Welcome to Scribd, the world's digital library. Read, publish, and share books and documents. See more
Download
Standard view
Full view
of .
Look up keyword
Like this
1Activity
0 of .
Results for:
No results containing your search query
P. 1
Standing Before History

Standing Before History

Ratings: (0)|Views: 21|Likes:
Published by Redza
Later this month, Royal Dutch Shell goes to court on charges of involvement in the execution of the iconic Nigerian writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa fourteen years ago. His son, Ken Wiwa, Jr., and bestselling novelist Richard North Patterson discuss Saro-Wiwa’s legacy, Nigeria now, and the upcoming landmark trial.
http://www.guernicamag.com/interviews/1023/standing_before_history/
Later this month, Royal Dutch Shell goes to court on charges of involvement in the execution of the iconic Nigerian writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa fourteen years ago. His son, Ken Wiwa, Jr., and bestselling novelist Richard North Patterson discuss Saro-Wiwa’s legacy, Nigeria now, and the upcoming landmark trial.
http://www.guernicamag.com/interviews/1023/standing_before_history/

More info:

Published by: Redza on May 15, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

Availability:

Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less

06/14/2009

pdf

text

original

 
Published in May 2009 for 
Guernica Magazine.
http://www.guernicamag.com/interviews/1023/standing_before_history/
Standing Before History
Ken Wiwa, Jr., and Richard North Patterson in conversation | May 2009
Later this month, Royal Dutch Shell goes to court on charges of involvement in the execution of the iconic Nigerian writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa fourteen years ago. His son, Ken Wiwa, Jr., and bestselling novelist Richard NorthPatterson discuss Saro-Wiwa’s legacy, Nigeria now, and the upcoming landmark trial.
Photo byDan EcksteinFourteen years after the popular Nigerian writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other environmental andhuman rights activists were executed on what many consider trumped-up murder charges, Ken Wiwa, Jr., and his family will get their day in court. On May 26, the Wiwa family’s lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell, whom they charge played a major role in Saro-Wiwa’sdeath, goes to trial in federal court in Manhattan. What follows is a transcript of the PEN World Voices event, “Standing BeforeHistory: Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa,” co-sponsored by
Guernica
, that took place at the CUNY Graduate Center on Saturday,May 2. Wiwa, Jr., a writer who currently serves as a Special Assistant on International Affairs to the president of Nigeria, UmaruMusa Yar’Adua, and Richard North Patterson, whose latest novelEclipsetakes much of its subject matter from the Saro-Wiwastory, spoke on a range of topics, including the legacy of Saro-Wiwa, the current situation in Nigeria, and the upcoming trial. Novelistand
Guernica
contributing writer Okey Ndibe moderated the discussion.
Okey Ndibe
: I propose to start by asking Ken Wiwa to get the ball rolling for us. Sitting down there and watching the shortdocumentary that we just saw, I was struck by my own memory of your father, the man in whose honor we’re all gathered heretoday. I met Ken Saro-Wiwa in the early eighties when he produced what became Nigeria’s first, most sophisticated soap operacalled “Basi and Company.” What struck me then was how he was full of life, exuded great ebullience, an intellectual ebullience,really. He always, as I remember, carried a book, and he always had his signature pipe as well. Mr. Wiwa struck me as arenaissance man, somebody who was particularly interested in ideas. So what I’d like to begin with is to sort of invite you to reflecton the forces that finally reshaped this man, who would have preferred to enjoy his life in the company of books, to become anactivist.
Ken Wiwa, Jr.
: Well, that’s an easy question to start with. Like you said, in watching that, my memories of my father are sometimesmixed. When I find time to reflect and think and try to remember him, it’s actually that description of the man that comes back to menow: of a man who was always very full of life, always willing to embrace the underdog. The reading we had before we cameonstage, that was very typical of a lot of his writing. His work was—he spoke for the little people, and I think that’s what I want to
. Guernica | A Magazine of Art & Politics .http://www.guernicamag.com/interviews/1023/standing_before_history/pr...1 of 75/16/2009 12:44 AM
 
remember.But, you know, when you see this and then you spend your time at trials, and everyday, the daily reminders of the injustice thatshaped his life and continues to shape the lives of many people in the Niger Delta, you can clearly see that, for me as a father, Ialways found it very... my father was on the one hand this very ebullient and very outgoing character, but there was this sort of sadness to him, and I think that sadness is measured by the sense of the injustice that he felt. The anger he felt at the situation, thatthe community that lived on so much wealth was so poor. That you had a country that was really set up to exploit those resources.And I think, as you say, all things being equal, he probably would have been a comedian or an actor. But he was compelled to write,and I think that’s... For me, the great sadness is always that there’s this sense of injustice that ran through his life, and I thinkchanged him from the father that I knew as a child to the more distant and more complicated character that I knew later on.
Okey Ndibe
: A follow-up question: in your memoir of your father,In the Shadow of a Saint, you give us a portrait, in a sense, of your own reluctant coming-into-being as an activist yourself, precisely an activist in the cause of saving your father from thehangman. Could you describe what that has done to you as a person and also as an intellectual and writer?
Ken Wiwa, Jr.
: Well, I mean, one, my father’s a great man. Ken Saro-Wiwa was named after him. I grew up with this man, thememory, the myth always in front of me. And so, I guess like most people, to varying degrees, your first struggle in life as a man is todefine yourself against your parents. So that was the first struggle, really. And when you have this sort of struggle, I mean, I grew upin England, at least a significant portion of my childhood was in England, which you can probably hear in my accent. So you havethis sort of cultural dislocation as well with your father. So the struggle is really to find out who... I mean he’s Ken Saro-Wiwa, I’mKen Saro-Wiwa, well, who am I supposed to be? What is my own unique, what is my own identity? So I mean that’s part and parcelof everybody’s life, I guess, but mine perhaps is a little bit more complicated maybe.But you know, I always wanted to be a writer, unconsciously. You grow up seeing your father writing, and I guess somehow thatpercolates and becomes something that you enjoy. I don’t know whether I was born into it or whether I just kind of copied him or whatever. So then you become this writer and you find that the struggle to define yourself against your father gives you a sense of,at least of something to write about initially, and then there’s also the political struggle, as well, which also informs you as a writer.So those are the things that make up my identity as an individual and as a writer.
Okey Ndibe
: Alright, let me turn to Mr. Patterson for a moment. I have just been reading your really fascinating novel,
Eclipse
,which is set in I guess a fictional African country that you call Luandia, but it’s a thinly disguised Nigeria, obviously. And the storythat you tell here is really the story of Ken Saro-Wiwa and of the Ogoni people, their struggle. Early in the novel, the protagonist,who is a lawyer who is doing well in his profession, has to encounter the question in a letter to a friend that he met in a college, in acreative writing class, and he uses the phrase “a life of meaning.” A life of meaning, that’s where I would like you to get in, to sort of talk about a life of meaning in the context of being an American writer encountering this tragedy in Nigeria and also to talk aboutwhat does Ken Saro-Wiwa mean for you?We can disdain people who are not as courageous as Ken Saro-Wiwa, but we have to remember the forces thatcreate them.
Richard North Patterson
: Well, I think a life of meaning, among other things, involves using your work in some way beyond one’spersonal self-interest. And there’s no better example of that than Ken Saro-Wiwa. I was involved with PEN in the protest surroundinghis imprisonment and subsequent execution, and for me, he was unforgettable. There are few writers who use their craft to addresssubjects as directly as Ken Saro-Wiwa did. There are few writers yet who risk their lives for those principles. So for me, he holds upa mirror to writers and the rest of us about what is it we do that actually has any meaning beyond our own lives and the minute inwhich we do it.And so Saro-Wiwa was to me quite remarkable for a couple of different reasons. One is that he came to maturity under an autocracywhere dissent had very little tradition, where it was dangerous, and where, nonetheless, he started something unique in the historyof Nigeria, as I understand it: a mass movement based upon nonviolence, the principles of human rights which the West claims toespouse, in the hope that he could both rally his own people, which he did, and the West to provide a counterweight to tyranny. Sofor me, he is a distinct and remarkable figure.Now, why did I choose to write about him in 2007? In the fifteen years since Saro-Wiwa’s death, his story is all the more relevant.The Ogoni people continue to struggle, the Niger Delta is fifteen years worse in terms of environmental despoliation, in a failure of 
. Guernica | A Magazine of Art & Politics .http://www.guernicamag.com/interviews/1023/standing_before_history/pr...2 of 75/16/2009 12:44 AM
 
human rights, and we in the West fill our gas tanks without any knowledge of where that oil comes from, what the cost is.Specifically, after 9/11, our national security strategists and others have become deeply concerned with what we call “oil security.”Given that Iraq has gone to hell, our Middle East policy’s a mess, and we’re worried about al Qaeda, where do we get our oil? Andthe answer increasingly has been the Niger Delta. And yet we arrive at that answer without any consideration of what the conditionsare there.So what Saro-Wiwa meant to me in a personal way was an example to be admired, and what he meant to me in a geopolitical way isthat he illuminated conditions that persist and should be written about in the best way that I could, which was fiction.And what President Clinton took away from that, among other things, is that oil and the need for oil on behalf of theWest and other places made Abacha, in his mind, impervious.
Okey Ndibe
: As I read your novel, one of the things that struck me is that this is the kind of novel that could very easily turn into akind of voyeuristic, simplistic retelling of a kind of a story about a strange place. Africa is often seen as a strange “other” in theimagination of the West. Your story is actually imbued with a complexity that recognizes, if you like, a number of forces that intersectto create the tragedy, the central tragedy that you explore in the novel. Could you speak to some of those other forces that arepresent in the making of the tragedy in your novel but also in the larger tragedy of the Ogoni people?
Richard North Patterson
: There are so many. Before turning to the West and oil for the moment, imagine what it is like to grow upin a society where opportunity is limited, where you have a one-crop economy, more and more oil, where dissent is dangerous, andwhere you have the quirkiest hope, at best, of personal advancement on merit, given the barriers that exist. That distorts one’sfortunes in a variety of ways, and what I tried to portray is that it’s easy for us in the West to talk about human rights when we havethe relative freedom to say those things without risk. It is a lot harder for people in a society fraught with danger and in whichopportunity is so limited and in which poverty is often so desperate to do that. So what I tried to suggest is that there are a number of different forces that play in my fictionalized country which are only human. We can disdain people who are not as courageous asKen Saro-Wiwa, but we have to remember the forces that create them.A second aspect of that, of course, is geopolitical. Interestingly enough, I had a surprising phone call this week. I was in Washington;it was President Clinton, and he had just read
Eclipse
, which he was nice enough to say he liked quite a bit, and he told me abouthis conversation with Sani Abacha in which he argued for Ken Saro-Wiwa’s life. And I ask him, I say, “Well, what was thatconversation like?” And he said he was very polite—and you and I discussed this before—but he was cold. And what PresidentClinton took away from that, among other things, is that oil and the need for oil on behalf of the West and other places madeAbacha, in his mind, impervious. And so the second level or another level I portray is all the political machinations around trying tosave a fictionalized human rights leader and how they come up against the terrible realities of economics, of the need for oil, and of some ultimate indifference on behalf of the countries who espouse human rights to pushing those at the cost of other interests.We feel that clearly Shell financed and provided logistical support to the military taskforce who silenced my father,MOSOP, and the Ogoni people from their legitimate right to protest.
Okey Ndibe
: And talking about that conversation, I happen to know somebody who was in Abacha’s cabinet at the time Abacha wasa military dictator and Abacha’s account of this conversation with then-President Clinton was, what struck Abacha, Clinton wassaying “Sir, you need to listen to the international community,” sort of the polite way that you Americans say “sir,” right? And Abachaturned to his friends afterward and said, “You know, all these pro-democracy activists run to America and expect America to savethem, but the U.S. president himself is calling me ‘sir.’ He’s scared of me.”Let me bring it back to you, Ken. In your memoir, you write about the compulsion by those who set out to sacrifice themselves for astruggle that, in the bid to create a space, if you like, a safe place for society, they end up sacrificing their own children. It’s a veryhaunting portrait of the sacrifice of one’s children in order to, as it were, create a space for society, create a social space. Could youspeak to the experience then of growing up in a situation where your father gave himself to a struggle perhaps to a degree that thenmade him absent as a father?
Ken Wiwa, Jr.
: Let me just say that the word “sacrifice,” if you take it out of context, can seem a bit strong. In no way do I feel...Looking back on it, it wasn’t that I felt my father was absent. He sent his children, all of his children, to the best schools money canbuy. So as a father, he pretty much did his duty in many ways. But I think what, for me... In the book, I go and talk to, I think Iinterviewed Winnie Mandela and Biko, Nkosinathi Biko, Steve Biko’s son, and I also went to interview Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma.And what struck me from all these conversations with all these people, and memories of my own father, is that it’s just very simply, it
. Guernica | A Magazine of Art & Politics .http://www.guernicamag.com/interviews/1023/standing_before_history/pr...3 of 75/16/2009 12:44 AM

You're Reading a Free Preview

Download
scribd
/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->