8 African Books To Get You Started On The ‘Woke’ Journey

Nigerians are woke these days – at least that’s what you’d think if you stumbled onto, and got lost in social media.

The truth is, a lot of us are not. We are naturally loud and extremely assertive, so when we talk it’s easy enough to believe we are authorities on the matter. However, even though a lot of us claim woke, we don’t deeply understand certain issues.

Because the lines are so blurry, what does ‘woke’ mean, anyway?

I love this Urban Dictionary definition of woke; “getting woke is like being in the Matrix and taking the red pill. You get a sudden understanding of what’s really going on and find out you were wrong about much of what you understood to be truth.” In simpler terms, it means to become aware of the problems in our society and the factors that contribute to them. You ‘wake’ up to the realization that some of our traditions, culture, societal structure and interactions are problematic.
The impact of wokeness in Nigeria is however limited by ‘fake wokeness’. What is fake woke, you ask? Fake woke people are those who aren’t directly affected by or understand certain social issues, but still argue blindly in favour of the problem. They are the opposing voice, creating doubt and slowing down progress.

Can wokeness be learned?

Yes, it can. Ironically, when supposedly enlightened people tell ‘ignorant’ people to read a book, it’s actually not (just) an insult. You can actually find the answers to life in books. We’ve put together a reading list of African books which attack social issues to get you started.

1. Female marginalisation: So Long A Letter – Mariama Bâ

An inspiring story of feminine strength, So Long A Letter is written as a series of letters between Ramatoulaye and her best friend Aissatou, after Ramatoulaye’s estranged husband dies from a heart attack. While observing mirasse, (a forty-day period of isolation and mourning) Ramatoulaye keeps a diary which she sends her friend. This book explores a woman’s place in developing West African society. Ba wants this novel to encourage women take responsibility for their lives. The letter format pulls you in, making the book feel extremely personal.

2. Government incompetence: The Trouble With Nigeria – Chinua Achebe

This is a great book for Nigerians, but the problems therein apply to a lot of African countries. The Trouble With Nigeria takes a look at Nigeria’s major problem which according to Achebe is leadership–or the lack of it. Leadership is used as the launching pad to dissect many Nigerian problems: tribalism, lack of patriotism, social injustice, the cult of mediocrity, indiscipline and corruption.

3. Social disintegration: Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

Rich in cultural history, Things Fall Apart tells a captivating story of a traditional Igbo man who, though living in a rapidly changing Africa, refuses to accept British imperialists and missionaries. Achebe describes the daily life of the Igbo by telling the story Okonkwo and passes on key points about the Igbo culture. This book details how the way of life of the British crept into traditional Igbo society, and exposes the corruption and oppression that was perpetuated.

4. Sexual harassment/rape: Rape: A South African Nightmare – Pumla Dineo Gqola

Using examples from the past and present, Rape: A South African Nightmare takes on various aspects of rape culture in South Africa. It does so by focusing on the patterns and trends of rape culture and asking what can be learned from famous cases. This book analyses the fact that public responses to rape are characterised by doubt. It also asks penetrating questions about female fear factor, boy rape, the rape of black lesbians and more.

5. Mental health: Freshwater – Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater is Akwaeke Emezi’s daring debut novel that was shortlisted for The Center For Fiction First Novel Prize, 2018. This book paints a profound picture of what it’s like to mentally be between worlds by exploring the life of Ada, a Nigerian girl who was a little “different” from other children. She was a challenging child for her parents, who were constantly concerned about her fractured existence. Throughout her life, Ada speaks through her various selves (which is framed within the Igbo tradition of ogbanje). Freshwater takes on challenging topics such as identity, mental illness, self-harm, sexual assault, suicide, and more.

6. Yahoo-Yahoo: I Do Not Come To You By Chance – Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s debut novel, I Do Not Come To You By Chance won the 2010 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa and the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in Africa. This is a very insightful contemporary African novel centered around a young man burdened with responsibility. It details the lengths he goes to provide for his family, which takes us into the world of email scams AKA Yahoo-Yahoo and into the lives of the people behind them.

7. Gender roles and inequality – Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex In An African Society – Ify Amadiume

Male Daughters, Female Husbands explores the imposition of Western life onto West African society. This book does a fantastic job of outlining the new gender reality created by the impression of European Christian values on a traditionally matrilineal Igbo society. Amadiume details a rich history of economic and social power that West African women held, and how they’ve have found themselves disadvantaged compared to their male counterparts since the early 1900s. This is a must-read for every woman.

8. Abuse and domestic violence: Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Adichie

Longlisted by the Booker Prize in 2004, and shortlisted for the Orange Prize For Fiction that same year, Purple Hibiscus has garnered a lot of acclaim. This is a captivating book that handles abuse in a most delicate way. This book is focused on Kambili and her family, and what they endure for the sake of religion and family values. It shows the disintegration of her family unit and the unimaginable effects of abuse.

If you’ve read any of these books, what do you think about them? Which other books would you recommend?