By Mwalimu George Ngwane (Originally published in Cameroon Tribune, October 31, 2007)
'Only those nations which are culturally solid ever indelibly influence the course of history’ - Professor Kountchou Kouomegni former Minister of Information and Culture)
The three main links that constitute the Cultural Industry chain are Production, Promotion and Consumption. These links represent the culture triangle needed to energise an industry whose aesthetic nature and artistic values mirror the essence of human civilization. Attempts by both civil society actors and governments have aimed at transforming Africa’s indigenous culture from mere populist folklore to a national character.
Governments in Africa are struggling to make their people be who they are which is identity, rather than make their people what others want them to be which is universality. And so more and more culture is given greater autonomy through its administrative detachment from the Ministries of Information, Education, Sports, Tourism etc, etc. But without a mental Cultural Revolution and greater commitment to the ideals of a new culturescape our present routine approach and monolithic interpretation to a cultural autonomy will paradoxically lead to the withering of a thousand cultures. Hence the need to examine the state and future of our cultural industry under the triangle of production, promotion and consumption.
Cameroon is awash with artists who have enormous productive capacity; but there must be professionalism and formalisation. To be professional means distinguishing their various roles as Artists. A musician does not necessarily have to be a song writer, a composer and a manager all combined; a writer does not have to be a literary agent, a bookseller and publisher all in one. I happened to have visited the famous Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi eight years ago, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that a musician can own an office complete with a secretariat. A visit to the International Book Fairs in Ghana or Zimbabwe leaves one with a well organized book sector. While today’s productive phase needs professionalism, tomorrow’s phase calls for formalisation. Arts and culture needs to be taught in schools.
It is unfortunate that from Primary to University level, very little is known about our cultural patrimony. Gone are the primary school days when hand work consisted of cloth dying, clay modelling and wood sculpture; remember the lesson on writing which formed the basis of calligraphy; remember theatre competition among schools. Indeed the Youth week provided a nursery of raw talents even though these talents were not followed up to the end. At least there was something to show that innate creativity could blossom. Today even our universities organise arts and culture jamborees without providing avenues for skill-based orientation. Even our Faculty of Arts churn graduates who have little or no knowledge of the kind of art that Universities provide in Nigeria or elsewhere.
In Mozambique, the government has created a national cultural Association called ‘Nucleus of Arts” which is dedicated to developing Arts in secondary schools.
In Zimbabwe and Zambia and by extension most countries in East Africa, governments have instituted National Arts Councils at divisional levels which by themselves have semi autonomous status
In Tanzania, Artists themselves have created Arts groups. The two prominent ones are the Kinondoni and nyumba ya sanaa each recruiting members according to age and forms of specialization. The Kinondoni Art group recruits members as young as four years old and specialises on drawing and painting. The nyumba ya sanaa is made up of adolescents above twenty and their creative activities are diversified. Still in Tanzania and as far back as when Julius Nyerere instituted the ujamaa vision, traditional rulers were encouraged to organize cultural festivals seasonally with the aim of rooting cultural wealth in the minds of the youths. If only our own chiefs returned to their roles as custodians of cultures rather than megaphones of party politics then the lela in Bali, the Ndie of the Bakossis, the fantasia of the North and the other lores and mores of our people would make more meaning to the de-cultured youths in Cameroon.
In Angola, a law exists that ensures that corporations and parastatals within the locality of an Association of Artists budget a certain cultural fee which is given to the Artist association annually. In Tanzania, the state owned Tanzanian Handicraft marketing corporation makes contacts for local craft people to sell their craft easily outside the country. But the most pentecostal art promotion strategy by the Tanzanian government consists of forcing companies to use artists in designing (through drawings) bill boards, conference halls and even government premises. In other words photographic adverts are minimal giving rise to a new lucrative art business called “sign writing”.
Five years ago, I was in the company of the famous comedian of the Benin sitcom called “Taxi brousse” en route to Benin. He told me the success of culture awareness in a small nation like Benin was due to its promotion on both the state and private media. Television channels in Benin concentrate first on local programs which are thematically anchored to their traditions.
It is the same for Nigeria, Libya and Mali where the promotion of local dress codes, local language use and local topical arts issues are the central mission of promotion. This was the case with our CTV (Cameroon Television) in the late eighties and early nineties but today the Brazilians and the West have invaded our cultural privacy (if it is not “Marima, it is “The Promise”, if it is not “Camilla” it is “Helena”). What single Cameroonian telefilm do we remember? It is because of such national Art promotion that most countries have come to be culturally recognised like the film culture or FESPACO in Burkina Faso, the Nollywood culture in Nigeria, the visual art syndrome in Botswana, the stone sculpture in Zimbabwe, the writing/reading culture in East Africa and the plastic arts culture in Mozambique.
We must be the primary consumers of our own culture, and here again some countries stand out conspicuously. In most of West and North Africa, the wearing of local attire is a national ideology. Africa has an economic market of about 900 million people and so does not need to export its Art and Culture if the African people decide to consume their own arts products. I believe in inter-cultural dialogue, but we must first of all respect what is ours. Globalization does not mean we should be living on borrowed culture, for indeed a cultural holocaust awaits any country whose youths buy a one way ticket to Westernization. It is more important to ask ourselves what we are giving to the world than what we are receiving. While it is true that the world would be less interesting were each nation to retreat to a small cultural cocoon, it is also a reality that the same world would be less colourful were all of us to be copycats of alien cultures. Africa must stamp the global passport with Africa’s visa because Africa is where all cultures began. It is the place that still influences the great artists in dance, music, sculpture and brush.
Far from resorting to some romantic cultural nostalgia, I still dream of our world of African Writers Series that showed us the bonds of our kinship, the communal ties of human relation and the didactic message in our oral tradition. I stand by the vision that the proceedings of the National Forum on Culture held on 23-26 August 1991 had for Cameroon. The proceedings are indeed a culture roadmap for Cameroon because they beam their traffic lights on our national languages, our culinary art, our traditional sports our local rites and indigenous cultural inventories, our local legends and mythologies, the values in traditional medicine, our reading culture, designs, culture awards, our film and audiovisual sector, our indigenous knowledge systems, our memories and heritages, our fashion indeed the whole gamut of our cultural industries. Those proceedings should not only serve as an inspiration and framework to our policy makers and artists but should challenge all of us to see culture beyond the frivolous prism of a five minute traditional dance meant for political entertainments and during which politicians descend like kings with bank notes to appreciate the jest of court clowns. Yes we need a Conference on Culture in Cameroon to see the road we have covered since the 1991 Forum and make projections based on comparative studies from other African countries.
The Ministry for culture, other Ministries like Tourism, Commerce and Education the culture committee in Parliament, Diplomatic services, and the mega corporations should support the cultural industries in Cameroon. We need to protect and preserve our cultural heritage not just by burning cultural clones but by building sustainable creative programmes enshrined in the 1991 culture forum. For culture is not just about bureaucratic routine, it is activity-related on programs that impact on the duality of culture and development; it is not just about multiplying meetings, it is about writing feasible projects that enhance the creation and dissemination of cultural goods and services; it is not about identifying political party adherents; it is about rallying all vectors of knowledge production necessary for the stimulation of our local creative industries and developing cultural capacity for wealth creation.
In 2003 my association,AFRICAphonie organised a seminar in Buea on the theme “The state of Arts and Culture in Cameroon” and many participants were of the opinion that some of the missing links in culture today are the lack of training facilities for artistes and the paucity of cultural infrastructure in the country. In September 2006 we resolved at the end of a “Conference on Cultural diversity for social cohesion and sustainable development” that held in Sun City South Africa to engage our governments to build capacities of the cultural industries, cultural institutions and autonomous arts centres in our various countries. Before then I was part of the Cameroonian civil society group that attended the 2005 Dakar Senegal “International Conference on Cultural Diversity” that addressed the subject of drafting and instituting cultural policies in our countries (Those of Tanzania and Kenya are simply inspirational).
Finally, the future for Artistes themselves is predicated on three principles: Artistes should learn to empower themselves as independent actors of the civil society through their own associations and conceived cultural activities; they should embark on opportunities within and outside government circles that promote Art and Culture; and the Cameroon government should regard Arts/Culture as a political triumph which concerns policy makers and the civil society.
The initiatives already being carried out by the new Minister for Culture Madam Ama Tutu Muna look like the kind of props needed to support the cultural industries in Cameroon.