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Friday, 22 November, 2002, 16:13 GMT
African author attacks 'tragic' Nigeria
Chinua Achebe
Achebe told how words are his weapon of choice
After 30 years of writing stories set in and around Nigeria, prominent Ibo writer Chinua Achebe has spoken of his disillusionment with the country.

Speaking to the BBC he said: "Nigeria has been more disappointing than I had hoped or expected."

In a damning attack on the current government, the doyen of African literature added, "it is tragic because we have such potential".

"We have been given so much abundance by providence that it just seems extraordinary that we should do nothing but shoot ourselves in the foot."

Sharia

One of Africa's most influential and widely published writers, Chinua Achebe spoke to the BBC World Service's Talkabout Africa programme from his home in New York.

Commenting on the rise of Muslim Sharia law in parts of Nigeria, Professor Achebe said, "I am now not optimistic of the benefits that will come to Nigeria because of democracy."

Amina Lawal
Under Sharia law, Amina Lawal is due to be stoned to death after giving birth outside marriage

"We have dug ourselves into Sharia; into a situation where we have become a laughing stock of the world, because we are discussing things like stoning women to death in the 21st century."

Over the years Sharia law has been brought into force in certain areas of Nigeria in an attempt to contain levels of crime.

Offenders of the tough prohibitions - theft, adultery, alcohol, drinking and smoking in public, prostitution and gambling - all of which are outlawed by Sharia, risk punishment by flogging, amputation or stoning to death.

Dismayed by what he termed as "the tragedy of Nigeria", Achebe reflected on the divisions apparent in modern Nigeria.

"Religious differences have not just been introduced. Muslims and others have always been there, but somehow they didn't wipe each other out.

"What is happening today is that some people are using theses differences to promote their ambition and this is an abuse of politics... that's why the selfishness of the elite stands out so clearly."

Controversial

Chinua Achebe has written 21 novels as well poetry and essays.


"We can not order anyone around, but our power is in argument and persuasion."

Chinua Achebe

In the past his controversial views have put him in danger. The 72 year old, has survived an assassination attempt and in 1990 a serious road accident left him confined to a wheelchair.

Things Fall Apart, his first novel, has been translated into 50 languages.

It was particularly innovative in that it took the Western structure of the novel and filled it with African morals and ways of speaking derived from the folktale tradition.

Commenting on the power of the pen over the sword, Achebe told how words have always been his weapon of choice.

"We don't have magic power," he said.

"We cannot order anyone around, but our power is in argument and persuasion."

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 ON THIS STORY
Chinua Achebe talked to Talkabout Africa
"We have dug ourselves into Sharia"

Miss World row

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BACKGROUND
See also:

28 Feb 02 | Entertainment
02 Sep 02 | African Debates
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