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Last week, during her 25 January The Night of Ideas interview in France, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie sparked controversy with her comments on post-colonial theory. When asked her thoughts on it, she said:

Post-colonial theory? I don’t know what it means. I think it’s something that professors made up because they needed to get jobs.

On Twitter, Kenyan poet Shailja Patel, author of Migritude, sent out fourteen tweets reiterating the importance of post-colonial theory.

Read them below.

Shailja Patel. Image from Foreign Policy in Focus.

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OTOSIRIEZE is a writer, literary journalist, former academic, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. A judge for the 2019 Gerald Kraak Award, he is an editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective which has published two volumes: WE ARE FLOWERS and THE INWARD GAZE. He is the curator of ART NAIJA SERIES, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness: ENTER NAIJA: THE BOOK OF PLACES (October, 2016) focuses on cities in Nigeria; WORK NAIJA: THE BOOK OF VOCATIONS (June, 2017) focuses on professions in Nigeria. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition, and has been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship and the Gerald Kraak Award, both in 2016, and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He attended the 2018 Miles Morland Foundation Creative Writing Workshop. He has completed a collection of short stories, YOU SING OF A LONGING, and is working on a novel. He is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He combined history and literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and taught English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. When bored, the boy just Googles Rihanna. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts editing and writing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze.

19 Responses to “Kenyan Poet Shailja Patel Responds to Chimamanda Adichie’s Comments on Post-Colonial Theory” Subscribe

  1. Steve 2018/02/03 at 11:15 #

    To be honest I’m quite disappointed in elements of Chimamanda’s recent pronouncement. She is one of my favourite authors but is fast becoming a political sellout largely because she has become so successful in the west that she feels she has to pander to a world pseudo western world view that sidelines the African experience as irrelevant. Given her origins and body of work and talent this is quite disappointing. Perhaps writers make bad politicians and activists and should restrict their pronouncements to fiction, otherwise they might stand accused of not being able to discern fiction from fact when dealing with everyday reality on the ground

  2. John 2018/02/06 at 09:58 #

    If we could rearrange the events of that day then this comment is exactly the one that should have led to the question “Are there libraries in Nigeria?”

  3. Denis Ekpo 2018/02/08 at 05:59 #

    Perhaps the only remark from Chimamanda that I agree entirely with. Postcolonial theory has been such a wasteful distraction from the task of using the tools of imperialism to transform Africa. Only hypocrites and self deceivers continue to stupidly bash colonialism .

  4. Steve 2018/02/08 at 07:47 #

    True that practical Colonialism ended with independence however neo-colonialism is still a reality especially in its many guises including economic/financial colonialism, aid colonialism , French coloniaism, military colonialism and cultural and religious colonialism. These are various forms of neo colonialism still being practiced and aided and abetted by African puppet governments and dictators. This isn’t an exercise in futility and it should be addressed because it is equally an exercise in intellectual futility to call it a wasteful distraction. The CIA and mi5 and all the other agents of imperialism rampaging through Africa would support the statement that colonialism is dead as long as Africans foolishly believe that and hand over their entire economies to the globalists, imperialists and their financial backers.

  5. Mark McCarthy 2018/02/08 at 10:37 #

    Colonialism is not only alive and well, the capital and resource extracting enterprise is concentrating power over humanity in a psychopathic game of crown the Oligarch. The world is not so much post-colonial as swirling down into the eschatological endgame of “divine right” which bestowed sovereignty on nation states only to be captured by corporate (artificial person) entities. Money and power consolidates in algorithms, floating in a “cloud” while armies of robots render humans redundant. Even the agents and minions of global oppression with soon find themselves extinct, another failed experiment in an evolutionary process that eliminates overly successful species whose success threatens the diversity of life. The Anthropocene Era will be but a brief sigh of relief. Party and argue on; internecine squabbles are such an effective distraction.

  6. Ivy Toast 2018/02/08 at 13:30 #

    With due respect to Patel, her commentary is misguided. Why are academics so thin-skinned? Why do they need to coopt everything? Coopt but don’t insist on others embracing you.

    The novelist mocked the academia. Now they want to act like people wouldn’t read her if they didn’t get her into the curriculum. That’s high-grade nonsense. What about the mainstream media and general readers? Do we need to remind Patel and friends that it is possible to mock and acknowledge the usefulness of a thing? Lighten up and stop being so insecure.

  7. SOY 2018/02/08 at 20:36 #

    Who cares? Give us a break. Collectivism in Africa is destined to fail. So any theory or concept anyone cooks up about the continent is dead on arrival. This is the 21st Century. “Brand Africa” will fail. We need to engage our energy in the global political economy in a raw and individualistic framework. Three things will save African intellect
    (1) Individual responsibility
    (2) Technology and
    (3) Global standards.
    Attempts to isolate and brand Africa as some unique place is not going to work. And we all know that. Let us all our young people to work according to the high global standards (national and continental standards have failed and will continue to fail). Isolationism explains why Nkrumah, Kenyatta and Mugabe failed so miserably. Let us allow our people to engage individually and work to meet high standards. Igbos and Ashantis are doing well all over the world. Let us encourage our peoples to rise up to such standards. We are a strong people. Let us allow our people to fight and pursue their best interests individually. These labels and feminist tags are just not going to help anyone.

  8. SOY 2018/02/08 at 20:47 #

    What is it that people NOT understand about this? We were never granted independence in the first place. Anyone who thinks any African country is independent is ignorant. Churchill and the others agreed to the decolonization of Africa on account that African countries are going to be the source of cheap raw materials to the new global order. This is no different from Hitler’s promise of making Eastern Europe the Lebensraum of Germany.
    Our leaders and academics are just puppets in this charade. So it is a pity two respected ladies are debating back and forth. African states are meant to be failed states.
    We are at a disadvantage if we think colonialism ever ended. It did not! We need to accept this basic reality and train our next generation to rub shoulders with the British, Americans, Europeans and everyone else. With globalization, we will be harming ourselves if we think of creating unique nations. Let us allow our people to work according to global standards. Let us allow our people to produce directly for European and North American consumption. That is the only hope we have of breaking the cycle.
    With globalization and the growth of technology, we can do things to directly contribute to the global economy individually. This is what we should be arguing about. Not who is a victim and who is not.
    Our states are designed to fail. And our governments and academics are nothing but caretakers of a system meant to create more oppression and suffering for Africans. So any African reading this must wake up and raise his or her standards to global levels and also use technology to engage directly and productively with the rest of the world. The time for our continent has come. We do not need academics, conceptualizing and limiting our brilliant youth. African youth, think outside the box. Think global and do not allow our institutions to limit you – that is their purpose. To limit and destroy our talents and breed elitism which only keeps us as a Lebensraum for the developed world.
    Both of the ladies in this debate know what I am talking about. And if they were committed to ending this, they would not be debating about these theories which add nothing to anyone’s development. They would be talking about how to increase individual accountability, make technology more accessible and useful to African youths and encourage our youth to participate directly in the international political economy.

  9. Steve 2018/02/09 at 04:50 #

    I don’t understand. On the one hand you’re saying we are failed states still under colonial tutelage and on the other hand you’re advocating that we should surrender whatever level of independence we have to become global production slaves to the British and Americans in effect to surrender ourselves to the globalists $1 a day companies. Do you actually think that the Americans and Europeans are interested in Africans as a people or what Africans can produce for them? They are not. They are interested in your lands and your resources and what they can do with it. As far as they are concerned Africans are a waste of space who have overpopulated a continent that your so-called global elite beieves should rightfully belong to them. At best they see Africans as redundant slave fodder whose resources they would rather plunder and at worst they would be rather happy to eliminate the black man and Africans from this planet in order to reduce global overpopulation and take over the continent’s resources. That is why Africa is a testing ground for experimental pandemics like HIV, Sars and Ebola. Saying that we should turn ourselves into slave labourers to supply goods to the west means becoming like other slave colonies like Bangladesh. The solution for African nations is to focus on building a stronger economic and customs union, encouraging intra-continental cooperation, trade and economic development . Put the infrastructure in place first, put our houses in order not lick the white man arse. You’ll only end up becoming ‘below poverty line slaves’ to be plundered by the West. I cant see how giving up your independence to become slave labourers supplying goods to America and Britain at the prices that they dictate tmcan solve our problems. It’s never going to work because it has never worked that way. Nigerians in general worship and adore the West because of its perceived material superiority but they often dont realise that they are dealing with a deadly viper whose only wish is to destroy them and other Africans if they had their way.

  10. La Pipol 2018/02/09 at 17:46 #

    I think that to centralize post-colonial theory and the savior complex of academic feminists in an argument that is quite possible very simple and critical of the fact that post-colonial theory is based on a British colonialist experience. What has it really done for the people? nothing… what has it done for professors? given them a job to have their messages reverberate within the confines of the ivory tower. I think the twitter messages show an imperialistic attitude that many academics in western society feel…

    higher education is not diverse….
    Higher education is colonial…
    the academy is a colonial machinery…

    Decolonial theory does not seek inclusion but an exit from the colonial matrix of power.

    Post-colonial theory asks white people look expand it let some of us in.. wow you let us in.. thank you… meanwhile the infrastructure is still oiled up to work as a smooth colonial machine.

  11. Athena 2018/02/11 at 02:46 #

    I tend to agree with Steve. While some are touting individualism, corporations – collectives of people – work for and on behalf of a small elite group of people who are running the world.. These entities are backed by governments (also collectives), which were once strong, and were responsible for most of the radical changes in technology that we’ve seen over the last two centuries – from railroads to the internet. See Mazzucato.

    As for Africans, if we all died tomorrow, they’d celebrate and move into the continent extracting resources like a virus.

    I’d suggest all of Africa get it together and throw off its bankrupt governments and its neocolonial structures while reworking its social structure. Othwise it will look like The Mediterranean after the sea people moved in, if it doesn’t already.

    And finally, it should do so quickly – for three reasons: First, The west is ialready in decline and as it declines, the cliques in charge will become more dangerous, racist and aggressive (Trump, evidence in chief). Second, they are already eating their young, destroying their own working people (and could care less about the rest). Third, their fossil-based economies are not sustainable and they lack the political will to do anything about it (we will all pay for this).

    The world needs another vision, many aspects of which are already visible if we’d just seize it.But alas…

    As for those drinking the Koolaide of indivualism, global standards and the magic of markets ( the latter somewhat useful but not determinative), I say: Baa humbug.

  12. Carl Hammerdorfer 2018/02/13 at 11:08 #

    Methinks Ms. Patel doth protest too much. Authors are artists and should be expected to make provocative pronouncements. Academic theorists should have the equanimity and economy to deftly parry, and move on to something productive.

  13. Malik 2018/02/14 at 08:53 #

    I think t

  14. Malik 2018/02/14 at 09:29 #

    I think that’s just a childish rant as response to a provocative statement. And this proved how selfrighteous postcolonial or whatever academics can be. You really think that all the credits for the advancements you mentioned go to postcolonial theory? Give us a break!

    “That post colonial theory Chimamanda derides as ‘made up’? Is what got books by African writers on the national curricula in African countries. So she can say, calmly, “my books are read in schools in Nigeria, and across Africa.”

    Really??? What got books by African writers on the national curricala is excellent African writers writing excellent books. Period. Only if one acknowledges this then we can talk about the contributions of all those smart theories by well paid mostly western based academics did for African writers and so on. Also it is not postcolonial theory that got many African women like Chimamanda’s mom into academia. They had to work hard and fight their own fights. And what do we hear now from people who reap the benefits? Postcolonial theory deserves 0, again 0 credit for this. One can only understand Chimamanda’s reaction better, when actually it is the other way round, women like her mom were the pioneers in this struggle.

    By the way I don’t completely agree with Chimamanda, but i disagree with this smug rant even more. Stay humble and acknowledge your contributions whatever they maybe be. You tell me. But don’t say that some western-based academics that hardly understand each other made Chimamanda’s success possible. Don’t forget that before they got into those respected positions, there was a whole legion of hard working African moms and dads that did everything in their strengthen to make their child become an excellent writer like Chimamanda is today. And she is just one of the many examples, but most good people don’t brag their contributions. I guess postcolonialists have more time for this s… oh, I forgot they are probably building universities in Africa rn.

  15. Malik 2018/02/14 at 09:30 #

    That’s just a childish rant as response to a provocative statement. And this proved how selfrighteous postcolonial or whatever academics can be. You really think that all the credits for the advancements you mentioned go to postcolonial theory? Give us a break!

    “That post colonial theory Chimamanda derides as ‘made up’? Is what got books by African writers on the national curricula in African countries. So she can say, calmly, “my books are read in schools in Nigeria, and across Africa.”

    Really??? What got books by African writers on the national curricala is excellent African writers writing excellent books. Period. Only if one acknowledges this then we can talk about the contributions of all those smart theories by well paid mostly western based academics did for African writers and so on. Also it is not postcolonial theory that got many African women like Chimamanda’s mom into academia. They had to work hard and fight their own fights. And what do we hear now from people who reap the benefits? Postcolonial theory deserves 0, again 0 credit for this. One can only understand Chimamanda’s reaction better, when actually it is the other way round, women like her mom were the pioneers in this struggle.

    By the way I don’t completely agree with Chimamanda, but i disagree with this smug rant even more. Stay humble and acknowledge your contributions whatever they maybe be. You tell me. But don’t say that some western-based academics that hardly understand each other made Chimamanda’s success possible. Don’t forget that before they got into those respected positions, there was a whole legion of hard working African moms and dads that did everything in their strengthen to make their child become an excellent writer like Chimamanda is today. And she is just one of the many examples, but most good people don’t brag their contributions. I guess postcolonialists have more time for this s… oh, I forgot they are probably building universities in Africa rn.

  16. Jay 2018/02/14 at 18:57 #

    Although Shailja Patel has written some interesting points on what Chimamanda spoke of, l think her comments should be left for a mature academic debate or conversation with Chimamanda, because words can often been taken out of context when you take one line someone says and make assumptions about the context and meaning. She has made many assumptions which are not productive. Though l don’t profess to be an “academic”, l can see very clearly the problem it creates. People arguing over “ideas, perspective and opinions” in an effort to appear smarter, more versed and more academic than another. Whilst l personally appreciate a good conversation on topics related to Africa, world politics and social justice, l don’t enjoy seeing one great woman attack the opinion of another without a conversation taking place. I also hear a tone of passive aggressive angst in what Shailja has written, that seems provoked by something prior to this interview Chimamanda did. Although l’m not one to accuse anyone, l know that Shailja Patel is an activist of sorts for the queer community in Africa and many transgender women were angered by Chimamndas comments that trans women were not the same as women born as women. She faced a heavy backlash from the community who took her words and meaning out of context with a hightened sensitivity and a strong need for Chimamanda to reassure them of their inclusion as women. I’m very big on looking at what ones agenda is in the comments they make and l can see she has mentioned this a few times (the queer community). If one is already in angst about previous comments made by someone, it can easily turn into a rant like above fueled not necessaily by seeking to understand, but just wanting to challenge anothers intellectual prowess, (an academic sword fight) maybe even for the purpose of discrediting Chimamanda. I personally didn’t agree to a few comments she made in the interview as well, but l will reserve my opinions about it for conversations between my friends. I really don’t think people ranting on social media achieves much in the way of understanding. In Africa the one thing we don’t need more of is devisions. We can debate, respect the variety if perspectives, but we don’t need to indulge in social media one way rants. We don’t need to bring another respected African down to prove ourselves as more knowledgable or more right, which l feel she is doing. But can l just say in my humble opinion that l feel that an Indian Africans perspective on such topics of colonialism, will differ from that of an African, because our experiences of it were from two different perspectives. She (Shailja Patel) should respect that and respectfully disagree without believeing her perspective to be right over Chimamandas, but also be willing to have a conversation with her rather than a non-productive social media rant. I greatly enjoyed the conversation between Chimamanda and Trevor Noah which was as l have spoken of here. They had two different perspectives, but left the conversation with still a deep appreciation of each others.

  17. Jay 2018/02/14 at 19:06 #

    In other words Shailja Patel..sit down and be willing to have a mature, respectful conversation with Chimamanda before you make assumptions about what she means. You may find you are wrong on every point and that you actually agree more than you disagree. But how will you know if you only heard her say one thing and you ran with it ? It’s a lot of ranting considering you are the only one in the speaking.

  18. Brian Dawson 2018/04/17 at 16:26 #

    This is a rather late comment but I just finished reading, Duress: Imperial Durabilities In Our Times, and I have a few thoughts.

    1) is not Shailja Patel a Kenyan settler and not Kenyan? Do people see a difference in distinction to such an African identity? Her comments seem to echo so many of the settler issues presented by settler colonial bodies in colonized spaces.

    2) did Shailja Patel forget that Edward Said once said the same thing? When Said was queried in an interview about postcolonial studies in ’97, he responded “I don’t think colonialism is over, really, I don’t know what they are really talking about.”

    – Quoted in Robert J. C. Young, “Edward Said: Opponent of Postcolonial Theory,” in Edward Said’s Translocations: Essays in Secular Criticism, ed. Tobias Döring and Mark Stein (New York: Routledge, 2012), 37.”

    3) why would Sailja Patel go after Chimamanda and not Said? Anti-blackness?

  19. Maggie 2018/04/22 at 16:29 #

    It’s a pity Ngozi had to make these comments. I’ve just finished reading a memoir by Hannah Lowe titled Long Time No See. A moving account, set in UK, of a mixed race woman’s fractious and difficult relationship with her father who was black.

    After Lowe did a course in post-colonial lit. at University, it was clearly able to give a context into understanding her father, whom the author was ashamed of.

    Post colonial theory can make us, especially those of use who were born in the diaspora, understand why our fathers, our mothers were not able to become professors or academics, why they were denied choices in terms of determining their own destiny. I feel Chimamanda’s comments reeks of insensitivity.

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