Anthills of the Savannah Summary | Chapter 1 Summary
This story takes place in the fictional African state of Kangun, in the late 1980s. The opening scene takes place in the government headquarters, during a meeting between Christopher Oriko, the Commissioner of Information and the Kanganese heads of state. The novel begins with a disagreement between Oriko and the President for life, over a trip to travel the Abazon. Both he and Oriko fall silent. The narrator, Oriko, apologizes to the President, insincerely.
Oriko describes his relationship with the President, over the past two years, since the coup, which is steadily growing sour. He is unable to point to a particular event or time, when their friendship began to dissolve. He studies eleven of his colleagues, who are present at this meeting, and wonders why they have let the President, formerly their friend, become so difficult.
Oriko blames himself, as he was personally responsible for many of their government appointments. He studies the faces of his colleagues, as they sit around the table, in moody silence. They realize that it is going to be one of ‘those days,’ meaning a ‘bad day.’ Oriko explains that days are judged, ‘good,’ or ‘bad,’ depending upon what sort of mood the President is in. On a bad day such as this, he continues, all that one can do is to wait it out, as quietly as possible.
Oriko describes the other government ministers, who are present at the meeting. The Honorable Commissioner for Education, Oriko comments, is the most frightened individual in the room. As soon as he sensed an impending disagreement between the President and Oriko, he tuned himself out. He realizes that the President is in a bad mood, and, out of habit, he gathers his papers into his folder, and accidentally drops it, spilling sheets of paper everywhere. Everyone in the room gasps, and in his panic, instead of collecting the papers, he only scatters them further. He looks about the room, embarrassed, and his eyes meet those of the President. There is a great deal of tension in the room, as everyone is unsure as to how the President will react. Much to everyone’s surprise, the President speaks.
The President addresses Oriko in a friendly and pleasant manner. The mood of the day changes in an instant. Oriko imagines the many compliments that the others will pay their leader, when his back is turned.
The President asks Oriko if he understands what he is asking the President to do. Oriko shakes his head, and the President continues with his questioning. He defends his position, by reminding his staff that he is a soldier first, and a politician second. He is first attacked by the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General, and then by everyone else.
The Attorney General reminds the President that it is his duty to serve the people for life, and all in the room applaud. The President and the Attorney General continue arguing over whether it is the duty or not of the President to travel to the Abazon region. The President asks if there is any other business to attend to. The Chief Secretary replies that there is nothing more to discuss. The meeting adjourns. Silence pervades the room. The President silently gathers his papers and leaves.
The Chief Secretary remarks that their leader is not in a good mood. A noise wells up in the room. Everyone turns to the East window, which overlooks the gardens of the Presidential Palace. The Chief Secretary opens the window, allowing the melodic chants of a crowd to enter the room. The President runs back into the Council Chamber. The Inspector-General of Police agrees to investigate the matter. The President’s mood shifts, and he chastises the Inspector-General. He orders his cabinet to sit down.
A half an hour later, the doors swing open, and an orderly announces that the President wants Professor Okong, one of the councilors. Upon leaving, Okong jokes that he will keep the most comfortable jail cell for his self.
Oriko describes Okong’s personality and history. Reginald Okong was a secondary school teacher, who was ordained by American Baptist missionaries, when he was 26 years old. He travels to Ohio, where he earned his Ph.D.
We learn that the narrator was the editor of the National Gazette, when Okong was abroad. Okong approached Oriko, for a plan for a weekend current affairs supplement, who reluctantly agreed, and began to build Okong up as a leading African political scientist. Okong’s column was mildly amusing, and did not upset the politicians, until they were overthrown and Okong added fuel to the fire by preaching their excesses. We learn that when the President came to power, and approached Oriko for references, Oriko nominated Okong.
Oriko describes his friendship with the President; they had known each other since they were young boys of thirteen or fourteen, when they met at school. Therefore, it was Oriko’s job to counsel the new head of State, the President, who was terrified of a civilian uprising. The narrator ends the chapter by expressing hopes that all will turn out well.