This paper commemorates the large historical lives of Chinua Achebe and Nelson Mandela, both of whom died in 2013. It is noted that the nature of African and world reactions to the deaths of the two men undoubtedly reflected their different biographies, the relative valuations of the political and the artistic in the popular imagination, the oscillation of ideas and action in the praxis and political economy of social struggle, and the assorted demands and terms of literary and political combat. It is argued that underlying the different remembrances were the thick braids of the twists and turns of modern African history, of the continent’s struggles for the triple dreams of African nationalism–decolonization, democracy, and development–that intersected the lives of the two men. Achebe’s and Mandela’s significance arises out of the manner in which their stories embodied and bore witness to Africa’s protracted drama for historical and humanistic agency, for the reclamation, reconstitution, reaffirmation, and self-representation of Africa and its peoples from the existential, economic, and epistemic violence of Europe that began with the depravities of the Atlantic slave trade and intensified with the depredations of colonialism. Also, their lifetimes reflected the profound complexities, contradictions, and changes of colonial and postcolonial Africa, the development of African worlds–its cultures, arts, polities, economies, societies, and ecologies–out of the interconnections, intersectional ties, and intertextualities of Africa and Europe, as well as Africa and the world mediated by the diaspora and globalization. The essay explores the historical journeys and meanings of Achebe’s and Mandela’s lives placed in the expansive context of African nationalism. In this intriguing story, their two countries bookend each other.

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