Cultural Dialogue and Heritage - 3 questions to Jenny Mbaye
Commited to cultural dialogue
In all of our host regions, the heritage of past generations is a precious asset that unites communities, affirms their identity and structures their future. A source of openness and empowerment, culture enables people to expand their horizons and develop skills that are essential to social cohesion. And by creating job opportunities and driving tourism and economic development, culture also contributes to the vitality and appeal of our host regions. Respect for other people’s cultures, religions, backgrounds and beliefs is critical to the creation of a united corporate community. Three priority areas to achieve our aim of showcasing the different cultural traditions: preserving and promoting architectural and cultural heritage, supporting young artists and the emergence of innovative and inclusive art projects, facilitating access to cultural activities and arts education for socially vulnerable young people.
3 questions to Jenny Mbaye
What is the current situation with culture in Africa ?
In Africa, as elsewhere, the arts and culture sector is marked by a precarity of employment, gaps in social protection and the impact of digital technology on artists’ income. This fragile ecosystem is dependent on two key cornerstones: support for artistic creation and distribution of artists’ works, both of which are fueled by education and access to funding. But in Africa, there is a lack of training programs in artistic and cultural creation. And there is too little funding too. The cultural and creative industry, which relies upon calls for projects, is still in disarray. Finally, colonialism shaped cultural heritage and approaches in Africa, with public authorities that are either omnipresent or non-existent. This painful legacy, sometimes referred to as a colonial hangover, often conveys a certain version of history. All of this influences how culture functions and is governed as well as ways of viewing and imagining the past and the present.
Is there a pan-African idea of cutlure in Africa ?
This is a situation of contrasts, since we’re talking about 55 separate countries with a range of realities, each of them having its own practices and cultural trajectories. This diversity lends itself to dialogue, but when institutions sometimes don’t function as they should and there’s no real local strategy when it comes to culture, the independent initiatives that pop up all across Africa are mainly what get the conversation going. This dialogue is taking shape in many cities across the continent, from Dakar to Cape Town, spearheaded by collectives of citizens who are often young, concerned about cultural topics, and want to learn about and get involved in the world of art, culture and heritage as a foundation of connection, community and renewal. This driving force of civil society rallies energies and leads people to work together, helping them reappropriate the conversation, highlight common goals and establish a new governance. As a pioneering energy, it fosters a lively culture as well as communities of practices organized by network, from one collective to another. They weave their fabric and give structure to an entire ecosystem that ranges from art education to the distribution of art.
"In Africa, civil society is weaving a cultural dialogue that tells a different story"
Jenny Mbaye, senior lecturer at the City University of London
Do you have examples of initiatives that promote the sharing of culture on the African continent ?
The city of Ségou in Mali illustrates this phenomenon quite well. Created in 2005 by an entrepreneur of the region, the Festival sur le Niger has become a national event, even prompting the local government to launch its very first policy on culture. Another example is the AfCFTA Tech and Creative Group, a community of young entrepreneurs across the continent who are working to open the African free-trade area up to the technology and creative market. A dialogue is also forming among the collectives of various countries. The Moroccan association Afrikayna is forging artistic connections with Sub-Saharan countries, in particular via its Instrumenthèque, a collection of instruments used in African music. All these initiatives become sources of production, creation and redistribution. They create alternative institutions that make a real difference by paving the way for creative spaces and resources for their cultural policy. This institution building in African civil society is a powerful vector of change, since culture is first and foremost the product of a way of thinking, and also by storytelling, which harnesses the power of the imagination to open up new approaches and establish unique values that allow us to reinvent ourselves. And these citizens tell a different story about ourselves, to ourselves, for ourselves.
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