THE PRICE OF FRIENDSHIP
In the news recently, China has voted a $20 billion credit line to Africa for the next three years. On behalf of Africans, President Zuma of South Africa rightfully thanked China and addressed the criticism that persistently throws suspicion over the bond between some 50 nations concerned and Beijing. The growing involvement of China as well as the increasing amounts towards development in Africa are evidence enough of real commitment. On the ground, following decades of neglect in Africa, the infrastructures are being put in place largely thanks to Chinese workers at an accelerated pace. With time and solid achievements, external criticism is likely to become irrelevant. There is some unease among African workers… What is more concerning is the absence of a clear vision formulated on behalf of the Africans. Is there a cause to worry about a form of passivity?
Having been through all these stages to the apex of economic development in record time, China certainly understands Africans. The right words are being spelled out as a reassurance. Chinese officials are talking of ‘integration’, ‘peace’, ‘exchanges’, followed by a pledge with serious money towards paving the way to achieving these goals and processes. ‘China will support the African integration process…’, president Hu Jintao is reported to have declared. But who defines the African integration process? How specifically African is such integration likely to be, in scope or its ultimate shape? How to shift from passivity to creativity? What is the form of integration that would provide the right motivation to both the individual and communities across Sub-Saharan Africa? From within African society, who are the players most likely to define an acceptable process that might gather momentum, win over increasing consensus across the continent?
That is where our own research fits in. When we advocate ‘Development Through Creativity’, we are merely trying to make a contribution towards devising a less passive and more creative approach to the development of Africa. One has to go beyond accepting aid, do more than taking from new friends and do better than criticizing the critics. Our contention is that the onus is on Africa and Africans to come up with a vision indicating a clear sense of direction. Such a direction will only emerge from cultural values as an outcome of appropriate exchanges initially at inter-African level. Such exchanges cannot exclude the arts. In Africa, more than anywhere else, performing arts sanctions all human relations, punctuate all social dealings.
“China wholeheartedly and sincerely supports African countries choosing their own development path, and will wholeheartedly and sincerely support them to raise their development ability.” In his speech, President Hu of China is almost prompting his African interlocutors… Since 2000, every three years, there is a ministerial conference in Beijing that cements further the Africa-China partnership. What must not happen is a scenario whereby one partner is expected to give more and more money, while the African partners merely dispel the suspicion cast by third parties, articulate varying expressions of gratitude and expect to reap ongoing benefits back home.
The cultural dimension of development can only come from the African party. China knows it for having paid the price with its infamous ‘cultural revolution’ that paved the way to the economic transformation being witnessed today. Not an example to follow. Yet, the African politician’s role is likely to become increasingly uncomfortable vis-a-vis new committed friends, unless integration reflects the vertical dimension (from the cultural to the economic) as well as the horizontal dimension (increasing peaceful transafrican exchanges). Vis-a-vis the populations at home, the politician’s role will become unsustainable if he/she is perceived as being an up-front passive receiver at each Beijing summit. But the politician is no superman…
In my book, EMPOWERING THE PERFORMER, I suggest that a bottom-up process that channels a vision that is inherently African needs to be devised, using original methods. By Africans, within Africa and for Africans. Philanthropy is still foreign to the modern concept of development. However good-intentioned our new friends may be, there is a fundamental task yet to be accomplished only by ourselves. This task consists of spelling out a vision, building bridges and expressing an original perspective. China has made it clear: they will ‘support sincerely’. But, in their words, the onus is firmly placed upon Africans to ‘choose their development path’.
Friends having their own agenda and politicians having their own shortcomings, who exactly is going to articulate the deeper aspirations of the populations of 50 different states? Who is going to undertake the housekeeping? In the current climate, one should not expect too much from technocrats or bankers. The journalist? Sure, the press is doing its best as it negotiates a balance of power within young nations with fragile institutions. His task consists mainly of informing about what happened yesterday and shaping up today’s public opinion in a coherent manner. Freedom and readership determine the effectiveness of his role in society. Journalists are neither cultural visionaries, nor are they architects whose concern embraces what is likely to shape a future relating to deeper needs and aspirations.
First paradox: the multifarious pull of diverging interests is underpinned by a consensus rooted in an acknowledged cultural unity among African peoples. Second paradox: millenary systems and traditional practices are very much alive while the modern city is approaching the next village. Third paradox: traditional performing arts punctuate every stage of social life by ritual while the mobile phone is connecting Africans with a fast moving globe. Fourth paradox: while Africa needs the best minds and talents to take charge of a belated blossoming future, education systems and endemic pessimism perpetuate the brain drain. Fifth paradox: while the arts of Africans have fundamentally inspired European painter Picasso or American singer Paul Simon, Africans are failing to adopt the arts as a value system that improves both image and self-worth.
With such challenges, who best than the performer-mediator is equipped to translate the inner aspirations of Africans? If not for old and new friends, at least for a coherent story conducive to healthier dealings (exchange), unravelling a clear sense of direction for the young while developing fundamental self-respect.
Unless such cultural development makes inroads into both minds and hearts, the infrastructures under the African sun may be exposed to the next calamity… Not only do arts and culture require their own infrastructures for a thoughtful integrated development to be willfully expressed and happily shared; but, in the long run, a bonus for Africa would be to keep one’s friends for lasting peace and prosperity.
Author of the book
EMPOWERING THE PERFORMER
Published by TamaRe House.