Encounters with Americans: Anthills of the Savannah

Margaret Hander'00 English 27, 1997

The fictional African nation of Kangan views itself as one of America's abused imperial subjects, rather than its elder. Many references to America in the book are made in bitter humor. When Chris wants to resign from his government post, Sam threateningly replies, "Resignation! Ha ha ha ha ha. Where do you think you are? Westminster or Washington D.C.? Come on! This is a military government in a backward West African State called Kangan" (133). They contrast the shambles of their own nation with the overwhelming power of the United States. The United States' reputation as demanding and relentless lets Sam says to his ministers, as an excuse for ignoring a peasant delegation, "Tell them, if you like, that I am on the telephone with the President of the United States of America or the Queen of England. Peasants are impressed by that kind of thing, you know" (16). This remark equates America with the original colonial power, England. Ikem takes this equation a level further: "The English have, for all practical purposes, ceased to menace the world. The real danger today is from that fat, adolescent and delinquent millionaire, America" (47).

Then there is "the shattering example of Chris and his American wife." They came together through a dubious "affinity of sorts from being exiled to the same desert island [London] from opposite ends of the earth." This seems to stand for the tentative mingling of the native and American cultural goods and ideas. "Unfortunately, Chris and Louise didn't make it once in bed, or anywhere else, throughout their six month co-habitation." Kangan has likewise failed to integrate its past with the cultural structures of development, despite the attractions of the union.

The primary interaction between America and the Kangan in this book occurs when Beatrice meets the "cheeky" (73) American journalist at Sam's dinner party. This "American girl," as Beatrice calls her silently, acts with a degree of enthusiasm that makes her personally ridiculous. Nevertheless, powerful men indulge her "impertinence" and her allow her large breaches of decorum:

Her manner with His Excellency was becoming outrageously familiar and domineering. She would occasionally leave him hanging on a word she had just spoken while she turned to fling another at Major Ossai whom she now addressed only as Johnson . . . And for these effronteries she got nothing but grins of satisfaction from the gentlemen in question. Unbelievable! But we hadn't seen noth'n yet. (71).

This is a carefree display of power, of defiance that no Kanganian woman, not even "one of the most brilliant daughters of the country" (68), would ever dare to show. It enrages Beatrice to the point where she will do anything to prevent Sam, "the sacred symbol of my nation's pride" (74) from bending to the womanly or political charms of this journalist. Beatrice seduces him right then and there at the party, "Like Esther, oh yes like Esther for my long suffering people" (75). At the height of his arousal she divulges her motivations for the sex act, "If I went to America today, to Washington D.C., would I, could I, walk into a White House private dinner and take the American President hostage? And his defense chief and his director of CIA?" Infuriated, he snaps back, "Oh don't be such a racist, Beatrice. I am surprised at you. A girl of your education!"(74).

This incident captures the intensity of Beatrice's anger at the stooping stance her country takes in the face of America's might. It angers her that her fellow country men perpetuate this injustice and she strikes out. Although she creates more of a statement than a solution, she is responding to it. Beatrice herself later sees this particular incident as "tragic" and painfully difficult to explain. However, she is not the only one who possess the passion and rage which motivated this extreme action alone. As she passes through the room full of shocked guests on her way out of the party, "One man alone kept his gaze to the carpet on which he sat and seemed to doodle with his finger -- Alhaji Mahmoud, Chairman of the Kangan/American Chamber of Commerce" (97). The man in the room who has dealt most closely with Americans understands and respects her. She taps into her nation's despair and anger at its impotence. The book ends hopefully, however, as she and her nation move toward a new government and a new self-empowerment.

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Last Modified: 13 March 2002