I hope that this fortnight has been kind to you and your loved ones. This week I received the news of the passing of a childhood friend, which made me think about a short story I read as part of required reading (or what we would call ‘set books’) of our high school English curriculum. It was called Africa Kills Her Sun, by the late Nigerian activist, journalist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa (you can read it here). I think about this short story often, written in the form of a fictional farewell letter from a man to his girlfriend on the night before his execution, after being convicted of armed robbery.
Ken Saro-Wiwa himself was executed by the state for his activism six years after writing this story, making it chilling prophetic – but that’s not even the most remarkable thing about this story. It’s the sheer bleakness of outlook that the protagonist, Bana, embraces – after witnessing massive, brazen looting of the national treasury as a junior government employee, and realizing that he is powerless to stop it, he decides to become a bank robber. He doesn’t see any basic difference between what he was doing as a bank robber and what most others were doing throughout the country.
“In every facet of our lives – in politics, in commerce and in the professions – robbery is the base line,” writes Bana. “And it’s been so from time [immemorial]. In the early days, our forebears sold their kinsmen into slavery for minor items such as beads, mirrors, alcohol and tobacco. These days, the tune is the same, only articles have changed into cars, transistor radios and bank accounts.”
When they are caught, tried and sentenced to death, Bana and his compatriots don’t resist or complain. In fact, they welcome death, and Bana feels sorry for those left behind – “…it’s the guard and you the living who are in prison, the ultimate prison from which you cannot escape because you do not know that you are incarcerated.”
Reading this as a 15-year-old had me shook, as you can imagine. I was never able to shake off how deeply this story unsettled me, the only other one that came close was Grace Ogot’s Tekayo, which is a story for another day (and perhaps another newsletter). Was this – this Africa – what I had to look forward to, once I ‘cleared school’? A world where our dysfunction is so deep, our options so limited, and our resistance only having meaning when taken to the extreme, exposing the injustice by saturating it with bleakness and absurdity?
I don’t know, but even after all the rosy ‘Africa Rising’ years, I think we are still killing our suns, as the story title suggests. Not sons, but suns, “perhaps why [Africa] is described as the Dark Continent,” says Ken Saro-Wiwa’s protagonist with a bitter humour, which I fear is perhaps the only kind of humour we have left.
In the meantime, here’s:
- What We’re Reading: Feminist” Ponzi schemes are sweeping through Argentina, from Rest of World. WhatsApp groups are promising women sisterhood — and a cash return — in exchange for a hefty upfront fee.
- What We’re Watching: StartUp on Netflix, because Edi Gathegi. That’s it, that’s everything there is to say.
- What We’re Listening To: Africa’s Untold Stories, a podcast exploring Africa’s little known histories – the Kingdom of Kongo, the Dahomey Amazons, Axum, Karem-Bornu, and so much more. Listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Curator | Baraza Media Lab