By: Seun Aladese
It’s been quite a while since I finished a book in days. Aside from having a hectic daily grind, I take numerous notes and explore references while reading. Yet with Achebe’s new piece, I was through in a day and a half, sitting pensively after completion; my mind racing and positively stimulated.
We must collectively thank Achebe for this slim all encompassing volume and for committing his thoughts and well-rounded dissections to paper. Compiled as a collection of essays, the topics ranged from literary to political all of which he delivers through life accounts that link to nationalist, pan-African and global views on race, the problem of perception and their significance to humanity.
I imagine us, a younger generation, seated about him as he recounts stories of people and events in African history, relating them to our experiences today and all the while subtly admonishing that we become cognizant of who we are and from whence we come.
Achebe offers a lucid projection into what has otherwise been a murky topic. Reaching deep into the recesses of history to uncover incidents that have come to define the prevailing condition of African nation states, he acknowledges the problem of leadership as a major part of Africa’s challenges as well as examines the role of education in charting a new course forward.
His considerations on education much like those of Patrick Awuah, cofounder of Ashesi University, call for an educational paradigm that produces a new breed of leaders who emerge from the educational system possessing a deep sense of responsibility rather than an unfounded sense of entitlement.
He explores Africa in terms of its people, noting how a culture of collaboration is inherent within us. “Africa believes in people, in cooperation with people. If the philosophical dictum of Descartes “I think therefore I am” represents a European individualistic ideal, the Bantu declaration “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” represents an African communal aspiration: “A human is human because of other humans.” Essentially, We are, therefore I am.”
He also explores Africa with respect to art and our collective capacities when he notes “… the creative potential in all of us; and of the need to exercise this latent energy again in artistic expression and communal, cooperative enterprises.”
As Achebe notes, “The point of all this is to alert us to the image burden that Africa bears today and make us recognize how that image has molded contemporary attitudes, including perhaps our own, to that continent.” Essentially, we must regain a lost image and do away with the ‘problem of perception’ that has been cast on us.
The Life of A British Protected Child is an easy read. It gives us an elders perspective of what we, a new generation must aspire to but also equips us with enough history to question our predicament as a continent as well as heighten our individual thirsts for historical truths about Africa.The message is simple; in this age of digitally recorded histories, we must tell our own stories. We must explore our creative potential for shaping future attitudes towards Africa and collectively as well as practically embark upon redefining what it means to be African.