Meador: Your discussion of the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart gets at the need to imagine a new political narrative rather than making a nostalgic appeal to something that came before. Can you talk about that?
Katongole: There’s a temptation to think, “If only we can recover the precolonial traditions and build from those.” Well, yes, this might be helpful. But we must be thoughtful. It is not as if precolonial traditions are standing around waiting to be recovered. Even if this were the case, there are a number of aspects of precolonial African history and society that I’m not sure I want recovered.
Things Fall Apart was crucial to me in thinking this through. There’s violence in the protagonist Okonkwo’s village before the coming of the colonialists; many are killed, women are abused. This is not a perfect society.
The book contains a scene in which Okonkwo and the village’s traditional leaders confront the colonialists, and Okonkwo kills one of the Europeans. I read this scene as showing two different forms of violence meeting in the marketplace. In a way, it is a picture of what is happening in Africa now. Some precolonial forms of violence come together with new forms of violence, issuing in what I call a unique form of African modernity.
My interest is, how do we move through this? Simply recovering or recreating the past is not the way history works.
Christianity, I think, might provide a way forward. Well, of course I think that – I’m a Christian! But I’m also committed to nonviolence, to the vision of true peace at the heart of the Christian story. If we were to live into that, it might provide us with a way of working through the violence at the intersection of precolonial, colonial, and neocolonial forms of violence in modern Africa.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor