Last updated: 25 march, 2009 - 11:20 GMT


Chinua Achebe: A Hero Returns

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Richard Dowden joins the greatest of all African novelists, Chinua Achebe, on his first trip back to his homeland of Nigeria for many years.

The expectations of Nigerians are massive - but can Achebe, who is nearly 80, inspire a new generation to help this country achieve its enormous potential?

Chinua Achebe: A Hero Returns

Just over 50 years ago, Achebe published his first work, Things Fall Apart, which has become the best-selling and most important work of modern African literature.

It dealt with the complexities of living between two cultures, the traditional ways of his Ibo people and the new beliefs of the British colonialists.

Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe arriving at Abjuba airport at 5.30am.

Over ensuing decades his work has grappled with the future of his homeland, notably in The Trouble with Nigeria which excoriated the governing classes for their corruption and misrule.

Early this year, he returned to Nigeria for the first time in almost a decade. The trip was a sensation: he was followed by packs of breathless reporters and fans wherever he went.

Richard Dowden talks to Achebe about the genesis of Things Fall Apart, about the Ibo nationalism which was involved in the horrors of the Biafran War, and about the future of this troubled country, with its huge inequalities and equally huge potential.

And he accompanies Achebe on a long and occasionally terrifying road journey from the capital Abuja to the Ibo heartlands in the South East.

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