Nigerian Nobel Laureate: U.S. Making Progress … Wait, What?

Wole Soyinka on campus at UT to discuss Darfur

Barack Obama's current lead in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination to lead the U.S. is a product of a society that's confronted its past with regards to slavery, and is trying to move forward in a more positive way, according to Africa's first Nobel laureate of literature.

Nigerian poet and playwright Wole Soyinka spoke to an audience at UT Monday night on what was originally billed as a lecture on the crisis in Darfur. While Soyinka did touch on the genocide in western Sudan, his speech took on a narrative tone as he reminded those in attendance of the history of slavery in general.

To begin, Soyinka gave an anecdote recalling a ritual in West Africa during which slave traders would make recently captured civilians walk circles around "the tree of forgetfulness" in an attempt to clear the new slaves' minds of any thoughts of their previous lives in order for them to be more efficient laborers.

The tactic was never effective, Soyinka said. The slaves always held on to their old ways of life and thus spread some forms of African culture to whatever part of the globe they were being shipped.

"The tree of forgetfulness is rooted in Africa," Soyinka said of the current Sudanese regime that allows the Muslim Janjaweed militia to murder and displace so many Sudanese farmers and families.

In order for a nation to move forward, Soyinka said, they must first deal with their past transgressions against other cultures. He lauded officials like President Bill Clinton and English Prime Minister Tony Blair who made it a point to apologize for the Tuskeegee syphilis experimentation on blacks and English involvement in the slave trade, respectively.

Soyinka said that the efforts of young people would have to outshine the contributions of older activists like himself if the situation in Darfur is to get any better any time soon. It might help if even one international power had the guts to recognize that genocide, in fact, was happening: over 400,000 people have been killed, more than 2 million have been displaced and almost 3.5 million people have been forced to survive solely on international aid in Sudan since 2003.

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University of Texas, Election 2008, Slavery, Obama, Wole Soyinka, Darfur

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