Monday, April 25, 2011

2011 Time's 100 Most Influential People

Well, here we go again! Time Magazine's most influential peopleis out with some interesting stuff that seems to be changing the world. This year's list has Google executive, Wael Chomim, the spokesman for the revolution in Egypt.

Full List - 2011 Time 100











Monday, April 18, 2011

Interview with Ngozi Achebe

Ngozi Achebe was born in England by Augustine Ndubuisi Achebe and Matilda Chikodili Achebe. She was raised in Nigeria and also spent time in England, her place of birth. She picked up interest in 15th and 16th Century West African history in which she was inspired for writing Onaedo - The Blacksmith's Daughter, her debut novel. In this interview published exclusively at Life & Time Magazine, she talks about her debut novel and other challenging issues.


Before we proceed in this interview, we would like to know who you are.

I was born in London to an engineer Augustine Achebe and his wife a Matilda, a nurse. I was raised in Nigeria and later when I became a medical doctor I did go back to England to do further training. Then I came over to the USA to be close to my sisters who had come over earlier. I still have a full time medical practice. I also have two children Jennifer and Nnamdi who are always my first priority in all I do.

The moment you created in your thoughts penning “Onaedo: The Blacksmith’s Daughter,” what went through your mind, and the environment in which this compelling novel began?

I have always been fascinated by fifteenth and sixteenth century West Africa, the period just around the Portuguese arrival; a period that is unfortunately not taught very well in Nigeria. I imagine what one group must have thought of the other without looking only through the prism of slavery. It all came from this curiosity to know more and share my findings in a dramatic way. Hence Onaedo.

You are in the medical arts, and one would expect you should be writing on the profession you were trained. How and why did you pick up the idea to write about a world of strong women and culture conflicts which the novel depicts?

When I started researching the story I felt I had to create characters that everybody could identify with. Even if you were not African you knew this father, this brother, this aunt this young woman. An ancient story with a modern dimension. We are not so different after all.

Let’s talk about “Onaedo: The Blacksmith’s Daughter,” from Chapter 1 through 8 and a 16th Century West Africa explored by the Portuguese. First, why 16th Century West Africa, tracing back to the Portuguese exploration and the slave trade?

The Portuguese age of exploration and its impact on the African continent, is a poorly told story in Nigeria, at least in the schools I went to. I wanted to tell this story from a view point that is not often heard. I really wanted people to see how fascinating that whole period was, to see that everything was not all black and white, but was also in varying shades of gray.

The characters are amazing and very familiar with ones upbringing, How did you come up with all these characters like Amechi, Udemezue, Adanma, Dualo, Oguebie, Eneda, Ugodi and the rest in a storytelling typical of growing up in the woods, and a story that had the same resemblance of a commune and a normal village life from around how one grew up?

I did grow up in the woods! During the Nigerian/Biafran civil war we all escaped into the interior, and there my siblings and I experienced village life first hand. It was fascinating and I’m thankful I had that opportunity for this total immersion in this culture even though I could have done without the war part! All those characters are familiar - they are our everyday friends, relatives and acquaintances.

Now that your juiced novel “Onaedo: The Blacksmith’s Daughter” has done pretty much well as I can tell, coupled with the reviews which is still overwhelmingly pouring in, what should we be looking for in your next project? A storytelling-fictional characters, or something of a non-fictional characters like the pogrom, life events, and, or biography, or maybe some unpublished works, sort of?

My next project, now in later stages of completion, is a coming of age novel, about a girl growing up in the midst of a war. It is purely fictional but is based on some experiences of mine and others during the period of the civil war that engulfed Nigeria in the 60’s leading to the creation of the short-lived republic of Biafra which was in south eastern Nigeria. I’m excited about it, because it has been a labor of love. I was writing it before I diverted into ‘Onaedo’. I also have other works in progress but will not talk about them yet.

We discussed in several occasions about the pogrom and civil war in your native land, and how vile that was while back from London which I’m still sure you remember what it looked like. Besides the novel “Onaedo: The Blacksmith’s Daughter”, could you tell us a little bit about your experience as a child and why horrors of war especially the most blood soaked event in Africa, the anti-Igbo pogrom, must not cease to be told?

War is never good and a fratricidal one such as the Nigerian/Biafran war is even worse. It was a sad time. A government should protect its own citizens from atrocity otherwise it is not really a government at all. The Nigerian government then failed to do so for one section of its population and failed to stop the genocide that took place. I was a child at the time but I remember the anguish of it all. We should tell these stories so that never, never again. Evil pervades when good men do nothing. I want to believe we have come a long way from that.

Besides your profession as a medical doctor and your passion to pen down your thoughts as in “Onaedo: The Blacksmith’s Daughter,” what else fascinates you as in passion and things like that?

I love to hike and explore especially with family. I try to be as physical as possible, and as a medical doctor, I try to lead a healthy life so I’m an example to my patients. I’m also an avid reader. I used to draw and paint at one time but I wasn’t that good at it, so I gave it up. My sisters loved them though and a few hang still in their homes and offices.

Did your Uncle Chinua Achebe’s works inspire you to follow the literary giant’s footsteps?

I have been asked that question often and the answer has to be yes .Growing up in his shadow has been a great influence in my life. My one regret is not starting early to get my work published but my people have a saying that whatever time in the day you wake up, becomes your own morning.

I read your uncle Chinua Achebe’s piece “Nigeria’s Promise, Africa’s Hope” for the New York Times and he seems to be still angry regarding the state of affairs in a African national state. Uncle Chinua Achebe writes:

“In my mind, there are two parts to the story of the African peoples ... the rain beating us obviously goes back at least half a millennium. And what is happening in Africa today is a result of what has been going on for 400 or 500 years, from the “discovery” of Africa by Europe, through the period of darkness that engulfed the continent during the trans-Atlantic slave trade and through the Berlin Conference of 1885. That controversial gathering of the leading European powers, which precipitated the “scramble for Africa,” we all know, took place without African consultation or representation. It created new boundaries in ancient kingdoms, and nation-states resulting in disjointed, inexplicable, tension-prone countries today.”

What’s your take on Uncle Chinua Achebe’s comment? Are his comments still relevant today and how the flow has changed over time?

I agree that European colonialism did not augur well for Africans, however I also believe that despite all those early missteps that we should have fashioned our own path by now. A country like Nigeria blessed with rich resources and people should have done better at fifty years of independence. Some of our wounds I’m afraid are self-inflicted. Uncle Chinua speaks passionately for Nigeria at all times and his disappointment is palpable. He is of a generation that dreamed big dreams for us and most of it has remained unrealized.

What do you think Uncle Chinua Achebe’s talking about here, and why is he still angry despite the novel “Things Fall Apart,” over fifty years ago that had foretold the social problems in such a society?

I think his novel ‘A Man of The People’ is even more relevant in speaking to how far or not we have traveled. I read that book again recently and it was difficult for me to believe that that book was written in 1966. It’s like Nigeria hasn’t moved, hasn’t made significant progress in social and economic justice for the average Nigerian in over 40 years. It’s even worse today because there has been a systematic wipe out of the middle class which was not the case in 1966. It’s really a crying shame.

Did you see yourself putting up characters in the novel “Onaedo: The Blacksmith’s Daughter?

I did try to dissociate myself from the characters but as a writer there’s always a part of you in one or two of your characters. I don’t fight it; I just go with the flow of whatever works to bring a character to life.

What do people around you tell you about the novel “Onaedo: The Blacksmith’s Daughter”?

Most say they love it, a few tell me what I should remedy or what I didn’t get right, how I should have made this person do this or that person do the other. I take it all in good humor. I appreciate each reader and each critic or critique no matter how outlandish - and I have had a few of those! It makes me all around, a better writer.

How about a movie deal on “Onaedo”?

I’m all ears! If it comes, I will be ready.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Laurent Gbagbo bunkers down as assault steps up

Men captured by forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara are detained at a checkpoint in Abidjan yesterday. Picture: AP Source: AP

FORCES allied with Ivory Coast's internationally recognised President Alassane Ouattara vowed to launch new attacks overnight on the underground bunker where strongman Laurent Gbagbo remains holed up and refusing to surrender.

Already, airstrikes have pounded holes in his garden and destroyed his weapons depots, and fighters have encircled his home and stormed the gates.

But forces allied to Mr Ouattara, the recognised winner of last November's presidential election, fear killing Mr Gbagbo and stoking the rage of his supporters. About 46 per cent of Ivorians voted for him in the ballot that unleashed chaos.

Mr Gbagbo, 65, who has made an art of staying in power years past the end of his legal mandate, is now fighting for each day, even each hour. "He will not surrender," said Meite Sindou, a defence spokesman for Mr Ouattara. "We will have to take him."

Fighters loyal to Mr Ouattara have made it as far as the gate of the presidential mansion Mr Gbagbo has occupied for the past decade. They attacked it with a barrage of fire, and residents reported concussive blasts. They breached the perimeter only to be forced to retreat in the face of the heavy artillery unleashed by the ruler's inner circle of guards.

Mr Ouattara has pleaded with the international community for months to intervene and remove Mr Gbagbo by force, arguing it was the only way he would leave.

Mr Gbagbo still controls the Ivorian army and has repeatedly used its arsenal of heavy artillery to attack areas of Abidjan where people voted for his opponent. Security forces are accused of turning a machine gun on a group of unarmed women and lobbing mortars into a market.

UN attack helicopters, acting on a Security Council resolution, this week bombarded six arms depots in Abidjan, including a cache inside the presidential compound. "Obviously they didn't get all of it," said a senior diplomat. "When they came after him, he pulled out more stuff.

"Remember, he has had a long time to prepare for this."

Among the preparations was the choice of where Mr Gbagbo would make his last stand. He is said to be holed up in a tunnel originally built to link the president's home and the adjacent residence of the French ambassador.

Ivory Coast's first president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, built the tunnel so he could take refuge inside the ambassador's residence in the event of a coup, said Ivory Coast expert Christian Bouquet, a professor of political geography.