On 25 January, in her Night of Ideas interview in France, one of our favourites, renowned author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, made the following statement: “Postcolonial theory? I don’t know what it means. I think it’s something that professors made up because they needed to get jobs.” In addition to proving herself fallible, her words have sparked controversy.

The Night of Ideas event is a cross-continental initiative run by the French Institute, featuring public discussions on topical issues. Adichie’s exchange with French journalist Caroline Broue was themed “Power to the Imagination”.

Postcolonial studies is the academic study of the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism, focusing on the human consequences of the control and exploitation of colonised people and their lands. It examines the social and political power relationships that sustain colonialism and neocolonialism, including the social, political and cultural narratives surrounding the coloniser and the colonised.
Simply put, it seeks, through anthropological study, to build a better understanding of colonial life from the point of view of the colonised people, based on the assumption that the colonial rulers are unreliable narrators.

Read: Chimamanda’s latest book Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions wins French Prize

With that overview it is easier to understand reactions like that of Kenyan poet Shailja Patel, the author of Migritude in her 14 tweets reiterating the importance of postcolonial theory. She demonstrates the irony of this statement by Adichie, a beneficiary of the space-clearing labour of generations of postcolonial theorists.

The tweets read as follows:

Postcolonial artists and theorists alike face an intractable challenge: the burden of representation –or, as Chimamanda herself has expressed it, the “single story”.

“If we are to dismantle the inequalities that limit the possibilities of art and ideas from the postcolonial world, the lesson is clear: We should all embrace postcolonial thought,” Prof Grace Musila wrote on Aljazeera.com.