The Role of Drug Abuse in Contemporary African Fiction

Analysing Abubakar Adam Ibrahim's Season of Crimson Blossoms and Chris Albani's Graceland

Bachelor Thesis 2018 18 Pages

Didactics - English - Literature, Works


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. African Culture

3. Africa and Drugs

4. Drug Abuse in African Literature
4.1. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim's Season of Crimson Blossoms
4.2. Chris Abani's Graceland

5. Women and Drugs

6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Africa is a continent that fosters all different kinds of ethnicities and groups and is therefore rich in social and cultural variety. This variety is manifested as well in the private sector as well as in the economical one. Certain ways of dressing and eating habits can be identified as distinguishing features for the African culture; however, also drugs play a role in the African society and its culture (cf. Zimmermann).

As drugs are costly, one would tend to rather associate drug abuse with industrial states than developing countries such as the ones that can be found in Africa; however, drug abuse does not only occur in developed nations but is often deeply entrenched in developing countries as well, as it is not bound to a country's developmental state. On the contrary, most of the time social conditions and cultural rituals can be identified as the main motives behind the abuse of drugs as the following citation elucidates:

"[P]sychoactive substances are soaked in sociality and culture, and understanding fully the effects and appeal of their pharmacology requires understanding the social and cultural context in which the drugs are consumed, many of which aren't recreational, but instead ritualistic or functional." (Carrier & Klantschnig 20-21)

In this regard, it is decisive to understand the social setting and know about the economic situation of a country in order to draw a reliable conclusion on possible causes for drug abuse (cf. Carrier & Klantschnig 22-23).

Not long ago, the topic of drug abuse was considered a taboo subject in African literature; however, "[a] new wave of thematically and stylistically diverse fiction is emerging" (Alter). Within this wave, issues like drug abuse are starting to be openly addressed (cf. Alter). This opens up a complete new possibility for African authors to bring in cultural aspects in their narrations. And hence, African literature also gains of interest on "[t]he sociology of literature [which] in particular [focuses] on the relation between society and literature, usually employing the metaphor that literature mirrors society" (Stories and social structure). Within the scope of this bachelor thesis, the role of drug consumption within the African context will be analysed by looking at the role drug abuse plays in contemporary African fiction and in how far this representation in literature reflects the actual cultural situation in Africa. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim's Season of Crimson Blossoms and Chris Albani's Graceland will hereby serve as the basis for the literary analysis. By means of a literature sociological approach, the African social milieu and conformities of cultural and narrative structure will be elaborated.

2. African Culture

Both, drug abuse and literature per se, are rooted in a social and cultural context; therefore, it is important to define culture before taking a closer look at drug abuse in literary works. "Culture, as it is usually understood, entails a totality of traits and characters that are peculiar to a people to the extent that it marks them out from other peoples or societies" (Idang 98). Thus, culture covers inter alia: "[...] language, dressing, music, work, arts, religion, dancing [...,] social norms, taboos and values" (Idang 98). The enumerated items, which are all considered sub-points of culture, illustrate that culture is something complex and versatile. The term culture can be understood as a conglomeration of intellectual, spiritual and artistic aspects.

It is, however, fundamental to understand that not all aspects of one culture need to be considered or perceived as positive; obviously different cultures also have different aspects that might be considered negatively. "[W]hile positive dimensions of [...] culture ought to be practised and passed on to succeeding generations, negative dimensions of [...] culture have to be dropped in order to promote a more progressive and dynamic society" (Idang 98). Precisely because of that, cultures develop and can also change over a long period; in this regard, cultures are not static but strongly dynamic (cf. Idang 106). On closer inspection, it becomes clear that people cannot avoid being in contact with a culture respectively multiple cultures; right from the moment a child is born, it gets in contact with the present culture either of the area or its parents. "Culture is passed on from generation to generation. The acquisition of culture is a result of the socialisation process" (Idang 99). Even if one might not be aware of this cultural presence, it is still there and influences one's decisions and daily choices (cf. Idang 99- 101).

Also in Africa certain characteristics and traits are prominent among the population, allowing for an African culture to be identified. Throughout Africa one can find many traditions that strongly differ from European traditions and traditions from the rest of the world. The Khweta circumcision ceremony is a good example. The ceremony aims at boys proving their manhood by spending days or even weeks in a lodge undergoing tests and rituals (cf. Africa Facts). Spitting in one's hands before greeting someone, measuring wealth by cows, covering one's skin with a natural reddish mixture and stretching one's lips are other traditions practiced in Africa (cf. Africa Facts). Apart from those rituals, sorcerers, soothsayers and diviners are also deeply entrenched in the African culture (cf. Idang 103-104). "In Ibibio land for instance, ukang (ordeal) is very popular as a method of crime detection. The soothsayer who specializes in it sets a pot of boiling oil, drops a stone into it and asks the suspects to attempt to retrieve the stone" (Idang 103) without getting one's arm hair burnt. In addition, rank orders are clearly defined in African culture; so is the family head inferior to the village head, the village head inferior to the clan head and the clan head inferior to the paramount ruler (cf. Idang 104). Furthermore, in most of the ethnic groups in Africa there is a clear distinction in case of male and female gender roles. While the male gender tends to be the superior gender, women mostly always take on the inferior position. For instance in the Yoruba culture, "[m]en show superiority over their women counterparts, who are usually relegated to the background. Therefore, socially, politically, economically and religiously women are to a very large extent, disadvantaged [...]" (Familusi 300). This suppression of the female gender goes as far as that "the birth of a baby girl does not receive the kind of enthusiastic reception that is usually given to that of a baby boy" (Familusi 300). In fact, a woman in Yoruba culture can never possibly become the leader of a family as the male family members, despite their age, will always be ranked higher in position (cf. Familusi 301).

Also segregation and inequality between groups play a leading role in the still partly apartheid-driven African society. While in the south of Africa the health system is well-established and has a good reputation, it is still not accessible for everyone (cf. UNODCCP 9).

Apart from the fixed, predetermined gender roles and the still existing problem of apartheid, one must also bear in mind that African countries have their own history which also starkly influences the continent's culture respectively the culture of the different countries; for instance in Nigeria the Biafran civil war, which took place from 1967 to 1970, had great effects on the country and its people (cf. Falode 120). However, historical events are not the only factors influencing the African culture; nowadays in the era of globalization, other countries seem to gain of influence and have more and more impact on the African culture. For instance, some smaller African sub-cultures are starting to get repressed by more dominant cultures and therefore are threatened to become extinct. Nonetheless, globalization is not all bad as it also brings with it positive effects, for instance, regarding the spreading of culture and cultural awareness.

Primarily due to globalization people from the rest of the world could be introduced to the African culture and the general African social system (cf. Yeboah 7-8). The gap between the African culture and other cultures, especially western cultures, is quite evident when one takes into account the just mentioned aspects of hierarchy, traditions and way of living.

3. Africa and Drugs

Having defined the cultural construct in the previous chapter, this chapter will elaborate the current situation of drug abuse in Africa, its history and its impact on society. Furthermore, it will be clarified which kinds of drugs are currently in circulation and what kind of risks those bring with them.

There seems to be a rise in drug consumption in African countries. "Africa is said to be imperilled by an 'invisible tide' of drug trafficking and abuse, and several African countries declare themselves as 'crisis point' and declare drug abuse to be a 'national disaster'" (Carrier & Klantschnig 1). The thread is greater than ever before, drug abuse might get out of hand and cause damage beyond repair (cf. Carrier & Klantschnig 16). Drugs have been abused from time immemorial and treaties were only gradually established. Before the 20th century drug trade used to be unrestricted. That changed, however, when opium got introduced. Countries signed treaties that would restrict the trade of opium and other drugs. Due to prohibition, drugs could not be sold legally anymore, and so the trade of drugs switched to the black market. After WWII, when illicit trade was increasingly high, new treaties were introduced (cf. Carrier & Klantschnig 3, 18). "[I]nternational treaties give some flexibility to governments in how they are actualized: there are a variety of drug control practices across Africa, as instanced by the repressive Nigerian and a more medically oriented Tanzanian drug policy" (Carrier & Klantschnig 13).

The drug that is prevalently cultivated and consumed throughout Africa, is cannabis. According to a report from 1999, one possible reason for cannabis being the most widespread drug is its cheap purchase price; it is said to be sold even cheaper than bottled beer (cf. Carrier & Klantschnig 32). And while nowadays the reason for its consumption might mainly be one of pleasure, in earlier days the use of cannabis had a cultural background. "[C]annabis was not just used for its intoxicating properties, but also as a medicine, and many traditional healers [...] still use all parts of the plant to cure various ailments" (Carrier & Klantschnig 33). Drug abuse has a great impact on whole societies and communities. There are already concerns that the consumption of drugs might have a fatal and protracted effect on the continent's development. Due to drug consumption the African population is said to be at risk of sliding into poverty and regression. Also, the tending increase in corruption and human rights violations in Africa can be attributed to drug abuse. Even in the political sphere detrimental consequences can be perceived as there is a development towards repressive politics (cf. Carrier & Klantschnig 2). All these developments illustrate that the issue of drug abuse does not only affect the private individual but the society as a whole.

Nevertheless, not only the social damage is substantial; individuals are jeopardizing their health, their lives, and their future. Due to the fact that different kinds of drugs cause different withdrawal symptoms it is hard to generalise what effects drugs have on an individual. But, for instance, in the case of codeine, which is considered the upcoming African street drug, negative effects on the brain, an increase in violent behaviour, and an increased risk of descending into madness are frequent consequences. Throughout Africa, rehab centres have been established where codeine addicts can be treated. And as some patients show such bad abstinence symptoms, they have to be chained to the floor and left there, talking to themselves, for days, even weeks. This clearly shows that drug addicts suffer from extensive damage on body and soul, and not only is their health at steak but also their social stability (cf. BBC 38:05-42:37). To prevent a further increase in drug abuse and prevent the African population from further submitting to substance abuse, measures need to be taken. Financial resources need to be spent on drug treatment and educational campaigns in order to stop the drug flow; however, as Africa lacks in financial capacity, treatment and preventive measures cannot be instituted (cf. Carrier & Klantschnig 13). "Huge amounts of taxpayers' money is being spent on fighting codeine cough syrup but we are not winning this war. The criminals are too smart and too many, so the syrup keeps on flowing" (BBC 05:47- 06:02). The reason for the popularity of codeine might be that unlike alcohol, codeine when consumed in higher doses does not make you vomit but feel calm instead (cf. BattaBox 01:45-02:20). Africa becomes increasingly, at least financially, impotent to avert a deterioration of the current situation.




Title: The Role of Drug Abuse in Contemporary African Fiction