Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa (October 10, 1941 - November 10, 1995) was a Nigerian author, television producer and environmental activist.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was a member of the Ogoni, an ethnic minority whose homelands in the Niger Delta have been targeted for oil extraction since the 1950s. As president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Saro-Wiwa led a nonviolent campaign against environmental damage associated with the operations of multinational oil companies, including Shell and British Petroleum.
Saro-Wiwa was also a successful businessman, novelist and television producer. His best known novel, Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English, tells the story of naive village boy recruited to the army during the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970). His war diaries, On a Darkling Plain, document Saro-Wiwa's experience during the war, when he served as the Civilian Administrator for the port of Bonny in the Niger Delta. His satirical television series, Basi & Co., is purported to have been the most watched soap opera in Africa.
In the early 1970s, Saro-Wiwa served as the Regional Commissioner for Education in the Rivers State Cabinet, but was dismissed in 1973 because of his support for Ogoni autonomy. In the late 1970s, he established a number of successful business ventures in retail and real-estate, and during the 1980s was able to concentrate on his writing, journalism and television production.
In 1990, Saro-Wiwa founded MOSOP, to advocate for the rights of the Ogoni people. The Ogoni Bill of Rights, written by MOSOP, set out the movement's demands, including increased autonomy for the Ogoni people, a fair share of the proceeds of oil extraction, and remediation of environmental damage to Ogoni lands. In 1992, Saro-Wiwa was imprisoned for several months, without trial, by the Nigerian military government.
In January 1993, MOSOP organised peaceful marches of around 300,000 Ogoni people - more than half of the Ogoni population - through four Ogoni centres, drawing international attention to his people's plight. The same year, Shell ceased operations in the Ogoni region.
Saro-Wiwa was arrested again and detained by Nigerian authorities in June 1993, but was released after a month. In May 1994, he was arrested and accused of incitement to murder following the deaths of four Ogoni elders, believed to be sympathetic to the military. Saro-Wiwa denied the charges, but was imprisoned for over a year before being found guilty and sentenced to death by a specially convened tribunal. The trial was widely criticised by human rights organisations.
On November 10, 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP leaders were executed (hanged) by the Nigerian military government of General Sani Abacha, provoking the immediate suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth of Nations, which was meeting in New Zealand at the time.
A biography, In the Shadow of a Saint, was written by his son, journalist Ken Wiwa. Ken Saro-Wiwa's daugher Zina Saro-Wiwa is a filmmaker and arts journalist.
"I repeat that we all stand before history. I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is on trial here, and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief. The company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come and the lessons learned here may prove useful to it, for there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war the company has waged in the delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the company's dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.
On trial also is the Nigerian nation, its present rulers and all those who assist them. I am not one of those who shy away from protesting injustice and oppression, arguing that they are expected of a military regime. The military do not act alone. They are supported by a gaggle of politicians, lawyers, judges, academics and businessmen, all of them hiding under the claim that they are only doing their duty, men and women too afraid to wash their pants of their urine.
We all stand on trial, my lord, for by our actions we have denigrated our country and jeopardised the future of our children. As we subscribe to the subnormal and accept double standards, as we lie and cheat openly, as we protect injustice and oppression, we empty our classrooms, degrade our hospitals, and make ourselves the slaves of those who subscribe to higher standards, who pursue the truth, and honour justice, freedom and hard work."
dance, dance, dance, dance
dance your anger
and your joys
dance the military guns to silence...
dance, my people
for we have seen tomorrow
and there is
star in the sky.