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Anthills of the Savannah - Essay

Nov 10, 2008 1650 Words
At the turn of the 20th century, it was often said that the sun never sets on the British Empire it covered a vast area of the planet that included parts of Europe, Africa, Oceania, North America and Asia. However towards the end of the 21st century few of it’s former colonies remained. The effort exerted by Britain during WW II had left the country exhausted and made Britons turn inward and look at their own country, which led to many of them swapping ideas of imperialism to ones of nationalism. As Britain struggled through the post war economic crisis, many in the new Labour government of Clement Attlee began to see the Empire as an unnecessary drain on public finances and felt that Britain should abandon it’s attempts to retain it’s overseas territories. (Arnestein 377) In Africa Britain’s Empire came to a swift end, with Britain often withdrawing from their former colonies rapidly, leaving the newly-independent states ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of sovereignty.

Although Britain had shed it’s former colonies it’s influence still remained strong and through this it played a very important role in shaping the history of Africa. Through the implementation of Frederick Lugard’s Dual Mandate ideas, which he expressed in his book The Dual Mandate In British Tropical Africa, it left an indelible mark on the African continent. Through this book Lugard had tried to create a wide-ranging theory of colonial policy that could be used by the British in controlling the African colonies. In it he proposed how Britain would rule Africa through a system of indirect rule using indigenous authorities. “The object in view is to make each Emir or paramount chief, assisted by his judicial Council, an effective ruler over his own people.”(Lugard ) He felt that more progress could be made if white officials were utilized as advisors more than direct rulers. Lugard felt that the chiefs should be gradually given more responsibility, especially in the handling of public funds a portion of taxes collected could be retained in local treasuries to pay local officials and bureaucrats, fund local improvements and public works. “There are fifty such treasuries in the northern provinces. of Nigeria, and every independent chief, however small, is encouraged to have his own.”(Lugard )

Lugard argued that Britain as trustees of Africa had a responsibility to educate the ruling class, so that they would be ready to fill the posts in the government and to take over from the chiefs. “The task of educating them in the duties of a ruler becomes more than ever insistent ;[...] of the importance of education, especially for the ruling class, and for the filling of lucrative posts under Government:” (Lugard) This form of education would be based on the English education system and would use English teachers if at all possible. Moreover, as education spread, a new western educated elite began to emerge among Africans, some of these were the sons of ruling chiefs but many also came from common backgrounds While the British did devote some resources to education in Nigeria, one should not get the impression that they were substantial. In fact, many educational resources came from religious missions and not the government.

Colonialism was creating a new, educated elite that differed from the traditional elite and they were not going to sit idly back and watch the British and tribal chiefs enjoy all the power and privilege. Many of these newly western educated people were the very ones who were pushing nationalist ideology to the common people. .

This is where we join the story in Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah, the fictional country of Kangan has shed it’s colonial bonds and it’s ruler Sam has been installed to power by a military coup d'état. In the novel Achebe paints a picture of the political and cultural crisis that affects the countr when it turns from a former colony to an independent nation. In this post colonial setting we get a clear indication on just how strong a role Britian had in Kangan which is the thinly disguised country of Nigeria. The three main male characters all know each other, having met at the interestingly named Lord Lugard college when they were younger. “I had known him for close on twenty five years from that day long ago when we met as new boys of thirteen or fourteen at Lord Lugard college” (Achebe 11)

In this British school the male characters were molded by their teachers to act as if they were British especially Sam. While in school Sam had expressed dreams of becoming a doctor, but these ideas were immediately abandoned when he was told by his head master “that the army was a career for gentlemen”(45) All Sam ever wanted to do was “what was expected of him especially by the English who he admired to the point of foolishness”(44) We see Sam take on the mannerisms of the English with his expressions and speech. When Sam says “its not cricket ”(19) we know that its not enough for Sam to take on the mannerisms of ordinary Britons but those of the well to do classes. Although much like listening to the Mozart album at the wrong speed he does not use the expression correctly, the actual expression is “it’s just not cricket” this shows that although Sam aims to mimic his former colonizers he can never completely develop the nuances of speech and refinement that would make him just like them. This form of mimicry is based on the colonial’s desire to some how fit into and find a position for themselves within a world that although they are a part of they can never be a fully fledged member. It is not hard to imagine with Sam as leader that although the British government is no longer in power its soul still remained.

The novel does not take long to show us how the influence of Britain still remains in it’s former colony. When the British departed, the vacuum it left was quickly filled by a powerful dictator whose rule like the British before him had not been legitimized by a democratic process. In much the same way as the British would have dealt with what they would have considered the not so bright peasants, we see that Sam deals with them in the same condescending manner, feeling that if he can fool them the impressionable peasants will leave him alone “Tell them if you like, that I’m on the phone with the President of the United States or the Queen of England. Peasants are impressed by that kind of thing, you know”(p. 16)

Like their former masters , the new elite black rulers looked down upon the people they were supposed to be serving. We clearly see this at the public execution when Ikem looks at the public waiting for the executions to happen in the blistering heat and contemplates how is it possible for the poor to remain calm when they can see the empty shaded seats reserved for the elite. Mimicking what the British would have said about the Africans, the African elite now say about the poor. Rather than looking down on someone for the colour of their skin, now class has been racialized. “You see, they are not in the least like ourselves. They don't need and can't use the luxuries that you and I must have. They have the animal capacity to endure the pain of, shall we say, domestication. The very words the white master had said in his times about the black race as a whole. Now we say them about the poor.”(p.37) Ikem knows that the real threat of colonialism is if you succeed in mimicking what the former colonists had done to your own people. He wrote this in a hymn at the end of a scathing editorial looking for the law on executions to be overturned. “The worst threat from men of hell, May not be their actions cruel, Far worse that we learn their way, And behave more fierce than they.” (P. 37) In the novel another British influence that separates the elites from the common people is their grasp of the English language. It is a class divider with the elites speaking flawless English and the working class speaking pidgin English. The nation is fractured both by education and language. It was the African elites who spoke English correctly, were the ones to benefit when Britain left, creating a distance between them and the poor. This distance mirrored that created by the British between themselves and the native Africans. In the novel it is the main characters mimicking of the British that brings them respect and power and maintains the gap established by the British between the government and the poor. The Attorney Generals comments to Sam reflect this “As for those like me, Your Excellency, poor dullards who went to bush grammar schools, we know our place, we know those better than ourselves when we see them. We have no problem worshipping a man like you. Honestly I don't. You went to Lord Lugard College where half of your teachers were Enlgishmen”. (p. 22)

While Achebe does rightfully explain that the elitism created in Africa was the result of colonialism he does not lay all the blame on the colonists shoulders. Rather a bigger problem in the post colonial state is the incapacity of the country’s elite to establish rapport with the poor, this forms the main premise of Achebe’s novel “It is the failure of our rulers to re-establish vital inner links with the poor and disposed of this country, with bruised heart that throbs painfully at the core of the nations being.”(p.131) Achebe blames the national leaders for not upholding the interests of the poor

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