“I am a Pan-Africanist who believes that African peoples have a common cultural heritage and historical experience that we must understand if we are to have clearer sight of our desired destination.” President Uhuru Kenyatta
The 32nd African Union General Assembly (AUGA) closed on Monday, February 11th but not before Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta’s proposed closer ties among people of African descent. Aggrey Mutambo, explains in the nation.co.ke/news, “President Uhuru Kenyatta, Monday, rooted for Pan-Africanism, which was the clarion call for many African independence leaders nearly 60 years ago. President Uhuru Kenyatta said Africans will have to strengthen ties with the continent’s descendants to realise a shared prosperity.” During the AU session, specifically recognizing 400 years since the era of Transatlantic slave trade, President Uhuru proclaimed, “I am a Pan-Africanist who believes that African peoples have a common cultural heritage and historical experience that we must understand if we are to have clearer sight of our desired destination.” As we know, this is not a new narrative. The quest of reuniting Africans at home and abroad by OAU Founding Fathers Emperor Haile Selassie I, Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyrere amongst others, was a collective effort to end the poverty of African minds, bodies and souls, post the political colonial era.
On the high note, Africa’s Heads of State and Government sealed the Monday meeting agreeing on the need for “…closer ties through art, scholarship, trade, religious ceremonies and youth movements.” Art, again…hmmm. Though society tends to put art in a box, this column continuously tries to connect the dots, using historic and real time occurrences and lessons to unpack important issues, such as African unity. So as I gave thanks for this agenda item put forth by President Uhuru, I also felt the fresh and tragic loss, one day after the closing of the AUGA; of Olabisi Silva, Nigerian curator, amazon and juggernaut in African art. I recalled a discussion I had with ‘Bisi’ at the AU in 2016 where we shared our concern of the seemingly blind eye African leaders turn towards the rich culture of the continent. In a profound interview she gave to the starjournal.org in June 2015 I found yet more lines between the dots and yet another reason for our disconnect with art and each other. Silva said, “It is important that the State recognizes the critical role of arts and culture in the development of a country. I really appreciate the gesture of the Malian government who have recognized that with the political upheavals they have experienced recently, culture does and will play a critical role in rebuilding the country.” With further focus on African unity through and in art, Bisi goes on to share her thoughts on what Africans can do to build relations, right next door, “Have they reached out to their neighbours? I think that would be more interesting. We need to know ourselves better. A mentality that thinks West is best is not very progressive.” Finally, the committed curator reminds us, “If you develop your own art scene – and let people know what is going on – the focus on being accepted internationally becomes less of an issue. I think we should focus on doing high quality programs because if we do it people will come.” Profound, logical and relevant comments for both African art and Africans effort for re-integration towards progress.
So as Addis Abeba resumes life after AU GA, and traffic patterns are restored, will the patterns of African leaders revert to paper tigers or will substance be the new AU order of the day? Will the words of Bisi come to pass as Heads of State and Government think less about outside reaction, funding etc. and focus on the value and benefits re-connecting African kith and kin, also known as the 6th region or the African Diaspora? For the record and according to the AU, “The African Diaspora consists of peoples of African origin living outside of the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union.”
Artists need to continue the push from governments to grass roots with art, dance, music, literature and more to move the minds and hearts of Africans towards unity. Much as the billion-dollar box office flick, Black Panther, provided a ground swell of African pride and soidarity, Africa will have more to offer than the mythical State of Wakanda, if we come together. If the AU and member states actually realize the myriad decisions taken to advance the continent, with African diaspora in alliance, a turning of the tide will occur on this continent which will be an unprecedented paradigm shift.
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.