In July 2017, ARTERIAL NETWORK spoke to Lupwishi Mbuyamba, Executive Director of the Observatory of Cultural Policies in Africa (OCPA) based in Maputo, Mozambique, about his work, his art and his aspirations for the arts and cultural sector across Africa and the diaspora. His passionate and often philosophical responses paint an insightful view of the sector's origins and present state.
ARTERIAL NETWORK: To begin, what kind of work do you do at the Observatory of Cultural Policies in Africa (OCPA)?
LUPWISHI MBUYAMBA: The Observatory of Cultural Policies in Africa (OCPA) is a regional resource centre established to track global cultural trends and the evolution of cultural policies in Africa, as well as to promote their integration into human development strategies. OCPA operates as a coordination, orientation and scientific research centre, and is run by a network of experts and institutions specialised in various areas, such as information, research and training, cultural management and cooperation.
The Observatory has a simplified secretariat comprised of 6 permanent units (including 3 professionals) and 3 part-time experts, some of whom are based in Maputo (Mozambique) and the others are based elsewhere in Africa and Europe. The secretariat is in permanent contact with 42 focal points across 42 countries on the continent, and is part of a network of about 30 vibrant, regional cultural institutions and/or associations. These structures convene annually during the World Summit on Arts and Cultural Institutions (SICADIA). Some members of OCPA's structural organs, the Steering Committee and the Technical Committee take part as experts in several programmes held by the Observatory, as delegates during special missions and as speakers during technical meetings or as authors of OCPA's publications.
How did you join OCPA?
That is a complex question because it brings to mind a few factors, including my personal track record, the determination of a team against incredible odds and the unwavering commitment of all involved. But first, let's talk about my personal track record.
As a young student and as the chair of the Faculty of Philosophy and Arts Students' Association at the University of Lovanium (Kinshasa), I was already preaching what I used to term the "Cultural Gospel" and I insisted on the creation of a Ministry of Culture in the country. My call was answered as the High Commission for Culture and Tourism was created during the next cabinet reshuffle, and the appointee’s first move was to meet with me on campus. Years later, when I was the Director of the National Arts Institute, I proposed that the Department of Cultural Animation be promoted to become a faculty in its own right and that its training programmes be reoriented based on the needs of the local market. My suggestion was approved by the new national university. The resultant graduates were a very rare commodity, and were sought after to operate as “facilitators” of a sound para-academic life on university premises. Their skillset was sought after by the media and even the army, for whom they organised games and leisure activities.
When I became a UNESCO staff member, I was in charge of coordinating the Cultural Programme for Africa. I met with cultural players across the continent and with officials at all levels to discuss the contemporary challenges for cultural development, and this spurred me on to draw the attention of the authorities to them, too. I was driven to bring about change. The turning point was during a conference which I titled, “The Pan African Consultations on Cultural Policies for Development.” It was intended to lay the groundwork for the UNESCO Intergovernmental Conference in Stockholm. Following a meeting in Lomé, I was inspired to propose a series of workshops and seminars to support the UNESCO project for the creation of an Observatory, which would ultimately become an autonomous organisation. This was made possible with the indispensable cooperation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) who gave legitimacy to the operation, and the original funders who guaranteed its creation. Some of the key figures in this original “adventure” were Marcel Diouf (OAU), Mate Kovacs (UNESCO) and Damien Pwono for his funding support.
Unfortunately, as soon as the organisation was established, it was abandoned to fend for itself in all of its scientific, technical and logistical needs: which is no easy feat given the present circumstances. However, with faith and hope in our mission, we have continued to trust in our inventiveness and creativity. At least for the time being!
Apart from your professional expertise, you are also regarded as an accomplished musician. In your opinion, how can music and musicians contribute to the development of the arts sector in Africa?
Me? An accomplished musician? I don't know if I'll ever be. As a matter of fact, art is very broad and a constant work in progress. It is a world of attempts and interrupted trials. It is a response to an internal demon constantly taunting you. But for how long? I don't know.
It is true that being a performer, a teacher, a researcher and a music administrator have attracted other responsibilities, such as becoming the Director of the Music Academy, the Chairperson of the International Music Council, the International Society for Music Education and the International Federation for Choral Music respectively - each time being the first African to occupy these positions. These positions taught me a lot about how we can work towards the continued development of the arts and music sector on the continent.
The key aspects which could set the pace for coherent action in this sector fall under 5 pillars, namely creation, training, production, protection and promotion. Schematically speaking, this involves supporting the creation and works of musicians, songwriters and performers. Next, professional training programmes and structures should be created, as well as institutions for musical education for all. Thirdly, cities and rural areas should be equipped with spaces for expression and musical presentations, including studios with the requisite equipment to record and sell work. In addition, this development must involve the adoption of laws to guide these productions and their creators. Finally, we need to create frameworks for the promotion and negotiation within local, regional and international markets to make the music industry beneficial to creators and their countries.
This is a daunting task that relies on several key cultural actors for its success, including professionals, corporations, musicians, public authorities, beneficiaries (notably civil society and public consumers), and even beyond the continent, the major international record companies, just to name a few.
With the joint support of the aforementioned international networks and in order to focus our concerns, the African Music Council have outlined a national music policy for African decision-makers, and also engaged a number of pan-African consultants for their input. A biennial forum has been established to support the creation of this policy, with regular consultations with festival directors. We are also considering setting up an information centre and a forum to showcase young creators. The establishment of a pan-African music library is also under consideration.
The first forum was held a few months back in Ségou, Mali, and the President of the Republic even described it as being “very successful.” The first meeting for African festival directors is planned to take place shortly after the Pan African Music Festival, established by the African Union in Brazzaville.
Is it possible to assess the impact of Non-Governmental arts and cultural organisations in figures?
The African Music Council, like OCPA, is a non-governmental, regional and international body. These two bodies are the result of strong desire, commitment, tenacity and sacrifice. The conditions for their success are generally guaranteed by three factors: the relevance of their objectives, competence and communication between its various facilitators, as well as the means and resources available to them.
These organisations deliver positive results, supported by attendant professional and technical reports. The cultural statistics drafted according to the necessary precautions and proven methods are convincing.
OCPA was involved in the first international brainstorming session on this new field of cultural statistics during a UNESCO meeting in Montreal which brought together about 30 experts from 5 continents. Following this meeting, OCPA was solicited for regional consultations ahead of the adoption of a specialised framework for a UNESCO regional seminar in Maputo held in 2009. This meeting led to training workshops held by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics in collaboration with OCPA in Dakar and Addis-Ababa respectively.
I may risk sounding too theoretical, but one reality which should be borne in mind is that both cultural organisations and cultural actors need to anchor their professional competence on a structure built around one cultural discipline, or one domain within the sector, such as art, heritage, industry etc. In my professional capacity, I have advised professionals in the category of “cultural advisers” that their actions will only gain momentum when they become specialists in one of these cultural disciplines/ domains.
What are your wishes for the future of African artists?
As concerns the African artists of tomorrow, I believe that we have every reason to be hopeful, especially when we see the increasing relevance of their creations; the products of their hands and minds. This relevance is felt across the world, but not sufficiently enough on the continent!
The professionalisation of this field as a principle will help several amateurs and budding artists to claim their rightful place in society. Art education, which is well organised at all levels, will fill the existing gaps and provide an opportunity for adequate training. Only then will art and culture become mainstream and impact major public policy actions.
OCPA is in the process of organising a colloquium, in partnership with the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) and UNESCO, that will provide an opportunity to address the importance and fundamental role of art and artists in society, rather than limiting ourselves to developing the classical rights and obligations of each and every one. Undoubtedly, Arterial Network, will be invited to actively participate in this event, which we expect to be an intellectual feast. It is only under these rigorous and generous conditions that a new African sense of humanism will emerge.
Any last words?
The impact of public policies on the intimate lives of communities and the expansion of their culture (as a right or an obligation) is carried out because it influences behaviour and is a legitimate quest to expand the community of believers. But believers in what exactly? Believers of man and woman in their environment, time and space. In the primacy of the mind and the durability of values. In aspirations… in eternity!
The Observatory of Cultural Policies in Africa (OCPA) would like to thank Arterial Network for its interest in OCPA's work, and for its desire to learn about and strengthen the international contribution of African artistic and musical practice.
Maputo, Mozambique, 07 July 2020
Interviewer: Marie-Louise Rouget, Arterial Network
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