mind and stunt your thinking if you allow yourself to be sucked into unhealthy associations. Engage wisely!
Noel A. Ihebuzor
Ekwe, ogenes and udus
from a dawning new day
play a sombre serenade,
whispering and suggesting
new worlds, new possibilities
and on the waking skies, words inscribed
on a rainbow-ed horizon hum
your amazing qualities of universal verity
Sister, daughter, seed carrier,
Future assurer, energiser, builder,
Calmer, softener, sweetener, peace maker
The tunes stir and wake you
you rise, a flower about to blossom
and gaze in sober silence at the signs scripted
in golden sprinkles on the aprons of a dawning day,
your smile of innocence splays the sky
salutes the dawn and sprays the new day
with fragrances of hope and possibilities
And the rainbow-ed horizon hum on their truths
Sower, harvester, protector, shock absorber, sufferer
Nurturer, Nurse, first responder, stabiliser,
Keeper, organiser, model, inspirer, teacher,
And I thought I saw a new smile kiss your face,
saw in that smile the dancing hopes
of glow filled futures for all
if culture and gender
do not suffocate the seeds you carry within for all
and in this dawning morning,
where hope sang to my anxious ears
and possibilities danced and beckoned
I prayed in silence for the world
to nurture and cultivate
the generous seeds of transferable greatness
that nature has richly embedded in your bosom
and your fertile and supple mind
so that we all could harvest from it
a future of gladness and greatness
**Adding my raucous voice to those celebrating this year’s (2013) day of the girl child. Not the best of songs, but the intention should redeem all its imperfections
Noel A. Ihebuzor
Activism is now one of the fastest growing buzz and fancy words. It has style and appeal. It has class. Quite a number of persons on social media would immediately lay claims to be engaging in this highly rated practice either as a hobby or as a full time professional pursuit. But like all buzz words, the word activism “contains” a lot of fuzz. The fuzz arises because “activism” is gradually becoming a label that has been hijacked and is now being used to describe the activities of a variety of persons from genuine crusaders for social justice through to paid political party agents to social media demagogues. Confusion clearly abounds and an important step in wading through this confusion is to try to come up with a simple scheme that would enable a citizen to distinguish between genuine activism and fake activism. I call fake activism confused activism just to recognise that not all manifestations of it are intentional since some clearly result from situations where unbridled zeal and exuberance have outrun sense, self-restraint, competence and capacity. Here are some signs of confused activism I have gleaned from social media.
- The display of selective moral outrage
- The abandonment of reason
- The embrace of illogicality and the descent to inconsistency
- The rejoicing over any government misfortune
- Refusing to see the very obvious
- Denying or rejecting clear evidences of government successes
- Trivialising landmark events and changes brought about by government policies
- Magnifying government mistakes out of proportion
- Maintaining total silence on opposition gaffes
- Defending glaring flaws in persons in the opposition
- Enforcing total silence on the crimes of members of the opposition
- Demonizing the government but beatifying anyone opposed to it.
- Blanking out the unsavoury pasts of newly turned “progressives”
- Revising and photo-shopping the past to fit the present
- Purveying inaccuracies and merchandising distortions
- Becoming salespersons and champions of exaggerations
- Looking before leaping; tweeting before thinking
- Commenting on things without any full understanding of them
- Consistently condemning government and commending the opposition
- Charging into battle like a Don Quixote & engaging in non-evidence/non-fact based utterances
The incidence of confused activism can be reduced if we all begin today to turn our backs to behaviours such as I have listed above and start to embrace a culture of more balanced, evidence based and socially constructive engagements which are the hallmarks of genuine activism.
Noel A. Ihebuzor
Mr Femi Fani Kayode’s sequel “The bitter truth about the Igbo” did not disappoint in the least. We must remind ourselves that this article is part of Femi Fani-Kayode’s efforts to prove that Lagos is Yoruba and that any claims to it by any other indigenous group is spurious. Part of Femi’s method was to trivialise the contributions of any other group to the development of Lagos, preferring to ascribe this development largely to the genius of the Yoruba genus. In an earlier response, I had sought to show that Femi’s efforts in that direction were not successful. I showed that his claims and argument were neither grounded in history nor in economics, and that it was indeed so easy to puncture those claims.
The problem with Femi Fani kayode’s concluding article on this issue is that it runs out of ideas and abandons the issue under review after the fourth paragraph and only returns to it in the last four paragraphs of the article. The contents of paragraph 5 (paragraph 5 begins “That single comment, made in that explosive and historic speech…”) up to the end of paragraph 13 are hardly relevant to the issue under discussion. Let us remind us what the main issue is using Mr Femi Fani Kayode’s own words
Permit me to make my second and final contribution to the raging debate about Lagos, who owns it and the seemingly endless tensions that exist between the Igbo and the Yoruba. It is amazing how one or two of the numerous nationalities that make up Nigeria secretly wish that they were Yoruba and consistently lay claim to Lagos as being partly theirs.
How relevant then is the diversion to the political history of the NCNC, the Coup, the Ironsi regime, the pogrom, the civil war to this issue of who owns Lagos and who has contributed to its development write up. How does this advance the debate? How does this elucidate the key issues under discussion? I doubt very much that they do. What they certainly succeed in doing however is to rouse emotions, enflame tempers, to whip up sentiments. Even here, Mr Femi Fani-Kayode’s use of history is suspect, since his historiography is very selective. In the deployment of this elective historiography, Mr Femi Fani-Kayode comes across as an apologist for the killings of the Igbos in the north and as an ethnic driven revanchist historian out to even out scores with an imagined enemy. Revanchist and ethnicity-sodden historiography are poor and demeaning pursuits as the prisms of bitterness, revenge and ethnicity which come with them soon trap the historian, blur his vision, dull his criticality and destroy his objectivity and capacity for detached interpretation. The “history” we are thus presented in paragraphs 5 to13 are replete with instances of these. In succumbing to the appeals of this type of historiography, even if he was doing this as part of his on-going efforts at rehabilitation with a view to regaining entry to his “tribe’s” confidence, Mr Femi Fani Kayode does himself and his country a great disservice. He does himself a disservice because he ends up with an article where more than 55% of its contents (55% again!) are of doubtful relevance to his declared purpose. And because he fails to identify what is relevant and what is not, he ends up saddling his article with major problems of cohesion and coherence. He does his country a disservice because he presents a history of a difficult part of her history that is deliberately flawed and skewed by his selective use of sources and by his uncritical interpretation of events and casting of persons – Ironsi is a coup plotter, Igbo indiscretion was responsible for the pogrom unleashed against them in the North, the Igbos provoked the civil war – all of which are examples of a flight from intellectual rigor, mono-causal analysis, faulty attribution and one dimensional thinking, and all very painful, pernicious and debilitating ailments in persons they afflict. It bears repeating that good historiography is about balanced sources. To rely on sources that only support the case one is pushing pushes one away from doing history on to the slippery slopes of ethnic jingoism, “clan hagiography” and propagandising of the cheapest sort. This is what has happened in this article, and it is indeed a tragedy for Mr Femi Fani Kayode. I believe that this tragedy has arisen less from a fundamental lack of intelligence on his part but more from his allowing himself and his mind to be shackled and blinkered by bitterness. Mr Femi Fani Kayode sets out hoping to write “the bitter truth” about one ethnic group and ends up clumsily splaying the reality and truth of his own bitterness in public for an amused world to behold and laugh at. As he navigates this current discomfort he has created for himself, he once again deserves our compassion and not our condemnation.
Noel A. Ihebuzor
I read Femi Fani-Kayode’s article and I am responding to the claims in the excerpts below. (I prefer to leave responses to other sections in his very revealing write up to persons with about the same skill sets and mindsets as he has).
“The igbo had little to do with the extraordinary development of Lagos between 1880 right up until today. That is a fact. Other than Ajegunle, Computer Town, Alaba and buying up numerous market stalls in Isale Eko where is their input”?
“for Chinua Achebe records in his book, and we can roughly confirm that there were not more than a few thousand Igbos in Lagos before the civil war”.
The excerpts are amazing and reveal a lot. One thing they reveal for sure is how much economics and history Mr Femi Fani Kayode actually knows. For one thing, he appears to ignore the fact that contributions to economic development can take several forms – hard and soft. Some soft contributions, in the form ideas and the projection of certain work ethics can and do catalyze development even more than the building of infrastructure. Secondly he does not recognize the facts of multiplier effects. Thirdly the claim that there were not more than a few thousand Igbos in Lagos before the war would be more meaningful if the reader was informed of the population of Lagos and the distribution according to ethnic groups during the same period. Were the other ethnic units in their millions in a geographical space where the total population was in its thousands? (The total population of Lagos was 272, 200 in 1952 and 665,000 in 1963 according to the Federal Office of Statistics). Fourthly, concerning the ethnic supremacist claim that one ethnic group’s efforts were largely responsible for what Lagos is today, were the industries in Lagos established in the industrial estates in Apapa, Mushin and Ikeja the work of one ethnic group alone? What of the Federal Government infrastructure that helped facilitate growth and development in Lagos – The Port, the Airport and the Railway – were these the work of one ethnic group alone? Fifthly and coming to the present, there are quite a number of institutions with Headquarters in Lagos which are either fully owned by persons from the South East or which have strong South East ownership. These include quite a number of successful high street banks and financial institutions. One can easily list a number of insurance, oil marketing and several South East owned SMEs companies operating in Lagos and making invaluable contributions to the development of Lagos State. These institutions pay taxes, provide employment and their presence creates secondary employment and a number of other ripple effects with net positive development impacts on Lagos State. Mr Femi Fani Kayode either failed to take such contributions into consideration when making his dismissive and sweeping statement or he was simply not aware of them.
I could go on and on citing such non-indigent contributions to the development of their host states inspired by the need to present commentators on public issues with information which could help them to push back the frontiers of bias and inaccuracies. Inaccuracies (half-truths and untruths) and bias in articles arise from a number of sources – one of these is the tendency to want to rush to be the first to publish, a tendency which causes quite a number of persons to leap before they look and to talk before they think. Sometimes too, they result from the fact, that over time, some people have become impervious to facts and truths and become resistant to the time tested methods of searching for them. There might not be any malice in such people. Such people deserve prayers and compassion, not condemnation.
Incidentally, Mr. Femi Fani Kayode is always at pains to inform his readers and listeners that he is a historian. He tells us so in this article as he also did in his comments on late Chinua’s Achebe’s TWAC. I am sure he also aspires to be a good historian. Good historians are “slaves”, not just servants, of truth and facts. Good historians are never servants or slaves to emotions. True, there is a role for emotions in life, but in contributions to discussions on important and sensitive matters of national importance, emotions should always be reined in and disciplined by facts and truths. To do otherwise would be to court folly.
For her love is the unshed tear
The hushed cry of a strangled soul
As he strikes her
With the palm that once stroked her cheek
The mark of his, no their, wedding ring scarring her blush painted face
Her mascara veiled eyes clouded by the frozen pain of tears iced into anger
Search for their, no her, two year old son
As her decaying soul howls a lullaby in prayer
To the Jesus that is supposed to live in her so that
The blows of her husband’s blows do not wake her child
Their love was of passion
For love was loving and his love was her living
Their love was of moon-bathed nights
Little black dresses, rouge lips and coal-lined eyes
Her stiletto raised legs, planted onto virgin hips
As she was swayed by the rugged palm of her tall-dark-and handsome
For love was the promise strum
By that passion-driven scum
For his promise was of security, not this mine-field of an alcoholic’s ticking emotions.
Now her emotions hold her hostage to this monster, this phantom,
This parasite that nourishes on her insecurities.
***I met this young poet two days ago. She has just completed her IB exams and is waiting to proceed to university in September this year in the USA. Her poetry blew my mind. Here is one of her poems.
By Noel Ihebuzor
This is not a review in the formal sense of the word. Rather it is a collection of comments and scribbles I made as I read through the book – a book made of seven unequal parts.
Part 1 opens in Princeton USA and already introduces the reader to Ifemelu’s longing for home, her imminent home coming, her lovers – Blaine, Obinze and Curt. It also introduces us to Obinze’s wife, Kosisochukwu. The story then shuttles between Nigeria and the USA depending on whether the narrator is Obinze or Ifemelu. These two chapters in part 1, beyond the initial introduction to the principal characters and beyond their stage setting functions, are also very biting criticisms of the nouveaux riches in Nigeria and their fawning and fake lifestyles! Adichie’s dissection of the manners of the Nigerian elite in this section is rich in both sarcasm and pity. Some lines in this part do indeed float like butterflies but sting like bees. Here are two to illustrate – “mundane observations delivered as grand discoveries”; “middle-aged Lagos woman, dried up by disappointments, blighted by bitterness…” Great powers of description! This is certainly a writer with a very keen sense observation and a way with words. Consider again this very damning but apt observation of Nigerians “Everybody is hungry in this country, even the rich men are hungry but nobody is honest” And this piece of self-recognition and assessment by Obinze – “It was honesty that he valued; he had always wished himself to be truly honest, and always feared that he was not”. Adichie also indicts the nouveaux riches for their complicity with military regimes that raided, raped and ruined Nigeria. The preliminary examination of hair, color and culture are also commenced in part 1. The encounter with Aisha in the braiding salon is used to explore the theme of hair and bleaching further and Adichie leaves the reader in no doubt as to her position on these two matters. “Aisha was almost whispering…and in the mirror the discoloration of her arms and neck became ghastly sores” Fela coined the expression “yellow fever” to describe such skin variegations that arise in the African’s quest for skin lightening.
Part 2 (chapters 3-22) shuttles between America and Nigeria and narrates in part the early beginnings of the love between Ifemelu and Obinze. But it is more, as part 2 is a huge canvas on which Adichie paints a number of things – race, religion, relationships and relocation. The part also deals with enculturation/acculturation, situation driven associations, settling down to life abroad, the privations of life in America as well as coping strategies immigrants adopt. Also, featuring prominently in this part 2 is Adichie’s depiction of the early love between Ifemelu & Obinze which is done with a combination of simplicity, depth and some plausibility – though I found plausibility stretched a bit in one or two instances. The section also contains a criticism of the new Christianity in Nigeria. This criticism of the “new Christian theologies” (poverty or prosperity) overflows with sarcasm, bathos and pathos! The sudden and abrupt changes and somersaults in the image and model of God in Ifemelu’s mother’s imagination – from the benign easy going God, then to an austere one and then to one that deals in prosperity are presented with a lot of deliberate mischief by Adichie. As we read, we find that the lady roves and roams from one church to another in search of God and an assured route to Him and these unending spiritual peregrinations are described in a manner that evokes a mixture of pity and some contempt from the reader. The feeling of contempt arises because Adichie cleverly manages to make us sense the absence of consistency in her faith and her actions, especially towards Uju and her affair with the General. But still, the reader is steered into sympathising with this troubled woman who is such an easy prey for fakes and false men of God. And all of this because Ifemelu’s dad had lost his job for failing to display the right level of obsequiousness! – We are told that “He was fired for refusing to call his new boss Mummy”.
The relationship between Uju and the General, in all its immorality and necessity, is also presented to the reader and we are led through Ifemelu’s eyes to judge it since she, Ifemelu, judges it harshly. However in doing this, Ifemelu herself is guilty of some “bad faith” since she benefits from a relationship she looks down on. Incidentally, relationships such as those flourished in Nigeria during the military dispensation and still thrive in our new democratic structure. These are relationship driven by need and greed – the need by young ladies for life styles their salaries can ill afford and the need by aging males for younger female flesh. The men exploit the wants of the young women and the young women in turn exploit the cravings and libidos of the aging males. Morality becomes a luxury and parents, uncles and aunties find it convenient to look away and pretend that they do not see what is happening. Most times, they accept the gifts which flow from such commerce-driven relationships and pretend that these are simply a reflection of the benevolence of an overgenerous male. Adichie manages the narrative here well and achieves a large degree of plausibility in many parts of it. However, I think that Chapters 6 and 7 contain the narrative flaw of plausibility in both dialogue and characterisation. In an effort to portray Uju’s moral bankruptcy in her role as the General’s mistress, Adichie occasionally over does things. Uju, a medical doctor, often lapses and speaks like a cheap “Mgbeke” and worse still asks Ifemelu to help her shave her pubic hair in readiness for a weekend of delight with the General, conveniently overlooking the moral danger she is exposing her younger cousin to. Also, it is very unusual for an Igbo lady to openly speak of such things as sex and extra marital escapades to her younger ones or to elders and yet Uju does this regularly in chapters 6 and 7. The General’s death in a plane crash appears to be too hastily contrived and tends to create the impression that the character had played role sketched out for him and needed to be quickly exited from the scene. Apart from these tiny narrative challenges, Adichie’s language still flows effortlessly with astounding effects even though here and there in this part one comes away feeling that the story line as well the principal characters have lost some depth and some essential “vraisemblance”. The reaction by Obinze’s mum to the pregnancy false alarm is one case in point and her remarks to Obinze and Ifemelu on the management of their relationship and sexuality read like a straight lifting from the speech of characters in a play written to promote responsible sexuality for young people! Not too convincing, even if earlier characterisation had sought to cast her as a liberal educated mother!
Chapters 8-11 focus on the unending strikes in Nigeria tertiary education and Ifemelu’s eventual relocation to America. Adichie succeeds very well in conveying to the reader Ifemelu’s initial disappointment with Brooklyn and the harsh existence that life is for Nigerian students there. The frost in her relationship with Aunty Uju, who is struggling to pass her qualifying examinations and living a life marked by privations, frightens and disturbs her. These chapters bristle with flashes of inspired prose, beautiful yet crisp and sometimes cutting – Bartholomew who comes courting Aunty Uju is described as an “exaggerated caricature” who actively pursued “airless arguments”. A line like “the strange naivety with which Aunty Uju had covered herself like a blanket” is simply beautiful and powerful as prose. “Bartholomew…spoke with an American accent filled with holes, mangling words until they were impossible to understand” is another one – biting and hard hitting. Chapter 12-16 take us further into Ifemelu’s journey into America. Her reunion with Ginika, her struggles to find some employment, her numerous disappointments, her growing frustration and desperation are all presented in a manner that has both sociological depth and sympathy. The presentation of Ifemelu’s humiliating encounter with the tennis coach is understandable as is the sense of guilt and uncleanness that chokes her afterwards but the prolonged grief and depression appear overdone.
The exploration of race, culture, enculturation, resistance and identity is done with mature sensitivity such that we feel the tensions, the patronizing condescension of the persons like Laura, the poorly concealed uncertainty of a Kimberley who employs Ifemelu as baby sitter, as well as the well-meaning paternalism of American NGOs working in Africa. Ifemelu’s gradual “Americanisation” in her speech is also convincingly narrated
We are also introduced to the tensions that exists between African Americans and African students in the lively exchanges that followed the viewing of the film Roots in one of Ifemelu’s classes. An interesting distinction is the one of “African American” and “American African” we meet in one of the chapters. Some winning lines crop up here and there “Professor Moore, a tiny tentative woman with the emotionally malnourished look of someone who did not have friends”. And of our unfailing relapse into self-criticism and castigation of our countries once we are abroad, Adichie observed with great insight – “And they themselves mocked Africa, trading stories of absurdity, of stupidity, and they felt safe to mock because it was a mockery born of longing, and of a heartbroken desire to see a place made whole again”. Wow!
In some chapters in part 2, especially the parts that deal with Ifemelu’s baby-sitting role and her relationship with Morgan and Taylor (Kimberley’s children) and her amazement at the American child rearing practices, the flow and energy stall, the story becoming insipid, and then in another, vitality, elegant prose and depth return. I found the relationship with Curt as a bit unnecessary, a bit contrived, a bit forced and one which contributes very little to the structure of the novel and to the characterization. Perhaps it is useful in the sense that it affords Adichie an opportunity to explore mixed race relationships and the tensions and adjustments that come with them.
After a lull towards the end of part 2, the novel comes alive again in part 3 with the treatment of life, race and immigration in the UK – after Obinze fails to get a visa to the USA. This part is done with sensitivity, commendable awareness of the inner working of the minds of characters, their fears and their pretensions and their coping strategies. The murky realities of the life of the illegal immigrant – working with fake papers, the extortion of shylocks who loan their identity cards to desperate immigrants, the humiliation of menial work, the pretended superiority of natives, the frustrations, the fake visa driven marriages, all of these are painted with a healthy dose of realism and sympathy. This section also bristles with superb prose. “He was, by turns, inflamed by anger, twisted by confusion, withered by sadness”. Of Emenike, Obinze’s school mate, Adichie says – “His was the coiled, urgent restlessness of a person who believed that fate had mistakenly allotted him a place below his true destiny”. Of Emenike’s attitude towards his wife she talks of “a mockery coloured by respect” and describes his dinner manners as reflecting “a careful but calibrated charm”. Immigrants and asylum seekers are described as people with a “need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness” – Beautiful! Things end badly for Obinze and he is deported in the end.
Part 4 – examines race and how race conditions most interactions in the USA. Whereas the relationship with Curt enabled the author to examine the challenges and stresses of mixed race relationships, the relationship with Blaine is used to examine the various shades of race and blackness – an examination that is helped in many ways through the instrumentality of Ifemelu’s blog. It also allows her to take a stroll through history and present from the eyes a witness the tensions and joys that were the Obama march to the White House. Dike’s suicide attempt at the end of this chapter is a bit jarring and does not fit very neatly into the core of the narrative. Is this a technical fault? I am inclined to think so.
Part 5 is brief and the story shifts to Obinze and to the destabilizing potential a relink with Ifemelu is bound to have on his stable family life. As Kosi says and very perceptively – Obinze’s mind “is not here”
Part 6 – is shortest part of the novel and deliberately so to prepare the reader for ifemelu’s imminent return to Nigeria.
Part 7 – Narrates Ifemelu’s settling back to life in Nigeria and the reunion with Obinze. Nigeria is presented first through the eyes of Ifemelu and later through Dike’s innocent eyes. The X-ray is piercing, and alternates between empathic commentary and biting sarcasm. The claim of universality of corruption in Nigeria, the rent seeking behaviour of officials – all these come out in the conversation between Okwudiba, Olu and Obinze. Eventually the lovers come together, their physicality still as intense (“their bodies remembered and did not remember…but lying next to him afterwards…her body suffused with peace”) but the consequences are sad for third parties. The pains of love, the jealousy, the irritability of the mistress, the pettiness of women in love – all of these are depicted with great sensitivity in this last part.
Part 7 also allows the author to explore and expose some of the development and urban anomalies in Lagos – power outages, crater filled roads, expensive housing, the disguised prostitution of the working lady who is clearly living beyond her salary and who is being maintained by a lover or lovers, the growing culture of marital infidelity, the tartness and irritating competition amongst urbanised middle class Lagos women, the invasion of the gloss gossip magazine full of pictures, over brimming with titillating gossip but containing nothing of real value (existing mainly to pander to the vanities of the rich in my opinion), the meetings of returnees and been-tos from the UK and USA, doubly annoying by their empty pretentiousness, the growing intolerance in churches where bridesmaid are kept out of the church for skimpy dressing, the obsession with marriage by the likes of Ranyianyindu – these are all there and very expertly described. Indeed on a good day, these could actually provide material for another novel. The author demonstrates her ability to touch at the heart of one the drivers of Nigeria’s malaise when she comments through her characters of the mentality of scarcity that pervades Nigerian society and the Nigerian psyche, a mentality which makes rush and scramble for things even when there is no scarcity!
In all of these chapters, Chimamanda finds time to criticise most of the characters she creates – for their pettiness, for their ambitions, for the sale” of their persons and souls in their pursuits of life and living, for their cockiness, their failings, their foibles, their vanity – Blaine, Curt, Ginika, Ranyianyindu, Shan, Uju, Emenike – no one escapes.
The only persons who escape her mild tongue lashings, surprisingly or not surprisingly, are Dike, Ifemelu and Obinze. She is so benign in her treatment of their inadequacies, in their failings and in their betrayals and one wonders why. Ifemelu’s “self-sabotager” fling (Ginika’s expression) that ended the relationship with Curt is presented as irrational but is really not judged. She is mild in presenting the very damaging consequences of the relink between Ifemelu and Obinze and how the pursuit of pleasures from their pasts is going to destroy the delicate life that Kosisochukwu has built for herself and her young family
The whole story is told from the eyes of Obinze and Ifemelu and the fact that Ifemelu’s portion of the story telling has more space would also betray not just the sex of the writer but also her gender and her romance with feminism. But it is an unequal narrative. The flash back technique and non-linear disrupted sequence are maximally exploited to bind the story and also to glue the reader’s interest to the unfolding narrative and events. The blog inserts allow her to comment on a number of key issues, especially race and here, Adichie walks a fine line and walks it finely, talking about race as a black without being racist in the process.
Let me end by sharing my opinion on the main characters- Ifemelu and Obinze. They are human but not very moral characters. It could be said of them that “when they are good, they are very very good” and when they are bad, they are horrid! And do not ask me why! Which character am I most drawn to in Americanah? Kosi!. a beauty queen who loves her husband, dotes on him but who was never really loved by him and who gets such a raw deal in the end! The plight of this poor girl, this poor victim of two selfish lovers in an imperfect world makes me sad – but perhaps, I am over-reacting – but in life as in this book, my sympathies always go the unfairly treated.
Americanah is great book – great in the quantity of themes it treats and also great in the depth and quality with which it treats them. It weaves a story of love, lust and romance and uses it to examine issues of race, relations and the feeling of exile that one feels in a foreign land. It is also a critique of the Nigeria’s developmental challenges – a country where basic social services have long gone extinct and the story and the critique and handled by a writer with a great sensitivity to details and feelings.
By Noel A. Ihebuzor
(A response to this poem which pains and troubles me)
I veil my face
I fake, I affect a pace
I strike a pose to please
I part unveil my ware
to attract, to beckon, to appeal,
all to strike a better bargain
on these dark streets,
where for a fare fair
I fair sell my flesh and frame,
me tame, soul lame, filled with shame
before rates of exchange
driven hard, harsh, heartless
unequal, the weak cannot bargain
I empty my soul,
as he emptyng inside me, also empties me
so much pain,
for so paltry a gain
all so that you, my child
will not be empty
when you rise
In the mornings, when you rise
clad in your innocence,
as you eat and fill up, I sing for you
but also to forget, my smiles fake, as guilt
and self-pity gnaw at my insides
And I sink, I sink and sing to forget.
By Noel A. Ihebuzor
When we signed and swore
for better, for worse,
the moons have now since faded, dimmed
stars twinkle less bright,
on a sky blanketed by our mutual misery
our nights now filled by this burgeoning void
that is us
the flames died slowly,
smoke filled our empty eyes, red blank
our tongues broken, wooden
our ears drowned by the din of our inner voices
And us two in tow,
now sour and bitter
bride and groom no more
rather through your assured lenses –
pride and groom,
through my lenses, clean and clear –
bride and gloom
We now dance to blame songs
two souls in discord
dancing to drumbeats of doom, singing
“your fault not mine, my love, your lust;
My trust, your rust; my care, your tear”
we sing so well, nourished
by a slow low constant flame of pain
our emotions lame and crippled,
bitterness slowly freezing
frying our insides, as enlarging cold rage
fractures our world and hardens
borders and boundaries
We match and trade barbs of mutual hurt
And we march forward backwards,
bent and bitten,
weary and wary
on a broken road,
with loads and worries
not love, on our broken battered shoulders