It is time for the African Union to push for cultural diplomacy in the form of a Museum of African Music, Arts and Culture as an entity for both preservation and a celebration of our similarities as well as the richness of our cultural diversity
If we are honest with ourselves, for many Africans, the African Union is a noble but somewhat nebulous concept; one that has the highest ideals about cooperation, co-existence and unity among African nations.
Equally true is that even though it may be the received wisdom that the AU (and its predecessor, the OAU) was concerned with for want of a better term we shall call ‘conventional diplomacy’, the organisation set out an equally strong vision of ‘cultural diplomacy’.
Looking back over 50 years of the Union, ‘cultural diplomacy’ has a greater chance of creating understanding between peoples than what I will call for the purposes of this article, ‘conventional diplomacy’. As such, over the next 50 years, we should throw down the challenge to the AU to put cultural diplomacy at the top of its agenda.
By this I mean the African Union (AU) members should spend as much, if not more time on establishing and strengthening cultural diplomatic ties and partnerships as is currently spent on the conventional kind. After all, it could be argued that conventional diplomacy has had many years to become established and it has had the field pretty much to itself. I am not saying that the AU is doing nothing in this area; far from it, simply that it could and should do a whole lot more.
STRENGTHENING CROSS-CULTURAL PARTNERSHIPS
Already the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) has put forward a vision for ‘African Centres’ situated in strategic world capitals; these would show off Africa to the world. The difference with these and the existing museums and exhibitions that show Africa would be that the content would not be content ‘acquired’ (often without our consent) but provided by us. ‘World capitals’ already have enough of African culture and artefacts and could do with less, not more.
Furthermore, as the African Union commemorates 50 years of Pan-African integration and cooperation, surely there is no better time for this organisation to set about strengthening the already established African, cross-cultural partnerships, particularly those that look to music, arts and culture.
The people of Africa have not waited for our diplomats to put up formal structure in establishing these closer ties, instead, we have already taken the initiative in making this happen: we listen to each other’s music (who has not sung along to ‘Malaika’, ‘Sweet Mother’ and ‘Amio’?), we watch each other’s films and plays and we wear each other’s garments.
To illustrate how seriously the founding fathers (yes, it was an all-male club in those days) took this concept, Section 2 c, Article II of the founding Charter of the Organisation of African Unity, adopted on 25 May 1963, set out the aim of educational and cultural cooperation as a core ambition of the organisation’s business. The Charter even proposed the setting up of an Educational, Cultural and Health Commission as one of the first three commissions to be set up – the others being ‘Economic and Social’ and ‘Defence’. Today, when one visits the African Union website (http://www.au.int/en/) the words ‘education’ and ‘culture’ do not leap off the page. And, yet there is now an ‘Economic, Social and Cultural Council’ (ECOSOCC), tasked with taking forward the dream.
Perhaps we the people of Africa, who have already taken it upon ourselves to make this happen, can give a pointer to the AU and ECOSOCC on the sort of vision it could adopt and allow it to achieve many of the aims at the core of its creation. How then can the AU make the dream of cultural understanding, sharing and partnership a reality?
We all know that since the founding of the OAU, the AU’s predecessor, there has been more than one ‘ship of dreams’ dashed against the shores of harsh reality. Some have been pipe dreams but they have been noble pipe dreams; dreams that lifted our spirits but were destined never to be realised; among these have been dreams of a single language and a single currency. Let us therefore say that we have all learnt lessons from the past and we use that knowledge to harness the present to secure a legacy for future generations.
Let us task the AU with setting forth the vision of a dream that is both noble and achievable. It is a dream that I believe will truly unite the whole of Africa. That dream will be about turning words into action to create an enduring, sustainable, living legacy.
LET US EXPLORE THE DREAM
Among the most commonly stated comments one hears from Africans about Africa is to do with the poor or unbalanced representation of and about Africa in various worldwide media. Africa is home to some of the world’s oldest and richest musical and cultural heritages and yet, this is hardly ever communicated either to the wider world or, even more importantly, to fellow Africans.
We can bemoan the fact that the wider world never seems to see us as we see ourselves. But the truth is, even within the continent, with a few notable exceptions, we never share with each other the thoughts, culture and images of how we see ourselves and each other.
I am often shocked when I speak to fellow Africans and hear how little they know about countries that would consider themselves neighbours. And yet, those same people can tell me countless stories about the culture of Europe, America and the rest of the world. Surely, the time has come for that to change.
Simply put, Africa is ill-served by the status quo and a we should humbly ask the AU, as part of these 50th anniversary commemorations to set up, under the auspices of ECOSOCC, a Museum of African Music, Arts And Culture (‘MOAMAAC’); an entity for both preservation and a celebration of our similarities as well as the richness of our cultural diversity. MOAMAAC will fill the void by providing a ‘space’ to capture this richness of culture produced by Africans, and in a manner that is either currently under-resourced, neglected or unavailable through other sources.
Is it time for the AU to consider building a ‘MOAMAAC’, which will redress the current imbalance with the launching of a project for both a physical and virtual ‘Museum of African Music, Arts and Culture’ on the African Continent and in cyberspace?
It is a sad fact that if one wants to see the greatest examples of ancient African culture, I would need to have a lot of money and be prepared to travel extensively throughout Europe and America.
Most, if not all of the greatest surviving representations of African culture in the form of carvings, jewellery and other artefacts are to be found in museums and private collections outside of the African continent. Currently, in order to find this sort of content and information, all of those with an interest in Africa have to become detectives and experts in scouring the ‘net and a large number of websites. At a stroke, this museum will solve that problem, as all the content will be in one place. Or, more accurately, two places: the physical and the virtual.
The arguments and the frustrations are well-rehearsed on the slim-to-non-existent chances of any of the African treasures that are abroad every returning to the mother continent. As for getting back our artefacts? That ship has flown. However, that should not stop us from preserving that which we still have and putting in place systems for curation and display of the ancient and the modern treasures of Africa.
The proposed museum will highlight and showcase the breadth and diversity of Africa and Africans, showcasing the lands as well as the talents of the people. And, by doing this, we hope to bring greater understanding of this most misunderstood and misrepresented continent as much to each other as to the wider world.
HOW WOULD THE SCHEME WORK?
Currently, each African country sends an Ambassador to the African Union. And, each of those countries will be encouraged to send a representative to the Museum of African Music, Arts and Culture – in effect, a ‘Cultural Ambassador’.
In the 21st century, and deep into the Information Age, if we refuse to accept the opportunities presented by new technologies, future generations may well talk about how it was that the world truly became ‘ A Global Village’ and question why we chose to be ‘The Generation of Global Village Idiots’.
When completed, the museum will go a long way towards demonstrating that there is more to Africa than the common ‘non-African, world-and-news-bulletin’ view. More importantly, once operational, the likelihood is that many Africans will not be able to afford to visit the physical structure, wherever it is. However, just as we ‘visit’ other lands via the internet, at the click of a mouse or the tap of a pad, everyone can visit the virtual museum. And, the surest way to give the truest picture of this diverse continent is to involve Africans in collecting and presenting to the world their perceptions of themselves and their continent as opposed to having it refracted through others’ lenses (metaphorically as well as photographically and visually). Literally, ‘MOAMAAC’ will be about ‘Africa as seen through African Eyes’.
HOW WILL IT BE DONE?
Each country will be expected to have its own national museum – physical, virtual or both. As almost every country has a national museum, each museum will be asked to sign a document affiliating it to an umbrella body, to which all the museums on the African continent will belong.
To ensure each nation’s interest is cared for, each museum will be expected to appoint at least one ‘Cultural Ambassador, who will represent that country’s interests to the umbrella body.
To ensure that a nation’s interest is cared for, each museum will be required to film the exhibits it houses, even those in storage not on display due to space constraints. These would be used for the web-based museum as well; thus ‘putting on display’ items otherwise kept away from public view.
For the physical museum, each country will be asked to donate at least one artefact deemed representative of that country and its culture. The site of the permanent will be decided by the AU. The project could provide the AU with an opportunity to engage with the ordinary citizens of this content. To find the permanent site, the AU could, as part of its 50th anniversary commemorations run a series of competitions covering various aspects of the museum; these could include a competition for naming the museum (should it be named after whoever is voted the Greatest African in a special competition?) There could be another competition for African architects to submit designs for the proposed building, competitions for launching an annual essay competition for various age groups on themes relating to African arts and culture.
In the event that a single site is not agreed upon, a compromise might be that the artefacts should be sent as a ‘travelling exhibition’ from country to country. The most obvious permanent site would be the African Union HQ building opened in Addis Ababa in January 2012. However, perhaps a competition might throw up a better option.
The museum will have an agreed Board of Trustees as well as an agreed structure for determining the frequency of meetings to schedule programmes, exhibitions, forums, symposia etc.
As more areas of the continent get hooked up to super-fast broadband, on-line conferencing could be one way for the board to host conferences of African professionals seeking to address Africa’s challenges in cultural conservation and preservation; they do not need to be in the same room to have meetings.
A ‘research and development wing’ should be established to share best practice in archiving, curation and conservation techniques.
HOW DO WE SOURCE THE ARTEFACTS AND CONTENT?
Just as people don’t stand still, neither does culture. As such, culture, as represented and presented in the museum will reflect the way that African culture has influenced other cultures and how it, in turn has been influenced by other cultures.
If we look to recent times, Africa can point to the fact that as the pop music explosion of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s happened, it too, had its equivalent of The Beatles, Rolling Stones and James Brown in the form of Congo’s Dr Nico, Nigeria’s Victor Uwaifo, Fela Kuti and South Africa’s Miriam Makeba to name a few. These artists and many of their contemporaries deserve to have their contributions acknowledged and celebrated within the museum.
Everything from the sartorial fashion of days gone by to the evolving musical styles will be represented in the museum.
Among the artefacts captured within the (physical and virtual) walls of the museum, will be the some or all of the following:
Music: highlighting the continent’s diverse musical cultures and styles from the traditional to the modern;
Musical instruments peculiar to various countries and regions including the likes of the kalimba and the kora, to name but two;
Sculpture and carvings
Sports including traditional African sports. We all know and play football, Rugby, tennis and other imported sports. What are the traditional sports from different countries across our continent?
Spirituality and religion;
African theatre and the performing arts, both traditional and modern – how different African countries, produce, consume and interact with ancient and modern theatre and the performing arts;
Architecture - ancient and modern – each region or country has its own unique architectural styles. How have these adapted and changed over the years?
Historic Monuments - A Commission will be tasked with the location, cataloguing, conservation and preservation of historic monuments;
Youth Culture and Style through the ages;
Photographs – from the earliest to the most recent showing how Africans see themselves through the camera’s lens.
In dealing with the vexed question of African artefacts abroad, the MOAMAAC board will negotiate with museums in Europe and America, where most of these artefacts currently reside, for a series of long or short-term loans of artefacts. The likelihood of securing such loans would be greatly increased if the loans were to a unitary body such as the AU, as opposed to a single country.
The basis of the arrangement will be that these museums will be contracted to provide MOAMAAC with images, video and audio detailing the African Artefacts they hold. We have to accept the reality that most if not all of these will never be permanently returned to their countries of origin. This ‘compromise’ arrangement will be a way for many Africans to see for the first time, artefacts representing their individual country’s cultural history at various stages of development and which they would only otherwise see by travelling out of their country. For the majority, this is unfeasible.
The quality, relevance and regularity of the updating of the content will be a determining factor in the success of the site.
WHAT WILL THE ‘DREAM REALISED’ LOOK LIKE?
Between the, museums should achieve the task of providing the most authentic representation of Africa as seen by Africans through the ages. When completed, this will be the only site anyone would need to visit to get a thorough sense of Africa’s past, present and future. The site will be a source of physical, digital images, audio and video content of the highest quality. It will give an opportunity to provide in-house training in physical and digital curation.
The museum will foster the development of a collaborative network with partners across the African continent and in the Diaspora to provide and share ideas, artefacts and content.
In linking with educational establishments, it will provide for training and career development opportunities and internships to nurture and foster diversity of skills across the Diaspora. Interns and representatives from all participating museums will be encouraged to do exchange visits to each others’ countries in order to see how a particular museum represents its particular country within its own borders.
It will become the premier site on Africa. By visiting the museum, you can ‘visit Africa without leaving your house, simply by clicking a mouse’. Regular podcasts and newsletter will be issued, highlighting a different country, region or theme; for example ‘East Africa’ or ‘music ancient and modern’. In addition, these disciplines will provide fertile ground for apprenticeships and internships.
A series of 10-minute documentaries covering the content of each country/museum will be posted on the website’s home page. Under the heading ‘Africa, the Beautiful’, this will allow each country to upload videos promoting itself as a tourist destination.
There will be links to schools, colleges and universities including on-line lectures of specific, countries, areas, time periods or sectors.
The board should set up Museum TV – a site showing arts and crafts (sculpting, weaving, carving etc.) highlighting a different country each month; also, to encourage and promote short-filmmaking.
As there continues to be a rise in ‘Heritage Tourism’, both the actual and the virtual tourist will be catered for.
In addition to the above, MOAMAAC will produce its own sector-specific content for the website. In summary, it will be about delivering the richest ‘visitor experience’ of this vast and wondrous and yet still misunderstood continent; just as a good museum should.
The recommendation is that the participating museums adopt a single, unified governance structure, based on International National Trust Organisation (INTO) criteria.
A Full Member would be a corporate body which has as its principal purpose the conservation of the cultural and/or natural heritage, and which is professionally engaged in programs and activities designed to further such a purpose;
They would operate substantially independently and autonomously of government. While a corporate body engaged in heritage conservation may be established under government authority, receive government funding, or have government representation in its governance structure, it must remain substantially independent from governmental influence with respect to its governance, operations, and policies; etc. For examples of how this might work see: www.internationaltrusts.org
WHO WILL BENEFIT FROM A PROJECT SUCH AS THIS?
The most obvious beneficiaries of the project will be the worldwide African Diaspora, which is starved of regular, quality, balanced cultural images and e-content with an African slant from the viewpoint of Africans. It might be easy to say we know little about each other’s history and culture but the bitter truth is many of us know precious little about our own history and culture. Through the partnerships established, Africans will engage with each other and learn valuable lessons from each other. They will share experiences, knowledge and technology.
There will be an increased knowledge of Africa for everyone.
Potential visitors to the continent, businesses and investors seeking to invest in Africa and ultimately, the continent will all benefit from this site. We will form partnerships with African software providers and technical experts to test and launch services via the internet site.
It is hoped to start partnerships with various hardware providers to allow content to be made available on: Mobile phones, Apple’s iPhone and Android phones
These may require separate encoding to allow quality viewing. However, modern technology makes this a distinct possibility. As a continent, Africa has embraced mobile phone technology for a variety of uses. This would be another innovative use of such technology. Applications (‘apps’) can be downloaded and regular text updates will be sent for those who opt to receive them.
The site will be accessed by clicking on either a country’s name or (if your knowledge of geography is good!) on the map of that country as shown on a map of the whole continent. On some devices, this will be a touch-screen feature.
The site will feature ‘zones’ and will host content based on the themes listed under ‘services’ above. In order to ensure that all regions are properly represented, the site will highlight regional ‘zones’ as well as country ‘mini-ones’/’micro sites’. These could include:
West Africa Regional Zone (WAR Zone – no pun intended) – plus country-specific zones – SalZone (Sierra Leone), GamZone (Gambia), NaijaZone (Nigeria), SenZone (Senegal), GhaZone (Ghana) etc.;
East Africa Regional Zone (EAR Zone) – Country zones will include EthioZone (Ethiopia), EritZone (Eritrea), TanZone (Tanzania), KenZone
Central Africa Regional Zone (CAR) – DRCZone, Cameroon Zone, etc
South Africa Regional Zone (SAR Zone) - ZimZone (Zimbabwe), SAfZone (South Africa), NamZone (Namibia), etc.;
North African Regional Zone (NAR Zone) - TunZone (Tunisia), LibZone (Libya), AlgZone (Algeria) etc.
In this way, there will be a sense of ownership and self-recognition in the content carried on the site.
The above list is not meant to be exhaustive and is included for illustrative purposes only.
HOW WILL SUCH A SITE BE DEVELOPED AND MAINTAINED?
MOAMAAC will develop and maintain the site and provide the overall management of the site, by ensuring the day-to-day running of the creative, technical, and administrative services linked to the site. MOAMAAC will also provide technical management of the site’s operating systems.
WHO PAYS FOR SUCH A PROJECT?
The short answer is that the site will ‘pay for itself’. It is no secret that African governments already struggling with providing ‘everyday’ services for citizens would baulk at any depletion of revenue, no matter how noble the dream.
Websites set up in recent years (YouTube, Facebook etc.) have shown that if you have a unique and well presented product, you will be able to attract considerable advertising revenues. The on-line site will be of such quality that it will attract not only those who want to know about Africa, it will also draw in those who want to advertise their goods and services to the site’s audience.
On the matter of building the physical site, at present almost every company operating in Africa states that it has a programme of Corporate and Social Responsibility. For many of these, there is an educational element to this. All companies will be asked to make a contribution, based on size, towards building the museum. This will spread the burden as well as increase the sense of ownership.
Sample partner websites: Sierra Leone is already showing the way as to what can be achieved with a very small budget. In January 2012, it launched the ‘Sierra Leone Heritage website:
Imagine what could and should be achievable by bigger countries and big organisations (e.g. The AU) with bigger budgets!
In truth, what is proposed will build on, not replace efforts already made by ECOSOCC and this should be seen as nothing more than a ‘friendly nudge’ to take that body in a direction it may already be thinking of heading. This can be seen from the current structure of ECOSOCC.
ECOSOCC is provided for in the African Union Constitutive Act, but does not have its own protocol, relying rather on Statutes approved by the AU Assembly. The ECOSOCC Statutes provide for four main bodies:
A 150-member General Assembly, made up of 144 elected representatives (two from each Member State, ten operating at regional level, eight at continental level and 20 from the diaspora) and six representatives of CSOs nominated by the AU Commission, to be the highest decision-making body of the organ.
A 15-member standing committee with representatives from the five regions of Africa to coordinate the work of the organ.
10 sectoral cluster committees for feeding opinion and inputs into the policies and programmes of the AU.
A five-person credentials committee for determining the eligibility of CSO representatives to contest elections or participate in the processes of the organ.
What should happen now is for this body to reach out to its ‘constituency’ and make things happen.
In the movie ‘Field of Dreams’, some townsfolk set about building a baseball diamond, where long-dead, legendary players of the past would come and play. They did it by believing ‘if we build it, they will come.’
I hereby ‘throw down the gauntlet’ to African investors as well as investors in Africa, African IT professionals, IT students, individual countries, museums, galleries, archivists and media content professionals: ‘let us come together to make this big dream a reality.’ This could be Africa’s ‘Field of Dreams’. Let us build it, they will come.
The African Union’s anthem is ‘Let’s Unite and Celebrate Together.’ Why don’t we take them up on that? That could also be the museum’s motto. So let’s make this dream happen! The 50th anniversary gives us the ideal opportunity to do so.
Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.