OCPA aims to encourage cultural policy making in Africa

February 2004 -

Comprehensive cultural policies are virtually non-existent in Africa. In Mozambique, a pan-African independent organisation is being set up to enhance the development of national cultural policies, and their integration into human development strategies.

'Africa's richness is not material wealth, but cultural', says Pedro Cossa, co-ordinator of the Observatory of Cultural Policies in Africa (OCPA), in his office in the Mozambican capital Maputo. 'But our ideas about culture mainly 'live' in the oral world. We would like to see it written down, so it is clear what African countries think and want in the area of culture. And also, in this way, we can press governments to keep to their cultural policy. It is important, because culture is usually not the highest priority. Artists are struggling because they don't have the resources to market themselves. They tend to work in isolation. Only since 1999 we have a Ministry of Culture in Mozambique. While culture defines who we are as a people.'

Pedro Cossa is eager to bring culture to the drawing board of policy-makers in African countries, which is exactly the mission of the OCPA. The need for a pan-African 'knowledge-based policy analysis mechanism' was identified during an Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies for Development in Stockholm in 1998. After three preparatory meetings in Kinshasa and South Africa, which brought together cultural experts, and policy makers from all over the continent, the Observatory was set up in 2002 with the support of the African Union, the Ford Foundation and UNESCO. OCPA is being governed by an International Board, composed of specialists of the cultural policy field representing the various sub-regions of the continent. Pedro Cossa is, for now, its only staff-member.

A website and a monthly e-mail bulletin with information on cultural activities and developments on the continent are already up and running. Pedro Cossa is currently working on the next step: to compile all cultural policies that exist in Africa and documents that were written since the 1960's, and to make them available to a wider public via the Internet. So far, Cossa collected policy documents of eight African countries, out of 54. 'There are a few countries that have a draft cultural policy or are drafting one', says Cossa. 'But about 30 countries don't have any policy at all regarding culture.' At the same time, Cossa is developing a database of African cultural institutions, initiatives and specialists. 'We hope to have 150 entrees by June, after which we will put it on the Internet', Cossa says, while he shows a detailed questionnaire on his computer, which he sends out to any arts and culture organisation that crosses his path. 'In Africa, we are doing a lot of work in isolation because we lack mechanisms to share information', Cossa continues. 'We are doing the same thing and are wasting a lot of resources. It is therefore crucial to create a continent-wide network.'