A Wreath for Udomo

by Peter Abrahams

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 487

The novel traces the political rise and fall of Michael Udomo, the inspiring liberator of the (fictitious) nation of Panafrica from British subjugation. Ironically, his ascendancy to power begins in London, the very capital of the British empire, where he arrives a bedraggled, hungry doctoral candidate after studies in Canada and Europe.

Udomo’s education impels him to reject the heavy-handed rule of his colonizers, who would have him‘shine as another “new type of African, consciously and appreciatively learning the art of Western civilized government from his British mentors.” Thus, arriving in London as a veteran student agitator, Udomo assists in organizing a Panafrican nationalist magazine, the Liberator, with four other like-minded Africans: Thomas Lanwood, David Mhendi, Paul Mabi, and Richard Adebhoy. In addition, he becomes an engaging speaker for Africa Freedom Group, Panafrica’s fledgling revolutionary committee.

Despite temptations to settle in southern France and rear a family with his white mistress, Lois Barlow, Udomo hurries back to Queenstown, Panafrica’s seaside capital, after Adebhoy has secured enough supporters to finance a newspaper’s production. He promptly establishes the Queenstown Post in a sparsely furnished, ramshackle office. Unfortunately, his plans to foment a dockworkers’ strike are discouraged by the paper’s self-serving backers, who are using the publication to curry favors from Dr. T. T. S. Endura, the secretary of the Council of Chiefs and Elders. Rather than heed his patrons’ threats and print lies, he defiantly drafts what comes to be known by his countrymen as “the call,” a passionate challenge to Panafricans to initiate a full-scale revolution. After Udomo is imprisoned by British security police and his incendiary editions confiscated, an underground network of compatriots organizes clandestine readings of the seditious manifesto, circulates proliberation leaflets, and recruits thousands into its banned Africa Freedom Party. Finally, when even the efforts of Endura, a British collaborator, have failed to undermine the resistance, the all-white Executive Council allows elections in which Udomo’s party carries a sweeping majority.

As the first African prime minister of his country, Udomo must direct its transformation into an industrialized economy capable of harnessing water for power and mining its rich mineral deposits. Reluctantly, with the added opposition of key party members, he adopts a conciliatory policy of working with European imperialists whenever their money and expertise can advance Panafrica’s interests. This decision exacts its costliest toll when he betrays his dear friend Mhendi, who is leading a guerrilla war in neighboring Pluralia, in exchange for assistance from the racist white colonizers of that land. Thereafter, two of his own administrators, Adebhoy and the merchant woman Selina, accuse him of allowing whites to lord over the Africans and reap the rewards of black labor. Though Udomo views the tribalism promulgated by that faction as an impediment to Panafrican progress, ultimately he is defeated by it. Two painted, entranced dancers assassinate him as talking drums in the distance urge them on.

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