Friday, March 22, 2013

Achebe (1930-2013): A Gendered Literary Legacy

I was brought up on the likes of Chinua Achebe as far as African literature in English is concerned. This was also the case with previous generations of post-colonial African writers and readers. As a tribute to him I present below an abridged/adapted version of an essay I wrote in 2003 on his influence and the gender critiques of his works.


“The new literature in Africa is aware of the possibilities available to it for celebrating humanity in our continent. It is aware also that our world interlocks more and more with the worlds of others. For, as another character in Ambiguous Adventure says to a Frenchman: ‘We have not had the same past you and ourselves, but we shall have strictly the same future. The era of separate destinies has run its course’ (p. 79). If we accept that, and I don’t see that we have much choice, then we had better learn to appreciate one another’s presence and to accord to every people their due human respect” (Chinua Achebe, 1991, p. 10).
Chambi Chachage

“ The Nigerian novel could rightly be said to thrive on diversity and complexity. The first generation of Nigerian writers seemed fascinated by Achebe and imitated him in subject-matter, technique, and style"  (B. E. C Oguzie, 2000, p. 143).

The publication date of Chinua Achebe’s (1958) famous novel, Things Fall Apart, is arguably the starting point of modern African literature as expressed in European languages (See Florence Stratton, 1994 & Ernest N. Emenyonu, 2000a). This, and the subsequent fascination of the novel in both the Western and African imagination, arguably renders Achebe the father of (modern) African literature (in English) and African writers as the following quote testifies: 

You [‘Achebe’] have through your works touched and changed many lives. You have been a caring frontiersman and a generous brother’s keeper both in Africa and the African diaspora. Nuruddin Farah says that he and many of his contemporaries ‘owe a great deal to you, many having learnt the craft from you,’ as ‘Africa’s best novelist and craftsman, and one of the world’s greatest, living or dead.’ Mariama Ba told you in 1980, before her tragic death in 1981, that she ‘started writing after reading Things Fall Apart.’ Toni Morrison has thanked you for ‘door which you figuratively opened for her.’ To Jerome Brooks you are the ‘necessary angel who restored for us [Africans in the diaspora] something slavery took from us.’ James Baldwin held you in such high esteem that at his death his family presented to you his most priceless possession as a writer, his briefcase, believing that ‘he would have wanted you to have it’(Emenyonu, 2000b, p.10).

Such was/is Achebe’s influence and it is not surprising that a lot of first generation non-Nigerian African writers, like their Nigerian counterparts Oguzie (2000) talks about, were also fascinated with Achebe and imitated him in subject matter. And what ‘was’* Achebe’s main subject matter? Surely if Joseph Conrad could rise from the dead he will claim that it was neither gender nor patriarchal oppression. And indeed the horse’s mouth would, at least in this one case, agree with his literary and racial nemesis as the following personal anecdote indicates: 

But also in Ghana I met a young woman teacher who immediately took me to task for not making the hero of my No Longer at Ease marry the girl he is in love with. I made the kind of vague noises I usually make whenever a wise critic comes along to tell me I should have written a different book to the one I wrote. But my woman teacher was not going to be shaken off so easily. She was in deadly earnest. Did I know, she said, that there were many women in the kind of situation I had described and that I could have served them well if I had shown that it was possible to find one man with enough guts to go against the customs? I don’t agree, of course. But this young woman spoke with so much feeling that I couldn’t help being a little uneasy at the accusation (for it was indeed a serious accusation) that I had squandered a rare opportunity for education on a whimsical and frivolous exercise (Achebe, 1989, p. 42: Emphasis supplied).
Achebe’s main subject matter was - as it has been for most of us, his unwearied sons, who have been so preoccupied in our quest to move the center of power and knowledge from its hegemonic Western base - indeed in line with what Abiola Irele (2001, p. 68) has referred as the primary dimension of African discourse - “the preoccupation with the racial question. This is underscored by what the horse's mouth - with the power and knowledge invested in him by the classical missionary education and western institutions such as universities and publishing houses, which had/has a tendency of excluding African women more than they excluded African men - went on, in the 1960s to, claim as his main subject matter just after trivializing the gender-sensitive message from the above Ghanaian female teacher: 

Here then is an adequate revolution for me to espouse – to help my society regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of years of denigration and self-abasement. And it is essentially a question of education, in the best sense of the word. Here, I think, my aims and the deepest aspirations of my society meet. For no thinking African can escape the pain of the wound in our soul. You have all heard of the ‘African personality’; of African democracy, of the African way to socialism, of negritude, and so on. They are all props we have fashioned at different times to help us get on our feet again. Once we are up we shan’t need any of them anymore. But for the moment it is in the nature of things that we may need to counter racism with what Jean-Paul Sartre has called an anti-racist racism, to announce not just that we are as good as the next man but that we much better (Achebe, 1989, p. 45).

Achebe’s marginalization of gender at the expense of race led Florence Stratton to use Achebe’s own tools to seriously question Achebe’s famous novel, i.e. Things Fall Apart, as well as his discursive position as a ‘patriarchal African writer’: “ Does Achebe attempts to restore ‘dignity and self-respect’ to African women? Does he tell his female readers ‘where the rain began to beat them’?” (Stratton, 1994, p. 24) In her gender analysis of one of Achebe’s (1958, pp. 18-19) passage that depicted Nwakibie’s wives as objects of “abject servitude,” Stratton offers the following insightful rhetoric question and its problematic answer:

 But where in this passage is the gendered African reader to locate herself? For while she will immediately recognize the strength and self-assurance of the male culture of Umuofia, she will have no such experience of its female culture. Might she not wonder if the abject servitude of women is the hallmark of a ‘civilized society’? In its representation of male-female power relations, this passage is emblematic. For with the notable exception of Chielo, the powerful priestess of Agbala, Achebe’s women are, indeed, ‘down on one knee’, if not both, before their menfolk and they are regularly making an exit, no doubt ‘in their proper order’, form all the spaces in which power, economic or otherwise, is exercised (Stratton, 1994, p. 25).

Stratton go as far as to summon the service of Achebe’s fellow Nigerian and Igbo, the famous African feminist scholar Ifi Amadiume, to disprove the authenticity of Achebe’s masculinization of the water goddess by referring to her as a ‘god of water’. It is saddening and disturbing to realize, as the following quote proves, that actually Achebe, in his quest to counter “conventional colonial practice of feminizing Africa and Africans with a representation in which African society is masculinized”, was/is guilty of dispossessing Igbo’s women of a symbol of their power within the Igbo society: “ In his most recent novel, Anthills of the Savannah (1987), Achebe himself acknowledged that he was in error in assigning masculine gender to the deity. For he devotes a chapter to the water goddess Idemili” (Stratton, 1994, p. 27).

This is the Achebe (1958) who has provided African discourse and “African writers after him with a dominant theme which has been sustained for half a century” (Emenyonu, 2000a, p. 239). Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1993), who was also helped by Achebe in the beginning of his literary career, is one among many of unwearied sons/brothers of Achebe. He has managed to militantly combined race and class analysis – and to some extent gender analysis - in his literary and ideological criticism as well as in his novels. Since most African women, like the African America women Patricia Hills Collins (2000) write about, have experienced an intersecting oppression- of race, class and gender which is different from their male counterparts due to the gender factor, it would be interesting to see in the next section if there would be any difference in their expressions within the African discourse and reactions to their expressions.

“Africa has produced a much more concrete tradition of strong women fighters than most other societies. So when we say that, we are refusing to be overlooked we are only acting today as daughters and granddaughters of women who always refused to be quiet” (Ama Ata Aidoo in Buchi Emecheta, 1988, p. 183)

What happens when the daughters write back? As long as the daughters adequately produced and reproduced knowledge that foreground race vis-à-vis Africans there is no problem with  literary patriarchy but woe unto them when they forget about it let alone challenge it. Contrast the way Achebe paternally commend the “brilliant Ghanaian writer” Ama Ata Aidoo for advocating his main subject matter and the way he patronizingly cross-examine an unmannered ’ yet “a much advertised” author’s deviation from the ‘African norm’ of defending Africannes by any means necessary:

The Brilliant Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo wrote a short masterpiece, Our Sister Killjoy, in sequences of fine prose and muscular poetry, which she explores the [ragged and poor] condition of African sojourners in London. … Ama Ata Aidoo does not pull her punches, either. But she is on the right side, on behalf of the poor and the afflicted, the kind of “nothing people” Naipaul [2001’s Nobel laureate] would love to hammer into the ground with his well-crafted mallet of deadly prose (Achebe, 2000, pp. 93-95).

 Here is what a much advertised author living in London said in 1986 about her fellow writers toiling away in Nigeria: Writing coming from Nigeria, from Africa (I know this is because my son does the criticism) sounds quite stilted. After reading the first page you tell yourself you are plodding. But when you are reading the same thing written by an English person or somebody who lives here you find you are enjoying it because the language is so academic, so perfect. Even if you remove the cover you can always say who is an African writer. But with some of my books you can’t tell that easily any more because, I think, using language every day and staying in the culture my Africannes is, in a way, being diluted. My paperback publisher, Collins, has now stopped putting my books in the African section[Achebe ends this quote that he takes from an interview with an endnote which is the only place in the whole book, including the index, that mention the name Buchi Emecheta i.e. the interviewee]
That does it for all those beleaguered African writers struggling at home to tell the story of their land. They should one and all emigrate to London or Paris to dilute their Africannes and become, oh, “ so academic, so perfect.” The psychology of the dispossessed can be truly frightening (Achebe, 2000, pp. 70-72: Emphasis supplied).

I am not happy with what Emecheta said above but I am equally unhappy with the way Achebe have depicted her even though I agree with the notion of the psychology of the dispossessed. The ‘transgressive’ daughters, as Aidoo (1988) has aptly shown, have indeed received serious bashing from male critics. They have also received them from some of their fellow African sisters who view them as prodigal daughters who are attempting to break the African sisterhood and African identity that Achebe and his literary children have toiled so very hard to build. The following - from Antonia Akpabio Ekpa - is one of the typical bashings :

Amazed by the general [negative] portrayal of women… Emenyonu declared in late 1970s that writers were yet to discover ‘the other woman’ in society….The ‘other woman’ that has emerged in the novels of Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, Ama Ata Aidoo, Bessie Head, Nuruddin Farah, and Mariama Ba has come out assertive, individualistic, daring and sometimes outright careless about how she achieve her goals. This new woman is a hybrid of Africanism and Westernization…. This woman of the 1980s is propelled by a Western feminist force that drives her further away from the African she is. How far she rotates is our concern here. It is our duty as African critics to arrest her spirit and turn it away from the West towards and African or black identity…. In spite of its gain, feminism has yielded some quite undesirable results which makes its procedures questionable…. We are worried that black feminism has become synonyms with lesbianism, violent confrontation, militancy, and aggression, as is evident in the writings of Molara Ogundipe Leslie, Ama Ata Aidoo, and Buchi Emecheta…. It is time for African writers to focus on the strengths of African sisterhood. Rather than promote the stereotype of the antagonistic woman, writers must explore co-operation, love, assistance, and understanding among women… We recommend that African feminism should have recourse to and portray African life styles, values, and concerns. Secondly, the complementary that is germane to our gender systems must be focused upon… This complementary also extends to an acceptance of male writers who through their writings have identified with the woman’s search for self-actualization. We propose that feminist approach the male-authored text, like Hevi’s Amavi, with an awareness that discovers the woman not as abused, but the powerful force to be reckoned with. Hence, new readings must be made of texts in which the woman remains the subject of male abuse. There must be a decentring of discourse and experience… This is the feminism Africa will appreciate, embrace, and promote as we arrive at the dawn of a new century (Ekpa, 2000, pp. 30-37: Emphasis supplied).

While I don’t buy the idea that Ama Ata Aidoo (1988) is simply championing lesbianism, polygamy or the battle of the sexes, I assert that a writer cannot ignore the reality of his/her society just for the sake of creating a romantic and an ideal picture of what he/she would want his/her society to look like. The paradox is that in order to be a mirror of its society, African discourse needs to be both realistic and ideal – no matter how mutually exclusive these terms might appear  in its quest to empower humanity as they attempt to close the gap between our realistic society that is still based on inequality and the ideal society that is based on equality. The above bashing reminds me of the following statement which show how it can be difficult to wage a war against a hegemonic macro-discourse, which only privilege certain of its micro-discourses:

 Every theoretical and methodological framework of knowledge production has implicit values and assumption about the nature of society, and will be resisted by those who not have the same position… However, resistance and hostility are exceptionally obvious in the case of feminist inspired works....(Ayesha M. Imam, 1997, p. 2)

“ But to say I am going to be a feminist writer, I am going to take a position vis-à-vis that man, I am going to shoot him. That upsets me. I think I should appeal to us to keep the African house-hold intact at the end of the day…” (Taban lo Liyong in Buchi Emecheta, 1988, p. 83).

In ‘our’ father’s house, that is Africa, there are indeed many genres and many categories of social difference. This house, as diverse as it is, is a part of our non-static world that is still structured in the following manner that is aptly described by Charmaine Pereira: 

 Women and men not only experience the same world in different ways, they occupy different worlds as well. But our understanding of these worlds and experiences is distorted by the male-dominated nature of knowledge production and social practice. In its claims to be ‘neutral’ and ‘value-free’, mainstream knowledge denies and thereby avoids the implications of its being gendered…. Whether knowledge can be used in oppressive or in emancipatory ways will depend on the kinds of knowledge produced, who use it and who is disempowered or empowered by its use (Pereira, 1997, p. 219). 

The diversity of our house should be seen as an opportunity and not an obstacle in engendering African discourse so that we can have a more inclusive discourse that produces a better picture of African societies. It is a challenge that offers a space for both particulars and universals hence recreated African writers need to take seriously Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1993) plea to create a space for a hundred flowers to bloom.

Although the previous sections have, to a certain extent, painted a bleak picture of patriarchy’s oppressive power and paternalistic knowledge-production within African discourse, it is worthwhile to commend how ‘gender struggle’ without and within the discourse itself has and is transforming the discourse. With some exceptions, such as in the case of Oladele Taiwo (1986) whose old gender-insensitive literary critique is still being reprinted (i.e. reprinted in 2002) and Richard Msechu (1999) who at the close of the 20th century was still using a very sexist language in his novel The Pretorian Agenda which primary preoccupied with race wars, many novel writers and literary critics - both male and female - have taken and are still taking gender more seriously than before.

Here I particularly have in mind Chinua Achebe’s (1987) gender and class conscious portrayal of Beatrice Okoh and Elewa in the Anthills of the Savannah; Ama Ata Aidoo (1988) pioneering work on the meaning of being an African woman; Ernest N. Emenyonu’s (2000a) gender-sensitive literary criticism and his gender-inclusive organization of International Conferences on African literature and the English language. I also have in mind Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1982) whose portrayal of Jacinta Wariinga in the Devil on the Cross is a testimony that gender consciousness or analysis “does not preclude analysis of class and other aspects of social division” (Pereira, 1997, pp. 219-20). This is what he wrote way back before this novel had materialized and I believe it is a testimony of how African discourse can make conscientious effort to overcome its Achilles heel**:

Because the women are the most exploited and oppressed section of the entire working class, I would create a picture of a strong determined women [Jacinta Wariinga] with a will to resist and to struggle against the conditions of her present being. Had I not seen glimpse of this type in real life among women of Kamiriithu Community Education and Cultural Center? Isn’t Kenyan history replete with this type of woman? Me Kitilili, Muraa wa Ngiti, Mary Muthoni Nyanjiru? Mau Mau women cadres? Wariinga will be the fictional reflection of this resistance heroine of Kenyan history (wa Thiong’o, 1981, pp. 10-11).

It is in the light of the above background, and the old adage that claim that literature is the mirror of the society, that I now approach what I consider to be one of those Achebean’s (1991) new literature that offer a paradigmatic shift from the tradition of privileging one socially constructed section of humanity in its quest to educate humanity i.e. Elieshi Lema’s (2001) ParchedEarth. This novel, written by someone who is both a female publisher and an author who is ardently dedicated to the furthering of knowledge among children and youth, artistically oscillates between a rural setting and an urban setting in Tanzania. It is interesting to note that in the very first chapter she employs her main character, Doreen Seko, who by no mere coincidence happens to be a primary school teacher in a typical Tanzanian primary school were female teachers are “the majority” and underpaid, to confront the nature of knowledge production and gendered as well as classed access to education and careers in the Tanzanian politico and socio-economic system:

I sit in front of the class watching the children hew knowledge from the quarry of my words…. I did not come to this job by choice. Like many other girls, I wanted to go to secondary school but my grades did not allow. I was among the many girls in our school that got our second choice. “Your grades did not allow you to go further,” the teacher had said, simply, cutting off any complaint that had started showing in my eyes. Being a teacher was the only available opportunity, which I took with gratitude to God and felt luckier than my brother Godbless who got no chance at all, having failed his exams (Lema, 2001, pp. 1-6).

It is interesting to note how Lema deals with what I consider to be the major paradoxical question that face writers who seek to produce an empowering knowledge and image of African women i.e. how can a writer simultaneously depict two dialectical images: an image of a universal/particular African woman as an agent of social change and not a victim of the hegemonic social order, and an image of a real patriarchal society with real negative images of, and material effects on, women? Lema, artistically oscillating between strategic essentialism and anti-essentialism as well as between the universal and the particular, does not shy away from using her main character to say that this is how the patriarchal society was/is; and, yes, sometimes it appear/appeared, and one feel/felt, as if an African woman was/is a victim but she is still an agent of social change:

When grandmother ran mother out of the house like a mangy dog and grandmother stood aside and let him do it, she could not imagine that such a thing could happen! She had not found words, in that state of confusion and shock, to appeal to her mother’s protection. Her mother had closed herself inside the house and let the father chase his daughter away. It was too hard for mother to accept the terrible truth as she trudged along the path leading to Great Aunt Mai’s house, her stomach full of growing Godbless.... Even as she entered Great Ant Mai’s house without announcing herself, she could not speak or say what had brought her here. She joined the aunt by the fire where she was cooking the evening meal and sat down, tears flowing down her face without restraint. Great Aunt Mai did not ask why she was crying, what she had come to do or who sent her. She knew the crime and the punishment. She knew too, her structured role in this matrix [‘the matrix of social organization’] and so she let her cry. Later, a healthy baby Godbless was born (Lema, 2001, p. 94).

Only sometimes she [‘My mother’] would be in certain moods that made her talk, then she talked to me about the life of a woman. She talked about how important it is for girls to aspire to learn and know new things of the world. ‘If I had enough education, you think I would be here?’ she said… ‘ Girls should learn to work hard, always. Hard work will be their salvation.’ She told me that the world has very little to give girls for free, that they should never, never let people walk on their heads and kill their spirit before they know who they are. Mother spoke generally about girls, as if I was different from the rest of them, as if I was just a girl to whom she was offering advice. She was never specific about herself either. She would talk above the life of a woman as if what she said affected her only generally, not specifically. Nothing she told me was specific to me! I understood her clearly much later, after I was married. I came to know that my life as a woman would be realized ultimately, and in so many ways, in relation to other women. She meant that my life would always be a landmark for a girl growing up, or for other needing a role model. She was telling me that my life must strive to give meaning to others need it. When my life was dissolved into Martin’s family life, so easily, like sugar dissolves in water, I realized with a pang, that my mother was saying that I will always live out my struggles in relation to other women, women’s life and their perceptions of it, their society and their niche in it, their relation with men (Lema, 2001, pp. 49-50).

This patriarchal society, as she aptly portrays it, is not a timeless, ahistorical or static society but rather it is a society that is comprised of dynamic beings and therefore it is a dynamic socio-historical society. Although its “matrix of social organization” has very powerful oppressive “social laws” yet, just like the “spider’s web”, it is “a system” that has pores. These pores are permeable and with every act of gender, class or even race struggle, no matter how small it is, there is a widening of these pores that shakes its foundation of politico and socio-economic inequality. Note how Lema portrays the intersection of class and gender, and the way their shift/mobility can play a major role in imparting a “sharper consciousness”, not only to her character, but also to the readers and especially those who are abused, like some of her characters, because they are “naïve”:

That is when I realized that I had supported my mother in upholding a system of favoritism I had been unaware of. I was an accomplice in this process of shaping life, building attitudes and manners even without my knowledge.... I did not know then about a system that deprived some people for the benefit of others. None of us knew. Mother was just being mother and we were her children. All those years, I never questioned why mother left the house to me to manage and care for others even when I was not the eldest…. When I went home on leave, it was with a sharper consciousness that I observed mother. I love her for sacrificing her life so that we did not have to beg food or starve. I loved her, yes, but I also felt hurt. Why should she love the boys more and not care enough for me? Yet, I did not raise those issues, I held my peace, but after that, I took over the role of apportioning food. One day I said, “Let me,” and took away the serving spoon from her hand and served food to everybody. I thought she would defend that role as hers not to be usurped. I was surprised at the lack of resistance she showed.... My eyes opened further and I looked at her in a new eye.... Could she have known that it was a matter of time for me to be ready? Did she know why I took over? Was she waiting for this time to come? Was there an unvoiced code between us that we reacted to subconsciously? When she let go the role, I could feel that it was her way of showing me that we were partners in this role of nurturing. We were partners at the hearth and she trusted that I would understand the role. When my rations did not follow her pattern, she did not object or even try to influence me. She followed my movements, checking carefully with her eyes. She followed the boys’ reactions but did not interfere in my response. And she ate all the food I put on her plate! She complained that it was too much, but ate all of it finally.... Why then had she done what she did? After I finished school and became a teacher, I partially took over maintaining the home by sending her money....My coming home made everyone happy.... Earlier on, mother had even stopped me from getting too close to the hearth, saying that the smoke was not good for me! When did she learn that I too could be spoilt a little? (Lema, 2001, pp. 85-87)

The novel also unravels the oppressive power of what she calls the “male order” i.e. patriarchy on the men themselves: Martin who could not help but abandon the wife he loved just because she seemed not capable of bearing a baby boy as, ostensibly, her womb could not obey the order that declared that “boys are as special as fathers” and not girls; Sebastian, i.e. Doreen’s father, who was “ trapped and tamed” by this order to such an extent that he could not challenge his father who decided who he would marry regardless of who he, Sebastian, loved; Godless, though relatively privileged by the order as compared to his sister, still had to painfully face the order’s imperative that one need be “a man enough”/”a real man” and also had to deal with the burden of class structure. 

Lema's (2001) Parched earth is indeed a historical novel that traverse generations of African women and their relation to their respective men as it illuminates how the pores of the social web change with each jot of knowledge that is added to it. It starts with the generation of the Great Aunt Mais who adapted to the “social web” and could ‘victimly’ say “ that is how things are” but yet ‘agently’ “undermine” in a subtle way that “law which made things that way.” From there it moves to the generation of the Foibe Sekos who, building on the knowledge of the pervious generation, could add more weight in the gender struggle. From there it moves to the generations of the Doreen Sekos who, standing in the shoulders of these ‘giantress’ of gender struggle, could see some changes in the social laws. Finally, it ends with a hope for a more gender equitable society as envisioned in the generation of Doreen’s daughter, Milika. Without resorting to an attempt to offer any negative criticism of this novel, I would like to end this section by appropriating the following quote from the Awarders of Lema’s (2001) novel:

Parched Earth is a groundbreaking novel on the Tanzania literary landscape. Carefully constructed, it explores the complex relationships between men and women in society as defined and shaped by patriarchal ideology. The complexity unfolds in the life of Doreen Seko as she contends with forces of what is and what should be, the magical and the ordinary, alienation and acceptance. Parched Earth is rich with imagery, characters are well constructed and believable. Its edge is its emphasis on complimentarily rather than fatalism which reflects a new political, historical and cultural consciousness.

The above discussion has revealed that the task engendering African discourse, just like that of engendering African Social Sciences, “ is not a simple development of knowledge, but is also necessarily and simultaneously profoundly a political struggle over power and resources” (Imam, 1997, p. 2). Moreover, it requires a conscientious effort to create and recreate gender conscious writers and literary critics as well as accessible publishing houses. And whether Imam’s (1997) statistical assertion that at least half of humanity is of feminine gender is true or not, we still need an African society that will strive to ensure that there is an even distribution of resources regardless of gender, race, class or any other social category. Much more we need an African discourse that would simultaneously reflect both this ‘ideal society’ and the ‘current society’ in its criticism. When I see the kind of knowledge production that emanates from Parched Earth and the power mobility that has led its author to co-start a successful publishing house that is directed by women, I feel proud to claim that in the midst of the impediments that have clouded African discourse there is hope. 

Achebe might have had his gender shortsightedness as far as his earlier novels were concerned but he should be commended for how he used his power and influence in the hegemonic publishing world to empower and kick-start a lot of African writers such as Flora Nwapa.  As the first African woman novelist to be published in English and the first African woman to set up her own publishing house, Flora Nwapa knew first hand about all these hopes and impediments engendered in African discourse. She knew and experienced how gender and gender politics played a major role in the relationship between power and knowledge in Africa. No wonder she said, “Let our men believe what they like, Buchi, what does it really matter? It’s all politics.” (Flora Nwapa quoted in Buchi Emecheta, 1998, p. 31).

**This is to emphasize that Achebe, who played a major part in the creation of a gender-blind African discourse, is not a static/ahistorical/timeless being or writer. Surely he must have gained something from the knowledge produced by gender conscious criticisms and writings as the following quote indicate: “ Certainly, Chinua Achebe’s attitude towards women in Anthills of the Savannah published in 1988 [sic] is a far cry from his portrayal of women in Things Fall Apart published in 1959[sic]” (Marie Umeh, 1998, p. 669).

**In this essay I am arguing, in the light of the gender sensitive works of Paul Tiyambe Zeleza (1997) on history; Amina Mama (1997) on cultural Studies and Charmaine Pereira (1997) on psychology, that the preoccupation with that famous/infamous Du Boisian*** problem of the twentieth century, namely the problem of the color line, and its related problems has been the Achilles heel of African discourse as far as gender is concerned. In other words, I would look at how gender analysis and/or criticism had/has been marginalized by racial and/or class analyses/criticism that have been championed by some classical African writers/novelists and how this is, and has been, contested by both male and female African and non-African writers in their quest for a gender-balanced knowledge production in Africa.

***In his preface to that book [Hopes and Impediments], Achebe notes that the great African American W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in The Souls of Black Folk that the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line (Ann Charters, 1999, p. 1411).

Achebe, C. (1958). Things fall Apart. Oxford, UK. : Heinemann Educational Publishers

Achebe, C. (1987). Anthills of the Savannah. Nairobi, Kenya. : Heinemann.

Achebe, C. (1989). The Novelist as a Teacher.  In C. Achebe, Hope and Impediments: Selected Essays (pp. 40-46). New York, USA: Doubleday

Achebe, C. (1991). African Literature as Restoration of Celebration. In A. Rutherford & K. H. Petersen (Eds.), Chinua Achebe: A Celebration (pp. 1-20). London, UK: Heinemann.

Achebe, C. (2000). Home and Exile. Oxford, UK. : Oxford University Press.

Aidoo, A. A. (1988). To be an African Woman Writer- an Overview and Detail. In K. H. Petersen (Ed.), Criticism and Ideology (p. 155-172). Uppsala, Sweden: Scandinavian Institute of African Studies.

Charters, A. (1999) The Story and its Writer: An introduction to short fiction. Fifth edition.  Boston, USA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

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