In Cameroun, experts seek cultural renaissance for Africa
THE significance of African arts and culture in the socio-political and economic equation of the global world was the major thrust of the just concluded Summit of African Cultural Institutions and the African Diaspora (SACIADIA) held in Yaounde, Cameroun.
As a follow-up to a similar gathering held in 2007 in Lagos, Nigeria, which focused on developing proactive strategies in the management and promotion of the arts and cultures of the Negro-African people, the four-day summit was a joint effort of the Regional Centre for Research and Documentation on Oral Traditions and Development of African Language (CERDOTOLA), Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), the Pan African Strategy and Policy Research Group (PANAFSTRAG) as well as the Observatory of Cultural Policies in Africa.
The organizers of the summit said the realisation that centuries of violence, slavery, colonization has continued to hold the continent down, in addition to failure by the West to situate African history and culture in a proper perspective motivated it.
According to them, time is now ripe for African cultural rebirth. And for the continent to develop, an Afro-centric and culture-built platform of interaction with the global community is desirable.
The summit drew participants from many African countries. Nigeria had a team of culture scholars including Prof. Dele Layiwola of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan; Mrs. Josephine Mokwunyei of the Theatre Art and Mass Communication Department, University of Benin; Dr. Eze Bassey Eze of the Department of Geography and Regional Planning, University of Calabar; Okpara C. Vincent of Fine Art Department, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; and Mohammad J. Kuna, Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto.
In his opening remarks, the Executive Secretary, Regional Centre for Research and Documentation on Oral Traditions and Development of African Languages (CERDOTOLA), Prof. Charles Binam Bikoi, canvassed the abrogation of laws made based on diversity of cultures. And the time for that, he stressed "is now."
To him, African culture must be allowed to give impetus to modernity and other ideals.
He challenged African cultural institutions to continue to assist in areas of creativity, competition and awareness in African history and civilization.
While regretting the fact that some African countries deny themselves the advantage of such a forum by absenting themselves, he lamented that similar low turnout greeted the 2007 meeting in Lagos, a CBAAC's initiative, which brought together major players in art and culture.
Bikoi informed that Cameroun's version of the summit would have been hosted last year but it was postponed till 2009 to enable organisers extend the frontiers of their objectives, one of which was to take advantage of past meetings, forums and seminars on black civilization and leverage on them to re-appropriate the institutions as well as put them in perspective to consolidate potentials of African culture in the face of global challenges.
According to him, nothing is as vital as culture in overcoming the challenges of the time. "There is no shame in knowing where you come from or who you are. Whoever is subject to mockery would not be able to produce or find way to freedom. There is no inferior or superior race, no big or small people in the face of the earth," he noted.
Mr. Benjamin Gnalega, who represented the African Union at the summit, urged Africans, both at home and in the Diaspora, to be part of the cultural renaissance by returning to their old cultural ways of living.
Recalling how the AU leaders in Algiers called for the sowing of seeds for African cultural identity based on the AU charter, he stressed that African culture constitute the people's souls and their entire being and as such, should be jealously protected to avoid losing it.
"We urge all Africans to turn to African values right now so that we can practically know who we are, where we are coming from and where we are going. Africans have to preserve their traditions and values in a globalised world; else, we would lose all we have. No people can develop without adherence to their cultural identity."
Gnalega also expressed concern over continuous seizure of African stolen historical and cultural items by the West and asked African leaders to steer up action towards retrieving them.
Benoit Sossou, who represented UNESCO, charged African Union member states to commit themselves to the working of the institutions in order to enhance the cultural value of Africans all over the world.
He also spoke on the need to promote indigenous languages for proper integration of African values in a globalised world. According to Benoit, "To promote African cultural diversity, all Africans must endeavour to promote their own indigenous languages; this will help to integrate African cultural values in a globalised world. People without language are frivolous and therefore lack security and nowhere near their aims and objective."
Addressing participants, the representative of CBAAC, Lagos, Nigeria, Mrs Chuma Ibe, expressed deep feelings for the success of the summit, which she informed was initiated by CBAAC two years ago.
Describing the early beginning as a mustered seed, she expressed delight that the dream of projecting African cultural values through the programme was gradually being realized.
"I am overwhelmed with joy, this dream began like a joke but today, we have a bigger dream. Indeed, it is like a mustered seed and so, we can blow our trumpet that we have achieved our dreams of projecting African values."
She reiterated the need for Africans to arrest the moral decadence prevalent in the society, especially among the youths. Her words: "It is bad enough but it is worse with the younger ones, I wonder what they will teach their children if the situation continues to degenerate at this rate."
For her, Africans can still be modern without losing their African identity and values.
"Yes, this is what we can do now and go ahead to serve as an example to the rest of the world, it would be a glowing situation where African ladies will go back to the old norm of being chase before marriage or how do we move forward if we can't address our moral degeneration? We need to return to our original way of life where values and manners are cherised," she emphasized.
Speaking later, the Managing Director/Chief Executive, CBAAC, Prof. Tunde Babawale, emphasised the efficacy of re-branding Nigeria and indeed Africa, using culture as a tool.
Babawale, who joined the meeting on the second day could not hide his excitement over the manner Nigerians articulated their cultural dress sense and general attitude at the summit.
He said the intimidating presence of Nigeria 's cultural ambassadors have earned the country respect from other participants and visitors to the Hotel Mount Febe, venue of the event.
"Your works and attitude will speak for you, you don't need any slogan. I feel there is no better way to re-brand Nigeria than through our cultural values, which tend to promote core African values," adding, "some of the participants from French-speaking nations admitted that Nigerians still have lots of their cultural values intact while most of those of the French Speaking African countries have been badly affected through their policy of assimilation."
While expressing regrets that most African languages are going into extinction because youths place emphasis on colonial languages, Babawale said the concern of CBAAC was to see how it could network to fashion out means of reviving engendered languages as well as promote cultural values in the continent.
Also speaking on the centrality of culture in continental development was the Executive Secretary, National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), Mr. J.B. Yusuf.
Yusuf said government policies must have their cultural ingredients without which the desired results might not be achieved.
On the impact of the summit on his institute, Yusuf said it would be difficult to promote indigenous languages in Nigeria, which is one of the cardinal objectives of NICO without identifying some of the challenges facing local languages in Nigeria particularly and the continent at large.
"It is our belief that the more languages you understand because of the nature of our diversity, the better for us. We may not get immediate result now but on the long run, it would be useful because language serves as a carrier and it is a vital tool for integration; language can also cause war and that is why we say that for proper integration, there is the need to understand ourselves through speaking the same language. We also listen to music, which conveys a lot of message. So, language is essential, it is the strong point of culture, it is used to express cultural values and that is why emphasis at the summit was put on the promotion of indigenous languages."
The NICO boss said he was solidly behind the campaign to save African languages from going into extinction as well as returning to core cultural values of hard work, integrity, sincerity and respect for elders and instituted authority.
Some of the titles of papers presented at the programme included Information and Communication Technology: The Role of Computer Technology in the Service of African Arts and Culture by Okpara C.Vincent; ICT and Pedagogy: The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution by Merlin-Ferdinand; Globalised Economy and Language Industries by Alexis Belibi; African Culture and Information Technology: Practical for Learning Camerounian Languages by Emmanuel Tonye; as well as Status and Use of African Languages, Languages of Culture and Development Tool by Veronica Quillien.
Others were African Languages and Cultures and the Challenges of Integration and Globalisation by Julien Kilanga Musinde; Development and Promotion of Arts and Cultural Products by Luc Yatchokeu; The Place of African Arts in Artistic Dissemination by Jean-Pierre Guingane; African Language in the Construction of the Global Village: A Historical Analysis and the Limits of Languages in African Literature by Prof. Dele Layiwola.
Emmanuel-Moselly Makasso, who spoke on Epic Genre and Cultural Expression noted, "language does not forge cultural identity but implements it through its use in a particular way and in a particular context."
According to him, the very concept of cultural identity is at the centre of a correlation between the individual and the outside world through time and space.
In his contribution, Jean-Pierre Ntamag agreed that African languages were, like all other languages in the world, vehicles for the transmission of values, beliefs, and customs.
He noted that while each of them expresses a conception of the present world, those of African aim at appreciating the value, position and sense of African languages in globalization. He therefore counseled Africans to view the development of these languages on scientific and technical levels to enable them provide Africa with a better destiny.
Okpara's paper examined the role and relevance of computer technology in the service of African arts and culture. Here, he pointed how museums, cultural centres, government ministries, professional organisations and different arts and cultural groups could utilise computer technology as information and communication tool for packaging and projection of African arts and cultural heritage.
Okpara stressed that adopting such technological concepts such as slide presentations, web-hosting, image simulation and interactive internet conferences, among others, would help facilitate the advancement of African arts and culture on the competitive global stage.
Okpara decried the fear of unknown saying it has continually brought the traditional African in constant contact with his spiritual world. "The uncertainties of the forest, river, mountain, seas, oceans, and the changing weather made him to ensure that all natural forces operate harmoniously for the provision of his daily needs and safety. This implies his ability to condense time and space to possess an unusual amount of insight on these phenomena."
He enumerated the impacts of the new tools to include the ability to transform existing traditional means of artistic and cultural expressions as well as developing new ones. They also have the potentials to record or document, store, duplicate into various original copies, transfer, retrieve or display artworks and cultural performances in places far away from the original theatre or studio where they are produced or performed.
He, therefore, advocated the effective use of ICT in dismantling those barriers that make meanings and significance of some African arts and culture difficult to understand and appreciate.
In appreciation of the support of the Minister/Head of Chancery, Nigerian High Commission in Cameroun, Ahmed Inusa, who participated in the summit from the opening to the closing, the Nigerian delegation led by Prof. Babawale paid him a courtesy visit.
Inusa while welcoming his guests called for stronger ties between Nigeria and Cameroun, especially in the areas of trade and culture. He also urged Nigerians to put the issue of Bakassi behind them, so that, both countries can fully enjoy the benefit of their corporation.
He emphasied that with over four million Nigerians residing in Cameroun, no reasonable government could have hesitated to hand over the portion of land to Cameroun for the sake of peace and harmony as the contrast would have implied protecting territory while endangering the lives of Nigerians.
He was however happy that the relationship between two countries was gradually returning to normal.
On the issue of culture, he commended CBAAC boss for its initiative and expressed regrets that the most cherished aspects of African culture are gradually being lost to foreign influences. "The value of everyone participating in governance, the value of hard work, the value of honesty and transparency are fast fading away."
He, however, expressed confidence in the resolutions at the summit to put the continent on the path of cultural rebirth.
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