THE AMBASSADOR AND THE ARTIST

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“African Liberation is not an event it’s a process… ” Ambassador Kwesi Quartey, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

Africa Day, celebrated on May 25th is a Pan African holiday recognized in Africa and the Diaspora, marking the establishment of the Organization of African Unity, symbolizing Africa’s quest for freedom. HIM Emperor Haile Selassie I first hosted representatives of 30 African nations in Addis Abeba convened to determine their collective destiny May 25th, 1963. The OAU’s progeny, the AU will “celebrate some landmark achievements of the Union… calling upon all Africans to commemorate and celebrate the Africa Day,” remarks H.E. Ambassador Kwesi Quartey, Deputy Chair Person (DCP) of the African Union Commission. As celebration connotes culture and the arts, I was curious to hear the AU’s perspective on art and culture and the impact, role and responsibilities of African artists.
I requested a few minutes of the DCP’s precious time to facilitate a candid conversation with one of his favorite artists, Merid Tafesse. Kwesi, Ghanaian born and Merid, Ethiopian born are both staunch Pan Africans. The following is the important exchange in response to my three questions: What is the significance of African Liberation Day of yester-years and today? What is the impact of artists on African liberation? What is your advice to artists towards the unification and progress of Africans?
DCP Kwesi shares, “We grew up on the joint thesis of Kwame Nkrumah and Haile Selassie in bringing together the various tracks of practicality of African integration… heads of independent states met to stake a claim for total liberation in Addis in 1963 so the 25th of May is of critical importance for Africans. We have come along way…at the root of our relationship with diaspora was the slave trade…declared the 6th region of the African family. The purpose of liberating ourselves means we must relate to the larger African family as the whole notion of Pan Africanism came from the Diaspora …with the likes of Sylvester Williams and Marcus Garvey…the under ground railroad etc. … led to independence of Ghana. Still we are in a process of Africa retaining its integrity and asserting its determination for restoration. All this is now encapsulated in agenda 2063 espoused by Mrs. Zuma; a vision…where borders have become bridges…Trans African railroad, Continental Free Trade Agreement etc…flagships of African prosperity…tracing the line from history to see how we go forward…reminding ourselves of the struggles…slowly we see things coming to pass… coming to continental planning recognizing our difference while celebrating our commonalities. Liberation is a process not an event and culture and the arts are at the heart of the development of the African nation. Art gives us a sense of belonging.”
Merid responds to the wise words, “Culture, in the end of the day, is the base of our identity, spirituality and creativity. I noticed countries that colonize don’t give art classes past elementary school, even though Europeans say they value the arts. That tells me how culture and creativity are significant, such that they take it out of the curriculum. When you go all over Africa we are developed and creative but colonial powers makes us forget how great we are. They take our wealth and make us feel we have to get it from them. Art is beyond visual and decoration it is spiritual. The oldest temples are here in Africa… and yet people die crossing the ocean not just for opportunity but because of the belief that everything white is better, its not just economics it’s optics. This is what the artist’s eye sees. We lost many things through loss of education, if we are educated and exposed to art it enhances our creativity not just to become artists but in every field. Art is in our genes.”
DCP Kwesi final thoughts, “Art is to enhance our enjoyment of life, if you are a painter a musician, if you are culture man, like Merid, let your work enhance and encourage the imagination of the young people, to strive for the values that you believe in, your values are inherently African…living in the community together, each his brother and sister’s keeper, having a society where they are self supporting, reinforcing cultural, material, economic and artistic systems. They way Miriam Makeba’s songs inspired liberation, the way Hugh Masekela inspired equality and independence; the kind of songs from Bob Marley, One Love and Africa Unite…the artist is using what he has, his talent to enhance the struggle. Because life for Africa and the black person has been a struggle, our aim is to live life better for our people our mothers our sisters our children so in the future it will be better it is as simple as that.”

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.