Nigerian novelist and literary icon, Chinua Achebe, was born this week in 1930. Achebe’s literary career spanned through works such as Things Fall Apart (1958), Arrow of God (1964), No Longer at Ease (1960), Anthills of the Savannah (1987), and other incredible works of fiction. His career also produced remarkable works of non-fiction such as The Trouble with Nigeria (1983) and There Was a Country (2012).
In a review commemorating forty years since the publication of The Trouble with Nigeria, Ernest Nweke explains that in this book, Achebe highlights bad leadership as the principal problem of post-independence Nigeria. What makes this book stand out after all this time is its boldness in speaking truth to power.
In this curated recommendation, we have compiled a list of seven books to read after The Trouble with Nigeria. Our book recommendations delve into themes of bad leadership, corruption, and other socio-political issues across African countries such as Nigeria, Rwanda, Ghana, Senegal, and Kenya.
For our recommendations, read on.
THE BEAUTYFUL ONES ARE NOT YET BORN
Author: AYI KWEI ARMAH
The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born is the novel that catapulted Ayi Kwei Armah into the limelight. In this novel, a railway freight clerk in Ghana attempts to resist the pressures that drive him toward corruption in both his family and his country. This novel serves as a satirical critique of Ghanaian society during Kwame Nkrumah’s regime and the period immediately following independence in the 1960s. With this book, Armah aimed to make a political statement, as 11 years after Ghana’s independence, the initial joy of freedom had given way to a sense of hopelessness and widespread corruption.
WAITING FOR AN ANGEL
AUTHOR: HELON HABILA
Lomba is a young journalist living under military rule in Lagos, Nigeria. His roommate is brutally attacked by soldiers; his first love is forced to marry a wealthy old man; and his neighbors on Poverty Street are planning a demonstration bound to incite riot and lead to arrests. Lomba can no longer bury his head in the sand.
Helon Habila’s captivating debut novel is set during the military rule of General Sani Abacha, exploring the life of Lomba who is imprisoned for fabricating ‘lies’ against the government.
Waiting for an Angel opens a window onto a world that is, in some ways, familiar—with its sensuously depicted streets, student life, and vibrant local characters—yet is ruled by one of the world’s most corrupt and oppressive regimes, a scandal that ultimately drives Lomba to take a risk in the name of something greater than himself. Habila captures the energy, sensitivity, despair, and stubborn hope of a new African generation.
THE HAVOC OF CHOICE
AUTHOR: WANJIRU KOINANGE
Kavata has lived a life entrapped by her father’s legacy of corruption and political intrigue. These shadows threaten to engulf her family when her husband chooses to run for office. Kavata devises an escape plan. Following the post-election unrest in Kenya, Kavata and her family must navigate a terrain of widespread confusion, desperate need, and heartbreaking loss in order to reunite. In the setting of one family and the diverse experiences of class and clan they represent, Wanjiru Koinange investigates the long-lasting impacts of colonization and corruption in Kenya.
ALL YOUR CHILDREN, SCATTERED
AUTHOR: BEATA UMUBYEYI MAIRESSE
Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse’s debut novel follows three generations torn apart by the Rwandan genocide as they try to reconnect, rebuild broken connections, and find their place in today’s world. In this book, Blanche returns to Rwanda after building a life in Bordeaux with her husband and young son, Stokely. Reuniting with her mother, Immaculata, old wounds are reopened for both mother and daughter, while Stokely, caught between two countries, tries to understand where he comes from and where he belongs. Mairesse’s novel also recognizes the culpability of the colonial administration that fueled division in Rwanda by classifying people according to ethnicity. The book is translated by Alison Anderson.
AUTHOR: OUSMANE SEMBÈNE
Xala is a 1973 novel by Ousmane Sembène, later translated and published in English in 1976 as part of the Heinemann African Writers Series. It revolves around El Hadji Abdou Kader Beye, a businessman-polygamist struck by impotence on the night of his wedding to his third wife. Sembène’s book is a satirical novel that critiques post-colonial Senegal, taking a stab at French colonialism and its aftermath, particularly targeting native Senegalese ‘puppet businessmen’ who continue to take economic advantage of their fellow countrymen. During this period, the people of Senegal struggle to attain key positions in society due to the French stronghold, a legacy from colonial times. The book also explores the tug-of-war over the official language of the country—whether French or Wolof.
AUTHOR: WOLE SOYINKA
A member of the unique generation of African writers and intellectuals who came of age in the last days of colonialism, Wole Soyinka has witnessed the promise of independence and lived through post-colonial failure. In this book, Soyinka deeply comprehends the pressing problems of Africa, and as an irrepressible essayist and a staunch critic of oppressive regimes, he unhesitatingly speaks out. This book offers a wide-ranging inquiry into Africa’s culture, religion, history, imagination, and identity.
Fully grasping the extent of Africa’s most challenging issues, Soyinka nevertheless remains hopeful. He asks hard questions about racial attitudes, inter-ethnic and religious violence, the viability of nations whose boundaries were laid out by outsiders, African identity on the continent, and among displaced Africans, and more.
PETALS OF BLOOD
AUTHOR: NGŨGĨ WA THIONG’O
The murder of three African directors of a foreign-owned brewery sets the scene for this hard-hitting novel about disillusionment in independent Kenya. On the surface, Petals of Blood is a suspenseful investigation into a spectacular triple murder in upcountry Kenya. Yet, as the intertwined stories of the four suspects unfold, a devastating picture emerges of post-colonial Kenya, where frustrated people feel their leaders have failed them time after time. In this novel, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o addresses political and social issues. First published in 1977, the novel was so explosive that he was imprisoned without charges by the Kenyan government.