This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Remembering When Things Fell Apart

Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart," about the effects of the colonization of Nigeria in the late 19th and early 20th century, is a classic socio-historical novel and one that I (like many others!) regularly require my students to read. Achebe was himself personally involved in the Biafran War--the Nigerian civil war in the late 1960s--and has recently published a new book about Biafra called "There Was a Country." Adam Nossiter has a review in the New York Times that is not overly kind (Nossiter thinks that Achebe is too sympathetic toward Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu, who led the rebellion that created a new nation of Biafra), but Nossiter does provide a very nice summary first of modern Nigeria:
Nigeria is the Texas of Africa: it’s big and loud and brash, a place of huge potential, untapped talent, murderous conflict and petroleum riches. It also has a singular capacity for irony and self-reflection that is both cultural habit and survival tactic. It is difficult and often dangerous to get by in Nigeria unless you are a fortunate member of the infinitesimally small and mostly corrupt oil-fed elite. Acute awareness of your surroundings is a necessity; along with it goes another Nigerian trait, thinking and dreaming big.
And then of the Biafran War and Achebe's role in that:
All these characteristics were in play when the nightmare for weak nation-states became reality in 1967. Seven years after Nigerian independence, the prosperous Ibos, dominant in the eastern part of the country and targets of persecution and pogroms, declared their independence. Led by the charismatic Oxford-educated, Shakespeare-loving Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu, the fledgling nation called itself the Republic of Biafra. Achebe, an Ibo himself and the new country’s pre-­eminent intellectual, a product of Nigeria’s finest ­English-style schools and author of “Things Fall Apart” — soon went to work at Biafra’s Ministry of Information, serving as special envoy and chairman of a committee charged with writing a constitution for the new country.
My view is that any book that reminds us of the history and the trajectory of Nigeria is important because of the country's already enormous size and high rate of population growth. It dominates the demography of Africa and certainly dominates the economy and politics of West Africa. The more we know, the better we will be able to cope.

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