On his first trip to Nigeria as president, France’s Emmanuel Macron seemed anti-establishment.
Yes, he landed to the regular pomp of a presidential welcome and had a meeting with Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari in Nigeria’s capital. But beyond that, much of the 40-year old’s visit was removed from government business.
First was a conspicuous trip to New Afrika Shrine, a concert venue in Lagos owned by the family of the Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The late musician, a fierce anti-government critic, railed against successive military regimes through music and was jailed several times by military leaders, including current president Buhari who served as head of state between 1983 and 1985. Indeed the New Afrika Shrine replaced the original venue after it was burned down in 1977 by the army.
Given its proudly anti-establishment roots, a visit to the Shrine does not typically feature in a visiting president’s itinerary. But Macron was quick to dispel any notions that his visit was unusual given the shrine’s cultural value. “It may be a surprise that a French president goes to the shrine, but it never surprises anyone if I go to the Albert Hall or the Met,” he said. While there, Macron also announced the launch of African Cultures Season in 2020, an event to promote African culture aimed at changing cliched perceptions of Africa. The visit was a homecoming of sorts for Macron who spent six months in Nigeria working as an intern at the French embassy in 2002 and sojourns to the shrine were part of that experience.
In the first podcast from the workshop ‘Narrating Migrations’ held at the University of Portsmouth on 15 March 2017, Emmanuel Godin introduces the event. Writer Miriam Halahmy then discusses her novel Hidden (2011), aimed at a teenage audience, and how she was drawn to address questions of migration and asylum through her work. She also describes her experiences speaking to children in UK schools. Listen to the podcast here:
Miriam Halahmy is an author and a poet. She has published five novels and three collections of poetry, as well as articles and countless blogposts. Miriam was a teacher for 25 years in London and has always worked with asylum seekers. She has run workshops for asylum seekers at The Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture and for English PEN, helping this client group write down their stories as part of their journey to a new life. Miriam has also run workshops on peace and tolerance in a Paris lycée. Her song, Seven Billion Candles (for peace) emerged from this work and was performed by 95 school choirs recently across Lancashire.
Miriam’s novel HIDDEN (2011) was longlisted for the Carnegie medal and was a Sunday Times Children’s Book of the Week: “A book to counter bigotry”. HIDDEN is about two teens who pull an asylum seeker out of the sea and hide him to save him from being deported. In the past two years there has been a huge surge of interest in the book as a result of the worldwide refugee crisis. HIDDEN has been published in America (Holiday House, 2016, Scholastic Bookclub, 2017) as well as other territories. This year HIDDEN has been adapted for the stage and will tour schools, small theatres and community centres from spring 2018 in order to challenge perceived views of asylum seekers and refugees in our society today.
Find out about Miriam’s latest book, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, published by Holiday House (March 2017) on www.miriamhalahmy.com.