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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 October, 2004, 19:25 GMT 20:25 UK
Who has the right to criticise?
Chinua Achebe
Achebe: "Nigeria does not work"
Acclaimed Nigerian author Chinua Achebe snubbed President Olusegun Obasanjo earlier this week by refusing to accept a national honour.

He said there was a dangerous state of affairs in his home country, with not enough being done in terms of development.

"Nigeria is a country that does not work. Schools, universities, roads, hospitals, water, the economy, security, life," he said.

But in response the president's adviser suggested Mr Achebe, who lives in the United States, had lost touch with events in Nigeria,

Femi Fani-Kayode said lots of progress had been made since President Obasanjo came to power in 1999, with fewer living in poverty.

Do you think intellectuals who live abroad have a right to comment so publicly on the countries they left behind? How much do they really know about ordinary life there? Or, with the modern, global media, are they just as well informed as people back home?

Let BBC Focus on Africa know your views using the form on the right.


This debate has just been published. A selection of your comments will be posted below and broadcast on the BBC's Focus on Africa programme on Saturday 23 October 2004 at 1700 GMT.

Yes they have the right. Apart from the world being a global village which has made news easily accessible, they also visit home from time to time during which they are faced with the stack reality of things.
Sunny Ibeneche, Johannesburg, South Africa

The only great thing Chinua Achebe has done in his lifetime and for Nigeria is write "Things Fall Apart" - ask anyone and that's what his name is synonymous with. As for our current president who was the first military leader in modern Africa to hand over power to a civilian government and even went to jail a couple of years back trying to institute change, the least Nigerians need to do is be patient and say thank you.
Hadi, Tuscaloosa, USA

Africans domiciled in western countries need to temper their criticisms of events and situations in their home countries because they do not know the stark realities on the ground. I lived and worked in Ghana for about six years and I can confidently say the dynamics on the ground can and do change dramatically from day to day. Planning is extremely challenging in the medium term, whilst long term planning is almost impossible. I would agree that in a lot of cases, there are misplaced priorities and even obviously incompetent policy decisions and implementation. My question to Chinua Achebe is, "How long have you lived in the US and in that time, what have you done in your capacity as an internationally renowned personality to better the lot of your people?" People sitting on the fence have always been critics, but the most important thing is whether they criticise constructively or not. It is easy to be a critic. Why doesn't Chinua Achebe run for president of Nigeria if he knows what's right for the country? That way, he'll be can give himself whatever national honour he deems fit based on his achievements!
Kobby, Ghana-USA

I think Chinua Achebe has his reason's for refusing national honour but to say that Nigeria doesn't work I'm afraid is not only inaccurate but ignorant particularly of a man of his calibre. If the schools in Nigeria are so dysfunctional, then I wonder how Achebe himself got enough education to write a classic like 'Things Fall Apart' if we all took that attitude, how will things ever change for Africa?
Ngum Ngafor, Manchester, UK

Some of these intellectuals are out of touch with recent progress in Africa. They left Africa and though still its sons, let them leave those who are fighting on the ground do it
Weru Macharia, Kenyan in the UK

All Nigerians have the right to criticise the government because it is a place where things do not work
Felix Otuoke, UK

Living abroad is a great chance for intellectuals to voice what they cannot say if they were in their countries. It is also a chance for the international community - who often do not understand the situations in particular countries - to hear what is going on.
Peter Dut Angon, Sudanese/ USA

Yes! Nigerian intellectuals living abroad has every right to comment on the state of things in their country of origin. They may not be there in body, but, they are there in their soul. Moreover, information technology has made it possible to know what is going on in their various countries. There is no doubt, that Africans living abroad are more informed, that their counter-parts home.
Stephen, Frankfurt, Germany

African Governments should listen to all their people no matter where they live. Governments should not be too over-sensitive to constructive criticisms. Good governance does not happen in a vacuum. Democratic reforms would take place if we listen to all and redirect our efforts. Nigeria does need some reforms in all areas of life.
Sam Boyd, Sacramento, CA, USA

Yes, anybody has a right to comment publicly on the countries they left behind, especially if it is someone as well-acclaimed as Chinua Achebe, who had to leave his fatherland due to misrule by the self-chosen few.
Ola, UK

If an intellectual believes their country is failing, they should go and help not to blame the government back home. Those intellectuals have contributed nothing in the development of the country.
Amadou Busso, Pennsylvania, USA

Democracy gives people freedom to own and express their opinions. Achebe is entitled to his opinions. However, the taste of bitter leaf soup is in the eating. With all respect and humility, I challenge Achebe to come home to one of the universities in Nigeria and help to pick up the bits and pieces of things that have fallen apart there so that the centres will once again begin to hold. Achebe is a patriot and a sage, but this time, I think he has displayed his humanity by being impatient.
Ajaefobis, Nigeria

If they're still citizens of that country I would say they have a right to comment. I bet one who travels learns more mistakes about the government of his own country.
Antonio Zacarias, Quelimane

Yes they do. They even know better than those that live in that country. With their international exposure they often have better views and judgements than those in their native country. And with the global media and visits to these countries, they make better judgements.
Henry, Boston, US

Yes, I think so. Living abroad doesn't mean in this age that one lives in total black out of events back home. The world has turned into a small place vis--vis the height in technological advancement. Someone living a million miles away could be aware of what is taking place at the other side of the globe with just a click of the finger. And intellectuals still have family members left at home who can tell them what is actually going on in the country.
Chuma Okolo, Enugu, Nigeria

There is a tendency for intellectuals who live abroad to be overly critical in their perceptions of the pace of progress and the overall state of events at home. One can clearly understand the frustration but a lot of changes have taken place(certainly not enough)in Nigeria especially in the past few years. There may well be a generation gap between the intellectuals and the more progressive and more optimistic younger population. I am of the opinion that however slow, any progress is far better than none. Is it honourable to simply cry out about how dysfunctional our homes are if they continuously enjoy the excesses of America and refuse to return to our homes to help make them better?
Sammy Ogams, USA

Without mincing words, I daresay that they do have every right to criticise. Most of them have reasons why they live abroad and they stay in tune with events back home. Achebe's remarks were not borne out of cheap publicity. He is already a household name and will continue being one. Mr Fani-Kayode lives in Nigeria but he is ensconced from the hassles of commuting via public transport, or having to sleep fitfully because of fear or budgeting 50 naira for a family of five to feed on daily.
Sani Dauda, Jos, Nigeria

If Mr Achebe thinks Nigeria does not work under Mr Obasanjo's rule, I suggested he run for presidency and get things right.
Husein Nasiro, Fayetteville, NC, USA

Yes indeed they do, most certainly have a right to criticize what is going on. Exile self imposed or otherwise, is not a matter of choice it is an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness. Most intellectuals in Africa face constant physical as well psychological torment dolled out by governments that do not have the least bit of compassion for the general welfare of the people. Those who speak out against these kleptocratic governments face constant harassment, torture and death. If they in turn attack them, write about and expose corrupt ways of these governments from a land far away, we can't deny them this. They certainly are a great deal better than those, who leave Africa and never look back.
Wadosan Ag Arorad, Mali




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SEE ALSO:
'Things fall apart' in Nigeria
18 Oct 04 |  Africa



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