Modern African literature is a young literature. It began shortly after World War II, when the irony of being conscripted into the white man's armies to fight for the white man's liberation from a white oppressor was not lost on the Africans. It gave impetus to the drive for independence, which saw an independent Ghana by 1957 and culminated in the grand year of independence -- 1960 -- in which some seventeen former colonies became sovereign African nations. Like any young literature, it was concerned with problems of definition; and in the natural course of events, the burden of this definition fell on the shoulders of the critics -- African critics, it should be emphasized-for the political and historical conditions from which modern African literature has emerged have been conditions largely caused and controlled by non-Africans.
Africans have had very little to say about the external control of their milieu since the late nineteenth century. But for independence, it is unlikely they would have had any more control over their literature, since Westerners have at times taken a proprietary attitude toward modern African culture. It was all the more important, then, that African critics take in hand this modern African culture and ask what it was and, more to the point, what it should be and what the critic's role should be in helping it to develop. This undertaking was difficult and complicated, fraught with traps of various kinds, but African critics accepted the task with pleasure.
In a sense, every literature is defined by its criticism. In the same sense, the process of definition is continual and never ending. Hence the early attempts to define African literature, at Makerere University in 1962 and again at the Université de Dakar and Fourah Bay College in Freetown in 1963, were no doubt premature. They were, however, valuable attempts to draw some basic ground rules. Was North Africa "African," for example? Was it