Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 22, July 1998 


The Birth of the Ubuntu Movement

The Bellagio Publishing Network Secretariat was involved in the organisation and planning of a Pan-African Consultation on Cultural Co-operation and Development, held in Lomé, Togo, 10-13 February 1998; and an African seminar `Visions of African Cultural Co-operation and Development' held as an agora during the UNESCO Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies held in Stockholm, Sweden, 30 March-2 April 1998.

The Pan-African consultation in Lomé aimed to take a critical look at the state of cultural co-operation among African countries as well as between Africa and the rest of the world; to prepare the African contribution to the Stockholm Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies; and to launch the Ubuntu Movement. The Stockholm seminar enabled African delegates to present their shared vision for cultural co-operation and development, and to discuss strategies for culture and development for the coming of the millennium.

The Lomé consultation and the African seminar in Stockholm were conceptualised by the OAU, UNESCO and the Ubuntu 2000 initiative. The Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and Sida funded the Stockholm seminar and co-funded the Lomé meeting with UNESCO. The role of the Bellagio Publishing Network Secretariat was to administer funds, facilitate communication and co-ordinate the participation of African cultural experts to these meetings.

The changing context

The Lomé consultation examined the theories and practices that have shaped cultural co-operation among African nations as well as between African countries and those of other continents. The consultation reviewed the changing context of the continent, within the legacy of colonialism, analysing the impact of current development co-operation policies on artistic creativity and intellectual life in Africa.

The current context of Africa reflects a new world view characterised by:

  • globalisation of goods and values;
  • general recognition of the cultural dimension of socio-economic development;
  • increasing demand for the dialogue of cultures; and
  • the need to promote cross-cultural understanding for peace and development.

With the emergence of a new civil society, the development of entrepreneurship and the rise of professionalism and self-confidence, African cultural institutions are regaining their traditional role as agents of change. They provide spaces within which people's identities are promoted and issues of communal welfare addressed.

The sense of pride being developed by the African Diaspora, and growing public recognition of the impact of African and African-derived cultural expressions on world culture and socio-economic development, are also changing the context within which cultural co-operation needs to be redefined. Additionally, there is a positive development taking place in the donor community as some donors interested in African cultural development are reassessing their cultural co-operation strategies.

The Ubuntu Movement

The Ubuntu Movement is a Pan-African initiative for the promotion of cultural co-operation and development. The movement is conceived as a strategy to forge linkages, enhance collaboration and develop partnerships among individuals and institutions committed to the production, dissemination and consumption of African and African-inspired artistic and cultural expressions worldwide.

Ubuntu is a Southern African word for humanness. It means `I am because you exist', and it is an expression of community life and collective responsibility. Ubuntu invokes notions of caring for and sharing with each other as we build a humane society. The concept of Ubuntu refers to understanding diversity and engaging difference for peace and development.

Aims of Ubuntu

The aims of the Ubuntu Movement are:

  • to affirm and enrich cultural identities of all African people, on the continent and in the Diaspora;
  • to promote networking and cultural exchanges within Africa, and between Africa and the Diaspora;
  • to promote creativity and excellence in all areas of cultural production;
  • to foster closer ties among Africanists;
  • to develop and sustain human and institutional capacity-building efforts in the cultural sector;
  • to advocate for sound policies and investment in the development of cultural industries;
  • to develop markets for African artistic and cultural expressions on the continent and overseas;
  • to provide a rallying point for people of all cultures to participate in the African experience;
  • to promote cross-cultural understanding and international co-operation; and
  • to monitor culture and development trends in Africa and the Diaspora.

Development partners began to reassess their experiences in the promotion of cultural initiatives, their attitudes towards culture and their methods of interventions aimed at acknowledging the cultural dimension of development; affirming and enriching cultural identities; broadening participation in cultural life; and promoting international cultural co-operation.

Background of Ubuntu 2000

The United Nations World Decade for Cultural Development (1988-1997) brought a new challenge as development partners began to reassess their experiences in the promotion of cultural initiatives, their attitudes towards culture and their methods of interventions aimed at acknowledging the cultural dimension of development; affirming and enriching cultural identities; broadening participation in cultural life; and promoting international cultural co-operation. In Africa, this challenge has been amplified by new demands of the transition to democracy when considering the role of cultural institutions and programmes in the promotion of African civil society and development.

The Ubuntu initiative was first discussed during a Pan-African consultation on the promotion of African arts and culture held in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-7 August 1996. The consultation was organised by the Rockefeller Foundation, with the participation of UNESCO, the OAU, the Ford Foundation, Sida, and SADC. This consultation, intended to assess current policies and practices for the promotion of cultural programmes in Africa and overseas, was attended by 55 participants comprised of policymakers, cultural managers, arts presenters, trade officers, scholars, artists and media professionals from Africa and its Diaspora.

The Johannesburg consultation discussed the state of cultural studies and policies in Africa, African festivals and cultural markets, partnerships and collaboration in the development of African arts and culture, promotion of cross-cultural understanding and regional co-operation, the relationship between the new South Africa and the rest of Africa, as well as problems and opportunities for cultural funding. Participants endorsed the idea of reviving Pan-African festivals and expositions of arts and culture; and the establishment of a forum for continued dialogue and networking.

The consultation elected a steering committee and appointed Damien Pwono of the Rockefeller Foundation to oversee their preparatory work for the first of the Pan-African festivals. This festival would draw from the experience of past Pan-African festivals such as FESTAC, the last of which was held in Lagos, Nigeria in 1977. The steering committee, which met three times in 1997, was also mandated to design a programme of action for the promotion of African cultural heritage worldwide.

The Ubuntu plan of action targets programmes that will encourage and sustain human and institutional capacity-building in the field of culture and socio-economic development. Ubuntu activities are intended to strengthen existing initiatives in publishing, museum education, music and dance research and presentation, film and television, arts and crafts, and to build synergy among them. Special emphasis will be placed on research, documentation, training, cultural and professional exchanges, audience and cultural market development, and advocacy.

The mission of the Ubuntu Festival and Exposition of Arts and Culture will be to celebrate and to promote excellence in African and African-derived cultural and artistic creativity. It will be open to the people of Africa and the Diaspora as well as to individuals and institutions worldwide who are interested in the promotion of African arts and culture. This event will also provide opportunities for other Diaspora communities within Africa, such as those of European and Asian origin, to represent the diversity and richness of the contemporary African experience.

Areas of the arts and culture envisaged for the festival are grouped into a number of generic disciplines that include film and television, music, dance, drama, visual and plastic arts, culinary arts, fashion and design, craft industry, publishing, literature, architecture and religion. The Ubuntu Festival will be organised every four years as a curated event at a different geographic location, with the first one to be held in South Africa in 1999. Many activities such as research, conferences, workshops and arts exhibitions will lead up to the festival and beyond. These activities will be implemented in collaboration with a cross-section of national and international organisations and committed individuals within civil society, the private sector and governments.

The Ubuntu movement is just one strategy for the promotion of cultural co-operation and development. Increased emphasis on the interaction between culture and development - both as a cultural context for development planning and management, and as the development of cultural institutions and programmes - will continue to call for new strategies, resource requirements and partnerships.

The African publishing industry is actively involved in the Ubuntu initiative. APNET was well represented at the Stockholm seminar, by Vice-Chairperson James Tumusiime (Fountain Publishers, Kampala), Executive Secretary Gillian Nyambura, and immediate past Chairperson Chief Victor Nwankwo (Fourth Dimension Publishers, Enugu). Walter Bgoya (Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam) is a member of the Ubuntu steering committee. `We want Ubuntu to be a do commercially viable productions so we can depend on trade rather than aid [and] become self-sustaining', says Tumusiime interviewed in the Ugandan newspaper New Vision (24 June 1998). `Ubuntu will act as an umbrella organisation, a promotional forum for artists, authors, museum curators, musicians...everybody in culture.' [end]  [BPN, no 22, 1998, p 7.]

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