Aminata Traore on the development of Africa

December 2006 -

According to Aminata Traore, author and former Minister of Culture from Mali, culture is the last portfolio on the list for international financial institutions. She believes that a lack of appreciation for one's own culture contributes to underdevelopment: "When plastic buckets and slippers from China are preferred over hand-painted gourds and sandals cut from leather, that is reflected in the economy, the pollution and the identity of the continent. How can we win this competition when privatisation and free markets make imported products less expensive and we can no longer afford our own products?"

Aminata Traore

Aminata Traore, photo (c) Prince Claus Fund

Aminata Traore was one of the prestigious participants attending the European Development Days, a large-scale conference on development issues held in Brussels from 15 to 17 November. Many prominent individuals, current and former African leaders, EU representatives and the World Bank presented their views on the development and future of Africa. An exposition of contemporary African art, an African film festival, a fashion show and an exposition of cartoons from the African continent framed the papers and debates. Although art and culture were not hot issues during the sessions, the development issues were evident in the various cultural expressions.

"The mandatory structural modification programmes of budget cuts and privatisation of public works, open market borders, and the removal of agricultural subsidies benefitted the multinational companies, but as a result the unemployment, illiteracy and numbers of deaths have never been higher in Africa. The World Bank should be called to account." These words spoken by Aminata Traore were the inspiration for the film Bamako by Abderrahmane Sissako, in which a people's tribunal is held against the World Bank in a square in Bamako.

Poverty, unemployment and migration are topics that were also evident in the other artistic displays at the conference. Nevertheless, Aminata Traore does not agree with the idea that poverty is Africa's primary characteristic: "To the contrary: Africa is the victim of its riches!"