In the article “Assessing the Dilemma of a Nation at the Crossroads – Protest as Landscape in Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah” by Niyi Akingbe. (for full article, see: Assessing the Dilemma of a Nation at the Crossroads Protest as Landscape in Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah )
Protest and literature are seen to be closely related in the way in which human beings perceive of their society and the actions that they take as a result of those perceptions. Social protest can be said to refer to those mass movements, private initiatives, demonstrations, and other activities which support or oppose specific developments or situations in a given society, with a view to changing it for the better.
Literature, for its part, refers to that body of written, verbal, or performed work which exercises the imagination and seeks to offer insights into the nature of the world and the place of humans in it.
In considering the nature of protest in Anthills of the Savannah, it is apparent that Achebe considers all protest as essentially the contestation of meanings. The disagreements between His Excellency and people such as Chris, Ikem, Beatrice, and the others over the direction of Kangan stem from their differing perceptions of how the country can best make progress: the former believe in an authoritarian, top-down approach because they feel they have all the answers; the latter argue that such an approach has failed, and must give way to more inclusive approaches that take the ordinary citizen into greater consideration.
The novel is replete with disagreements and arguments, to such an extent that the narrative is a virtual war of wills. The book opens with Chris and His Excellency, with their eyes combatively locked in a dangerous outward manifestation of a personality-clash. Ikem engages a taxi-driver in a grim battle for a few inches of space in a traffic jam, and argues with Elewa over the necessity of her going home in the dead of night; Chris and Ikem argue over the latter’s editorial comments. Beatrice engages a female American journalist over her seemingly inappropriate behaviour towards His Excellency, and quarrels with Chris over his seeming lack of concern for her well-being. Ikem has a brush with a traffic policeman over alleged illegal parking. Ikem turns his lecture at the university into a dialogue so that he and his audience can “exchange a few blows” (154).
Part of the contestation of meanings in the novel takes place on the level of social class and occupation. Ikem’s stubborn desire to maintain a low profile in spite of his enviable status as editor of a major newspaper is seen by himself as a rejection of the crass materialism of Kangan society and a demonstration of his determination to remain true to himself, but the taxi-driver he has an encounter with re-interprets it as the unedifying miserliness of a man who is too selfish to give employment to those who desperately need it.
Achebe seems to be making the point that since protest is essentially about the contestation of meanings, the meanings that are open to such contestation should be properly identified so that the resultant contestations are not misdirected or meaningless.
She concludes that in this novel, Achebe attempts to draw together many of the ideas and opinions that were evident in his previous novels. As a result of this, the novel displays a depth of meaning which influences all of its major themes, including protest. Thus, instead of depicting protest in ways that have become conventional in African literature, Achebe chooses to examine it in a much more authentic context. Protest is therefore seen to be much more problematical and complicated in the novel than at first seems to be evident.
Is Niyi correct? What do you think?