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Achebe: Fighting corruption with fame

Chinua Achebe, Nigerian-born novelist and poet, turned down a national honor over the failings of his nation.Associated Press

The revered Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe says there is a moral obligation “not to ally oneself with power against the powerless.’’ The author of the 1958 novel “Things Fall Apart’’ recently lived up to his words once again by rejecting one of his nation’s highest civilian honors for the second time in seven years as a protest against public corruption. It’s an inspiring example of how an individual can use his fame to hold governments accountable.

Achebe, 80 and currently teaching at Brown University in Providence, first rejected the award from President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2004, citing the nation’s insecurity and corruption and calling his home state a “bankrupt and lawless fiefdom.’’ This time he turned it down from the new president, Goodluck Jonathan, despite the latter’s pledged reforms and the warm reception he received from the White House in June.


Achebe said he rejected the award again because the problems “have not been addressed, let alone solved.’’ Perhaps Nigeria is indeed on a more promising track of modernization under Jonathan, but Achebe’s “show-me’’ attitude is one voice attempting to keep the powerful honest. Achebe says the purpose of the writer is to “give headaches.’’ At 80, Achebe is still hoping his headaches prod Nigeria toward reform.