Nobel Prize Winner, Wole Soyinka, participated in the International Conference titled “The Legacy of Chinua Achebe: Dialogical Explorations in Philosophy, Literature, and Politics” at NDU, Lebanon (March 2014)
The LDC Initiative organized and co-sponsored an International Conference at NDU, Lebanon titled “The Legacy of Chinua Achebe: Dialogical Explorations in Philosophy, Literature, and Politics”, attended by the Nobel Prize Winner in Literature, Wole Soyinka, and supported by the Nigerian Embassy in Lebanon, the Lebanese-Nigerian communities, the Cedars Institute, and NDU. This event was generously sponsored by Mr. Said Khalaf, a Lebanese-Nigerian businessman devoted to the cultivation of cultural ties between Lebanon and Nigeria, and organized in part by his daughter, Juliana Khalaf, who specializes in art history and is also committed to the promotion of art
After the visit to Lebanon of Wole Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Lebanese-Nigerian relations will never be the same. This was the sentiment of many Lebanese and Nigerian businessmen, academics, diplomats, politicians, and students who attended the event. Soyinka, himself, expressed something similar and pledged to return to Lebanon in order to deepen the cultural ties between the two countries through the promotion of art, literature, and theatre. The occasion of Soyinka’s visit was to pay tribute to the enduring work of one of Africa’s greatest and best known authors, Chinua Achebe, one year after his death. Promoted as an activity of the “Lebanon: Land of Dialogue Among Civilizations and Cultures” (LDC) Initiative, an initiative aimed at gaining United Nations recognition of Lebanon as a land of Dialogue, the event attracted some of the who’s who in Lebanon. Under the auspices of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Lebanon, and in collaboration with the Cedars Institute and the Council for Research in Values and Philosophy at Notre Dame University-Louaize in Lebanon, the event was titled Honoring Chinua Achebe: A Lebanese-Nigerian Celebration. It began on March 19th and concluded on March 22nd. On 19 March, Le Notre Hotel and Resort sponsored a lunch and roundtable discussion with Wole Soyinka, which brought together dignitaries from the region of North Lebanon, including Nayla Mouawad, Ibrahim Daher, Tarek Chidiac, head of the Gibran Committee and also representing the region’s MP’s (Sitrida Geagea and Elie Keyrouz), Joseph Geagea, head of the Gibran museum, retired General Victor Rahme, retired Chief Justice of the Military Tribunal, Tarabay Rahme, and other notables of the Bechare district. The discussion focused around comments made by Soyinka concerning what other countries, including Nigeria, might be able to learn from Lebanon’s unique confessional system—a system that in spite of all its weaknesses has managed to prevent any dictatorial regime from emerging, and has managed to prevent another civil war from erupting against all odds. On 20 March, Mr. Habib Jaffar sponsored a fabulous dinner in Beirut to honor Soyinka, which provided another opportunity for prominent Lebanese from all walks of life to meet and speak personally with Soyinka. On 21 March, the main events took place: a seminar at NDU which brought together many notables, including Mr. Said Khalaf, head of Setraco group (main sponsor), Ambassador of Nigeria, Amos Idowu, Apostolic Ambassador, Gabriele Caccia, Ambassador of Indonesia, Dimas Rum, Ambassador of Sudan, Ahmad Hassan, chairperson of the board and general manager of Bank Audi, Raymond Audi, General Edward Akiki, representative of General Jean Kahwaji, the chief commander of the Lebanese Army, Marwan Safi, the representative of General George Karaa, director of the Government Security, Elie Mrad, representative of Abbas Ibrahim, director of General Security, Thomas Wakim, representative of the Minister of Labor, Mr. Assas, representative of the Minister of Information, Dr. Joseph Shida, representative of General Michel Aoun, Abdallah Zakhem, President of LENIFRA’s Executive Committee, Faysal Khalil, Director of Continental Beverages, Habib Jaffar, Chairman of Dar Foundation, Abbot Boutros Tarabay, Superior General of the Maronite Mariamite Order, Dr. Amin Rihani, representative of NDU’s President Father Walid Moussa, Vice President for Administration, Fr. Ziad Antoun, Vice President for Academic Affair, Dr. Antoine Farhat, Vice President for Cultural Affairs, Mr. Suheil Matar, and numerous Deans and Directors. A closing event took place in Issam Fares at NDU, with pictures, awards, Lebanese and Nigerian dancing, and a cocktail, again, attended by many of the same notables present at the seminar, in addition to the prominent Lebanese businessman, William Zard, the catalyst of the LDC Initiative. Later that night, Faysal and May Khalil hosted Soyinka at their home for dinner, along with members of the organizing committee from NDU. The focus of this Lebanese-Nigerian celebration revolved around the need to strengthen the links between Nigeria and Lebanon at the cultural level since these links have for too long been one-sided and one-dimensional in favor only of commerce. The final activity of the event took place at the Nigerian Ambassador’s residence, with delicious Nigerian and Lebanese food, and with Soyinka publically quoting the legendary sportsman, Mohammad Ali, who once famously said “I shall return”.