illustrated portrait of Igbo Nigerian author Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe

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What are some critical notes on Chinua Achebe's There Was a Country?

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In this nonfiction account, renowned novelist Chinua Achebe looks back more than four decades at the civil war that tore apart his homeland, Nigeria, in the 1960s. People in the country’s eastern region declared independence, creating the new nation of Biafra. Subtitled A Personal History of Biafra, Achebe’s account explores the reasons behind the independence movement, the terrible repression by the Nigerian government and paramilitary forces, and the later reintegration of the Biafran republic into Nigeria. Achebe’s personal involvement in the story stems in part from his Igbo tribal and ethnic identity, as the Igbo were the primary group involved in creating Biafra.

The West African territories that were ruled as British colonies and protectorates from about 1800 became the independent republic of Nigeria in 1960. The dominant indigenous groups in the territory were the Hausa and Fulani to the north (which constituted about 80 percent of the territory), the Yoruba in the west, and the Igbo in the east. The underrepresentation of and discrimination against the minority ethnicities was one primary reason behind secession.

Achebe’s narrative includes factual information about the horrors of the war, which are widely acknowledged to have included numerous atrocities committed by the Nigerian forces, including massacres and starvation. He is upfront about taking a committed stance. He also connects the data and broader observations to his own and his family’s stories, including their conversion to Christianity—the faith in which he was raised—and his friendships with some prominent figures in Biafran secession.

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It is important to note that There Was a Country is an autobiographical account written by Chinua Achebe. Achebe writes a factual and historical account of his childhood and homeland and a personal account of his native Biafra, a western African state that started the Nigerian Civil War in an attempt to separate from Nigeria. The Biafran War (also known as the Nigerian Civil War) started in 1967 and lasted for three years, until 1970. It was a conflict between the Nigerian government and the secessionist state of Biafra and its people. The Republic of Biafra was led by Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu of the Igbo tribe seven years after Nigeria became independent. As the Nigerian government blocked off borders, trade into the towns ceased, and many of the Igbo people starved to death. It was estimated that the final death toll reached up to three million people. Achebe combines his firsthand experience and forty years of research on those years of political turmoil and genocide. Achebe documents a history that didn't garner much media coverage until after the war had ended.

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