When I applied to grad school, one of the schools I chose was Brown University. I had this fantasy that I would run into Mr. Achebe in the halls, maybe drop by his office, and endear myself to him through my writing. So, when he passed this week my mother called me, and told me my friend had passed away. In that moment, my fantasy fell apart, I knew that I would never hear his calm voice giving me critics on my writing, never encourage me to continue honing my craft. I chose to believe this will never happen because he has now gone on to power, because I’m sure he would have been more than happy to speak with a fellow member of the continent, he just seemed like that kind of person.

For me, I was more surprised when I heard he had passed because he seemed like a monument of our community, erected one day, as a pillar of literary excellence, destined to stay forever, leading the charge on African-self identification. His cultural critic of my nation, Nigeria, was striking and firm, demanded it turn its back on corruption, greed, and instability. I expected that voice to remain constant and present forever, only falling back when another person, maybe groomed by Achebe, could step in.

The ability to use language to tell a story about the way the world is, to demonstrate how wrong we are to let it stay that way, were at the core of his incredible talents. Time and time again, he reminded us that there is more to the continent than hunger, and disease, by being a beacon of intellect and creativity. While I will freely admit I have not read all of his novels, I respected the reputation he built for himself. Through his work, he raised the consciousness of the Western world, allowing them to see us, even for a moment, from our own perspective. Thanks to his words many intellectuals on the continent crossed over onto the global stage, sharing the magnificent beauty of our continent’s great minds.

We continue to cross over, and more and more of our emerging leaders are establishing a foothold in Western nations, as well as the African continent. However, as our generation moves forward with plans to uplift our respective nations, who will step forward and take the reigns, or have we moved beyond a time where one leader must steer the movement? It seems that with the development of social media, and technology that enables many people to be in many places at once. More can be done by many people to effect change, but it will be interesting to see how our developing model tackles issues of unemployment, hunger, infrastructure, religious conflict, and government.

What I do know is that Chinua Achebe was a man revered, his words transcended the Nigerian experience, and touched people inside and outside the continent. He was able to humanize our people in a way that had never been done before. Now, many authors from the continent and within the Diaspora have taken up that light, shining it in the corners of our communities, and telling stories about who we are and who we would like to be.

A great man will be missed, but in his wake is a space, a vacuum, which we must fill with leaders, to bring ingenuity, innovation, creativity, and style to our continent’s reawakening. While, I mourn a great man’s passing, I celebrate the brilliant minds of the continent and the Diaspora who now have the opportunity to step forward and make a difference.

So, in the wake of Mr. Achebe’s passing,

What was your favorite Achebe story?
What did it teach you about yourself, and about others?
How do you think he captured the global imagination?
How did you think he change the perception of the ‘African’
Who do you see stepping forward as a leader in their continent?
What wonderful things are they doing?
Are their efforts likely to impact all African nations?
Who are our unsung heroes?
What are they doing?
Do we only acknowledge the heroes who the Western world also acknowledges?
How do you image the reawakening will proceed?
Do we need one person at the reigns, pulling us all along?
What are the advantages to that model?
What are the disadvantages?
Is social media forcing us to change that model?
Is that a good thing?

-Chinwe Ohanele

Image credit: http://blog.ted.com

  • http://dailylifeandliving.blogspot.com/ Amor

    Things Fall Apart is my favorite Chinua Achebe story, and it taught me the importance of Africans reclaiming their identity and dignity. I am proud of him showing the world, that we Africans also want to share our stories from an Afro-centric view. In addition to that, he enabled the world to understand that Africans were total humans who had a system of life that was disrupted by colonialism. I see President Kagame stepping out as a leader, as he managed to help Rwanda move forward with his wisdom. I also think his efforts can inspire other African nations that have undergone turmoil that they can rise from the ashes of destruction. Some of our unsung heroes are like Wole Soyinka, who is also a highly respected African author who along with Chinua Achebe introduced Africa to the world.

    I think we sometimes get brainwashed and only acclaim our fellow Africans who are honored by the western world. We should stop that, and feel free to choose our own heroes without getting approval from the western world. I think the reawakening will proceed by the Africans who are abroad networking with Africans back home, and throughout the African diaspora uniting together for one purpose. I don’t think we need one person, as their might be some tensions that could lead to civil wars and unrest. For the most part, it is more beneficial for Africa to progress as a team because together we are stronger. I think that the social media always has static views on leadership, some are good and some are bad. So as Nyerere of Tanzania said, “Chukua mazuri na uache mabaya. ” I’ll say the same that African leaders should incorporate the good from social media, and ignore the bad.
    Amor at http://dailylifeandliving.blogspot.com/

  • dbesala

    Nicely written. The thing that Mr. Achebe instilled in me was that although something is labeled fiction, it is in essence real stories that the author has experienced or those they knew did. fiction does not mean un-true in the literal sense. I don’t think one person can pull the reigns of Africa. We need many. Many voices telling their stories, many writers documenting them, many speakers using them to encourage others. Our continent is massive, and the “unsung” that we all are in sense are those who need to take the stepping stones to make an impact.