Prominent Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was one of the panellists at the 2018 edition of the Night of Ideas (Nuit Des Idees) in Paris where she served a French interviewer for asking an ignorant question about Nigeria.
The event, which held on Thursday, Jan. 25, was organised by the Cultural Office of the French Embassy and held at the Quai D’Orsay, a stone platform on the edge of the Seine river in Paris.
Chimamanda Adichie, who is most known as for her work as a novelist and social commentator, was interviewed regarding culture and ideas in her home country, Nigeria.
During the event, she was asked if Nigerians read her books to which she replied in the affirmative.
Although Chimamanda admits that the interviewer, Caroline Broue was intelligent, she was taken aback when she sprayed some ignorance on the podium.
“Do they have libraries in Nigeria”, the interviewer asked.
“What?”, was the writer’s response.
The interviewer returned, “I ask because people in France don’t know about Nigeria. They only know about Boko Haram”.
Chimamanda, never one to shy away from setting the record straight, responded, “I think it reflects poorly on France that you asked that question.”
Adichie has since said that it appeared the French word “Librairie” was translated to “libraries”, when it actually means “bookshops”. Still, the baseless ignorant suggestion of Nigeria as a country of illiterates with no reading culture is painfully demeaning.
No-one expects the interviewer to know everything about Nigeria; it is the same way that few Nigerians can boast of knowing everything about France, but to suggest that Nigeria has no bookshops is utterly debasing.
Africa is not a country
Chimamanda has since addressed the matter in a recently released statement.
In response to what the questions insinuate, she said “... to be asked to tell French people that you have bookshops in Nigeria because they don’t know is to cater to a wilfully retrograde idea - that Africa is so ‘apart’, so pathologically different, that a non-African cannot make reasonable assumptions about life there.”
The gulf between how African nations are perceived and the reality on the ground is so distant.
The sad truth is that these differences in perception are not affected by a lack of resources or the fact that there is no information about Africa. It comes mostly from an ignorant, lazy view of the African reality.
Chimamanda echoes this view.
“Bookshops are in decline all over the world. And that is worth discussing and mourning and hopefully changing. But the question, “are here bookshops in Nigeria are not about that”. . And I do not have the patience for that.”
“Perhaps French people cannot indeed conceive of Nigeria as a place that might have bookshops. And this, in 2018, in our age of interconnectedness and the Internet, is a shame”.
Well said, Miss Adichie, well said.