Power Struggle and Violence in Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun is often considered as Chimamanda Adichie’s Magnum Opus.  It follows the war story of three narrators in the text of varying social and economic class, from Ugwu to Olanna. The story of the Nigerian Civil War is presented historically, right from the independence of Nigeria to the crisis that nearly tore the country apart. The text follows the experiences of the characters slowly, recounting such experiences and tales from one narrator to another.

The power struggle in this text is between different ethnic groups, and this is based on survival and struggle for supremacy. At the point of the independence of the country in the text, there is high expectation and gradual movement of life for Nigerians. As a young country, Nigeria is bedevilled by a lot of problems, and one of the problem is ethnicity and struggle for dominance by these ethnic groups unknowingly. This power struggle for dominance is one of the major factors that lead to the war.  

To understand the perspective of Nigerians during the war, it would be important to examine their thoughts about the Biafrans and the cause of the war. An individual in Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday believes the Biafrans were coerced into the war by Ojukwu as the Nigerian leaders had told them. She states with utmost confidence that, “during the Civil War, the same man who was pushing the Nyamirai to attack Nigeria jumped on a plane and ran away when he saw that his people were defeated. People never learn” (569).

In a war where all the parties concerned were having disagreement about the situation in which peace could be secured in the war, it would be dishonest to dismiss the situation and grievances of Biafrans. Although the beginning point of the power struggle between these groups began way back with the British leadership, the increased intensity of the struggle was after independence and due to the recklessness of the First Republic politicians.  Even foreign characters in the text mentioned that Nigerian “politics was too tribal” (40). Each tribe trying to outdo and overtake the other.

The power struggle and decadence in Nigeria was worsened further by the corrupt nature of the politicians, and how they utilized this ethnic hatred to control the country. Aunty Ifeka laments of the Sarduana after he was killed as this, “the Sardauna was an evil man, ajo mmadu. He hated us. He hated everybody who did not remove their shoes and bow to him. Is he not the one who did not allow our children to go to school?” (513).

In the north where Sardauna was the head of the region and the northern party, he openly showed his disdain for the  Igbo and wouldn’t even allow them to go to school. In a young country where all politicians and citizens should be living in harmony and peace, what is obtained is ethnic hatred and disdain for the other ethic groups. This was one of the factors that led to the breakdown of law and order in the country.

After the coup that the downfall of the former leaders was being examined, Ugwu recounts his perspective and idea about the politicians in the young Nigeria. These politicians were not only inept, they were also quite selfish and brutal in using the ethnic hatred to their own gain. Sometimes, it was not only the politicians, the traditional and religious leaders are included. Ugwu recounts the exploits of the politicians as,

Politicians were not like normal people, they were politicians . He read about them—they paid thugs to beat opponents, they bought land and houses with government money, they imported fleets of long American cars, they paid women to stuff their blouses with false votes. Whenever he drained a pot of boiled beans, he thought of the slimy sink as a politician. (501)

These politicians don’t largely care if the citizens lived or died, or how well they fared. This is the reason why they utilize the ethnic division in the young nation handed over to them. They use the ethnic division to their own advantage, encouraging it and using it to shield their own incompetence and corruption. This is the chief reason why most Nigerian citizens care less of the tragedy of the first coup at the initial time until the remaining politicians began to prey on the ethnicity.

A sample case is the taxi driver that drove Olanna to Arize’s house after the coup and everything had gone down. He, like every commoner in the North, began to have mixed feelings about the coup and gave it ethnic, religious and political undertone. The taxi driver speaking to Olanna said, “but the Sardauna was not killed, madam. He escaped with Allah’s help, and is now in Mecca,” (505). To someone like this taxi driver, executing the Sardauna was sacrilegious, and in this situation where most Igbo politicians were spared, it became an ethnic thing.

For most of the educated  and the middle class, it was a revolution or something closer to that, for the lower economical and social class it was anything the political class told them it was. As captured by the narrator through the coup executioner, the coup was primarily done to salvage the country; however, it was stated to be something else by the political and lower class. A guest in Odenigbo’s living room best captures the purpose of the coup as, “‘this is the end of corruption. This is what we have needed to happen since that general strike,’ one guest said” (495).

Furthermore, it is not only the individuals in the north who began to give ethnic tone to the coup, or in anyway make jest of it. The Igbo were guilty of such as well. The narrator presents the Igbo feeling like that of those rejoicing on the back of the defeat of a system that had held them down. There was also an attempt to ridicule the last situations of the Northern premier; all these emanate as a result of the faulty background built on ethnicity and divisive politics. Every tribe tries to outdo the other, suspicious of the other, leading to breakdown of law and order.

In a situation presented by the narrator, Aunty Ifeka and most Igbo in the north evidently makes jest of the last situation of the premier and other killed leaders in the region as, “‘Our people say that the chorus sounds like mmee-mmee-mmee, the bleating of a goat. They say the Sardauna sounded like that when he was begging them not to kill him” (511).

The result of the mockery and the heavy ethnicity in Nigerian politics is that what was meant to change the country for good turned into a harbour of hatred and violence. The revolutionary coup was no longer a revolution, it became an Igbo coup. Arize in the text speaks of the situation, “‘we hear rumors that they have been doing this in Kaduna and Zaria since the coup; they go out in the streets and start to harass Igbo people because they said the coup was an Igbo coup’” (522).

The violence became a full blown one when the coup perceived to be an Igbo coup got into the wrong side of the mind of other ethnic groups. They began to see the coup in the light of Igbo takeover of the country. From a revolutionary coup meant to heal the country, the country descended into a full blown violence where Igbo were marked out to be eliminated. The first response to the first coup was another coup six months after the first coup, and the narrator presents it as this,

“Mr. Richard, sah! Madam say make you come. There is another coup,” Ikejide said. He looked excited. “Northern officers have taken over. The BBC says they are killing Igbo officers in Kaduna. Nigerian Radio isn’t saying anything.” She spoke too fast. On the radio, the breathless British voice said it was quite extraordinary that a second coup had occurred only six months after the first. (539)

Unlike what happens when there is power struggle between the rulers and followers in any revolution against the injustice of capitalism as proposed by Karl Marx, what happens in this text is the rulers inciting the followers against others. The revolution that happens with some of the followers attacking the rulers and enablers of the failed system is not well handled. The good intentions of the initiators of the revolution is not treated as such.

Violence breeds more violence, and it is no surprise that after the coup, there is a pogrom. The pogrom leads to a devastating war. The Igbo people who had in no way collaborated with the coup executioners suffered the recklessness of the coup plotters. There was too many deaths and suffering with the war. A scenario in the war goes this way,

Ugwu heard the sound just before they cut their cake in the living room, the swift wah-wah-wah roar in the sky. At first it was thunderous, and then it receded for a moment and came back again, louder and swifter. From somewhere close by, chickens began to squawk wildly. Somebody said, “Enemy plane! Air raid!” “Outside!” Master shouted, but some guests were running into the bedroom, screaming, “Jesus! Jesus!” (783)

The power struggle leads many catastrophe into the lives of the people affected by the violence it caused. A war is brought upon the Biafrans, and while the Biafrans see the war as a fight for survival, the Nigerians see it as as their fight to be independent and lord it over the rest of the country. There is no mixed feeling about Biafra at all by Nigerians. They simply detest the declaration of independence of Biafra and wanted it crushed. The hate is as a result of this perceived power struggle between the ethnic groups in Nigeria.

Concluding, there has to be a statement of the fact that even though the two texts wrote about power struggle and violence, they are different forms of it explored in them. These texts do not also approach the subject matter in the same way. For instance, Half of a Yellow Sun represents the subject matter from a more violent perspective of war, whereas Born on a Tuesday approaches from as an insurgency and mere political crises. The end point is the evidence of power struggle and violence in the texts and how the events in them reveals it through the interaction and relations of the characters.

Work Cited

Adichie, Chimamanda. Half of a Yellow Sun. Farafina, 2006.

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