Death hoaxes are common enough on social media, but it’s understandably harder to pull them off with people who are already dead. That was no obstacle for whoever was pushing rumours of the death of Chinua Achebe the morning of March 23rd.
The Nigerian literary titan, whose “Things Fall Apart” and “Arrow of God” are two landmarks of the 20th-century fiction, has indeed been dead since March 21st, 2013. But despite Achebe’s prominence — and despite the attention he received after publishing a long-awaited memoir in 2012 — this fact has escaped notice with a critical mass of people that includes the US government’s former assistant undersecretary of State for African Affairs:
In fact, Achebe was laid to rest nearly two years ago.
Maybe there isn’t any deeper significance in this Twitter gaffe, which would of course be less notable if Rice didn’t hold the State Department’s top Africa position from 1997 to 2001, a fairly tumultuous period which saw civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, a devastating inter-state war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and Nigeria’s transition away from military rule.
But Rice is the US national security advisor, and Nigeria is currently in the midst of both one of the world’s largest democratic presidential elections and one of its deadliest terrorist insurgencies. Between Boko Haram and a controversial presidential electoral delay, Nigeria’s situation is tenuous and the fight against the jihadists has even draw in the US military at certain points.
Chinua Achebe is one of the most famous and beloved Nigerians of the last half-century. A bit more knowledge and sensitivity towards the country and its icons from top US national security officials surely isn’t a huge ask. She at least realised her mistake: The tweets had been deleted as of 10:04 AM, about 40 minutes after the tweets first appeared.
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