opinionBy Osita Ebiem
For the cultural initiative to accomplish its good intentions in Africa, it needs to take into cognizance in its plans the cultural and ethnic diversities as well as the size of Africa. The continent is too big and diverse to be treated as a mono-cultural entity
Sometime ago the cultural department of Germany, Federal Cultural Foundation (Kulturstiftung des Bundes), unveiled its cultural exchange program for African countries with a budget of 2.091 million Euros. The budget will run from 2012 to 2015. The aim of the program is to promote cultural awareness and understanding between Germany and the continent. The importance of such programs in promoting world peace and development cannot be over-emphasized particularly at this time when there are so many conflicts and crises going on around the world.
Many critics who greatly support the move by the German government to promote a cultural bridge between Germany and Africa have also been very vocal in pointing out some of the deficiencies of the program. One of those critics is Safia Dickersbach who has a good understanding of both cultures. Safia through various publications (see her open letter to Federal Cultural Foundation: 'Africa is not a Country' ) has continued to campaign to draw the government's attention to the limitations of insufficient funding and counter-effect of treating the African continent, in an important program of this kind, as just a country.
The roots of the disruptive global tension, terrorism and insecurity bedevilling various world communities including Germany today can easily be traced to the different peoples of the world not knowing enough about one another's cultures and diverse world views. This prevailing ignorance of many people with different cultural perspectives of others who are different from them leads to all kinds of misunderstanding and fear that destroy global peace.
There is a general consensus among many sociopolitical analysts around the world that governments and other organizations can help to drastically reduce the prevalent misunderstanding and intolerances by finding ways to increase contacts and interactions among different peoples and cultures in different countries around the world.
As artists and appreciators of their works will be quick to point out, variety is actually the primary colour of real beauty. They are also aware that like any piece of art without colours and intricacy is less interesting or a one-cord music that is repeatedly played becomes boring, so would a world without the variegated peoples and cultures as we have them today. Yet they know that if colours, odds and pieces of art materials, are assembled without harmony and order they become mere madness. (Usually the meaning in the confusion comes through the hands and patient work of the artist). It is this essential job of finding ways to harmonize seemingly unrelated and conflicting colours and differences that makes the artist an essential agent of peace, beauty and advancement in our human society.
In the context of our discussion, the German Federal Cultural Foundation is doing the work of that artist through 'TURN' which is the specific German government program dedicated to the African continent, and it is laudable. The ultimate desire of all peoples on Earth seems to be peace, beauty, harmony and overall improvement on their mental and material comforts. And a better understanding and appreciation of these existing cultural and ethnic differences will always go a long way to enhancing world peace and progress. But as laudable as this move by German Federal Cultural Foundation is in trying to promote understanding between Germans and Africans, it seems they are overlooking certain fundamental issues that will help their efforts to yield more positive results.
Without trying too hard to qualify what we mean, but in our opinion, for TURN to accomplish more on its good intentions in Africa it probably needs to take into cognizance in its plans the cultural and ethnic diversities as well as the size of the Continent. It is not an idle statement to say that Africa is too big and diverse to be treated or dealt with as a unit or mono-cultural entity. As an example, languages and dialects more than anything else define peoples and their cultures and, Africa has over 2,000 spoken languages.
In the opinion of most people the extant countries in Africa are unrealistic creations by foreign powers for Africans during colonial times, hence the contention of many pundits that the existing countries in Africa were imposed on Africans by others and that they do not reflect the true national boundaries of African peoples. (Incidentally this most vexatious imposition took place in Berlin, Germany, during the so-called Berlin Conference of 1884 and 1885. So, Germany today is also expected to play important roles in helping to fix this problem of sociocultural mix-up in Africa).
There are today 54 countries in Africa and many more new ones are expected to emerge. The African continent is still readjusting and realigning (Sudan and South Sudan of 2011 will be the most recent example) to their true national definitions after the disruption of the colonial era. Nevertheless, no matter how many times the countries split, some of them will still be bigger than some individual European countries.
Based on this light it is expected that for any program involving the whole of the African continent to be effective it has to treat the different peoples and cultures on their unique individual basis rather than lump them together. Of the seven continents on Earth, Australia is the one that is also known as a country and Africa is not. Perhaps, it makes sense to observe in passing that spreading a budget of 2.091 million Euros over a period of four years across a cross section of 54 odd countries to accomplish a comprehensive cultural understanding between the German people and Africans will surely task to breaking point the great skills of any good manager.