Award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel as guest speaker at the Düsseldorf’s Schauspielhaus theater last Wednesday.
The duo held the audience spellbound in an hour-long conversation that covered topics like democracy, feminism, race, art, fashion, and social media. The conversation was moderated by Miriam Meckel and Lea Steinacker – co-founders of Journalism and digital education platform, ada.
On governance, Chimamanda believes that democracy is not quite what it should be in Africa, especially in her home country Nigeria where she says it is more of a “patronage system”.
There has been a wave of populism that seeped through the world in recent times that led to chaos and uncertainties but Chimamanda expressed her happiness that the world was able to survive some political catastrophes. “So I think there’s reason to be hopeful but in a way that is very cautious. But it also requires political will. I really think that there is a certain failure of leadership … the things going on today, they were not inevitable. They did not have to happen she said.””
Chancellor Merkel in her opinion believes that it takes more than politics for democracy to thrive. “We cannot order others to do this. Good politics can stimulate, but we cannot force democracy. If everyone decides to break traffic rules, we cannot make everyone a police officer. The constitutional democracy lives off the fact that it has a high degree of acceptance among its people and this acceptance has to be learned by every new generation” she said.
While praising the role social media played in making the End Sars protest possible, Chimamanda still wants people to read more and not just depend on social media for their news. “When I say read, I don’t mean read text messages or tweets,” she encouraged. “I mean, read something that is continuously long and makes sense, that is punctuated and has good grammar.”
Giving her analysis of how discussions play out on social media, Chimamanda said social media can be used to inform, “but it can also be very dangerous in keeping us from truth. Some platforms thrive on conflict. People go on these platforms and the goal is conflict and misinformation.”
Merkel concurred, speaking on the cancel culture that has become rampant in today’s world. “We should always try to engage with others and put ourselves in their shoes, and find out why they hold their views” she implored.
Chimamanda praised Merkel whose tenure as German Chancellor is winding down. For her, the post-Merkel era holds a lot of uncertainty: “If she’s okay with leaving, I’m not okay with her leaving. I’m worried about what will happen to Europe! I’m worried that Europe will fall apart because she will not be there to hold things together.”
Chimamanda is recognized as a fashion icon and has continued to set the pace with her impeccable dress sense and promotion of indigenous fashion through her “Wear Nigerian” project where she wears outfits made by Nigerians and Africans on global stages across the world.
When praised about her outfit for the event in Düsseldorf, Chimamanda disclosed that her asymmetrical dress was repurposed from her mother’s George wrapper, whom she chose to honour seeing as her late mother admired Merkel.
She added that her fashion statement is a testament to the fact that “there is a lot of talent in Nigeria and it needs a platform that is international.”