There is a parallel between Mbeki’s alleged bugging of Mandela’s home and the Obama Administration’s bugging of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone! Mbeki’s reservations about Gaddafi notwithstanding, the fact still remains patently inviolable that the West did covertly collaborate with him [Gaddafi] in executing and perpetuating a number of her strategic political and economic goals. A British diplomat told this author in New York the secret arrangements America made with the Gaddafi Government to buy oil when Libya was under international embargo and sanction. America finally succeeded in secretly buying Libyan oil (in the 1980s) just as she [America] successfully arranged with the Mugabe Government to buy Zimbabwean diamond. America secretly bought $US10 million worth of Zimbabwean diamond in the mid- to the late-2000s when the country was under international embargo and sanction!
The rest of the world, including the United Nations and other international regulatory bodies, was largely kept out of these highly-guarded secret arraignments! Gaddafi continued to work with Western leaders well into the 2000s.
Perhaps the most recent example to recall here was his top-secret collaborations with the Tony Blair Government in extraordinary renditions, as well as with the Bush Administration in which he allowed America and the UN to dismantle Libya’s stockpile of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). We also know America and other Western European countries worked covertly with Saddam Hussein in contravention of international laws. It has been speculated that the former provided intelligence guidance to Saddam to gas Kurds and Iranians during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War. And we are also aware the West built Saddam’s bunkers and weapons of mass destruction (see Frederick Forsyth’s “The Fist of God”). Saddam Hussein annexed Kuwait on account of the fact Kuwait was the 19th province in pre-colonial Iraq. The war that toppled Saddam was built on a stack of lies. Many innocent men, women, and children died as a result of this needless war.
Even more children died from complications related to the embargo placed on Iraq, malnutrition and shortage of medicine being among. We can understand the present destruction of Libya in the same context.
Today Libya has two parallel governments, one a pariah and the other recognized by the West and the UN. What crimes did the people of Libya commit to incur this large-scale punishment of social and political nihilism? It is in this context that we have to understand why Desmond Tutu called for the trial of Tony Blair and George W. Bush at the International Court of Justice for lying their way through the destruction of Iraq! The behavior of Blair’s Britain is nothing new. Britain rigged the 1959 Nigerian elections that ushered in the first republic, falsified the Nigerian census to give an artificial majority to the North…What of Britain and her sister across the Atlantic? A funny incident took place in Russia a few years back when American President George W. Bush paid a state visit to Russia, and while there he bluntly told Putin to emulate Iraq’s brand of democracy to which Putin retorted tongue-in-cheek that, his country was not interested in adapting the Iraqi brand of democracy to his country’s politics.
Evidently, what President Bush had failed to include in his ill-formed and misplaced comment was the universal anarchy in Iraq, where Islamic terrorists and American soldiers battled it out over the reclamation of the lost sovereignty of Iraq, a country where elections were held under the cover of darkness and where ballot boxes were kept under the hypocritical protection of the American gun. Senator John McCain took umbrage at Putin’s tongue-in-cheek retort and wondered why President Bush did not rebuke him. Today, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have run over Libya and Iraq as Americans live in peace.
Where is the peace and stability America, Britain, France, Italy, and others in the West promised Libyans and Iraqis? Did President Bush consider anarchy and failed states forms or expressions of democracy? Did the people of Libya and Iraq ask for ISIS in place of Saddam and Gaddafi? Here we find Soyinka’s manifest silence deeply troubling, believing as it were that he may have philosophically or ideologically viewed Saddam and Gaddafi worse political characters than Bush and Blair. But Gaddafi and Saddam were no different from Bush and Blair in many respects.
What is more, Gaddafi and Saddam on the one hand and on the other, Bush and Gaddafi are merely political incarnates of the former two, namely political enantiomorphs.
More emphatically, this archetype of mutual political enantiomorphism disappears from Soyinka’s critical radar for obvious reasons.
It is does not take rocket science to understand that, Russia (and possibly China) is still propping up the Bashar al-Assad regime because America did to Libya and Gaddafi the exact opposite of what she promised the leaderships of China and Russia, which is getting rid of Gaddafi so that America and her European counterparts (France, Italy, and Britain) could arrogate Libya and her wealth to herself!
Finally, it does justice to the political morality of men and women of history to acknowledge Gaddafi’s unmovable stance against the crushing injustices and political brutality of Apartheid, and why Mandela, for one, refused Western pressure to undo his longtime personal, political, and ideological friendship with Gaddafi, upon which he would tell his Western audience in no uncertain terms of his desire not to ever turn his back on Gaddafi. His primary reason being that Gaddafi was unapologetically supportive of the liberation struggle against Apartheid at a time when the West was in cahoots with the Apartheid regime against Black South Africa and Southern Africa. Gaddafi, we may add, was merely doing for Black South Africa and the larger context of the African world what Nkrumah had already set in motion, a political calculation that would posthumously earn Nkrumah a Gold Medal award from the United Nations in 1978.
Did Nkrumah in death force Gaddafi to do what he did for Africa at gunpoint? Did America’s Founding Fathers force the African-American leadership of Liberia to impose a one-party state from 1878 to 1980, as a matter of fact at gun point? Did Nkrumah at gun point force South Africa’s ANC to be in power for at least 20 years? The foregoing facts do not say anything about the ideological and philosophical contrasts between Gaddafi and Soyinka, an important and serious critic of Gaddafi. It is still the case that Soyinka’s thespian parading of his almost “childlike” tendentious credulousness before the company of Obasanjo and Babangida, his political nemeses, beggars belief.
And while Soyinka has the moral right to choose and pick his “enemies” and “friends” according to the dictates of his ideological gustation, he does not have that flexibility in his political identification with the tenets of moral universalism.
This requires moral and rhetorical balance in perspectival criticism across the political theatre of African leadership. Once again Maja-Pearce’s makes it clear in his review his uncomplimentary aversion to Soyinka’s self-serving and overt hypocritical delineation between Muhammadu Buhari and Sani Abacha on the one hand and on the other hand, Babangida and Obasanjo. It may sound as though Soyinka’s delineation criterion is emotionally arbitrary. According to Maja-Pearce, Soyinka’s aversion to Buhari stems from the latter’s invocation of “a retroactive decree to execute three convicted drug dealers” and Abacha from “executing Ken Saro-Wiwa through a judicial process which had established his guilt before it began sitting.”
What of the unpardonable political sins of Babangida and Obasanjo already alluded to in this essay per Maja-Pearce’s scathing review? Maja-Pearce writes: “More curiously still, Soyinka manages to make a distinction between the devils he will sup with and those he will not…But murder is murder and such distinctions are hard to understand.” It might therefore seem Soyinka’s proverbial panache of political criticism is merely public exhibitions of rhetorical feint, in which case he becomes the political equivalent of Esu-Elegbara, a topos of divine trickster in Yoruba mythology, one of the leitmotifs of Gates’ award-winning text of literary criticism, “The Signifying Monkey.” It also seems there is a religious dimension to all these.
In discussing religion and spirituality in his book of essays “Of Africa,” for instance, no significant part of Soyinka’s ink expenditure is tied to the totality of African Religion. There is a subtle assumption intrinsic to the Soyinkan cosmological worldview that Yoruba Religion is necessarily representative of that cosmogonic totality. The nuances and subtleties of that totality are given short thrift in the Soyinka cosmological worldview, at least as exegetically and discursively presented in “Of Africa.” Rather the intrinsic weaknesses of African Religion, particularly Yoruba Religion, are transferred to human fallibility as Soyinka makes a connection between Yoruba Religion and the greed of some of its practitioners. But religion is a human invention and therefore comes with the baggage of human fallibility, an ontological miscibility impossible to decant for the ease of existential consumption for many a man and woman.
Thus human fallibility and the weaknesses of religion are tied up in the ontological theatre of intrinsic mutuality. This includes serious questions regarding moral universalism and moral relativism. What is more, the nature of statistical consensus is such that the comprehensive library of Soyinka’s written works does not provide sufficient insights into the relationship between Nigerian/African letters on the one hand and on the other, technocracy, economic industrialization, science, or technology, and what, if any, that marriage can reliably respond to the existential inquests of the human condition, especially hunger, environmental destruction, corruption, human rights abuses, social injustice, terrorism, public health, and STEM. This should not be taken to mean Soyinka is scientifically illiterate, far from it, for he is as culturally and literarily cosmopolitan and sophisticated as he is scientifically literate.
In a sense that statistical consensus undermines Soyinka’s strategic and tactical approach to the critique of the strains between the inquests of moral universalism and moral relativism. This is hardly avoidable in the existential theatre of power, political and human relations. It is against this background that we question Soyinka’s decision not to run for the Nigerian presidency. Rather than turn away from popular pleas to run for the presidency, Soyinka could have hearkened to those popular pleas and then converted the consensus of elective franchise or popular sovereignty into a presidency bearing the harrowed trademark of his political personality.
Then and only then could he have demonstrated to the world how better or progressive a leader he could have been as opposed to President Kongi, of “Kongi’s Harvest” fame. Boko Haram issued a threat to him and, understandably, he disappeared from public view.
What could President Kongi have done in the wake of the Boko Haram threat, disappear too leaving the public to fend against Boko Haram’s scourge of terrorism? Soyinka, like any intelligent person, needs to protect his person from the ravenous terrorism and flesh-eating carnage of Boko Haram. This does not in any way avoid the hard question of why he finally chose to turn his back on popular pleas to stand for the presidency. We still do not why, and may therefore want to hazard a reason, a theory, or a conjecture to account for that. It may as well be that he could not have entrusted his political decision with the protean, or fickle, psychology of the electorate. Personal engagements, age, and other personal reasons unknown to the larger world may precipitated that decision.
The fact is that there was no reliable means through which he could have confirmed the seeming statistical certainty of those popular pleas and among other things, whether those popular pleas could, after all, have had any direct correlation to the consensus of elective franchise in translating his proverbial political criticism, mouthwatering literaryism, and popularity into the Nigerian presidency.
Notwithstanding his reasons, Soyinka missed an opportunity to turn his philosophical and intellectual pretensions to political realism into the practice of political criticism. And while political criticism is arguably a normative constituent of nation-building and statecraft, it is neither nation-building nor statecraft in and of itself. Mandela realized how tough nation-building and statecraft were once he assumed the presidency. He quickly relinquished the leadership of South Africa to another person, Thabo Mbeki, after his first presidential tenure came to an eventful closure.
The subversive behavior of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the mounting pressure of special interest politics on his presidency, a well-orchestrated but foiled assassination attempt on him by Mike Du Toit’s Boeremag, and the intrusive strategic interests of external elements left the moral titan, Mandela, a spent straw man by the end of his first term.
Thus political leadership could not be achieved via the agency of political criticism and charisma alone. It requires an aggregation of other factors as well, including tactically and strategically negotiating the jagged edges of moral relativism and moral universalism. The fact is that Soyinka’s choice predispositions regarding which of the “political devils” to forgive and which to sup with, regrettably, betrays his intellectual and philosophical identification with moral relativism, even as he discredits cultural relativism. Equally significant still, he does not spare Gaddafi the indicting wrath of his rhetorical pen or look at the broader prospects and implications of Gaddafi’s vision for Africa.
The strategic and tactical moral ambiguity of Soyinkan politics gives cause for worry, even though he separates his brand of Afro-realism from Africa-pessimism, whatever these labels are.
However, there have been subtle and explicit references to the idea that Gaddafi sought a strategic cover under his sudden political identification with the unitary continentalization of Africa because of his purported pariah status championed by the West.
That is far from the truth. It also reeks of propagandistic prosaicism and perhaps more than that, the kind of calculating canard only fed to credulous, unchallenged psychologies.
The more pressing question is: Why is Soyinka refusing to forgive Gaddafi for his political sins as he has done with Obasanjo, Babangida, and others? Why does Soyinka consistently overlook the now-declassified collaborations between Gaddafi and the West, in the same way he overlooks the now-declassified and proverbial collaborations Saddam and the West, including the Americans offering assistance to Saddam regarding the gassing of Kurds and Iranians with chemical weapons (see Mathew Aid’s and Shane Harris’ “Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam As He Gassed Iran,” Foreign Policy, Aug. 26, 2013).
Yet in spite of his credulity, Soyinka is not the kind of intellectual to easily vanquish in debates on account of his informed stubbornness and discursive psychology. Bernth Lindfors and James Gibbs note in their text “Research on Wole Soyinka”: “Soyinka is not the kind of writer who will give up easily in intellectual debates. His intellect appears to be easily stimulated by polemics. This is proven by the witty, pungent, and incisive replies he metes out to his critics.” There is an ironic twist to the conflict between the internal self, which we might call Soyinka, and its critics, the external self. Lindhors and Gibbs note again:
“The imagery is imprecise and opaque and lacking in evocative power. All we can decipher is the names of the various deities: Ogun, Sango, Ajantala, Esu, Orunmila, Orinshanla [sic]. But in this narrative poem it is never clear who does what to whom and with what consequences. It is often difficult to tell who the many pronouns, he, she, we, us, refer to. We are shut off from the experience on both the intellectual and emotional levels. The language is a formidable barrier; and even after you have hacked your way through it, you still cannot understand what, if anything, is supposed to be going on.”
The above quote is a critique of Soyinka’s narrative poem “Idanre” by a school of thought led by the so-called Chinweizu critics. According to the two authors, the Chinweizu critics after evaluating modern Nigerian poetry from the 1960s through the 1970s (Christopher Okigbo, Wole Soyinka, J.P. Clark, Michael Echeruo, Romanus Egudu, and Okogbule Wonodi) issued the following verdicts on their collection of poetic works:
1) Old-fashioned, craggy, unmusical language; 2) obscure and inaccessible diction; 3) a plethora of imported imagery; and 4) a divorce from African oral poetic tradition. Soyinka among other things has been sharply criticized for targeting his writings at the elite rather than the common man on whose behalf he purportedly fights for.
The usual reasons given for the critique are his inaccessible and erudite diction, dense narrative prose, meandering, convoluted poetic orotundity, dense eloquence, and then some, all of which are alleged to be conceivably beyond the inquiring grasp of the common man.
What has been Soyinka’s response to his critics thus far? Soyinka’s response to his Marxist critics particularly is merely a rephrasing of the charges leveled against him by the Chinweizu critics, as he could not contain his aversion of Marxist critics’ easy tendency to gravitate towards the commodification of the arts. He writes: “In spite of his supposed sympathy for the proletariat, the critic’s language is not proletarian.” Who is the literary umpire help Soyinka and the Chinweizu critics unknot their rhetoric of circular critiques?
Again opacity and imprecision, the two concepts Chinweizu and his colleagues associate with Soyinka’s poetry, “Idanre,” are equally emblematic of the interior psychology of the latter’s political behavior.
They also speak to the plotless psychology of “A Dance of the Forests” and of Soyinka’s understanding of the psychology of political relations.
There is no question that the play’s plotless architectonics is antithetical to the well-orchestrated scheming, plotted tendencies of individuals caught up in the matrix of post-colonial Nigerian politics, Soyinka included. The play’s structural plotlessness may as well be a scatter plot for a seeming critique of thematic coherence, and Soyinka’s privileged dribbling politics of relational dynamics with powerful political figures, who more that fit the mold of the character framology of President Kongi as it were.
Stated otherwise, the plotless infrastructure of the said play has come to typify Soyinka’s own indecipherable dealings with shady political characters such as Babangida, Kagame, Obasanjo and others, captured in the prosaic bluntness of Maja-Pearce’s “Our Credulous Grammarian.” Could it be that Soyinka has forgiven Babangida as he claimed to have forgiven Obasanjo and Yakubu Gowon, the military leader who imprisoned him during the Nigerina Civil War? But have Obasanjo and Gowon forgiven him? Moremi Soyinka-Onijala, Soyinka’s attorney daughter, would go on to work in the administrations of Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, and Jonathan.
Soyinka in effect becomes an unintended victim of his own postcolonial critique of Nigerian and African politics, technically symbolic of the interior dynamics of “A Dance of the Forests,” the play’s foreboding disappointment in postcolonial African politics if you will, but a textural trait uncharacteristic of the plotted politesse of his other plays and novels.
This is why the plot psychology of a piece of literature cannot and should not be separated from the psychology of a writer (s).
It may thus be prudent not to read too much into the speculative fiction elements of a thespian narrative, for instance, when one cannot establish a direct link between a play’s Cartesian coordinates defined by a set of fictional locations and its perceived realistic architectonics of social, psychological, historical, and political parameters. We are referring to the ontological discrepancy between perception and reality. But then that is beside the central point of Soyinka’s literary activism and political activism. In some instances it may serve Soyinka’s admirers and critics well to abstract the framology of his radical literaturization, whether narrative poem or narrative prose, from the physical compass of his political and social activism.
We should, however, always remember that Soyinka essentially views political criticism and social justice as inseparable as well as meaningful expressions of what we might otherwise call “moral imperative.”
Where is Soyinka exactly located in the dance of forests, the forests of the Babangidas, the Obasanjos, the Kagames, the Gowons? Was it not Babangida who provided a plane to ship out the delegation accompanying Soyinka for his Nobel award (see “Our Dad is Not, And Never Was A Typical Dad-Daughter,” July 17, 2014, The News)? And was it not the same Babanginda who extended assistance to Soyinka in some of the latter’s social programs? A dance of forests in Kongi’s Harvest, you mean? The forests can dance in helter-skelter simultaneity or lockstep asynchronicity, or both, but it is almost too difficult to tell which tree among the forests is doing what, which dance moves, and how…The dead, the living, the gods, the rituals and dances, the Dead Woman, the poetry, the songs, the masquerades, the feasts and celebrations, the Dead Man…the self-discovery, the contradictions, and the foreboding disappointments are there hidden behind the plotless veil of Kongi’s Harvest!
Despite the flood of light the forests are bathed in, the heart of the forests still remains nebulously dark where the harvest of the forests in which the plotless Soyinka hides could not have been worse than Hendrik Verwoerd, the Architect of Apartheid, a character whose diabolical behavior was deemed beyond the pale by every standard of acceptable human behavior. On the other hand Maja-Pearce’s devastating review makes Soyinka the very antithesis of his [the latter] statement:
“The oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the color of the boot that wears it.”
What was the color of the boots Obasanjo, Kagame, and Babangida were and are known to wear? Only the self-righteous splitting political personality of Soyinka can sufficiently provide critical assessment of the question. Where is the slippery tree of Soyinka in the dancing forests of marriageable contradictions? How can we usefully relate literary criticism (and literary forensics) to imaginative thinking?
How can we call Soyinka’s restless psychology, the same psychology that uncompromisingly resisted Obasanjo’s alleged attempt to amend the Nigerian Constitution in pursuit of a third term, to his protracted if uncomfortable silence on Leopold Senghor’s and Paul Kagame’s one-party states (and the latter’s political heavy-handedness and Machiavellianism), even as he [Soyinka] has mustered courage to summon the living and the pantheon of African gods, spirits, ancestors, and ghosts before the inquisitional critique of his pen, ink, auctorial psychology, and cathartic ritualism, but never found a reason to suspect or question the origin of the financial largesse of the CCF, a CIA-funded organization.
How can Soyinka, a bundle of humanity antithetical to political nerves, a mortal who could challenge or question the divine wisdom of the deities of the Abrahamic Religion (Judeo-Christianity and Islam), fail to see let alone question the wherewithal of the CCF?
Yet the same paradoxical Soyinka could correctly foresee the denouements of his body of thespian thought before the cache of pre-denouement events unfold. And yet the credulous Soyinka was right there hiding behind the Architect of Apartheid pretending he was blind, in arrant darkness, clueless, all in the mist of the harvest of his plotless forests. Plotless credulity! Maja-Pearce’s “A Peculiar Tragedy” and “Our Credulous Grammarian” bring out the real man behind the veil of auctorial sainthood. Perhaps for the first time Soyinka is being made to feel the pinch of criticism himself, having been unraveled in a methodic fit of the historical contemporariness of moral denudation.
Soyinka needs to be critiqued for his own shortcomings, political and otherwise, as he has done to others in a generation, for, if we may also add, it is shameful and morally unacceptable for Soyinka, at the launch of the book “The Crucible of the Ages” in Ghana, to pay homage to Kagame with the controversial remarks:
“I salute President Paul Kagame. The transformations I have seen in Rwanda is founded on the respect for human rights and freedom” (see “Mahama Declares: Wole Soyinka Will Never Die!”, Ghanaweb, July 9, 2014).
Soyinka, on the contrary, did not pay homage to political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Rwanda. He never mentioned Rwanda’s “genocide ideology” or “genocide revisionism” at all, suppression of press freedom, and those who had reportedly mysteriously vanished at Kagame’s behest. The US State Department, Human Rights Watch and other advocacy organizations and groups have all weighed in on the strange happenings transpiring in Rwanda under Kagame’s leadership (see “Unexplained Disappearances in Rwanda,” Sahara Reporters, June 5, 2014). Clearly this is quite unlike Soyinka, the fearless if sometimes foolhardy political, social, and literary activist. Surprisingly he could not say a word about Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, leader of the United Democratic Forces (UDF), whom some believe to have been imprisoned on trumped-up charges of terrorism and undermining Rwanda’s national security (see Ann Garrison’s “Rwandan Opposition Leader Victoire Ingabire Arrested,” Global Research, Oct. 14, 2010).
The Soyinka who once insisted upon and pleaded for clemency for Mumia Abu-Jamal, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Nelson Mandela now looks away from the political immurement of Umuhoza as the rest of the world zeroes in on the Kagame Administration and its mounting scarlet sins on the dangerous axis of political criminality. The recent arrest of Kagame’s Chief Spy Karenzi Karake in Britain, one of Kagame’s close confidants and Rwanda’s Director General of Intelligence and Security Services, on an international warrant at the behest of Spain refocuses the critical spotlight on Kagame and members of his inner circle.
Thus Soyinka’s double standard, Machiavellianism, and doublespeak will be the focus of Adelawe Maja-Pearce’s devastating critique of his political memoir, “You Must Seth Forth At Dawn.”
That streak of Orwellian caginess in Soyinka’s political character and literary personality may seem to point to a personalized motif that has suddenly awakened to a complexed, Janus-faced, and inhuman world born of multiple faces.
We may wish to stress that Soyinka has finally come around to “understand” why China still executes corrupt officials and why, in one particular instance from the West, America specifically, he had wished individuals who had completely wasted away the retirement savings of others should be shot piecemeal from the leg up to the head, that is incrementally. Soyinka has come to the realization that the world and human nature are more complex than any single piece of idea he has explored in his entire corpus of plays.
In the end we can all learn from Soyinka’s foibles, strategic and tactical shortcomings and thence if we could, for all intents and purposes, become better humans at fashioning better societies for mankind!
We can understand this through the evolving relationship among literature, imaginative thinking, political criticism, statecraft, and nation-building. The American government’s discomfort with Nkrumah’s “Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism,” South Africa’s Nationalist Party’s aversion to Nadine Gordimer’s “Burgher’s Daughter” and to J.M. Coetzee’s “In the Heart of the Country,” the Kenyan government’s distaste for Thiong’o’s “I Will Mary When I Want,” the Abacha Administration’s apprehension over Soyinka’s “The Open Sore of A Continent,” and the FBI’s utilization of “ghostreaders” to pore over as well as to monitor the contents of African-American literature (see William J. Maxwell’s book “F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature”), to mention but a few, demonstrate the capacity of society and literature for mutual critique. In the end we cannot but agree with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.:
“Wole Soyinka’s works of literature and criticism provide the African model to be strived for. Soyinka is one of the few black authors who assumes his propositions rather than claims them. This simple rhetorical gesture is devastatingly effective. Moreover, no matter how particular his subject matter appears to be, Soyinka always makes of his materials a statement about the human condition. My love of Yoruba culture and language was awakened by my friendship with Soyinka. I only hope that my analysis of his Yoruba metaphysics does that remarkable system of thought justice.”
We shall return…
By Francis Kwarteng