Yet in an interview a few years after independence, the same Achebe who had highlighted colonialism’s disruptive nature stated: “I am not one of those who would say Africa has gained nothing at all during the colonial period…this is ridiculous – we have gained a lot. But unfortunately, when two cultures meet . . . what happens is that some of the worst elements of the old are retained and some of the worst of the new are added.”
Intellectuals such as Achebe clearly recognised the identity crisis colonialism triggered. They also knew about British atrocities such as the looting and destruction of the ancient Benin Kingdom in southern Nigeria, among others. Yet on the other hand, Achebe believed that Africa benefited from the introduction of Western education, technology and medicine, as well as liberal European ideals such as “democracy” and “equality”, which had not necessarily been popular beforehand.
There have been understandable pressures on African anti-colonialists that have led to a narrative equally reductive and simplistic, if not as morally egregious, as the colonial justifications for ‘civilising the savages’. But history is nothing if not complex and nuanced argues Remi Adekoya at Unherd: