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Modernity and Its Mirages: Wole Soyinka and the African State TEJUMOLA OLANIY AN We know that a broad and relentless interrogation of the African state constitutes the moral constant of Wale Soyinka's dramatic universe, whether he is employing the most arcane and ritualistic, or the most realistic and accessible, performance form. By the "African state" I mean both the established ruling institution and the existing social condition as a whole. This persistent critical interrogation has made Soyinka the foremost scourge of the seemingly perpetual state of anomie on the continent and those who manage and profit from it. Although this is less clearly articulated in the dramas than in Soyinka's other writings, I see the catalyst of the dramatist's huge exertions as one grand irony. a historical irony of epic proportion that serves as vast diorama: Africa as living a modernity it practically financed with its blood and toil, its human and material resources, but whose direction it is powerless to chart and whose effect it is unable to control. If the acknowledged gains of that modernity in the West - stable, orderly government, accountability between the rulers and the ruled, entrenched striving for egalitarian relations, rationalized bureaucracy and economic system, optimum management of the population - continue to elude Africa, it is not because Africa is not part of that modernity but because it is part of it unequal/yo What I want to do in these brief remarks is not, as my title might imply, to demonstrate how Soyinka's critique of the state in his works registers the illusions of modernity so far in Africa. As I have suggested above, such forceful registration is the constitutive fabric of Soyinka's exert.ions and, therefore, needs careful attention. Such an attention is indeed a substantial part of my larger project. Instead, what I want to do here is to raise a meta-query of Soyinka 's critique of the African state. In other words, I am concerned here with frameworks of critique, with modalities rather than with mere examples. There is a reason for my fixation with this kind of query. The African state as we have it today, we all know, is an outgrowth of the colonial state. It is a Modem Drama, 45:3 (Fall 2002 ) 349 350 TEJUMOLA OLANIYAN consequence of historical developments that actually circumscribed indigenous agency. Even now, forty years after independence, none of the institutions of the state - the party, the judiciary, the police, the bureaucracy, the language, and so on - has been decolonized enough to command the affect of the governed. This is the main source of the unending crisis of legitimacy facing the states. It has made them into perpetual states of "rule" with little hope of ever becoming states of "hegemony." Now, if this nutshell analytical history of the African stale is accurate, then there are crucial implications for the kind of critique directed at it by would-be critics. Two crystallized dominant paradigms are currently available for the critique of the African state: the pragmatist and the fOlllldationalist. The pragmatist critique affirms the legality and authenticity of where the African state is here and now and insists that it could do much better by learning from its mistakes, as well as from successful examples worldwide, and by bringing uncorrupted reason and commitment to bear on the business of government. It foregrounds the necessity for managers of people and resources to be of unimpeachable character and avows that the soul of any institution is people of integrity. For the pragmatist, there is no human institution, no matter its wayward origins, that cannot be tamed under the proper direction. Behind this claim is a fierce belief in the endless capacity of individuals to make a difference in society; after all, the only dynamic factor in politics is the individual person. This mode of critique is dominant today among African writers and intellectuals, as well as among scholars of Africa. In addition to Soyinka, other leading writers whose works express the pragmatist view include Chinua Achebe, Nurrudin Farah, Peter Abraham, T.M. Aluko, and Athol Fugard, to cite only a few examples. This is also the reigning position in the...


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