Culture is at the beginning and the end of development
(Léopold Sédar Senghor)
Published on 12 March 2012
It was a pleasant coincidence that as the African Union was clocking 10 recently, Nigeria was hosting the second meeting of the third session of the Union’s Conference of Ministers of Culture in Abuja. The conference of ministers of culture was set up by the AU to underscore the significance of culture to the socio-economic and political development of Africa.
Indeed, the defunct Organisation of African Unity, which metamorphosed into the AU, made culture the fulcrum of its activities because it was formed in the 1960s, a period synonymous with the attainment of political independence for many African countries and the commencement of cultural rejuvenation. And taking a cue from the former OAU, the AU has, as one of its Special Technical Committees, the Committee on Education, Culture and Human Resources. In addition, the portfolios of the union also include Social Affairs under which culture, health, children, drug , labour, employment and sports are given attention. The items listed under both the Technical Committee and the Portfolio have culture as a basic building block.
Three, out of the several issues discussed at the meeting are of immediate interest here. First is the ratification of the Charter of African Cultural Renaissance, which the AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, Advocate Gawanas, described as a project that would hoist an authentic African identity. To this end, the popularisation of AU symbols was proposed for the promotion of this identity.
It was noted at the meeting that Sudan is already popularising the Charter for African Cultural Renaissance and it is being taught in the country’s schools and that this was gathering momentum as Algeria too would launch the campaign during her 50th Independence Anniversary on July 5, 2012. Nigeria’s Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, Edem Duke, averred at the meeting that the Nigerian Government would support any move by the AU towards a cultural renaissance, particularly in ways that would make culture play a greater role in the socio-economic advancement of member-states and the continent as a whole. This consensus portends a brighter future and a greater role for the culture sector in Africa.
The second issue, from which Nigeria stands to benefit immensely is the proposal for the establishment of an African Film Commission and a Pan-African Cultural Institute. Expectedly, the meeting hopes to draw largely from the expertise and leadership of Nigeria to actualise the proposal for the film commission. This move would create a stronger platform for the activities and products of Nollywood and its contributions to the preservation and propagation of indigenous cultural values, a positive that was acknowledged at the meeting.
The third issue dwells on the importance of African oral traditions which led the meeting to reconsider the mandate of the Centre for Linguistic and Historical Studies by Oral Tradition. In order to reposition the Centre which was established in 1968, AU Ministers of Culture decided to review its mandate, develop a strategic plan, persuade the AU to provide the Centre with competent personnel and financial resources and look at the possibility of lending staff with expertise from member-states to strengthen capacity, not only in CELHTO but also in other AU institutions.
Two advantages will accrue to the continent should these be implemented. These are the opportunity it will create to build the capacity of citizens and the prospects of preserving African indigenous languages and values which several reports indicate are facing extinction.
Dr. Taiwo Oladokun is Special Assistant (Media) to the Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke
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