At the founding Convention of the Arterial Network on Gorée Island, Senegal, in March 2007, under the theme “Vitalizing Cultural Assets”, more than 50 delegates from 14 African countries identified the lack of information, poor government policies and institutional frameworks, weak civil society structures, the marginalization of artists and the arts, an absence of funding and poor leadership, as some of the key challenges confronting the African cultural sector. Delegates resolved to unite across national borders to address their common challenges. A task team was elected to represent the five African regions and a secretariat was appointed to coordinate the activities. Thus was born Arterial Network.
Arterial Network held its second conference in Johannesburg in September 2009 with 130 delegates from 28 African countries. A constitutional framework was adopted, a 10-person Steering Committee was elected and country representatives were mandated to establish Arterial Network chapters in their own countries.
African government have signed commitments to a range of international and African cultural policy instruments and plans including the African Cultural Charter, UNESCO’s Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression, the AU’s plan of Action on Cultural Industries and the Belgrade Recommendation of the Status of the Artist.
If these commitments are realized in practices the conditions of the arts on the African continent would radically improve. The primary reason for the lack of implementation – and for the general failure to implement arts and cultural policy at a national level – is the lack of political will and professional organizations on the sector. This will only change when there is sufficient civil society pressure, backed by regional and international partners, to effect such changes.
Arterial Network offers the arts community a unique opportunity to work together across disciplines in their collective interest with the backing of African counterparts and international networks and partners.
As of 2017, Arterial Network has official representation in:
NORTH AFRICA: Mauritania and Morocco
WEST AFRICA: Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo and Tchad
EASTERN AFRICA: Seychelles and Uganda
CENTRAL AFRICA: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo Brazzaville
SOUTHERN AFRICA: South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe
In terms of Arterial Network’s constitutional framework, the biannual conference of members elects a Steering Committee comprising two representatives per region to provide leadership for a period of two years. A General Council comprising country representatives (the elected chairpersons of national Arterial Network branches) meets at least once per year to evaluate progress and provide direction for the next year.
Since the adoption of the Constitutional Framework, National Chapters are at the core of Arterial Network’s structure and remain a primary means to change the working conditions and to deliver real benefits to artists on the ground. Arterial Network now has official national chapters in 40 countries and coverage in 80% of the continent.
Members in each country elect a national Steering Committee to oversee the affairs of Arterial Network in that country whilst a Continental Secretariat – currently based in Cape Town – manages the organizational affairs of the Network.
Five Key Regional Secretariats have been established to decentralize the operations of the network and are currently located in Morocco (North), Senegal (West), Cameroon (Central), Kenya (East) and South Africa (South).
Full membership is open to any African artist or cultural NGO or enterprise based in Africa that subscribes to Arterial Network’s aims and agrees to abide by its principles. Membership applications may be completed here. There is no membership fee. Associate membership is available to partners and to Africans living abroad.
Africa is much more than the usual images of war, famine, poverty and disease. It is also a continent of natural beauty, rich in resources, warm and generous people and vibrant cultural life. It is not one homogenous whole; rather conditions vary considerably between regions and countries as well as within countries.
However, there are various international indicators that reflect the context in which arts practitioners live and work on the continent, conditions, which present challenges but also serve to shape their practice.
The United Nations Human Development Index that measures life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living in 182 countries list 38 countries in the Very High Human Development category, with no African country featured in this category.
Libya is the only African country in the list of 44 countries ranked in the High Human Development category, featuring at 55. It is possible to live to an average of 77 in Libya, but there is no democracy and the country has a poor human rights record.
Of the 50 countries ranked at the bottom of the Human Development Index, 39 are on the African continent, and this excludes Zimbabwe and Somalia for lack of data i.e. more than three-quarters of African countries reflect among the lowest in terms of life expectancy, literacy, income and general quality of life in the world. Even South Africa, with the largest economy, among the highest economic growth rates on the continent and 4 free elections in 15 years, is ranked at only 129 out of 182 countries, reflecting the challenges that countries with significantly smaller economies face.
A third of African countries have average life expectancies of 50 or below.
Less than 16 countries are considered to be electoral democracies, with 27 (half the continent’s countries) deemed to be pseudo-democracies (democracies on paper but where authoritarian governments do not allow change through elections) and nearly a fifth are dictatorships i.e. with no elections or one-party elections. This has implications for the practice of and respect for human rights in Africa.
Currently, there are armed conflicts in at least seven African countries so that huge amounts of resources are expended on or lost through conflict rather than invested in development. Numerous conflicts assume a cultural character whether Muslim-Christian conflicts in Nigeria, ethnic conflicts that form the basis of electoral or political conflicts e.g. Kenya, or xenophobia e.g. South Africa.
A third of African countries will celebrate 50 years of independence (and concomitant development) in 2010. Yet the Millennium Development Goals resonate most with the African experience: Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education; Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women; Goal 4: Reduce child mortality; Goal 5: Improve maternal health; Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability; Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development.
Key challenges on the continent are poverty (most people live on less than $2 US per day), the lack of democracy and respect for human rights and the absence of the requisite skills, literacy and education to drive and sustain multi-sector development.
At the same time, the continent is subject to competing geo-political forces (USA, EU, China, Brazil and India) that see Africa’s natural resources as key to their future economic growth and sustainability. This competition and global interests pose further challenges to the kind of development that will take place in Africa and the growth – or not - of democracy and human rights on the continent.
International support to the African continent is shaped by the discourse of development (for which there are numerous definitions or emphases). Some agencies and multilateral institutions frame their support to the continent in terms of “the cultural dimension of development.”
Our vision is rooted in our context and we pursue our vision in the framework of the cultural dimension of development, which we understand as follows:
1. First, we define development as “the on going generation and application of resources (financial, human, infrastructural, etc.) to create and sustain the optimal conditions (social, political, economic, etc.) in which human beings enjoy the full range of rights and freedoms espoused in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.
2. Our view of “the cultural dimension of development” is as follows:
2.1. Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone shall have the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community (and) to enjoy the arts….”. We believe that development, in creating the optimal conditions for the full expression of human rights and freedoms, must by necessity create the conditions for this right to be enjoyed simultaneously along with other rights and freedoms.
2.2 Development, human rights and democracy present challenges and ruptures to the worldviews, beliefs, values and traditional practices of many communities. In this way, the culture of a community – in its broad anthropological sense –can inhibit or facilitate development (as defined above). A Millennium Development Goal such as promoting gender equality may challenge a traditional cultural practice. Another goal such as reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS may be thwarted by polygamous cultural practices or the influence of religion on the use of condoms. Culture and development are thus integrally linked as development strategies, human rights and democracy are themselves premised on particular values, worldviews and beliefs.
2.3 The cultural dimension of development is not only relevant to the supposed beneficiaries of development, but also to those in the global north or in well-resourced economies who drive the development agenda often in terms of their strategic economic and/or security interests. The values, beliefs, ideological assumptions and worldviews of these development drivers also need to be interrogated with regard to their influence on, and shaping of, development practices and strategies in the global south.
2.4 The arts are important means in development as carriers, interpreters and celebrants of the values, beliefs and worldviews and practices that construct individual and community identity i.e. they are integral to the cultural life of a community.
There are three broad categories of artistic practice each relevant to development as defined above:
2.4.1 the arts as having value in their own right: for personal catharsis, enjoyment, stimulation, affirmation of identity, etc i.e. the arts for personal development
2.4.2 the arts instrumentalized for a socially-good end e.g. to promote intercultural dialogue, to educate communities about good health practices, to raise awareness of climate change i.e. art for social development and
2.4.3 the arts as economic drivers e.g. creative industries to create employment, generate income, reduce poverty, etc i.e. art for economic development
We believe that these are all equally valid categories of artistic practice within a developmental framework and that they necessarily co-exist (often – and in our view, unnecessarily - in tension with each other as emphasis is placed on one or the other depending on the prevailing social, political or economic conditions).