MAKING ACCRA AN AFRICAN CULTURAL CAPITAL CITY
Hot Issues with: Baba Abdulai
THE city of Accra is receiving attention from the international community and it seems that very soon it could become an African cultural capital city.
Not long ago, precisely15th January, this year, the city of Accra was declared a Millennium City by Dr. Jeffery Sachs the director of the Millennium Cities Initiative based at the Columbia University in New York in the United States of America.
The objective was to harness all intellectual and cultural material resources of Accra to develop the metropolis and improve the lives of the people.
This objective ties in well with another initiative, a low-scale revolution if you like, aimed at turning Accra into an African cultural capital, which was set in motion at an African Cultural Capital Forum held last weekend at the Alliance Francaise in Accra with participants coming from several African countries.
It was organized by Accra CAN which is an acronym for Accra Cultural and Arts Network with support from the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), Goethe Institute, Alliance Francaise, UNESCO, the Ministry of Foreign, Affairs, the French Embassy among others.
The Forum was timed to coincide with Ghana’s 53rd Independence day celebrations as well as the centenary programme put in place to celebrate Ghana’s first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah whose policies on the arts have been matchless so far.
As a quiet participant at the Forum taking notes, I was impressed with the commitment of organizers and participants towards making Accra an African cultural capital city, and especially by the mayor of Accra, Honourable Alfred Vanderpuije, who expressed the belief that “a city grows and prospers when its citizens work together, and collaborate for the common good”
According to the Accra mayor, by coming on board to make Accra an African cultural capital city, the AMA aims to improve the physical infrastructure of Accra through selective rehabilitation of the city’s vast store of buildings and roads with cultural and historic significance in the hope of rendering them “useful to our daily needs”
Here I will like to mention a Street like the Amu Wristberg street which most people do not remember or do not know in which part of Accra it is.
I grew up on that street
There are others like the Hansen Road, Kojo Thompson Road and others that should be given their pride of place.
It also has to be stated that for an important international personality as Kwame Nkrumah, the circle named after him should be more than a marketplace.
Whoever it was that took the decision to allow it to become a marketplace did it for reasons that did not include the interest of the city of Accra.
It is also important to mention that Accra contains the burial places of giant Pan Africanists like Kwame Nkrumah and Dr. W.E.B. Dubois
Of course the George Padmore Library is also in Accra. The Accra mayor in his speech indicated that the AMA would encourage the “growth of local audience for Culture by promoting it at the basic community level,” adding that “the city will have to develop a long term cultural policy that will serve as a guide to the administration of the AMA.”
The mayor’s speech was full of other good intentions which I hope he will be able to implement.
Definitely nobody can quarrel about collaborating with “teachers to support the performing arts, language arts (reading and writing) and painting”
Equally nobody can quarrel about a system that will enable schools and the metro Education Office to establish after-school activities to curb youth delinquency.
Above all, what was important for me was the statement that the AMA “will also help to extend the network of international cultural connections that tie the city of Accra to the wider world” and this, I hope, AccraCAN will hold the mayor to it since that will add a lot to making Accra an African cultural capital city a reality.
Accra as an African cultural capital city, when that recognition comes, will be the greatest thing that ever happened to the city in a long time; what with all the film shows, musical concerts, dance performances, book fairs, art exhibitions among many others that take place during the period which normally is for twelve months.
In 1996, the Danish capital city of Copenhagen was the cultural capital of Europe and as part of the activities; it hosted the images of African festival which has as its flagship the dance-drama Musu by Ghana’s Professor F. Nil Yartey with performers from Ghana and the U.S. Virgin Islands
This is the cue I hope those at AccraCAN will take and co-opt the likes of Nil Yartey into their organisation to, at least, share their experiences.
Making Accra an African cultural capital city requires a lot from all stakeholders, especially from the group of creators collectively known as artistes who must lay their claim in our national scheme of things.
I am mentioning this because very often in this country too much hope is placed in politicians who, as it is well known, are only interested in things that only bring in the votes.
Of course that is not to say the politicians are completely irrelevant when it comes a matter like making Accra the cultural capital because if for nothing at all sponsorships will be required from private business that the politicians can encourage by offering them tax rebates or write offs for every cultural programme they sponsor.
But this is not going to come easily, especially when a huge chunk of our national budget is coming from outside sources.
I believe that since no politician in this country campaign without a jingle whose song is composed by a musician, or billboards, posters or flyers designed by an artist, or a function held without a musical interlude or a performance by a cultural troupe, it is about time that the elected officials who decide how money from the national coffers is disbursed realized that arts and culture can no longer remain in footnote positions in our national scheme of things.
Yes the artistes are paid for their creative works, I know, but what if they one day decide not to work because elected official continue to give them shabby treatment because they still regard what they do as “dondology”?
Many times some of us have called for proper recognition to be paid to our culture so that apart from the window dressing we are currently seeing; we will begin to see culture components in the planning and budgetary allocations of our various ministries, departments and agencies.
And whilst we are at it, we have to tell our political leadership and all those who have a hand in deciding which programme gets more money from the national purse that culture is not only restricted to the visual and performing arts.
In fact, it is more than the two areas mentioned above. It is for this reason, among several others, that I think itis important that all of us give support to the city of Accra to become an African cultural capital, what with its rich history that links itto a continent like Europe.
It is not for nothing that a part of Accra proper is called James Town, for instance.
Or a lot of Ga families have surnames that are European like the Reiners, the Richters, the Vanderpuijes, the MaIms, the Myers and many others.
The Forum last weekend was part of a plan towards making Accra a cultural capital which when it becomes a reality will include the production of a colourful map with graphic images detailing heritage sites, cultural houses, performance venues and others that show the rich history of Accra.
This will be distributed throughout the city to inform and guide residents and visitors alike.
Since no less a person than the mayor of Accra supports the idea of making Accra an African cultural capital city, the time has now come for him to impress it upon officials in-charge of completing the science museum in Accra to get serious and complete the project.
I cannot believe that building has been like that since I was a little child running around Tudu and Adabraka Official Town otherwise known as Freetown!
And that was not yesterday!
When the science museum is completed, it will add a lot to the cultural attractions of Accra especially when people get to know that it was one of the many abandoned projects of Nkrumah.
The words of the mayor of Accra are a fitting conclusion to this article.
“Finally, I wish to state that the active engagement with the African Cultural Cities Programmes will enable us to improve the lives of our people and create a more vibrant city”
Is this not what we all wanted?
Need I say more?
The Spectator Page: 18 Saturday, March 20, 2010