National Security Adviser Susan Rice's number of gaffes increased by one Monday when she took to Twitter to mourn the death of one of Africa's most influential authors, Chinua Achebe. The problem: Achebe died two years ago—a detail Rice figured out about 40 minutes too late.
"[T]oday is a somber day in Nigeria, as Chinua Achebe was laid to rest in his native village,” tweeted Rice in response to a death hoax. “A giant of African lit., he brought the Continent-and Nigeria, in particular-2 the world. His works left lasting impression on me & my gen.”
As Business Insider notes, this wouldn't have a "deeper significance" if it weren't for Rice's various offices, past and present -- most notably her role as the former assistant security of state for African affairs under Bill Clinton -- and Nigeria's current precarious political situation:
Maybe there isn't any deeper significance in this Twitter gaffe, which would of course be less notable if Rice didn't hold the State Department's top Africa position from 1997 to 2001, a fairly tumultuous period that saw civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, a devastating war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and Nigeria's transition away from military rule.
But Rice is the US national security adviser, and Nigeria is in the midst of both one of the world's largest democratic presidential elections and one of its deadliest terrorist insurgencies. Nigeria's situation is tenuous with a controversial presidential electoral delay and a fight against the jihadist group Boko Haram that has even drawn in the US military at times.
Realizing her mistake, Rice deleted the tweets about 40 minutes after posting it.
Achebe is one of the most famous Nigerian figures in the last five decades. Politico provides a summary of the author's cultural and political significance:
Achebe was a harsh critic of corruption in Nigerian government and was often at odds with the country’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, who is currently seeking reelection. Jonathan reportedly wanted to hold a state funeral for the writer but relented in favor of a service in Ogidi.
Perhaps best remembered for his 1958 novel “Things Fall Apart,” Achebe is now considered a titan of African literature. TIME magazine included the novel in its list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005 and Achebe was awarded the 2007 Man Booker International Prize.
Achebe was a “freedom fighter,” said the late Nelson Mandela, “in whose company the prison walls fell down.”