Thursday, 7 July 2011

Time for African governments to take culture seriously

Florence Mukanga

The views expressed in this article are entirely of the writer.

Recently the relationship that exists between culture and development has generated a lot of interest across the whole world. There has been a lot of lobbying towards recognising the special role and the importance of culture and to give culture a more prominent place in development. In Africa we have embraced these developments with enthusiasm.

Some African countries have developed well defined cultural policies that govern arts and culture though it pains to note that many African countries still do not have well defined national cultural policies which articulate common vision. I know that these countries do have legislation that governs some aspects of arts and culture such as copyright laws and provisions from various common policies that have an impact on culture, including both policies that refer specifically to culture and those that have a more indirect impact on culture. Due to this lack of coherent cultural policies culture has found itself in a compromised position. I personally think that well defined holistic cultural policies are important especially because they help to tackle cross cutting iissues such as mobility of artists and cultural professionals, regulation of markets for cultural goods and services and fighting piracy.

Last year the African Union launched a Campaign for African Cultural Renaissance with the aim to promote Pan Africanism, cultural renewal and identity as forming part of the shared values in the Continent. In the same year African Union also organised a conference on financing of arts and culture.

All these developments point to the observation that culture should be put on the forefront of all development. However I would like to see culture occupying a prominent position in the African agenda in terms of resource allocation. Indeed conferences are important but at this stage African Union has to encourage member states to commit resources towards cultural development. To continue operating, African artists and their organisations always turn to foreign partners. George Ngwane, in his open letter to the AU Commission President notes that these partners undeniably have their own prisms of the definition and implementation of art and culture agendas in Africa which leads to a clash in civilisations and conflict of perceptions.  He adds that national governments need to provide a cultural stimulus package to art organisations in order to flower the abundance of cultural heritage still lying fallow and latent in our creative backyard. I would like to emphasise the same thing by saying that as long African governments continue to turn a blind eye to arts and culture in terms of their priorities when it comes to budgeting then the chances of succeeding in this campaign will remain very slim.

In some cases it is not even about budgets only. It is about showing commitment to the development of arts and culture. Regional Economic Communities such as the Southern African Development Community for example, do not have desks dedicated to Arts and Culture. In a recent telephone conversation with the SADC secretariat in Botswana I was informed that the cultural desk was removed because ‘it is no longer a priority area for SADC.’ I could not believe my ears!!!! Culture….the fourth pillar of sustainable development…the fabric of society…our identity…our past, present and future…being neglected just like that. I then visited the website of SADC and then I was shocked by the vision of the body which is of a common future, a future within a regional community that will ensure economic well-being, improvement of the standards of living and quality of life, freedom and social justice and peace and security for the people of Southern Africa. This shared vision is anchored on the common values and principles and the historical and cultural affinities that exist between the people of Southern Africa. To me this is all about arts and culture so there is no way through which culture has become irrelevant to SADC.

Let us just stop being hypocrites who talk left and walk right. Our governments should start prioritising culture by allocating enough resources towards the sector.


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