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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Chief the Honourable Minister


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Title: Chief the Honourable Minister
Author: T.M.Aluko
Genre: Novel
Written: 1970
Length: 214 pages
Availability: Chief the Honourable Minister - US
Chief the Honourable Minister - UK
Chief the Honourable Minister - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : fine, quite entertaining novel of the difficulties of post-colonial African government

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Spectator . 24/10/1970 .
TLS . 16/10/1970 .

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The complete review's Review:

       Chief the Honourable Minister centers around Alade Moses. An African intellectual, the pride of his hometown (Newtown), he was educated abroad and then returned to become principal at the local Grammar School. While in England, on a five-weeks' tour of British Grammar Schools organized by the British Council, he is suddenly recalled, informed by cable that he has been appointed Minister in the new government.
       Afromacoland, the imaginary country in which the novel is set, is newly independent. The new Prime Minister wants "only men of ability and character" in his cabinet -- and Moses fits the bill. Flattered, Moses accepts the appointment -- though he is somewhat disappointed that he is named Minister of Works and not, as would seem more sensible, Minister of Education.
       Moses finds he has gotten himself into a considerably more complex situation than he initially imagined. He believes he has a duty to his country, and he wants to do what is best. Personally -- aside from an extra-marital affair he keeps up -- he is also largely beyond reproach. But it turns out there are a number of questions regarding how he got his appointment. Supposedly elected by his hometown constituency, questions of election fraud -- and indeed whether there even was an election -- are raised. Moses himself had nothing to do with the election, but he is naturally tainted by association (especially since he is the main beneficiary).
       Expectations are also unrealistic. The ruling party wants a new Parliament Building to quickly be built, but Moses wants to go buy the book -- conducting the proper soil surveys, etc. -- which means it will take years to complete the project. Pressure is also put on him to hire local contractors for government projects, despite the fact that they generally have no experience. And then there are the pressures from his home region: where the locals were previously willing to contribute both money and labour to construct local roads, they now expect the federal government to pay and pave the way.
       Moses is fundamentally honest, and he tries to do what is right and best, but party politics and his semi-corrupt fellow ministers constantly undermine his good intentions. The government needs him -- he is an intellectual poster boy, with an important constituency -- but it also uses him.
       Libel suits are brought in his name, as he is supposedly defamed in the newspapers (especially regarding the fixed election) -- and none are won. Moses gets mired ever deeper in the political quagmire. He is removed from his post -- but kept in the ever-growing cabinet, as a special appointee. He stands for election again, and is disappointed to find fraud all around him again (eventually considerably more people are found to have voted than are registered on the voters list).
       Moses also has an ego, and he is flattered by the attention -- especially when he gets the high honour of being made a Chief (despite the fact that it is all a politicking ploy). He is especially fond of the school that he ran, but it too is sacrificed.
       There are considerable tensions between the new order and the British bureaucrats still working in the system. The Africans who have come to power assume they are worthy and deserving of their new roles, despite the fact that they are often unqualified for their duties. Moses understands the need for a transition, in which education and training of local talent must figure especially high, but the government has no patience for this. Moses is admired by some of the so-called expatriates -- the foreigners working in the bureaucracy -- but even he can not stem the tide of corruption and incompetence that prevails.
       Moses is in a difficult position, because it is his own position as Minister -- twice gained by rigging elections -- that also is undermining the government and giving the opposition fodder to challenge it. It is a hopeless battle. The chilling end comes faster than expected, but Aluko convincingly shows a simplified version of what happened in so many briefly democratic countries in Africa.

       Aluko tells his tale quite well. Moses is a convincing hero: fallible, human, caught in a difficult situation. The politics is also quite well done: the corrupt party hangers-on, the financial difficulties of the party that lead to the government officials being forced into unwise decisions, the ambiguities and temptations of power. The opposition figures are also well-drawn, and the struggles between the two sides are presented well.
       Aluko shows lots of nice small touches, from the election frauds to Moses domestic travails. It is a broad canvas to fit in such a small space, but nevertheless Aluko presents a good picture of the many difficulties post-colonial governments faced. It could well have stood additional elaboration, but it is a fine read as is too.

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Other books by T.M.Aluko under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Nigerian author Timothy Mofolorunso Aluko was born 14 June 1918. He studied at the universities of Lagos and London, and held numerous administrative positions in Nigeria. He has written several novels.

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