By Pilar Rukavina, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.
Last week, at the European African Alliance Conference 2013 in Brussels, H.E. Amb. Anwabor of the Nigerian Embassy to Belgium graciously hosted the ICD in the Hotel Windsor Grand Place and opened the three day ceremonies with an in depth insight into the application of Cultural Diplomacy practices in the most densely populated nation in Africa. With a population of 162,470,737 and more than 250 different tribes, Amb. Anwabor´s portrayal of the country as a symbol of unity set an ideal precedent for the rest of the conference, exemplifying the power of cultural diplomacy not only in the foreign policy of a nation but also in its domestic policy. Numerous nations, especially in the African continent, are not so much threatened by traditional inter-state wars waged by foreign enemies but by internal instability. Therefore, efforts to diffuse tension via cultural diplomacy within the state are perhaps most necessary at this point in time, when insecurity in northern Nigeria is progressing on a worrying scale.
So how does the Nigerian administration attempt to forge and sustain a relatively durable level of harmony and solidarity amongst its diverse inhabitants? Awanbor cited various domestic policies which fosters inter-cultural dialogue between the many regions of Nigeria. On an institutional scale, the cultural diversity of Nigeria is reflected in its political system. With a federal character enshrined in its constitution, a policy of equal representation of all ethnic groups in civil service institutions has been firmly established. At the grassroots level, educational initiatives encouraging individuals to attain higher education in a region different to that of their origin have been put in place. This inter-regional exchange allows students to get to know other areas and cultures within their country and so generates respect and understanding of the inherent diversity of such a large nation. Such activities are not limited to Nigerian borders however. The Nigerian government is actively attempting to attract foreign students via the provision of scholarships to Nigerian universities. This will both enrich Nigerian culture, in the hope that some of these students will remain in the country, and provide a platform for foreigners to promote Nigeria abroad. Such exchanges are a prime example of Cultural Diplomacy in action and it is apparent that Nigeria incorporates culture into policy making on a significant scale.
In his speech, Awanbor claimed there is “no future without culture” and acknowledged Cultural Diplomacy as a modern tool vehicle through which Nigeria promotes peace, stability and mutual understanding. Awanbor cited innumerable examples of how culture forms a distinct part of Nigerian initiatives to promote the countries´ image abroad. For instance, the Nollywood film industry is the third most popular worldwide; following closely behind Hollywood and Bollywood. According to Awanbor, Nigerian actors are collaborating with sister African countries to promote continental cohesion and development. Inside the country, cultural festivals celebrating Nigeria´s richness in diversity are commonplace, such as the Eyo Festival, The Sango, The Benin Festival and the new yam festival, to name but a few. Awanbor finished his presentation with a slideshow accompanied by music showing photos of Nigerian cultural activity to give us an image of the versatility of Nigerian culture.
Unfortunately, this is not what we tend to see in the media. It is undeniable that Nigeria is facing serious socio-political problems in some regions but we cannot allow these selective portrayals of Nigeria to define our perceptions of the country. What about all the positive developments? What about the billions of dollars Nigeria contributed to peacemaking efforts in countries such as Liberia? What about all the technical assistance provided to other countries of the region? What about the celebrations of art, culture and diversity?
Perhaps I am an exception but I have not once turned on the television to find evidence of any of this positive activity. Of course there are exceptions and if you take the time to seek them out, you will find some great programmes showing the different side of Africa. As an attendee of the European African Alliance Conference, I picked up on a common theme throughout the week; Africa on the whole is plagued by stereotypes which are constantly perpetuated by Western media, a fact that participants coming from Africa continuously confirmed. Nigeria is no exception, as Awanbor testified to. The issue of corruption which is always made synonymous to Africa is indeed, as he so rightly said, a worldwide phenomenon to which Europe is not immune, as we are seeing now more than ever. Rather than branding African nations as corrupt, we must instead make evident the measures which are being taken against such destructive practices to increase accountability and transparency, as in Nigeria. The power of Cultural Diplomacy to diminish stereotypes is immense and we hope that African countries such as Nigeria continue to cultivate such practices to open our eyes to the real Africa; an ever growing economic player with an indescribable richness in cultural diversity.