Wole Soyinka is a monument of English-speaking African literature, an essential figure in African literature, always present, including on the political scene. When the 1986 Nobel Prize winner for literature speaks, his writings are read and his words are listened to. A brilliant mind, he is one of the most talented African novelists, playwrights, poets and essayists of his generation.
Among his many publications, there is Les Interprètes. It is a highly intense fiction which shows the disenchantment of intellectuals and an entire generation with what Nigeria became after its independence. He mixes avant-garde writing and Yoruba myth. Novels, plays, poems, essays constitute the great work of Wole Soyinka. That said, he also excelled in autobiographies like Aké, the Years of Childhood, a work of great sensitivity where he narrates the Nigeria of his childhood and his memories as a young adolescent.
In 1972, he recounts a painful episode of his life in This Man is Dead. He talks about an incarceration which caused a trauma which he returned to in 2006 in a 600-page autobiography of maturity, You Must Leave at Dawn. A work of memory on the literary mode where he evokes his writings, his political experiences, his commitments. He remembers his setbacks with the multiple Nigerian dictatorships he has always fought.
His life is not that of a writer withdrawn into his ivory tower. He writes about his heightened sense of what a free person should be in relation to ideas and actions. Wole Soyinka speaks little about himself because he reveals nothing about his family intimacy, for example. He does not mention his wife or his children and if he does, it is in relation to the threat that weighed on them during his arrest and what they endured during his incarceration. He does not describe his daily life and does not provide any details about his social or friendly relationships. Far from navel-gazing writing, he explains his artistic, social and political commitment.
Justice remains the key word in his works and fairness is the common thread. The construction of his texts is never chronological, including his autobiography where reflection prevails over linear narrative.
Linked to the affairs of the city, his personal history is closely intertwined with that of his country and his fight for democracy and justice prevails in his colorful writings where Yoruba myths hold a large place. The confiscation of power by an oligarchy at the expense of the people is central to his thoughts. His commitment to a democratic Nigeria and his refusal of the Biafra War led to his being imprisoned without trial from 1967 to 1969.
Like Chinua Achebe and Christopher Okigbo, Wole Soyinka took a stand against this fratricidal war in 1967, against General Gowon, which nearly cost him his life. He places in context his denunciations of the Nigerian military who take power by force and blood. He describes his struggle for democracy and his incredible adventures during his escape into the bush and the villages, on the border of Nigeria and Togo. Intimidation, death threats, arrests, even assassinations, were the lot of innocent people.
Given the international recognition he enjoys, Wole Soyinka could have enjoyed a comfortable life while dealing with the despotic regimes which have succeeded one another in Nigeria and which have always wanted to recover him to legitimize their takeover. The reality is that the novelist never stopped fighting dictators, hence the imprisonments and exile. He reveals that the Nigerian secret services never let go of him, even monitoring him abroad, even if he was protected in his host countries such as Great Britain or France. He recounts the painful moments such as the destabilization attempts he suffered, the multiple slanderous campaigns like that of this illegitimate daughter, created from scratch by the secret services, who demanded recognition of paternity, which disrupted his family life. , without forgetting the supposed crimes committed in Nigeria that were attributed to him to justify his exile and therefore “smear” him.
Wole Soyinka writes that all of this “dug a corrosive hole into the innermost core” of his being. You must leave at dawn therefore reveals a complex, deep, sincere writer. His inner world allowed him to create plays, novels, poems, to denounce the despots responsible for thousands of deaths such as the assassination of the famous poet Ken Saro-Wiwa to whom he pays homage by insisting on the fact that both were fighting the same fight. And he reports the words of Nelson Mandela on this tragedy, he who did everything to save the Ogoni poet from hanging: “General Sani Abacha is sitting on a volcano, and I will make sure that this volcano explodes. »
What is striking in this long autobiography which traces the life of a committed intellectual is the number of times the terms “prison” and “confinement” are used. Indeed, physical imprisonment, with all that this implies in terms of abuse, torture, and silencing, remains the only response of those who took power after the departure of the colonizers.
Wole Soyinka evokes the psychological confinement of intellectuals who defend freedom of expression and who demand a fair sharing of power, a sharing based on democratic elections. The response to these demands is the physical elimination or exile of intellectuals, journalists, novelists, poets who denounce the lack of democracy in Africa. Of this, Wole Soyinka writes: “Even when the choice is fully voluntary, exile sinks into you like a palpable space of mourning. »
A writer's life can be mundane, but that of Wole Soyinka is not. He puts all his talent as a creator and artist at the service of Nigeria and Africa, as he says in This Man Is Dead: “Man continues to die in all those who remain silent in the face of tyranny. » Through exceptional writing and unwavering commitment, he does what he says. Shy in public, he transforms into a Yoruba god, Ogun, when he defends just causes. His intense life and the way in which it has nourished his work are all reasons to discover him but also to have him discovered.
*Benaouda Lebdai is a university professor of colonial and postcolonial African literature.