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Chinua Achebe: Anthills of the Savannah

Achebe turns to straight satire for this novel and it is easy to see where his satire his aimed. The novel is set in the fictitious African country of Kangan, primarily in its capital of Bassa, clearly based on Nigeria and Lagos. The story concerns three friends who have become successful. At the start of the novel, Sam has recently been elected Dictator for Life of Kangan, with only one state – Abazon – not voting in favour of him. This is presumably based on Biafra. Sam had gone to Sandhurst, made his way up the ranks and then taken over the country. The other two friends from their youth are Chris Oriko and Ikem Osodi. Chris is the High Commissioner for Information (high commissioner is like a minister). It is clear that the cabinet posts have little power and Chris is keenly aware of this. He had previously been editor of the main newspaper, the National Gazette, but this post had now been taken by Ikem Osodi. Chris more or less toes the line. Ikem does not, writing critical editorials. Interestingly enough none of the three is or ever has been married. Chris is having an affair with Beatrice (known as BB), a senior civil servant and a woman who had been the first African woman to obtain first class honours in a British university. Ikem is having an affair with Elewa, a market woman.

The novel starts with what seems like a demonstration arriving at the palace gates, just as a cabinet session is ending. The cabinet is ordered to remain seated, while Sam investigates. It seems to be a mass (and illegal) demonstration from the people of Abazon, who are suffering from considerable drought. (It later turns out to be a delegation of six people but supported by Abazon people living in Bassa, particularly the taxi drivers.) From there, events take on a life of their own. Ikem continues to write editorials criticising the government and, when he goes to visit the delegation in their hotel, he is abducted by soldiers and”killed while trying to escape”. Chris realises that he, too, better hide, which he does, in a series of safe houses. But, as he learns through an anonymous person who contacts Beatrice, he is not safe in Bassa and he, Beatrice, Elewa and the leader of the student movement, which has also been targeted, flee to Abazon, using buses. It all goes horribly wrong and all three friends end up dead at the end.

While all of this has been going on, we have also been following the various relationships, particularly the Ikem-Elewa and Chris-Beatrice relationships, the former being quite vocal, the latter very low-key. But, while Achebe is interested in the relationships, his main aim is clearly to show the sorry state of affairs in his country and how violence and dictatorship are clearly not going to be the solution. But maybe the women are the ones to solve the problem, seems to be his conclusion.

Publishing history

First published 1988 by Anchor Books