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Culture and Development

The relationship between culture and development has a long history. There are various documents that have been in place for decades such as the Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies in Africa, AFRICACULT (Accra, October 27 to November 6, 1975) which was a milestone regarding the conceptual evolution of culture and development. The Conference affirmed that:

“Far from being a luxury reserved for certain privileged people or just a hobby for the masses, culture is imposed as a factor of national liberation of African unity and dignity in international relations. Only culture can guarantee an endogenous growth rather than a simple transfer of external models.”

and warned that:

“[…] the absence of a cultural dimension in development planning has resulted in some of the most damaging effects of the time […]”.

In Africa these reflections have influenced how development is defined, how we perceive development in Africa and how it is imagined by those living in Africa. There are many examples as evidenced by the Accra document itself as well as other documents and conclusions such as the regional seminar, The cultural dimension of development in Africa: participation, decision-making, and companies , which examined the role of culture as a factor and objective of development and whether there is a proper African cultural dimension, among other issues. In addition, the protocol for culture, information and sport of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) recognizes that culture plays an important role in the process of cooperation, integration and development in two of its goals:

Promote an attitude of consideration of culture in regional development programs; [and] Ensure that culture plays an important role in the economic development of the region and evaluate all SADC projects and programs to measure cultural impact”.

Africa has witnessed development processes resulting from cooperation (mainly Western) that have attracted strong criticism regarding the implementation of models of economic growth that are totally divorced from the cultural reality of the people, their interests and their own development resources. In this regard, there have been many debates about how to achieve sustainable development in dialogue with targeted beneficiaries themselves and their specific circumstances. Various international agreements and frameworks - continental and national - have evolved. They are gradually incorporating into their strategies a vision of culture that is less incidental and more considerate of a free development that is respectful of cultural life and autonomy. In this process, parallel advances in two directions have been observed:

The African continent on the international scene has been acting with more autonomy, both as a continental union and as individual countries and regions.

Foreign aid for development has been adapting its strategies and programs towards horizontal cooperation (North-South and South-South) to consider each continent and its different realities.

Thus we find evidence of the consideration of culture as a sector and development dimension in different documents currently affecting African structure and in cooperative relations between Africa and the world.

The Strategic Plan of the African Union 2009-2012 includes numerous actions related to the safeguarding, promotion, distribution, and access to African culture and heritage, both within the continent and to Western countries.

The conclusions of the Charter for African Cultural Renaissance imply progress in this regard. As recognized in the framework of the 3rd Meeting of the Conference of Ministers of Culture of the African Union, the Charter is an instrument that promotes the strengthening of national policies and other cultural instruments:

“[…] it will contribute to the achievement of continental socio-economic and cultural integration [and] build sustainable peace and win the fight against poverty.

This letter (signed at the meeting of Heads of State and the African Union in 2006) recognizes that the cultural diversity of the continent is a factor of balance and unity, a strong contributor for economic development, conflict resolution and reducing inequality and injustice in Africa. It is highlighted that:

“[…] it is essential to build educational systems that embody African and universal values to ensure that African culture is rooted among youths, that there is exposure to the values of other civilizations, and that social forces are mobilized in the context of endogenous development that is sustainable and participatory;

That it is essential to promote African languages as a pillar and mode of communication of tangible and intangible cultural heritage;

[…] That culture is - for our people - the surest way for Africa to chart its own journey to technological development and the most effective response to the challenges of globalization”.

The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) recognizes culture as an element of an enabling environment for development in its Strategic Framework for Capacity Building in Africa. It has developed programs that link culture and education for human capital development, coexistence and peace.

In this context many programs, organizations, and initiatives are working from the notion that culture is a fundamental dimension and engine of development. The actions in the field of culture and development also provide feedback to international agencies and development cooperation. Two references are interesting in this process: UNESCO as a world reference and the EU as the largest donor, with the majority of ODA to Africa.

UNESCO has a collection of important reference documents in this regard, such as the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005) or its input to the New agenda of cultural policy for development and for mutual understanding which states:

In times of change and uncertainty, cultural diversity has perhaps never been as essential as a source of identity for each woman and each man, as a source of resilience and renewal for our societies, as a source of innovation and creativity for development. The promotion of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue is a powerful bridge that lays the foundations of peace. It is also a force for development and the condition for local communities and governments and the international community to formulate better development policies. These are the promises from UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, promises that no society will retreat in fear and that exclusion in cultures will not occur.

The EU has outlined advances in various aspects in the EU Strategy for Africa: Towards a Euro-African pact to accelerate Africa's development specifically in relation to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. To achieve the MDGs, this document urges the consideration of different cross-cutting areas, one of which is the support and promotion of cultural diversity:

Culture determines how societies and economies function and, in this respect, plays a major role in the success of development activities. The experience of the EU has shown that diversity is an asset, not an obstacle. In addition to supporting various programs and cultural exchanges, the cultural dimension in the development process should be considered and intercultural dialogue at the local, national, regional and continental levels should be promoted.

In the 2007 strategy document concrete actions are defined as a means to consider cultural cooperation. The section on Key Aspects in Development: Accelerating progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals states:

A strengthening of the political partnership between Africa and the EU should be based on an equally strong association for cultural cooperation. All cultural expressions,...

 

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