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Published On: Mon, Jul 3rd, 2017

Of culture and economics uniting in Festac77@40

By CHIMEZIRI FRANKLIN

 

I am delighted to learn that there are plans for a 40th anniversary of Festac77 to be hosted by Nigeria and that the theme is “Celebrating African and Black Creative Economy”. The Director General of the Centre for Black and African Arts & Culture (CBAAC) Dr Ferdinand Anikwe revealed in a television interview recently that the celebration is to take place this year 2017.

I quite agree with Dr Anikwe that the basic idea is that African culture usually represented by dance, fine art, literature/history and religion is a product the world can buy to the continent’s prosperity, if events are created to project them to world appreciation. Not showing your own culture is a way of killing it and foregoing all the opportunities it carries.

Indeed, the entire Festac concept is rooted in pan Africanism which can be defined as a movement or strategy to get Blacks and Africans out of economic disadvantage and improve their political fortunes. Hear the words of one of the movement’s pioneers Marcus Garvey:  “The Negro is ignored today simply because he has kept himself backward; but if he were to try and raise himself to a higher state in the civilized cosmos, all the other races would be glad to meet him on the plane of equality and comradeship.” To pinpoint the route to the rise of Africa, Garvey then said, “Without commerce and industry, a people perish economically. The Negro is perishing because he has no economic system.” To further show the way, Marcus established the Black Star Line, a shipping line to convey American Blacks back to Africa as well as to facilitate global Black commerce. Sadly, the venture was unsuccessful.

But the movement waxed stronger and in 1945 in England, George Padmore hosted the Pan African Conference which was attended by Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta. Significantly, for the first time, in a pan African conference, representatives of organizations of African farmers and workers were present. They bought into the brotherhood of all Africans and all Americans and West Indians of African origin and the need for Africans to unite and fight poverty and colonialism. It was after the 1945 Conference that the leadership of pan Africanism shifted from Black Americans to Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Azikiwe, Balewa and other Africans in the mother continent. Between 1957 and 1975 several African countries got their independence from their colonial masters and African leaders now came in the dignity and authority of heads of national government before the world.

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In their effort to give the dividends of independence to their people, African leaders carried on with the pan-African idea that African nations must unite or perish in the neo-colonial experience. They clearly saw that only political independence is what their countries have received from the Europeans and that they were still in trade bondage to former colonial masters since all the independent African countries were producers of raw materials and could not have meaningful trade between them. They also saw that a continuation of this setting would not augur well for them. They thus sought to create intra-African trade so that Africa can enrich Africa and not remain poor and marginalized.

The Organisation of African Unity (now known as the African Union – AU) was formed in 1963. One of the organs of the AU is the Conference of Ministers of Trade. In 2012 the African ministers met in Ethiopia under the theme Boosting Inter-African Trade and agreed to establish a Continental Free Trade Area by 2017 as a strategy to boost trade within the continent by at least 25%. Perhaps the reason why not much fruit has come from this is the neglect of the culture strategy, the Festac strategy.

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Wikipedia calls Festac77 (the Second World Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture) the largest pan-African gathering ever. According to the online publication, Festac77 was sequel to the first held in Dakar, Senegal, and was held to promote a continuation of Black unity through cultural festivals. It drew 16,000 participants from 56 nations who performed to the world’s admiration African dance and religion and exhibited African visual and literary arts. The economic underpinning of Festac (not immediately obvious to many in 1977 and even today) could be detected in the stated objectives of the jamboree which included (a) to bring to light the diverse contributions of Black and African peoples to the universal currents of thought and arts; (b) to promote black and African artists, performers and writers and facilitate their world acceptance and their access to world outlets; (c) to facilitate a periodic return to origin in Africa by Black artists, writers and performers uprooted to other continents.

Festac77@40 may not be as funded and as huge as the event it is commemorating, but it has to be noticed globally. Reports say the activities of the event include mascot’s visit to thirty-six state governors and key traditional rulers, command performance featuring global nationalities, exhibition of state economic potentials, art and craft exhibitions, visits to tourist sites and local festivals such as ofala, Argungu fishing, durbar, osun Oshogbo, ojobi Calabar, iri ji and water regatta. Essay competitions, symposium, publications and gala nites are also said to be part of it.

The absence of follow-up to the immensely popular Festac77 is one of the failings of Nigeria’s economy managers. Contrary to popular opinion, Festac has always been a cultural festival strategy to bring Africans and Blacks together and improve their economic and political standing.

Chimeziri Franklin, a strategy historian, is editor at Minfow.com

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