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The Open Sore of a Continent: A Personal Narrative of the Nigerian Crisis (W. E. B. Dubois Institute Series) [Hardcover]

Wole Soyinka
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 12, 1996 0195105575 978-0195105575 First Edition
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.

Editorial Reviews Review

Ravaged by the most brutal dictatorship in its history, Nigeria is at a crossroads. While General Abacha's regime generates the very chaos it claims to be controlling, the country's institutions and moral fiber are disintegrating. Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka believes Nigeria's invent-from-the-top government is to blame. With each new cabinet, the government reinvents itself, leaving the country without purpose or direction. As the country doubles its population every 22 years, the military may become even more repressive. Soyinka believes that Nigerians are "primed for a campaign of comprehensive civil disobedience," and offers an ethical map to guide the country out of despair.

From Publishers 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 proposing?without specifying who should do so?that "a structured pattern of regional conferences" be initiated to stave off future Yugoslavias and Rwandas.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Series: W. E. B. Dubois Institute Series
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (September 12, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195105575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195105575
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #557,344 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Appropriately disturbing and illuminating March 20, 2003
Soyinka wastes no words. In this book, based on a series of lectures, he argues that the ruthlessness of the military dictatorships that have ruled Nigeria for the past twenty years have deprived her of her very nationhood. At the very beginning, Soyinka asks the key question: "When is a nation?" He argues that Nigeria may be "a nation on the verge of extinction" - or rather a nation that was serverly stabbed with the annulment of the June 12 presidential elections, and is now slowly bleeding to death. This annulment by Babangida, dictator from 1985 - 1993, is the focal point for Soyinka's rage. Soyinka is a very strong proponent of democracy in Africa - especially in Nigeria, which he still believes could be a leader of the continent - and he views this annulment as a profound betrayal of national trust and of Nigeria's future. However, despite his anger and his bitterness at the injustices that have been Nigeria's fate since independence, Soyinka retains hope and faith in the people of Nigeria. He believes that repression and corruption cannot last forever - democracy and true nationhood, while difficult to attain, have not been forever lost to history.
While I found this book excellent, I would not recommend it to someone who was not already somewhat familiar with Nigerian political and cultural history over the last thirty years. Also, it is helpful if the reader is familiar either with Soyinka's work or with somewhat convoluted writing. Soyinka's ideas are well worth reading and stem from remarkable personal experiences, but, from point A to point B - he will not usually choose to draw a straight line. Reflective of Nigerian politics, and Nigeria as a whole, nothing is simple!
I hope other readers will learn as much from this book as I have. It has opened my eyes to what the newspaper articles simply leave out and has given me both more to be concerned and more to be hopeful about Nigeria.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
This book by Wole Soyinka is reccomended for anybody who is remotely intersted in finding out how a nation that was once on an upward tragectory in the 60's & 70's has wound up being a confused and financially bankrupt nation inspite of being the world's sixth largest oil producer.He introduces the dramatis personnae in a way that is uniquely Soyinkaesque.It is actually a collection of essays that has as it,s main theme the annulment of the June 12 presidential elections,other issues explored include the National question which has come to the fore after the annulment and the collapse of all infrastructure-Education,Health,Agriculture.He also discusses the mistrial and eventual judicial murder of Ken Saro Wiwa.This is butressed by the report of the Queen's counsel who observed the trial.The earler political experience is also visited i.e the 1979- 83period.The book is aptly dedicated to the conscience of the nation the late Dr Tai Solarin.The book is highly reccomended but not for the linguistically challenged.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking December 9, 2003
I read the book with the goal of learning more about Nigeria and its people. Obviously this book is from a very biased source, however, in reading of the horrors in his native land his bias is understandble and only logical. There is a lot of pathos, intense emotions in his description of the crisis in Nigeria. As a scholar/journalist I like to hear all sides of a complex issue so I feel like I've heard one perspective from a first-hand witness after having read this book.
As some of the other reviewers have pointed out, unless one is familiar with the key players in Nigerian politics it is difficult to grasp totally what is being discussed. Also, since the book is composed of various presentations given elsewhere it lacks a certain amount of cohesion.
With that aside, I feel like I know a little more about the country after having read it. The book isn't long. As I read more I hope to understand more of what is taking place in that country. I want to be part of an informed public that can help do something about the plight of victims of dictators.
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