Culture is at the beginning and the end of development
(Léopold Sédar Senghor)
Published on 16 April 2012
A nation’s cultural heritage is part and parcel of understanding a country and its people, according to Webber Ndoro Director of the African World Heritage Fund, who believes many development projects have suffered from lack of cultural awareness and understanding.
“We have had quite a lot of money poured into Africa in the name of development, and perhaps some of this money and some of these ideas that have been promoted didn’t really lead to the required economic development,” said Mr Ndoro. “And I think one of the major reasons is that quite a lot of these programmes didn’t take heritage, or cultural heritage, into consideration.”
The African World Heritage Fund works for the effective conservation and protection of the continent’s natural and cultural heritage and preservation of this heritage is an important component in forming national and individual identities.
“If you don’t know who you are it is very difficult for you to participate in any economic development,” said Mr Webber. “Therefore I think that it’s very important that cultural heritage – in the different forms that it exists – should be taken into consideration in any economic development project.”
One could say that from a human capacity development perspective, societies are more able to make choices about their future, when people are aware of their history and culture.
But investing in culture can also drive economic growth. A 2006 study commissioned by the European Union established that the cultural sector can have some significant and quantifiable economic benefits in a society. The 2006 report on ‘The Economy of Culture in Europe’ found that the cultural sector in the EU turned over 654 billion euros in 2003 – more than traditionally strong economic drivers like Information, Communication and Technology or car manufacturing.
In recent years, the European Commission has taken a lead role in embracing culture as a vital component in the path towards development. For instance, over the period 2007-2013 the EC allocated 50 million euros to culture as part of a much larger ‘Investing in People’ project. The project seeks to improve access to local culture and protect and promote cultural diversity across a number of developing countries.
As well as targeted cultural project allocations, the Commission has enshrined principles of ‘demand’ and ‘ownership’ at every level of their operations. This requires that policy makers and development workers are understanding of the local context and cultural norms of the society in which they are operating.
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