South Africa profiling: what is an African?

South Africa profiling: what is an African?

By

Mutumwa Mawere (2010)

 

Mutumwa Dziva Mawere is an African business executive, pioneer, financier, banker and entrepreneur best known as the founder and Chairman of Africa Resources Limited. He is known for having built one of the most powerful and influential corporations in Zimbabwe’s history. This article was posted on newzimbabwe.com

 

FORMER South African President Thabo Mbeki says that South Africa, the youngest African state, still owes the world an explanation as to what caused the 2008 violence against black South African citizens and residents born in foreign African states.

It is significant that former President Mbeki, a critical player in building the foundations of a post-apartheid South Africa, is calling for a probe into the attacks and objects to the characterisation of South Africans as xenophobic.

Are South Africans xenophobic? Is the attitude of South Africans towards foreigners any different from the attitude of other Africans towards foreigners? What is the connection, if any, between indigenisation and xenophobia?

Former President Mbeki observed that: “If hatred of others who are different were the reason, whites would have been the target. When I walk down the streets of Johannesburg and this other black person approaches me, there is no way (of) me telling that they are Zimbabwean or Mozambican. There is nothing there that says ‘this is the enemy I must hate’.”

Does Mbeki have a point? This is the question that we must address as we seek to build Africa’s moral capital. Ultimately, we have to ask the question of who really is an African. What does an African look like?

Mbeki’s place in the story of South Africa is secure but the so-called xenophobic attacks exposed how fragile and insecure the idea called South Africa is. What does a South African look like?

What confronted the founding fathers of America was the idea called America and in drafting the Declaration of Independence, it was important that they paused to think about citizenship and identify issues. Regrettably, many of Africa’s founding fathers never took time to pause and reflect on the idea called Africa and who should be the true inheritors of the African post-colonial project.

South Africa belongs to all who live in it so says the Freedom Charter, and yet on the ground there is a strong body of opinion that subscribes to the notion that South Africa belongs only to the indigenous natives in as much as Zimbabwe, for instance, must belong to the indigenous natives of the country.

The constitution of South Africa, like the constitution of other African states, treats citizenship as a choice. There is provision for classes of citizenships in the constitution: those born in the country and those that elect to naturalise are conferred the same rights and obligations and yet the native born would want to claim that they have more rights than those who acquire citizenship through naturalisation.

This attitude is not unique to South Africa as many nation states jealously guard their sovereignty and notwithstanding the provisions of their constitutions, the understanding of citizenship is often clouded by misplaced nationalistic and primitive notions of identity.

Equally, white Africans in post-colonial Africa have the same rights and obligations as citizens. The complexion of the majority of sub-Saharan Africans is black and as correctly observed by Mbeki, there is no way of telling who is Zimbabwean or Mozambican when one walks down the streets of any African state.

However, there are many white persons, for instance, who believe that they have a better claim to be South African than other black persons born outside the country.

As a Zimbabwe-born South African citizen, I frequently get asked questions primarily from white South Africans like: “Where are you from? When are you going to get Zimbabwe sorted out? How is Zimbabwe?”

It is evident to me that such questions are rarely asked to a white Zimbabwean, for example, who made the same choice to be South African as I did. There is an automatic assumption that a white immigrant is a value adding citizen than a black African born in another state.

More significantly, my own home boys will claim me as their own forgetting that in so doing, they condemn me to an awkward identity that does not assist in leveraging my new status to the benefit of my native home.

The history of Europe is well documented and it is generally accepted that Europeans who make a choice to be African are not coming from a poorer existence than they enjoy in Africa and, therefore, their presence has some civilising and uplifting aspect to it.

The challenge for black Africans is that their native home countries are generally poorer than South Africa, and invariably, an assumption is made that their presence in a more developed country like South Africa is not in the national interest.

The concept of a nation state has to be understood in a holistic sense because underpinning it is a social contract between citizens and the state. The state’s viability depends on the creativity and ingenuity of free people.

The bulk of the state’s income comes from the incomes earned by citizens and residents. It seems to me, therefore, that any welcoming state benefits from the efforts of migrants who, with limited domestic support systems, have to creatively integrate themselves into a foreign culture and in so doing earn income from rendering services or supply goods for profit.

It seems obvious that even if all the foreigners were to be eliminated from South Africa, this will not automatically eliminate poverty and yet xenophobia or Afrophobia is informed by fear that the presence of foreign-born Africans in South Africa is toxic and counter-productive.

In as much as white and Asian South Africans have managed to better their lives in South Africa through effort particularly in the post-apartheid dispensation, there same applies to black South Africans.

In building any vibrant and enduring nation state, it is incumbent upon citizens to decide what kind of society they want to see. Foreigners bring competition and new ideas. Those that decide to acquire citizenship must be accorded the same rights as those born in the country as the real ultimate beneficiary is the host country. Why would any rational citizen of a host country refuse to collect income from voluntary contracting parties whose incomes are subject to involuntary collections as taxes?

The concept of black economic empowerment that formed part of the policy thrust of the Mbeki administration sought to redefine the national identity question. As a result of this policy, a black person is now legally defined in peculiar and divisive manner to exclude all other black persons who were not subjected to the apartheid experience.

Who does South Africa belong to? This question raises emotional, political, economic, cultural and religious issues. If South Africa, for example, does not belong to foreign-born black people, then can it be safe for people who look different from those that claim to own the country?

What makes all of us human is in part our ability to make choices and is so doing discriminate. The power to discriminate has its own consequences.

It is not unusual, for instance, to find Nigerian-born South Africans creating their own networks that often exclude other people. Equally, Zimbabweans do the same in as much as Indian South Africans find comfort in dealing and associating with people who look like them.

The real challenge in building a secure future for all is to invest in an idea that is inclusive and that is informed by the interests of the state.

When a Congolese-born South African citizen, for example, pays taxes, there is no mechanism of differentiating the revenue from that paid by a South African-born citizen. The state makes no distinction between tax payers and it is only through taxes that the state can deliver the kind of services that attract more citizens to the idea.

In building South Africa to what it is today, there are many who believe that without a Eurocentric value system, this would not have been possible. Using this thinking, a conclusion is often made that immigration of foreign born Africans dilutes or even undermines national progress.

Invariably, Africa’s past was so distorted that black people see no value in working together in Africa even when they are acutely aware that outside Africa their degrees of freedom are limited.

When one walks the street of New Delhi, for example, there is no way of telling what a South African looks like. We are all Africans and yet in Africa, we fail to use our numerical advantage to build a seamless and borderless continent.

Whereas whites have a better chance to be accepted as African in post-apartheid South Africa, the majority of foreign-born Africans have no choice. Even Mbeki had no choice but to appoint Indian and white South Africans to his cabinet than appoint a foreign-born African, notwithstanding his unwavering commitment to the African idea.

Mbeki has opened the debate that we must engage in if we are to build a secure future for our children. Imagine the humiliation a son or daughter of a foreign-born African who is born in South Africa, but can never belong to the country of his birth just because of his heritage. Should such children change their surnames so that they can be considered South African?

White South Africans who make the same choices to be part of South Africa are not exposed to the same choices? They simply become part of the melting pot.

What is our obligation to South Africa? Even Mbeki has an obligation to improve our literacy on the South African idea. When we talk of the Rainbow Nation, what do we really mean? If South Africa belongs to all who live in it, how best can this fact be translated into practice?

Ultimately, all income earners in South Africa have a stake in the future of the country. What is striking is that most of the foreign-born black South Africans are reluctant to be part of the social contract by participating in the political, social and cultural affairs of their adopted home.

They often adopt an attitude that they do not belong and, therefore, spend more time debating about governance issues in their places of birth than in the places where they have elected to transfer their sweat income as tax.

Whether it is xenophobia or Afrophobia, what is important is that we revisit the idea called Africa. We are Africans after all and yet we refuse to act as such. The law of gravity provides a guiding principle. If we can come together to create a black face called a State President, we can surely create institutions controlled by people from the majority.

If the people need to be empowered, then one must know what time it is. The number of white South Africans probably exceeds the number of black Zimbabwean-born residents and citizens and yet it is only black Zimbabweans who are being profiled through the documentation project.

Profiling itself has consequences and even holders of legitimate South African papers will not escape being targeted. We are all exposed. Who will be safe? Unlike South African born citizens, Zimbabwean born South Africans will necessarily have to carry documents with them 24/7 lest they may be embarrassed or victimised.

We have work to do. Africa’s future is compromised and even undermined by our actions. How many of us have taken note of what Mbeki is really saying? We need to appreciate why he is saying the things he is saying. Some may call him a denialist, while other may call him a hypocrite, but he has never been shy of expressing himself.

The violence against foreign-born blacks has to be understood in as much as Idi Amin’s actions have to be interrogated if we are to secure Africa’s future.

As a member of Africa Heritage Society www.africa-heritage.com, I am convinced that there is no better ambassador to deal with the issues of African identity and citizenship than former President Mbeki. We need to broaden the conversation, and more importantly, participate in shaping the construction of an Africa that is tolerant and inclusive.

It is not sufficient that we remain spectators in this defining debate about who we are and how we should, as a people, confront the myriad of development challenges that need out input and support.

We have to be vigilant and in as much as the concept of being Chinese, for example, is not limited to one identity, I have no doubt that the concept of being African can be developed and shaped by our ideas.

It is never late to make a new declaration of African independence premised on an inclusive and holistic definition of African identity informed by our contemporary experiences and not by the pain the past has occasioned of the majority of Africans.

 

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Cultural diplomacy as a peace initiative

Cultural diplomacy as a peace initiative

 

By Florence Mukanga

 

The views expressed in this article are entirely of the author

Diplomacy has been defined in many ways. Wikipedia defines diplomacy as the art of dealing with people in a sensitive and effective way. Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or nations. There is also an old saying that goes: diplomacy is telling someone to go to hell and they go there smiling.

Cultural diplomacy is a form of diplomacy that is centered on culture. This can be in form of cultural cooperation programmes and projects. It happens at two levels. At one level officers employed by governments engage with another country with the view to cool down hostile relations that already exist between these countries, to improve weak or non-existent relations and to sustain relations that are already in existence between two countries. At the other level artists and cultural operators from one country engage with those from another country through ways such as cultural exchange programmes and at festivals.

For me this kind of diplomacy involves making efforts to get a deeper understanding of each other’s cultures first, clearly respecting each other’s cultures no matter how many people practice that culture and going beyond a situation whereby one developed country funds cultural activities of one developing country. This is done in a two way process in which these representatives of both countries promote enjoyment of aspects of each other’s cultural life without necessarily looking down upon each other’s cultures.

It is a form of diplomacy that involves citizens of countries not just governments. It involves the interaction of artists, academics, festival organisers, arts, culture and heritage managers and writers. These people then become cultural diplomats who engage diplomats of other countries. The strength of this kind of diplomacy is that it involves people who are well versed with their home constituencies and the interests and operational modes of their countries.

It is important as it promotes intercultural dialogue which in turn promotes peace. Culture is who we are and I believe there is no way through which we can begin to interact as human beings without first of all understanding each other. The interaction of citizens of different countries through cultural cooperation is the most important step towards preservation of peace.

Most African countries have been severely affected by internal upheavals since they attained independence from colonial masters. Recent conflicts have been experienced in Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Madagascar, Liberia and Somalia to mention but a few. May be intercultural dialogue and cultural diplomacy could be a solution to these problems. Imagine Somali Artists collaborating with artists from USA or one of the European countries in organising an international exhibition of artists against piracy!!! Hutu and Tutsi artists sharing the stage at one of Zimbabwe’s numerous festivals presenting poems that reflect on the ugliness of Genoicide!!! What picture would that paint on the face of the globe?

Members of the United Nations made the following observations on intercultural dialogue and peace:

Escalation of clashes and conflicts in many parts of the globe shows that intercultural dialogue is an imperative for a world where the values of truth, goodness and aesthetics reign supreme– Abdul Aziz Khoja-addressing the three-day World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue in the Azerbaijan capital Baku in April 2011.

…. Dialogue can defuse tensions, and keep situations from escalating. It can promote reconciliation in the aftermath of conflict. It can introduce moderate voices into polarized debates.” Ban Ki-moon- Secretary General of a 15 member Security Council in 2010

In Africa we need to embrace cultural diplomacy and intercultural dialogue and take it seriously so that it helps to solve conflicts. Our governments need to support cultural interactions within the continent and with other continents. The African Union as a mother body should actively encourage its member states to engage in debates around cultural diplomacy and intercultural dialogue and go on to implement these initiates in the interest of promoting peace on the continent.

Nevertheless cultural diplomacy only becomes a challenge when the pocket that finances the intercourse of these ‘diplomats’ is only one. Our experience is that it is the developed countries that facilitate the interface of our artists with artists from their countries. It brings me to this question that is it always easy to have these relations built purely on cultural basis?

It is a fact that there are some countries that are far richer than others. It really doesn’t matter how those countries acquired those riches. These rich countries have their agendas that they are pursuing in the world and yet in most cases they are the ones that fund initiatives that seek to open up platforms for the exchange of cultural ‘diplomats.’ Obviously it is not easy for them to act at arms length with beneficiaries of cultural cooperation programmes or rather to separate these issues with the overall policies that they will be pursuing.

Most African governments have very small budgets for arts and culture. The South African government, which is one of those governments that have been making serious effort in funding arts and culture, has cut budgets for the sector in recent years. This makes it clear that these governments cannot afford to fund cultural exchange programmes between their artists and other countries.

If developed countries are the only ones that keep facilitating cultural diplomacy can they surely not attach their voices to the resources? Who chooses beneficiaries for exchange programmes funded by developed countries and for what reasons?

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Globalisation versus Intercultural Dialogue

Globalisation versus Intercultural Dialogue

By Florence Mukanga:The views expressed in this article are entirely of the author.

 

I first heard about globalisation when I was in high school, studying Geography in 2001. We discussed it mainly in the context of business and markets, especially its implications for smaller, developing economies of the so-called ‘third world countries’. It is an undeniable fact that globalisation has also had serious effects on African culture. This article explores the relationship between globalisation and intercultural dialogue from an African perspective. I would like to start by looking at the definition of globalisation. According to Madunagu (1999) ‘The concept of globalisation is global and dominant in the world today. But it was not handed down from heaven, it was not decreed by the Pope, it did not emerge spontaneously. It was created by the dominant social forces in the world today to serve their specific interests. Simultaneously these social forces gave themselves a new ideological name the – “international community” – to go with the idea of globalization. This definition points to the fact that the word globalisation was invented in order to serve the interests of dominant social groups.

Globalisation has facilitated mass migration of people moving within and across continents and the free flow of ideas and cultural values across the whole world.

Intercultural dialogue on the other hand is a process that comprises an open and respectful exchange between individuals, groups and organisations with different cultural backgrounds. It fosters the principles of citizenship and human rights, including rights of persons belonging to minority communities. Intercultural dialogue affirms that there are genuine cultural differences between people and aims to achieve ‘solidarity among strangers.’

Intercultural dialogue has become an urgent need for all countries due to globalisation. There is strong need for everyone to understand and implement it especially because in the global village there are certain forces that are above other forces. In my knowledge of coexistence, influential forces end up dominating other forces. Speaking in terms of culture, while it is possible for two cultures to coexist there is always one culture that will end up dominating another culture. This may happen due to inferiority complex or may involve a process whereby aspects of the dominant culture are forced down the throat of the minority culture.

This view is further explained by Arnold Groh when he says, When people of different cultural backgrounds come together, mutuality and reciprocity are impaired by the effects of cultural dominance. The dominated adopt cultural elements and behaviour patterns of the dominant, rather than vice versa. It is especially the style of bodily appearance by which persons define their cultural identity. Therefore, this is the core mechanism that has to be understood when we speak about culture and globalisation. It is my observation that Globalisation is promoting certain cultures while other cultures suffer. This is true if one looks at how African cultures have suffered due to Globalisation.

Globalisation has promoted the use of some languages over other languages. In Africa encroachment of globalisation has been characterised by the increase in the use of English, French and Kiswahili over most local languages because these languages are ‘business’ languages. The importance of local African languages in African economies has significantly diminished due to globalisation.

Even the African publishing industry has been affected by globalisation. Most of the literature is published in international languages to meet the demands of an international market while neglecting local languages. This in turn threatens the survival of these languages.

Languages play a crucial role in intercultural communication meaning that all citizens of the global village should make an effort to learn each other’s languages. This involves promotion of all languages and facilitating developing awareness of one’s own identity as an intercultural communicator. Unfortunately Globalisation has not facilitated for development of local African languages.

Globalisation has also led to the segregation of African traditional religion, which has been openly challenged by foreign religions that have infiltrated the continent. Traditional healers have been stereotyped as ‘witch doctors’ while traditional medicines have been devalued. It is only recently, in 2002, that The World Health Organisation launched its first ever comprehensive traditional medicine strategy, and yet these medicines were in existence long before the arrival of modern conventional medicine.

Some people might say that these developments are a result of the fact that culture is not static but dynamic. Cultural values are continually being re-interpreted in response to new needs and conditions. Some values are reaffirmed in this process, while others are challenged as no longer appropriate. Whilst this is true it is clear that most of these negative effects of globalisation on African culture are not a result of the natural evolvement of culture.

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Grappling with intercultural dialogue in the city of Johannesburg

 By Florence Mukanga

Johannesburg, also known as Jozi, is the largest city in South Africa, by population. Johannesburg is the provincial capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa, having the largest economy of any metropolitan region in Sub-Saharan Africa. The city is indeed is a melting pot. Being a South African city, Jozi houses diverse cultures of South Africans that have migrated to the city in search of opportunities dating back to the apartheid era. It is also home to people from African countries such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, DRC, Congo, Nigeria, Tanzania, Somalia and Rwanda just to mention a few. These people migrated to the city for same reason of searching for opportunities. They brought along with them their cultural practices which have a great potential of interesting South Africans. It is an excellent example of a city where intercultural dialogue can flourish. Many positive things have happened in the city over the past five years. For example in 2009 the city hosted two major cultural events. These events were the Arterial Network Second Conference and the World Summit on Arts and Culture organised by IFACCA. Besides these events the city hosts a lot of cultural events every year such as the Arts Alive festival. It is very easy for an outsider to assume that for everyone who lives in the city intercultural exchange and dialogue is part of everyday life. Is it really easy for people from other African countries to converse openly and easily among themselves and with South Africans living in the city? At this stage it is important to explain the conditions under which intercultural dialogue flourishes. Intercultural dialogue is facilitated by an environment in which people are guaranteed safety and dignity, equality of opportunity and participation, where different views can be voiced openly without fear, where there are shared spaces for exchanges between different cultures to take place (http://www.interculturaldialogue.eu/web/intercultural-dialogue-conventions.php). Considering these conditions one can safely assert that it is not easy for intercultural dialogue to happen in Johhanesburg. In 2008 the city was seriously affected by Xenophobic attacks in which South Africans were attacking foreigners, accusing them of snatching their opportunities. This increased the level of mistrust that exists among Africans and South Africans living in the city, making it difficult for these people to openly relate to each other. With the general high level of crime in the city people do not trust each other hence they cannot easily interface either. If this city has grown to exemplify the rainbow nation and if intercultural dialogue is really important then it is imperative for the city fathers to create conditions under which inhabitants of the city feel safe to express their cultures openly. The government should introduce arts and culture programmes that show an appreciation of fellow Africans’ cultures. Whilst it is true that most of these immigrants are in South Africa illegally, it is important to integrate them into South African communities so that they do not remain segregated and exposed to crime. Arts and Culture funding organisations should also consider funding proposals for joint arts and culture projects between South Africans and other Africans living in the country. This helps to create and boost working relationships between South Africans and fellow Africans.

Note: Views expressed in this article are entirely of the author.

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Intercultural dialogue between African Countries.

Yesterday just before leaving my office I was researching around intercultural dialogue and I came across a quote by Edward T Hall. It says, ‘We should never denigrate any other culture but rather help people to understand the relationship between their own culture and the dominant culture. When you understand another culture or language,
it does not mean that you have to lose your own culture.’

What a beautiful quote! It is a reality that there are cultures that are dominant in this world and there are others that are not and yet all those cultures should be treated with respect.

Intercultural dialogue is a process that comprises an open and respectful exchange or interaction between individuals, groups and organisations with different cultural backgrounds or world views. Among its aims are: to develop a deeper understanding of diverse perspectives and practices; to increase participation and the freedom
and ability to make choices; to foster equality; and to enhance creative processes.

As the world has become a global village it is inevitable to speak about intercultural dialogue. Various cultural cooperation programmes between European and African countries promote intercultural dialogue. In 2009 the Observatory of Cultural Policies in Africa and the Interarts Foundation organised the first Euro-African Campus for Cultural Cooperation in Maputo. The aim of this meeting was to provide a meeting, training and exchange point for cultural agents in Africa and Europe to reflect, transfer knowledge, exchange experiences and discuss possible joint activities in the field of cultural cooperation, in the broader context of the contribution of culture and cultural dialogue to sustainable development, human rights, democracy and poverty reduction. For me this was an important initiative in fostering intercultural dialogue.

I have observed that mostly cultural cooperation is taken seriously when it is between African continent and other continents like Europe. I have very little knowledge of strong cultural cooperation programmes between African countries and yet culture is the fabric of our African continent.

I am challenged by the commitment that most European governments show in promoting their cultures and making sure that they dialogue, first between themselves in Europe then with cultures outside their continent for instance cultures of African people. Most embassies of European countries that are in Africa have a cultural attache. What surprises me is that this is not the same situation with our African embassies in African countries. I find it a bit disturbing that one will find ministries like defense  represented at almost all embassies of African countries in Africa but culture hardly has representation. I see value in having cultural attaches at every embassy, at least of my own country. (A cultural attaché is a diplomat with special responsibility for promoting the culture of his or her homeland- Wikipedia).

How then do we promote intercultural dialogue in our own continent? How do we encourage ourselves as Africans to understand, appreciate and value each other’s cultures if there is no commitment on the part of our governments to promote intercultural dialogue in this obvious way?

This article was written by Florence Mukanga. It expresses her views. You can contact her on florence@arterialnetwork.org

 

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Cultural Diplomacy in Africa

Cultural Diplomacy

The African continent has a population of over 920 million and covers no less than one-fifth of the world’s total land area. These figures make it the second largest and second most populous continent. The region also has an abundance of natural resources, with comparatively high levels of oil, gold, and diamonds all providing valuable trading commodities. Such statistics suggest a region of considerable potential and with a solid foundation for development. Africa’s potential, however, remains unfulfilled. Africa today is confronted by a range of diverse and grave problems that must be addressed as a priority in order for the continent to continue moving forward. Of these, extreme poverty, corruption, disease and violent conflict represent the most severe and pressing issues.

In the area of poverty, Africa has become the poster child of famine and malnutrition. The CIA World Fact Book estimates that there are in excess of 300 million people living in poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and that almost a quarter of the population of the continent as a whole are under-nourished.

Evidence of corruption is equally prevalent: Africa has developed a reputation for regimes based on informal payments, or “bribes”, in exchange for favourable treatment. A report published by Transparency International found that 50 of the 52 African states assessed had either “serious” or “rampant” levels of corruption. Such corruption has a negative effect on development prospects, and is one of the reasons why 26 of the bottom 27 countries in the United Nations (UN) Human Development Report (2007/2008) are all African. A low level of development leads to a lack of adequate medical facilities, which makes fighting disease extremely difficult, yet the spread of HIV/AIDS demands considerable action. There are currently an estimated 22.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, with infection rates in some countries as high as 33% (Swaziland).

Africa has also played host to a large number of violent conflicts within the last two decades. Recent events in Zimbabwe and South Africa, ongoing struggles in the Sudan and Somalia, and simmering tensions in a number of other African states suggest the situation may get worse before it gets better. There is no clear evidence that enough progress has been made to ensure the bloody events of the 1990s, such as the genocide in Rwanda, are not repeated.

The Need for Cultural Diplomacy in Africa
The problems that face Africa cannot be solved easily. In addressing them, however, cultural diplomacy has proven to be an invaluable tool. Cultural diplomacy, a facilitation of constructive intercultural dialogue, has the potential to produce great results in Africa because the problems the continent faces cannot be addressed by individual states alone. While significant regional variations can be found in infection levels of HIV/AIDS, the level of poverty and the extent of corruption, the scale of these problems and the geographical practicalities dictate that the problems cannot effectively be tackled solely at the national level. Even violent conflict taking place between two ethnic groups within a state will have international consequences as neighbouring states are flooded with refugees, retreating combatants, and small arms, as in the current case with Zimbabwean refugees flooding into South Africa.

Africa is the most divided continent in the world. It is home to 53 countries, an estimated 2,000 different languages, and a large number of distinct groups separated by ethnic identity and religion. In Africa the dividing lines between cultures do not match state borders (which were imposed comparatively recently on the continent), but rather occur across and within states, creating a complex socio-political environment. Culture and cultural issues play a significant role in most of Africa’s problems, including disease, the empowerment of women, violent ethnic conflict, and the struggle for democracy. Culture matters, and so, therefore, does cultural diplomacy.

Consider the example of violent conflict. Despite numerous instances of violent conflict between cultural groups, there is little empirical evidence to suggest that such conflict is the result of inherent cultural differences. Instead, it has been widely argued that violent conflict is more the result of a lack of dialogue, of miscommunication and of misunderstanding between different cultural groups. When these problems are present, cultural differences can be manipulated by group leaders for political and economic reasons. By increasing the quantity and quality of contact between cultures, an environment of constant dialogue, understanding, and cooperation can be achieved that will help to reduce the likelihood of violent conflict.

Previous efforts by Africa to reach out to the wider international community through cultural diplomacy have proved successful. In 1999, Shekhem Ur Shekhem, king of an Ashanti group in the Agogo region of Ghana, visited Stanford University on the occasion of the university’s “Africa Week”. As a “goodwill, cultural and business” ambassador for Ghana, he “defied any … out-of-touch racist stereotypes” according to a report from the Palo Alto Weekly. “Our culture has been very misrepresented,” said Shekhem Ur Shekehm. Efforts as simple as these, which strengthen contact between cultures, have been shown to help break down the barriers that prevent effective dialogue.

Given the clear benefits of cultural dialogue, there are surprisingly few channels for such discourse within the African continent as well as between Africa and the wider international community. This is especially crippling for the continent given that the challenges faced by African states are common challenges, and could be better addressed as a unified front. In addition, dialogue with the rest of the world can work to challenge the prevailing stereotypes of the continent. Cultural diplomacy, the intentional promotion of intercultural cooperation, has the potential to create better understanding not only within a continent made up of otherwise divided countries but also on a broader scope.

The ICD believes that initiatives and programs are necessary to help bring African states closer together, to encourage them to share their expertise and resources, to share their rich and diverse traditions, languages, and arts, and to help to present a united front against their troubles.

Source: http://africandiplomacy.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=86%3Acultural-diplomacy-in-africa&catid=54%3Acultural-events&Itemid=806&lang=en

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