Anthills of the Savannah is a highly acclaimed socio-political novel written by a famous Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, in 1987. Soon after its publication, the novel was praised by the critics and shortlisted for the 1987 Booker Prize for Fiction. Anthills of the Savannah depicts the corrupt political environment of post- independent Nigeria. It addresses the deterioration of the socio-political order after the colonial legacy. It also mirrors the constant struggle by the Nigerian people to overcome the suffering and destitution they suffer at the hands of selfish and corrupt governments. Let’s analyze the summary of Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe.
Beginning of ‘Anthills of the Savannah‘
The novel opens in the fictional West African country named Kangan. This country is currently ruled by a dictator, Sam, who came into power two years ago by a military coup. The overwhelming political unrest in the imaginary landscape of Kangan is represented by three foreign-educated friends: Sam, Chris and Ikem.
The story begins as if in the midst of the action where the cabinet meeting of the Kanganese government is currently proceeding. The reader learns that at the time of Sam’s instalment as ‘His Excellency’ two years ago, he found himself naive on matters of government policy and subsequently assigned his two childhood friends to high-level positions: Chris Oriko became the Minister of Information while Ikem Osodi became the editor of the National Gazette, a famous government-controlled newspaper. Despite the fact that they were educated abroad in the same institution, they are absolutely different in their political leanings and personal temperaments.
The Male Protagonists in Anthills of the Savannah
There are three male protagonists in Anthills of the Savannah. Sam is a stern and egocentric man. He is least concerned with people’s interest and cares only for power and fame. In the course of the novel, he becomes a villainous and power-hungry dictator. Thus not a desirable person to rule the country.
Ikem Versus Chris
Chris and Ikem are antipodes of Sam. Ikem is an art-loving and cultured man. As an editor of the national gazette, he frequently criticizes selfish government policies. He fearlessly vocalizes his opinions regarding the crucial need of reformation at various government levels. Chris, on the other hand, is more rational and calm than Ikem. Often a negotiator between Sam and Ikem, he is the most expedient one.
Though Chris and Ikem initially supported Sam. But witnessing the matters getting worse with the passage of time they reverse their inclinations and begin condemning Sam’s policies.
Sam-A Power Hungry Dictator
Sam becomes more and more uncontrollable and detestable in the course of his rule. His rejection of democratic ideals and desire of becoming the president- for- life further triggers the people’s fury against him. To meet his demands, he conducts a national referendum to confirm the change by the people. But the people of Abazon openly refuse to accept him as a president for the rest of his life. Sam restrained the region’s water access during the hard times of drought in hope that this would make them reconsider their refusal. This stoppage forced the Abazon people to come and beg for mercy. Here another trait of Sam’s personality grabs the reader’s attention and that is his paranoia. In his paranoiac burst, Sam suspects the delegation’s arrival as an intention to trigger a revolt against him actually plotted by someone close to him.
Sam’s growing suspicion of betrayal makes him frenzy and even more menacing. Ikem starts perceiving him to be disorderly and ungovernable and begins to write crusading editorials criticizing Sam’s rationale. Though, Chris also dislikes Sam’s motives, yet he still hopes for the country’s betterment at the hand of His Excellency if he remains in power. At the same time, he also instructs Ikem to act prudently and pacify his tone.
The Female Protagonists in Anthills of the Savannah
Meanwhile, the female characters of the novel: Beatrice as Chris’ fiancée, and Elewa as Ikem’s girlfriend grab the reader’s attention. Both these women are completely different from each other regarding their social status and education. But they still possess an important role in the lives of these men. Elewa is an uneducated girl and belongs to the lower middle class of the society. She works in a store and is soon going to be the mother of Ikem’s child. Chris’ fiancée, on the other hand, is a well-educated woman. She holds a reputable position as the Senior Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Finance. Beatrice is also Ikem’s childhood friend.
Because of her association altogether with Chris, Ikem and Sam, Beatrice is fully aware of the issues occurring inside as well as outside the government. This forces her to consider another perspective of the current situation. She convinces both Chris and Ikem to reshape their strategy regarding His Excellency’s motives.
Chris’ expectation of some positive endeavor from Sam’s side comes to an end with his order to terminate Ikem’s post as the editor-in-chief as his paranoia constantly triggers him to believe in Ikem’s involvement in the rebellion against him by Abazon people. Since Chris is more vigilant of the circumstances than Sam, he refuses to obey His Excellency’s order and tries to convince him in Ikem’s favor. But Sam still terminates Ikem despite Chris’ defiance over the matter.
In response, Ikem acts foolishly and, in his speech to university students, harshly criticizes the dictator’s policies by cracking a joke about a dictator issuing the order of minting new coins with his head on them. Sam’s supporters manipulate this joke by claiming that Ikem intends to have the president beheaded. As a result of this fake propaganda against Ikem, Sam issues the order of Ikem’s arrest and assassination. This incident serves as the turning point of Chris’ life. Ikem’s murder finally opens his eyes to the corrupt nature of the regime he is serving.
Chris’s Realization of Sam’s True Nature
Chris finally realizes that Sam has become frantic. His unquenchable thirst for power has made him inhuman and merciless. He has become an uncontrollable devil who is not going to stop at any cost. Chris summons the international press media, unveils Sam’s true self as a dictator along with the threat the regime would bear if he is going to rule further and subsequently gets out of the sight by keeping himself underground with the help of Emmanuel who is Ikem’s former student and supporter of Chris. Later on, both of them managed to escape the city and headed towards Abazon by bus. Chris’ hiding further infuriates Sam who now calls for a manhunt with the order to arrest the person as well who tries to assist him or knows anything about him.
Chris’s journey to Abazon gives him a chance of reunion. He connects himself with his roots forgotten by him long ago. He witnesses the trouble people are facing here as a result of Sam’s autocratic reign. In the meantime, his fellow Emmanuel meets Adamma, who is a university student, and develops fondness for her. All of a sudden, a befuddled mob halts their bus. Chris learns that they are celebrating the death of Sam who is assassinated and his regime has been taken over by another coup. In the mixture of festivity and chaos prevailing on the streets, Chris notices that Adamma is being captured by a drunken soldier to be molested. He rushes to save her but the soldier kills him on the spot.
After hearing the tragic news of Chris’ death by Emmanuel and Adamma, Beatrice finds herself miserable. Still she struggles to overcome her grief and also Elewa’s who has given birth to Ikem’s daughter after his barbaric murder. She comes forward as a leader and holds a naming ceremony for the baby girl, a ritual only performed by the men of the society. She breaks the customary cycle and initiates a new beginning by naming the child as “Amaechina,” which is actually a masculine name meaning, “May the Path Never Close.” This is symbolic of the constant struggle by the African people with the hope to live in peace and harmony.
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