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CFSC and the Commission on Africa: Culture, Education and Development : Some Gaps

In theory Britain could be on the way back to its "˜ethical foreign policy', if indeed the recommendations of Bob Geldof's and Tony Blair's Commission for Africa are implemented by the Labour party. Acceptance by the G8 leaders however remains a distant dream and the Gleneagles summit had done little to nourish it.

The Africa Commission's recommendations were to be a blueprint for a plan that would "˜make poverty history'. But significant gaps are revealed as soon as one looks behind the shop-front issues of debt, trade and local corruption. And the summit barely delivered on those.

It does not explore how its impressive concerns and recommendations are actually to be realised on the ground.

The report, appropriately enough, is pitched at a high level. It is after all addressed to the mighty G8 policy makers. There is frequent allusion throughout the report to the importance of the men, women and children whose lives are the subjects of our "˜development' efforts, but it reveals no real understanding of how to engage with them. The importance of culture is addressed, but in theoretical and abstract terms. This, in spite of UNESCO's position on Perez de Cuellar's "˜Our Cultural Diversity' which emphasised, almost ten years ago, the importance of engaging with local culture in matters including health, trade and politics. This emphasis has always been the first to evaporate.

The Commission pays significant attention to basic education. Higher education only gets a look-in, with particular focus on the sciences. Little or no attention is paid to non-formal, adult and out-of-school education. Yet if these new initiatives are to succeed, the people of the streets and the farmers in the fields need the means to develop their understanding of the broader globalised world. They need to regain ownership of their own lives and to participate as citizens - taking actions and making real decisions about their bodies, about their children, about their daily bread and about their cultural realities.

Implementation on the ground may not be the concern of the G8 leaders at a summit. However, if the blueprint, the Commission's Report fails to recommend a proper engagement with local people and their culture at the interface between these policies and ordinary people's lives, then the current initiative will fall into the same holes that the Brandt report (need a fuller reference here for th uninitiated) and others fell into. Its noble principles will not trickle down. We need cultural action at the interface, and we need appropriate formal and informal education to support it.

The Africa Commission, unfortunately, makes only passing and rather dismissive reference to NGOs' use of community arts in the context of community development programmes. Development fieldworkers today use a range of approaches to raise awareness and engage in dialogue with their grassroots partners. They know it is not enough to simply allocate funds for bed nets and condoms, or only to transmit information through flipcharts and lessons. Many local facilitators all over Africa are using theatre, video, cultural action and participatory practices in the pursuit of social transformation and "˜development'. Theatre performances have contributed, for example, to Uganda's impressive record on AIDS; they informed rural people all over Zambia about the implications of debt and Jubilee 2000. In Zambia and Tanzania they raised awareness about local government corruption. Performances are not all designed to pass messages that people already know about their lived experiences. Communication goes two ways, communities and their artists express their own difficulties about fear and stigma regarding AIDS, about access to water or health care or a free market economy. They and their audiences explore local perspectives on all the other aspects of poverty and debt that are proclaimed and debated by policy-makers from London to Washington (if we're talking halls of government we should be making apples to apples comparisions), to all the halls of government in the entire G8. The people's debates reflect the same concerns.

Recognition of what it takes to implement their policies on the ground should never be far from the minds and the lips of our political representatives who debated the Commission's recommendations at Gleneagles. These are not just the details of implementation "“ they are the key. They alone can lubricate the understanding and the changes that we need. Policies will otherwise remain policies. They will not touch people's lives unless the people have understood them, contributed to them and developed a sense of ownership over them. If ordinary people regain their voice, they CAN in this day and age contribute to, and participate in, the debates that the Commission is generating. There is no provision for this either in the report or in the debating chambers of the G8 summit.

Support for higher education and academic links with HE institutions in Africa has diminished in these recent bellicose years. There is a move now to re-establish some of the links that used to generate academic exchanges and foster higher learning in Africa's beleaguered universities. But the report singles out the sciences for additional support,. In spite of the chapter on culture, it does not appear to recognise that there can be no development without cultural action and the training of trainers (at whatever level) who will implement it.

Without that recognition education cannot be provided locally? by trainers, cultural an development workers who should be spearheading the changes on the ground and preparing grassroots facilitators for their work in the field. Must we continue to rely on the expatriate cultural and communication workers?

Neither G8 nor the UK government have expanded their projections for higher education in Africa. As the G8 summit is now itself history, we have lost one more opportunity to make that happen..

It must be up to us, both the practitioners and the HE educators, to produce a coherent strategy and add it to the ongoing G8 discourse.

Alex Mavrocordatos
Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Media for Development
Centre for the Arts in Development Communications [cdcArts]
School of Community and Performing Arts
University of Winchester
Winchester SO22 4NR

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