Why Africa Needs a Cultural Policy


I was on the internet and chanced upon a website that had a list of African countries and their cultural policies, I read a few and it got me thinking. We need a strong cultural policy, we really do. Please permit me to be a little film bias. The basis of every economy is the culture of the people and the content of films and theatres is culture and so if we ignore that and claim to be developing then I wonder where we are developing. Just like theatre, films had come to be one of the powerful media used by nations to project themselves to market economies, sell themselves, inform, educate and entertain their people.

It was under the former Head of state Dr. Kwame Nkrumah that the Ghana film commission was started, one of the factors of Nkrumah was the cultural policy he introduced.  Ghana entered a new world in theater, our people where giants even in books written about us by different people. In cinema, Ghana film cooperation was the first of its kind. (The new African sold it now). Professor Haile Gerima, the director of the acclaimed movie Sankofa said; one of the straights of Sankofa was the collaboration and support from the Ghana film commission. But before that the commission has done co-production with Italian companies, German companies and some American co-production. The new African has sold it, the Ghana film cooperation was sold in 1996 to a Malaysian company. And what makes you think that the Malaysian has any interest in preserving and promoting your culture? Well, I guess that is the kinds of leaders we have now.

In Africa the elite is the problem, you can talk about colonialism and all but the fact that the current elite does not have the audacity to say our young people need a cultural policy on theater, on cinema, on music, on literature/ poetry, there can never be a renaissance. The question for me is who will help us the young ones? Unfortunately no one will help us, no one must help us. Young African film maker are making movies everywhere, with very basic equipment, its good but the straggle is how they are going to grow up cinematically when the infrastructure and support they need is not available. No one must help us but ourselves. How do we take over the camera? How do we tell stories that are under our nose?

That is why we are what we are, it’s easy to pretend to be someone else than yourself. I believe that, we have a generation that is so disillusioned it has no internal strength. Most African are not strong inside that is why they need external cloths and hair-dos, lipsticks, earrings, cars, phones and TV to say “I am somebody.”  My generation is very confused and very external-oriented. Most young African now, values car, clothes and worse of all other cultures more than we value our culture.  What else will you expect if growing up you were taught everything foreign and never the value of your culture? Many Africans in my view do not understand the power of culture. We don’t see how significant it is to preserve our culture. We don’t invest on culture, to create a critically brilliant society you have to have a dramatic cultural transaction.

Africa has a lot to offer. This is a continent that has the audacity to invent without imitation. But when you come to Africa, then you see what we are occupied by. Our problem is that we have elite that is not spending on culture. Our leaders have no sense of the importance of culture. We have elite that is culturally dependent. Most of our leaders, once they watch CNN or BBC now and then they are finished, they sleep. And they run the country with no recognition of the importance of their own culture in building and shaping the lives of its citizen. This is the elite we have.

There is no renaissance, like in the time of Kwame Nkrumah. Because he dynanized Ghana. Ghana was the center of international concern, the press, the news people were all coming to Ghana. Why? Because, there was a policy however imperfect, there was a policy of renaissance. Saying we are people with history, we also have something to say about the world, we have a culture as a people and we want to preserve and promote it, we are not just passive travelers.  But now, our government don’t stand up, they have no vision, and they don’t challenge the west on policies. On the UN level, the world court levels, the Africans are passive travelers. The west takes us for granted. But if the local elite say we will build our culture, we have stories to tell, then the world will response differently. It’s shameful enough that we have a continent that builds nothing but imports any and everything, from cars to toothpicks and can’t even tell their own stories.  We have made mistakes but attempts have been made before to rectify the problem, all we have to do is be wise and Sankofa (so back).

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