The Author of House for Mr. Biswas, Sir V. S. Naipaul has died, will Africa Mourn?

By Alexander Opicho
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Sir V. S. Naipaul

When Wole Soyinka won the literature Nobel Prize in 1986 V. S. Naipaul condemned the Swedish academy for ‘urinating on literature’ by giving the world’s most covetous literature Prize to a black person. Naipaul condemned the Swedish academy for recognizing the black skin, according to Naipaul nothing good can come out of a black person andhence a black person is too savage to write literatureto a station of getting the Nobel recognition. According to Paul Theroux, a Naipaul biographer, Naipaul was only sardonic against Soyinka as a black person, but not as a writer. Naipaul was not a stranger to black people; he was born in Trinidad-a country whose half of its population is made up of black people, one of them being the late black Poet,Derek Alton Walcott. Naipaul’s wife is a South Indian, born and grew up in Pangani estate in Nairobi, Kenya; Naipaul was also once a writer in residence and a lecturer at Makerere University for four years from 1961 to 1964.Where Naipaul got the visceral energy to dismiss Wole Soyinka’s bagging of the literature Nobel Prize can not miss to be counter-dismissed as intellectual vulgarity of the last century. Naipaul was not only wry about African literary efforts, he was the same to women efforts in literature; in an interview held in 2011 with the Royal Geographic society, Naipaul authoritatively declared that there was no woman in the world that could write as he did. Anyway, nowNaipaul has died, we the lovers of literature team to say sorry to his blood and literary family, his friends and the British society in general, it has lost a powerful writer for the empire.

To be more exact, Naipaul was a living heart of darkness against Africa. Further examples venture to prove this premise; BetweenMarch 2008 to September 2009, V. S. Naipaul was sponsored by a group of publishers in the UK to walk across Africa to carry out a cultural research on the then current African believe system. He went to Uganda, Nigeria, Gabon, IvoryCoast, Ghana and then South Africa. Through these travels he observed the people he met in these respective countries and then collected data which he used later on to write a travelogue narrating the believe systems he encountered in the above African countries, he published it in 2010 with Picador publishers under the title the Masque of Africa. It is a soft cover of 324 pages retailing online at one thousand Kenya shillings. The style of writing in this book is so good, simple and captivating, apart from the overt evidence of the influence of Joseph Conrad on the author, which made the author to sympathize though pejoratively, with how Africans were able to live with memories of their history of slavery, human sacrifice and domestic political brutality.

But above all is Naipaul’s comment that even apartheid was an intellectual blessing to the writers from South Africa the same way colonialism wasto the entire Africa, because all writers from South Africa have been not able to write about any other theme other than racism as a political ideology of apartheid. It is thus; out of these literary flaps by Naipaul that I am captivated into mourning him by writing this article to inform his readers that historical experience of apartheid and colonialism was not intellectual blessing to African writers.

Colonialism and Apartheid as historical experiences are the highest stage of evils that go with power and politics; they were merely Europeanbrutalities on Africa based on the failure to understand the divinity of difference in skin color. The same cannot be a blessing. Similarly not all Africans write about apartheid and colonialism, though it is agreeable that substantial percentage of writers from Africa have dealt with anti-colonial and post-colonial themes in their writings, this does not mean that colonialism and racism was a blessing, the two complement each other as a system of social brutality to be condemned by all institutions of human civilization, literature is one of them.

It is also unfortunate that when in South Africa V S Naipaul only made an effort to read the works of Riana Malan, and also visited Herman Bossman,a pro-apartheid writer. This limited socialization could not give Naipaul the right social exposure to understand politics, racism and believe system in South Africa. It is indicated in the Masque of Africa that while in South Africa Naipaul did not visit Nadine Gordimer, J M Coatzee, not even read S P Platje, Alex La Guma or Dennis Brutus. Reasons for this deliberate self-limitation is not given, but had Naipaul visited any public library he would have read Masizi Kunene’s Decades of Anthem and also Shaka the Zulu he would have discovered that Africa is extensively rich in heritages and thus it does not need colonialism and apartheid for it to participate in literature and other artistic socializations. Most discouraging is when Naipaul met Nomsamo Winiefred Madisekela Mandela, instead of focusing on her explanation of the revolutionary experience that patriotic South Africans like Joe Slovo, Walter Sisulu, AlbertLuthuli, OliverTambo, and many others went through while fighting apartheid, Naipaul was thrilled with a very visceral concern that Winnie Mandela was so beautiful and yet she did not finish her degree course in law.

Most Conradian in the Masque of Africa is Naipaul’s black hearted and dark hearted statement that while in West Africa he noticed that Africans eat everything apart from the creatures they hold as a totem. Naipaul argues that Africans eat cats, bats, dogs, snakes, honey-batchers, moles, ants, hedge-hogs, porcupines, snails and any other creature as long it is not a tribal totem. How so unfortunate is Naipaul’s argument that Ebola in Ivory coast and Gabon is a life-style disease caused by exposure to wild primates like apes and habitual eating of bush meat and fruit bats by people of Ivory coast which Naipaul describes in the Masque of Africa as children of the forest.

Human sacrifice and cannibalism has never been part of African culture. Surprisingly, Naipaul accuses the Baganda Kingdom and the Yoruba kingdom as well as their respective societies thatthey regularly sacrifice human beingsup to as late as 2010. He argues that the Baganda sacrifice human beings at the shrines of Kabaka which he described as the tombs of Kasubi , and that the Yoruba sacrifice human beings to the Oni of Ife.How Naipaul collected this data is not convincing, he used taxi drivers and hotel room keepers.

While in Uganda Naipaul was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to meet Dr. Susan Nalukuwa Kyguli.He made her in Kampala, but he derisively dismisses Dr Kyguli as a delicate young lady , trained as a poet in London and only frustrated by the Experience of the memories of military brutality in the Luweero Triagle in which her grandfather and her father were captured away and she is not sure if they were killed in the ritual of human sacrifice or not. Naipaul is wrong Dr. Kyguli I know is a polished literary scholar, writer and self-confident person; she does not have any time for the things Naipaul imposed on her.

If I was Naipaul, I could not visit Yoruba-land only to end up not visiting Wole Soyinka. The complexity of Yoruba’s believes system can be well understood by talking to the elderly and the well researched, Nigeria, and Yoruba-land in particular is full of such type of persons. But Naipaul focused on taxi drivers and hotel keepers in the slums of Lagos. This was an outright bias that out-rightly gravitates into a distorted research exercise. This was supposed to be avoided by the Nobel Laureate in the stature of Naipaul. It is forgivable to understand that Naipaul wanted to write this book in the very same way Joseph Conrad did in the Heart of Darkness, but one does not need to falsify the facts in order to write like Conrad.

I want to assure you my dear readers that treasure Naipaul’s book that this is not a spurn of his literary efforts nor a riposte fuelled by a motivation to establish grains of ideological jejune in Naipaul’s literary career. Kudos to Naipaul, the fallen hero of literature and for the service he did to literature, categorically for the efforts he displayed in his bookHouse for Mr. Biswas.

Today my concern is to mourn Naipaul by mentioning how he felt about Africans and Muslims. The feelings he expressed against Islam in his book is Among the Believers (1981)which also has a subtitle, An Islamic Journey. This is a wonderful book, burning with facts and intellectual audacity beyond match. However, Part two of the book has a second chapter under the title Karachi Phantasmagoria. In which Naipaul dealt with international politics of the time as influenced by the contemporary ideologies; communism, capitalism, Islam and Christianity. He picked Iran and Pakistan as geographical back-grounds for this chapter, to assess the intellectual feasibility of Islam as political ideology capable to form a state or not. Unfortunately, Naipaul was forced by the forces of the last century to make deliberate and false conclusion that Islam is devoid of any political praxis. He dismissed it as only emotional, fanciful and limited to the emotions of religious neurosis but not fit to be tested as an ideology to form the state the way Marxism formed the Soviet Union and capitalism formed America. He dismissed the then inception of the young Islamic state of Pakistan as a Karachi Phantasmagoria only waiting to be liberated from its social and political mire through obvious advent of communism. Naipaul was wrong, he intellectually goofed.

I similarly subscribe to socialist ideology of politics and government just as the late Naipaul did. But my intellectual leeway permits me to have a conviction that any type and form of government can work as long as there is no external and internal conspiracy. Capitalism has worked not because it is ideologically perfect but because it has survived betrayal.Socialism worked in Russia and still working in many other political civilizations not because of any inherent superiority in its ideology, I tell you it is onlylimited to the barbs of betrayal and conspiracy thrown against it. Islam has been properly battle-tested by time and space; it has proved that it works politically. Evidently, more than ten countries in the Northern part of Africa have Islamic governments, just as Pakistan, Turkey and very many other countries in the Arabic emirates do. What I mean is that Islam as a political ideology has established and maintained more states than socialism. What has made Islam to achieve all these monumental political results is the inherent divine humility as vouchsafed by Quranic teachings asa basis of the Islamic state or society or community. Contrastingly, socialism as a political ideology has been failing because of its inherent over-secularism as vouchsafed by the Marxist ideology of the state. A blend of this experience must calcify into a political crucible that for one to reign he or she must accept God.

When Tony Blair argued that a clash between Islam and the West was a clash about civilization, he technically erred just as Naipaul did, perhaps due to similar back-grounds of strong Anglicism in their intellectual upbringing. The clash between Political-Islam and Western Capitalism is the clash between two giant civilizations of the world, a fact which has to be humbly accepted by respecting a political fact that the West has no moral duty to dictate how a government must look like in Iraq or in Botswana, it can be Monarchy or a Quranic theocracy as long as it has been accepted by the majority of the citizens. This is practical and modern perspectives of political nationalism. Evidently, this type of authenticity in politics wasrecently attested through the most informed collective and socialized democratic actions of Brexit in British politics and also in the election of Donald Trump to be the potus.

It is understood that the mid of last century was the era of political under-estimation of religion. This was the era in which a Marxist statement that religion is the opium of the poor was on fashion among revolutionary intellectuals. The capitalist world had equally given respect to science than religion; African intellectuals like Wole Soyinka had already mistaken religion as man’s worst invention only hiding behind the cloak of faith as its alibi to be justified in the worship of those in power.Okot P’ Bitek in his Artist the Ruler had already expressed his intellectual doubt and skepticism about the cadaver of Jesus saving the whole world and a socially inferior person like Muhammad who married a woman (a widow) twice his age to be the center of worship in form of Islam. This was also the era of racial misunderstanding even among the literary luminaries like Jagjit Singh in his play Sweet Scum of Freedomaccused Africans politicians of being dictators and African women being prostitutesonly prayingfor the time to have an Indian client for a fair pay. Similarly, Salman Rushdie with his vintage intellectual sarcasm about Prophet Muhammad and the seminal deficiency of the Quran, or Yan Martel and his derogatory position about spiritual worthiness of Muslim prayer in his book Life of Pi were only struggling to achieve intellectual culling of religion from the feasible realm of politics. That was that.

All these intellectual dissonance among those influenced by European social thought was not only limited to the last century it goes far back, even Samuel Taylor Coleridge came up with the ideology of social system which wanted social comfort for each and every human being, he called itpantisocracy, but in sharp contrast he dejected his wife and also his poetry expressed negative feelings about Kublai Khan.

V S Naipaul as a socialist ideologue,I believe he was intellectual duty bound to evolve and revolutionize his literary stamina against a visceral ignorance that only one type of ideology is fit to form the state. World politics must be understood in terms of political contingency, a model or an approach where different societies work well with different forms of government.The way net-work governance of tribal Chiefdoms have been working in Somalia, Council of presidents in Norway and Sweden, Bicameralism in America and Britain, Life presidency in Rwanda under Paul Kagame or socialism in Cuba and socialist-capitalism in China. Such practical experiences are redolent of Karl Marx who authoritatively pointed out that colonialism was a blessing to Africa and Indians, the same Karl Marx who died fighting for the freedom of the oppressed. At the sentimental level Karl Marx was wrong, but technically Karl Marx can be justified as he was only observing the social fact of political contingency. Thus Naipaul goofed in dismissing Islamic experiment with politics.

V S Naipaul

A young reader of this essay can possibly ask that how comes Naipaul was an Indian born in Trinidad and yet he is praised a British writer, knighted by the Queen. The answer is that he was not alone in this category. The power to write among the British died with the death of colonialism. This is why Britain adopted writers like Ben Okri, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Evarest Bernadine, V S Naipaul and his brother, Equaino Olaoudah and the likes of Joseph Conrad only package them to the world as British writers.

Alexander Opicho writes From-Lodwar, Kenya - [email protected]