Towards an African cultural network

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Bangui: a town seemingly out of control, where poverty and misery can be seen everywhere and where daily life is characterised by a struggle for survival. It is hard to imagine that culture would be of primary concern in such a setting. The Republic of Central Africa is only just making a painful recovery from the rebellions of 1996 and 1999. Only recently, on February 15th 2000, the United Nations troops – the last foreign military presence after French military presence was withdrawn in 1999- moved out. Following the burning of the French Cultural Centre during rioting, a new Alliance Française is currently being constructed on a large scale, with an impressive level of funding. The Ecrans noirs film series by Cameroon film maker Bassek Ba Kobhio, along with open-air theatre and exhibitions, have already been organised on the construction site. Clearly these are commendable ventures but one might ask, with respect to the centre, if yet another monument in honour of French culture were really necessary. Might this not have provided a perfect opportunity for fostering decentralisation by supporting the numerous examples of burgeoning local talent. Might it not even be better for the « cause of spreading French culture » to work with existing African cultural centres or to assist in creating new ones? Or is it a matter of prestige? It depends how you define it.
Even in times of need we can find active artists who reflect on and portray their generation. Gérard Batreau, here on Voluntary Service Abroad, is a passionate supporter of the visual arts and is actively engaged in organising exhibitions. Thanks to him we were able to uncover a whole hive of artistic activity in the suburbs (see text and photos on www.africultures.com). Even more amazing is that, for an entire week, the Espace Linga Téré – an independent theatre situated in a working-class district on the outskirts of the town – mounted the Wandara Festival, with nightly theatre, concerts and fashion shows. During the day the directors of various private cultural centres held discussions about the setting up of a Central African cultural network. Given its role in developing a synergistic working relationship with African organisations in order to spread cultural information via the web, Africultures was happy to be able to take part in the meetings organised by Vincent Mambachaka and held at the Linga Téré centre in Bangui. Oumar Sall from Groupe 30 in Dakar, Camille Amouro who runs the Médiathèque des Diasporas in Cotonou, and Marcel Oroufico from the Théâtre Wassangari in Bénin also participated. Attending were representatives from Cameroon (the Nyanga d’Elyse Mballa Meka, the Rencontres théâtrales internationales du Cameroun presided by Ambroise Mbia, and Guy-Marc Mefe’s the Scène d’Ebene group), the Republic of Congo (Eric Mampouya’s Théâtre de l’imaginaire), and Chad (Sao Productions: Leila et Logo Chari’s theatre ballet). Also taking part was Bernard Petterson, Director of the heritage and culture section of the French government’s Agence internationale de la Francophonie which sees the Linga Téré centre as a pilot venture likely to spark the creation of other similar centres in the region. The aim was to provide the foundations for a cultural network linking organisations within Central Africa and around the African continent and Europe. The advantage of such a network is clearly that it enables the players themselves to be involved in the development of the arts in Africa and so deal with such vital issues as training, touring (shows or individual artists) and internal and external information. Such an approach is patently political in that until now only foreign Cultural Centres have played this supporting role for emerging African talent since local Ministries of Culture tended to demand total control and more often than not viewed private initiatives as unacceptable interference in State affairs. This is not helped by the fact that the festivals do not have access to bank loans and generally receive grants from the West long after they are needed, are often perceived as being poorly managed. However, the emergence of a number of private projects over the past decade shows a desire on the part of the artists to resolve their own problems and deal with their independence in their own way. This has prompted numerous initiatives such as the rehearsal studios and training centre at the Nyanga Centre in Yaoundé (the Nyanga Dance company), multidisciplinary centres like the Linga Téré centre in Bangui, or the venues created by theatre companies in Kinshasa (Ecurie Maloba, Tam-Tam théâtre, and Théâtre des Intrigants). This has prompted several financially independent conference, exhibition and information centres. Camille Amouro’s Médiathèque des Diasporas in Cotonou is a good example of this trend. These independent centres can then present a strong case for obtaining government funding, having already achieved what the ministries struggled to do. The creation of this new network will enable them to benefit from the mutual strength and support gained through solidarity. Several databases will be created for the Internet under the auspices of the CIDAC (the artistic and cultural information resource centre of Central Africa) and the Afrique synergie network. An internal newsletter will be published and backed up by the Africultures newsletter.
It is hoped that this initiative will be extended to include the entire African continent and the diaspora so as to provide researchers, the general public, decision-makers and journalists with an organised source of information on artistic endeavours and events in African culture. It is a rather big challenge really, given the limited information and funding currently available to African artists.

The full report of the Meeting of independent professional entertainment organisations of the Republic of Central Africa in Bangui, 10 February 2000, is available on our website.
The free weekly Africultures email newsletter, works along the same kind of lines as the proposed network. Subscriptions can be made on the www.africultures.com web site.///Article N° : 5444

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