The Africultures editorial team is mobilized against the French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs’ call to cease all collaboration between French government subsidized cultural institutions and artists or non-profit organizations from Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. We are astounded by this discriminatory decision that borders on authoritarianism. It is unconceivable for the government to terminate the programming of hundreds of cultural venues and institutions in this way. The lives of artists cannot be an adjustment variable in France’s diplomatic conflicts.
With this unprecedented directive, French diplomacy is sending a terrible message in reaction to the hostility and defiance it is facing in several French-speaking African countries. The Syndeac (National Union of Artistic and Cultural Organizations) has rightly pointed out that: “this policy of banning the circulation of artists and their works has never been applied in any other international crisis, from the most recent with Russia to the older and more enduring with China.” This action flies in the face of the traditional welcoming of artists and intellectuals from all over the world, on which France prides itself. One of the United Nations’ founding principles stipulated in the UNESCO Charter is that dialogue between peoples takes precedent over that between States. By foreclosing any possibility for dialogue with the people of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger in this way, France is violating this universal principal.
To be an artist is to accept permanently walking a fine line. It is to bare oneself in order to create, write, compose, sing, dance, paint, model, sculpt. Freely expressing words, moves, gestures, sketching lines, ideas, or concepts often requires a necessary confrontation with one’s original milieu and social environment. With this administrative and diplomatic decision, Burkinabè, Malian, and Nigerien artists are caught in the crossfire. Those who have chosen to remain in their countries are daily witnessing the progressive reigning in of spaces of expression and awareness, but also of critical thinking. Those already living and working in France are doubly impacted, as they are also affected by this decision and caught in an impasse. Indeed, if it proves enduring, this decision will ultimately force them to make a choice. French visas are never considered just any old visa for French-speakers. This stamp in the passport of nationals from countries that share a part of history with France is the prolongation of shared imaginations, dreams, and battles. For artists, it is above all a window that allows them to converse with the world. Banning Burkinabè, Malian, and Nigerien artists from festivals, programmes, arts workshops, and cultural residencies in France is a disgraceful blow below the belt on France’s part. It is an insult to its past, present, and future.
This act of force raises many questions concerning the future of Franco-African relations just two years after a new format of Africa-France Summit (Montpellier 2021), a few months after the creation of a Foundation for Democracy in Africa, and on the eve of the launch of a new “Maison des Mondes Africains”, a cultural center about Africa in Paris. Is the government planning to arrogate the right to exclude actors according to their nationality and geopolitical events?
Africultures calls for the mobilization of all artists, arts professionals, academics, and other defenders of cultural diversity and freedom of expression. We call on the government to quite simply drop all discriminatory measure towards Burkinabè, Malian, and Nigerian artists and associations.