4. Placing Culture at the Heart of the Contemporary African Development Debate

E-mail of panel organiser: jmgurey@gmail.com

To build a nation and to govern a society, you do not need only army, infrastructure, and institutions but also art and culture. The panel aims to put culture at the center of the African development debate, and to consider art and culture as basic needs of fundamental human rights. It will explore ways in which art and literature festivals can be instrumental in carrying out important work in the field of Human Rights in general and freedom of thought and expression in particular as a platform for constructive dialogue between various sectors of society that rarely have other forums in Africa. These elements constitute the basics of good governance.


1. Roles of Cultural Practices and Indigenous Beliefs in Protection of African Sacred Landscapes: Case Study of Challenges and Way Forward from Nigeria.

Authors: Folaranmi D. Babalola (University of Pretoria, South Africa/University of Ilorin, Nigeria) and Paxie W. Chirwa (University of Pretoria, South Africa)


Rural people in Africa depend almost entirely on specific skills and knowledge essential for their livelihoods and survival. The roles that culture of indigenous people play in protection and conservation of forest diversity in southwest Nigeria has been emphasised. Specifically, sacred groves and forests play a central role in the livelihoods of indigenous people as well as conserve endemic diversity and landscapes. Despite the interdependence of local people and sacred landscapes, a decline in the areas of these unique landscapes have been documented. The consequence of this is that many of the people’s indigenous knowledge systems and cultural practices built over the years as well as the endemic diversity are at the risk of becoming extinct. This study therefore investigates the contributions of selected sacred groves and forests to livelihoods of rural communities as well as the challenges facing the indigenous beliefs and cultural practises in southwest Nigeria. The sacred groves and forests under study were established on the indigenous knowledge (IK) of the local people and passed down orally from one generation to another. Meanwhile, ecological encroachment and degradation activities posed great challenges to the sustenance of the sacred landscapes. Some of the challenges facing the sacred landscapes include pressure from population explosion, urbananisation process, and deforestation resulting from farming practices. Adoption of Christianity and Islam by the people is also influencing abandonment of the cultural practices and indigenous beliefs that are in support of the sacred forests. To prevent further encroachment into sacred landscapes, there is need for demarcation of the boundary to protect against pressing land uses and over exploitation. Also, there is need for policy formulation in support of current African traditional knowledge and beliefs in support of sacred forest to control unsustainable encroachment of sacred landscapes.

2. Culture and Governance: The Unavoidable Complex Realities of Development.

Author: Florence Nassiwa (The Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Kenya)


The concept of culture apart from being a slippery one is also complex in that almost everything can be categorized under culture. For instance the way one speaks especially a foreign language, the way one walks, the way one responds to questions can all be attributed to culture.  Governance on the other hand as a process by which authority is conferred on some people, by which they make the rules to govern those who elect them to positions of governance and by which those rules are enforced  is also quite complex  in that it is difficult to be understood in simple terms.

Culture as defined by Ritzer (2008) in the book titled; Modern Sociological Theory is the organized set of normative values governing behavior which is common to members of a designated society or group. At any level of governance be it individual, family, group, societal, community, institutional, company, national, regional or even international there must be are a set of rules, norms and values that are used to govern behavior.

Nonetheless, the out- comes of good governance such as transparency, participation, compliance and accountability can only be sustained if rulers embrace the set values necessary for good governance as well as the values of those being ruled. The dilemma especially in developing countries is the laxity of   rulers and the tendency to underestimate the power of governance values on broader development.

In this regard, the major challenge is to convince all actors to integrate the positive aspects of culture in governance.

This paper seeks to emphasize that despite the complexities in definition and analysis, the interaction of culture with government structures cannot be avoided and is of paramount importance to successful governance, leadership and development of the state and of the citizens.

3. Art and Governance. Challenging corruption through music and public engagement.

Author: Paula Uimonen (Stockholm University, Sweden)


“Corruption is an enemy of rights and development,” Vitali Maembe underlines as he addresses the audience in Kilwa. The Chanjo ya Rushwa (vaccination against corruption) campaign has reached yet another town on its nationwide tour in Tanzania. Through a combination of live music and public debate, the artists engage audiences in open discussion about corruption. The ambition is to make ordinary citizens aware of their own role in fighting corruption, while giving them a unique opportunity to make their voices heard, thus breaking the culture of silence on corruption. The campaign targets marginalized groups in society, ordinary citizens who encounter corruption in everyday life. When given a chance to speak up, people voice their experiences and frustrations, the campaign thus creating a unique platform for dialogue on governance.

Building on Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo’s work on the ‘politics of performance space’ (1997), this paper discusses the role of arts in addressing issues of governance. Discourses on corruption unravel the complex relations between citizens and the state, not least when it comes to deviations from the ideals of ‘good governance’ (Heilman and Ndumbaro 2002, Smith 2007). Research has shown that the creation of anti-corruption institutions (often instigated by donors) has had little effect on curbing corrupt practices (Blundo and Sardan 2006). If anything, by placing the responsibility for anti-corruption in the hands of the state, such efforts have further undermined the agency of marginalized citizens. This paper argues that through the use of arts and artistic techniques, the Chanjo campaign constitutes a viable bottom-up alternative to top-down anti-corruption efforts. Through artistic performances in public spaces, the Chanjo campaign is able to challenge the state’s ‘enactment of power’ (Ngũgĩ 1997), thus empowering disenfranchised citizens by mediating their agency (Uimonen 2013).   

Chanjo ya Rushwa. An Ethnographic Road Movie, available on vimeo at http://vimeo.com/73936399

4. Role of art and culture in the contemporary African development debate.

Author: Jama Musse Jama (Redsea Culture Foundation, Somalialand)


Culture shapes individual's worldviews and the ways communities address the changes and challenges of their societies while development is  “the  act  or  process  of  growing  or  of  improving...” for a society. Connections of culture and art with the development have been recognized with increased emphasis, to the extent that UNESCO is deploying an agenda of mainstreaming culture into development, and aims the goal of introducing culture as a priority in a post-2015 UN Development Agenda. This paper argues that we need art and culture to build an African state today. In particularly for societies like the post-war Somaliland, in order to build such a sustainable state, you do not need only army, infrastructure and institutions. You need also to have culture, and if the culture is intended for its broader meaning as “means to achieve an end”, that end cannot be otherwise if not the development of the human being, and therefore for the benefit of the whole society. The paper differentiates the interpretations generally given to the “culture in development” as to its reduced form of “creative industry” or its direct effects on the GDP vs culture as “capacity to inspire” and to produce sustainable wealth in a process which is “based on heritage, diversity, creativity and the transmission of knowledge” that relate culture to all dimensions of sustainable development.

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