- Continuity and Renewal in the Endless Tales of a Continent: New Voices in the African Novel
The storyteller takes what he tells from experience—his own or that reported by others. And in turn makes it the experience of those who are listening to his tale. The novelist has isolated himself. The birthplace of the novel is the solitary individual, who is no longer able to express himself by giving examples of his most important concerns, is himself uncounseled, and cannot counsel others. To write a novel means to carry the incommensurable to extremes in the representation of human life. In the midst of life’s fullness, and through the representation of this fullness, the novel gives evidence of the profound perplexity of the living.Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller” 364–65
Every generation of writers confronts the burning issues in its society and wrestles with them.Charles Nnolim, “A New Writer” 158
It is my contention that the direction of any literature has more to do with the prevailing conditions of the writer’s time and his or her individual response to them, brought about by the personal life of the writer.Tanure Ojaide, Ordering the African Imagination 73
The contemporary African novel has to respond with ever-increasing flexibility to new and challenging circumstances in its effort to record and reflect on the African experience. From the late 1980s, most African countries began to experience dramatic transformations in their socio-political arrangements. These transformations were most visible at the level of the system of government employed by the rulers. [End Page 1] Military dictators began launching endless transition programmes that brought most of them back to power. Others became autocratic in their bid to ensure their political metamorphoses from military dictators to democratic autocrats would not be contested. The Sani Abacha junta of Nigeria and Yowere Moseveni of Uganda easily come to mind here. Despite the revolutions in Egypt and Libya that removed Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gadafi, respectively, both nations are still in an anarchic state, particularly Egypt, a nation barely out of a state of emergency. Within the last three decades, ethnicity has become the major currency with which most African countries negotiate leadership via elections; the Kenyan, after the Moi administration, and the Nigerian examples are the most resonant. Although military interventions are no longer popular, there are still traces of coups in the continent, such as coup by ballot in Nigeria and Zimbabwe. In order to contain these incessant crises in the continent and forge an African continent with a common socio-political and economic destiny, the leaders and heads of government in Africa changed the label of the umbrella association which offered them a platform to constructively interrogate and negotiate the fate of the continent. This change from the Organization of African Unity to the African Union was geared towards facilitating and consolidating the gains of independence, which would in turn help readjust and redefine the functions of the union to meet contemporary demands of African countries and address global challenges as they affect the continent.
In a more positive vein, Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s foremost anti-apartheid nationalist, was released from prison, the apartheid regime crumbled, and Mandela assumed office as the first democratically elected president of the Republic of South Africa. Countries like Ghana, Liberia, and recently Mali have had success at the polls and in their economies. Apart from the ongoing political transformations, the continent continues to be shaped by violence, crisis, and attempted genocide. The aim of this special issue is to explore and evaluate through cultural analysis the new novel in Africa at this crucial juncture in African literary and political history, and more importantly, how the new African novelists respond to these political transformations and challenges. [End Page 2]
The novel in Africa is without doubt the most popular and inclusive of the genres. The reason for its popularity is understandable. The African novel has remained vigorous and articulate in its examination of the contemporary African situation. Its popularity is also due “to the essential features of the form itself as primarily embodying a story and interesting stories make good reading. But...