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The Myth of the Free World: Not Just Political

The Myth of the Free World: Not Just Political

Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, in Anthills of the Savannah , tells the following story:

Once upon a time the leopard who had been trying for a long time to catch the tortoise happened upon him on a solitary road. AHA, he said; at long last, prepare to die. And the tortoise said: Can I ask one favour before you kill me? The leopard saw no harm and granted it. But instead of standing still as the leopard expected the tortoise went into strange action on the road, scratching with hands and feet and throwing sand furiously in all directions. Why are you doing that? asked the puzzled leopard. The tortoise replied Because even after I am dead I want anyone passing by this spot to say, yes, a fellow and his match struggled here.

Achebe’s point is that more important than politics is control of the story. According to Achebe, there are some who rush to battle and some who tell the story afterwards. Some think it easy to control the story. But, he says, they are fools.

The tortoise doesn’t fight for his existence. The tortoise is not, after all, a match for the leopard, at least not in usual terms. He just creates conditions, raising a question. And when questions are raised, stories become possible. They become believable where they were not before because there was no need

Simón Bolívar raised a question two hundred years ago. It was about freedom. He admired European philosophers. But he doubted their story about freedom. As a young man, in Rome in 1805, Bolívar noted that “the great problem of human freedom seems to have been inconceivable [to the Europeans], a mystery that would only be made clear in the new World”.

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