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Burkina Faso: Introduction

Burkina Faso: Introduction

Burkina Faso is a former French colony which became independent in 1960. The country has a rich cultural tradition, as demonstrated through the medium of storytelling, music, dance, art and religious ceremonies within the country’s society. Such cultural activities serve to express the common history of the population, and encourage social cohesion amongst its sixty ethnic groups. A number of different festivals are organised on an annual basis, the highlight of which is the biennial Pan African Film Festival (FESPACO), which has been held in the capital, Ouagadougou since 1965.

Burkina Faso is among the few countries of the African continent to have drawn a great deal of attention on account of its culturally diplomatic initiatives. Cultural affairs are managed by the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism, which promotes activities such as music, film, sport and crafts. The Ministry comprises ten central departments and thirteen local departments alongside attached services such as state companies and state public administrative institutions. Burkina Faso has operated successive cultural policies; however these have largely depended on foreign funding, principally through France but also through the European Commission. On the whole, the Burkina Faso state is more involved in logistical development and handling infrastructure issues rather than direct funding.

The large amount of foreign investment has been the subject of some debate. In a paper examining the education system in Burkina Faso, Dr. Touorouzou equates the influx of international funding in Burkina Faso to “new wine in old bottles.” The continued use of French (rather than the regional languages of Mōoré or Dioula) as a medium of instruction has raised questions of whether the current system is fostering education that is somewhat removed from indigenous knowledge, and whether or not this is desirable.

Cultural diplomacy in Burkina Faso manifests in various ways, but these various initiatives can be summarized as having three main objectives: First, cultural diplomacy promotes the interaction of all Burkinabe ethnic groups, and the undertaking of cultural and artistic activities. Second, it offers an opportunity for social integration of foreigners living in the country, by creating a common forum. Third, it reinforces inter-African, as well as international, cooperation. Generally, activities involve music and dance, and take place during or after pastoral activities or religious ceremonies such as births, deaths and initiations of tribal chiefs. In cities, cultural activities take the form of smaller events such as dances, stage performances, cinematographic concerts and projections, or larger events of a national or international scale. These activities are often organised annually or every two years, by both the state and the private sector.

The section below will analyse six individual culturally diplomatic activities driven by the public sector either on its own or in partnership with other private sector activities, both inside and outside Burkina Faso.

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