“Keep Them at Arm’s Length”: Relationships between Homosociality and Power in Anthills of the Savannah

Vincent Chien


In Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah, power exists along gendered lines, which produces two distinct forms of power, each of which lead to a different result by the conclusion of the novel. The members of each gender exercising power have close relationships with each other, thereby characterizing the power they exercise with homosociality, defined as social bonds between persons of the same sex that are not overtly sexual or romantic in nature. However, the way each gender performs homosociality is different as well, which then contributes to the formation of the two natures of power. Yet, despite the interconnectedness of gender and sexuality, many postcolonial critics thus far have only examined the relationship between gender and power, but not the relationship between sexuality and power in Anthills of the Savannah. Given the strong relationship between gender and sexuality, there should be just as much of an imperative to explore the relationship between sexuality and power as there is for the relationship between gender and power, especially since one of the forms of power leads to the violent collapse of a ruling political body while the other leads to the prospect and start of rebuilding and reconciliation. This paper therefore takes up this imperative and analyzes how sexuality, as reflected through homosociality, leads to the different neocolonial and postcolonial systems and structures of powers in Anthills of the Savannah.

Eve Sedgwick’s Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire serves as the theoretical framework on sexuality and homosociality from which further postcolonial analysis on sexuality and power is made. Sedgwick is supported by two postcolonial critics, Achille Mbembe and Oyeronke Oyewumi, who demonstrate the relevance of Sedgwick’s writing for postcolonial criticism, since Sedgwick herself is not a postcolonial critic. Using these and other critics, this essay suggests that given that male homosociality is constantly characterized by anxious instability, and that male homosociality is inherently embedded within any social structure which is patriarchal in nature, then any system or structure of power which is patriarchal will inevitably be debilitated by that anxious instability which characterizes male homosociality. On the other hand, if we can see that female homosociality is capable of avoiding that anxious instability, then a system or structure of power which is characterized by female homosociality can likewise be more capable of achieving stability. These conclusions have implications for how changes based on gender and sexuality can be made for unstable systems of power.


Anthills of the Savannah; Chinua Achebe; Postcolonialism; Homosociality; Sexuality; Eve Sedgwick; Power

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