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c h a p t e r t h r e e The Novel after the Nation Nigeria after Biafra At this point we leave Africa, not to mention it again. — g . w . f . h e g e l In Africa, the native literature of the last twenty years is not a national literature but a Negro literature. — f r a n t z fa n o n The Black Man’s Burden: The Nation in Africa Basil Davidson, the preeminent contemporary historian of Africa, has described the nation as ‘‘the black man’s burden.’’∞ His discussion of the development of nations and nationalisms in Africa in the twentieth century follows what has become an entirely familiar way of characterizing recent African history: revolutionary, nationalist hopes give way to the disappointments and disillusionment of the corrupt postindependence state that Fanon simultaneously describes and prophesizes in The Wretched of the Earth. The succession of one corrupt regime by another has been a persistent pattern that has defined the politics of almost the entire continent and shows little sign of changing or abating. The recent hope of yet another political rebirth in Africa that followed the removal of the Mobutu regime in the Congo by the forces of Laurent Khabila have faded away entirely as the bad political business of the country continues as usual; Africa remains today in a precipitous political state, despite (or perhaps because of ) the supposedly newfound confidence of foreign investors to resume the plunder of African resources following the trip to the continent by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1998 and by U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and rock star Bono Nigeria after Biafra 117 in 2002. Overall, the almost half-century of national and nationalist politics that has framed all of these developments has been an unmitigated disaster. In Davidson’s words, ‘‘If the postcolonial nation-state had become a shackle on progress . . . the prime reason could appear in little doubt. The state was not liberating and protective of its citizens, no matter what its propaganda claimed: on the contrary, its gross effect was constricting and exploitative, or else had simply failed to operate in any social sense at all.’’≤ All nations are invented through an investment in various discursive and institutional operations that together manage convincingly (more or less) to produce the geographic coincidence of state power with cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and political boundaries. As Craig Calhoun reminds us, the nation is a discursive structure as much as it is a political one: nationalism is ‘‘the production of a cultural understanding and rhetoric which leads people throughout the world to think and frame their aspirations in terms of the idea of the nation and national identity.’’≥ The central insight into the phenomenon of the nation that is shared by all of the recent critical writing on the subject has been that all nations must be seen as essentially arbitrary configurations of culture and power, which the phenomenon of nationalism tries to obscure and make timeless and natural. While it is true that all nations across the globe are in this sense arbitrary, there is perhaps nowhere in the world where the nation has been as arbitrary a political form as in Africa. By this I mean that it is difficult to pretend that the political boundaries within present-day Africa even minimally cohere to any long-standing ethnic, linguistic, or cultural divisions, beyond the fact, that is, that all are the residue of the political and economic struggles of competing European imperial powers. For example, it seems at times that what gives coherence to a nation such as Nigeria, which has enormous ethnic and linguistic variations within its boundaries ,∂ is only its history as a colony of a particular imperial power, which has left it with a different European language from that of some of its West African neighbors and with borders defined and established prior to its independence in 1960 that it has insisted on clinging to through all manner of political strife. Any initiative that would try to create the imaginative or discursive structure of the nation in an effort to link together all of the peoples of Nigeria would seem to be imperiled from the very start: what the Ibo, Hausa, and Yoruba peoples share, at least with respect to the geographic borders of the country called ‘‘Nigeria,’’ is the experience of British colonialism and, perhaps, all of the efforts devised since to hold...


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