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The heroic prison letter of Ken Saro-Wiwa

Publié par Clifford Armion le 06/07/2010
A prescient letter from Ken Saro-Wiwa, published in the Mail and Guardian in May 1995

A prescient letter from Ken Saro-Wiwa, published in the Mail&Guardian in May 1995

A YEAR has gone by since I was rudely roused from my bed and clamped into detention. Sixty-five days in chains, weeks of starvation, months of mental torture and, recently, the rides in a steaming, airless Black Maria to appear before a kangaroo court, dubbed a special military tribunal, where the proceedings leave no doubt that the judgment has been written in advance. And a sentence of death against which there is no appeal is a certainty.

Fearful odds? Hardly. The men who ordain and supervise this show of shame, this tragic charade, are frightened by the word, the power of ideas, the power of the pen; by the demands of social justice and the rights of man. Nor do they have a sense of history. They are so scared of the power of the word, that they do not read. And that is their funeral.

When, after years of writing, I decided to take the word to the streets to mobilise the Ogoni people, and empower them to protest against the devastation of their environment by Shell, and their denigration and dehumanisation by Nigeria's military dictators, I had no doubt where it could end. This knowledge has given me strength, courage and cheer - and psychological advantage over my tormentors.

Only yesterday, the Spirit of Ogoni magicked into my cell a lovely poem by Jack Mapanje, the veteran of Kamuzu Banda's jails: four years without charge. I had met Jack in Potsdam in person in 1992 and wondered how he had survived it all.

Writing from Leeds University, his poem urged me to wear the armour of humour. The note at the end was also signed by Chengerai Hove, the award-winning Zimbabwean novelist. How wonderful to know how many fine men, the best brains, care for one's distress.

Ultimately the fault lies at the door of the British government. It is the British government which supplies arms and credit to the military dictators of Nigeria, knowing full well that all such arms will only be used against innocent, unarmed citizens.

It is the British government which makes noises about democracy in Nigeria and Africa but supports military dictators to the hilt. It is the British government which supports the rape and devastation of the environment by a valued, tax-paying, labour-employing organisation like shell. I lay my travails, the destruction of the Ogoni and other peoples in the Niger delta, at the door of the British government.

Ultimately, the decision is for the British people, the electorate, to stop this grand deceit, this double standard, which has lengthened the African nightmare and denigrates humanity.

Whether I live or die is immaterial. It is enough to know that there are people who commit time, money and energy to fight this one evil among so many others predominating worldwide. If they do not succeed today, they will succeed tomorrow. We must keep on striving to make the world a better place for all of mankind - each one contributing his bit, in his or her own way.

I salute you all. - Ken Saro-Wiwa, Military Hospital, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

Pour citer cette ressource :

"The heroic prison letter of Ken Saro-Wiwa", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), juillet 2010. Consulté le 19/09/2018. URL: http://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/se-former/programmes-denseignement/the-heroic-prison-letter-of-ken-saro-wiwa