The arts are not always in a prominent place on the political agenda in Africa, Latin-America and Asia. Nevertheless, an increasing number of governments recognise the importance of culture in itself and in connection to social and economic development. Part eleven in a series on cultural policy in non-Western countries.
It was the South African president Thabo Mbeki who set the tone when he took office in 1999, saying that the tide is turning in the "lost" continent. Unity and emancipation were to banish war and dictatorships to the past once and for all. Africa was standing on the threshold of a cultural revival: in other words, an African renaissance.
More than six years on, this issue is still on the African agenda. The main theme of the first Pan-African Cultural Congress, which opens on 4 December 2005 in the Kenya capital of Nairobi, is "Culture, Integration and the African Renaissance". Following on from this, there will be a meeting of the ministers of culture from the African Union (AU), an association of 53 African countries whose goal is to achieve an integrated continent along the lines of the European model.
This ten-day conference aims to come up with new recommendations for a broad range of issues ranging from identity to cultural policy that will then be discussed at the meeting of African government leaders in January 2006 in Khartoum, Sudan. So-called "expert meetings" have already been held, including a conference of African intellectuals in October 2004 in Dakar. The plan is to finally update the 1976 Cultural Charter for Africa.
The African Union, which was set up in 2002 as the successor to the OAU (Organisation for African Unity), hopes that the updated Cultural Charter will give a new impetus to efforts to establish a common approach to dealing with cultural issues, which should in turn get the African renaissance off the ground. The strategic plan for 2004-2007 concentrates on cross-border issues, including the retrieval and protection of Africa's cultural heritage and the reinforcing of the cultural ties between Africa and the Americas. The AU has also drawn up a special plan for the development of cultural industries and African cultural cooperation. In addition, the AU is involved in such events as the Fespaco film festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and has set up an organisation for African cultural policy in Maputo, Mozambique, as well as an African Academy for Languages in Bamako, Mali.