Friday, 22 June 2012

PANAFEST… the lift Africa’s culture, tourism needs

By Anote Ajeluorou

The Pan-African Culture and Tourism Festival, PANAFEST, had its second outing last week at MUSON Centre, Lagos, with eminent personalities drawn from three West African countries and beyond. What resonated at the colloquium and exhibition was the commitment by stakeholders to use Africa’s vibrant culture and tourism potentials to bridge the socio-economic and political gap amongst peoples of the continent.

WHEN Nigeria’s Taiwo and Kehinde Oluwafunsho, twins with an untiring spirit, had inspiration to summon people of African descent to a town hall meeting to celebrate their richly endowed culture as tool to promote their culture and tourism, little did they know how far-reaching their novel idea would go. At the hugely decorated Shell Hall of MUSON Centre, Thursday, last week, the immensity of their pan-African cultural feast played itself out in multi-colours. PANAFEST now alternates its activities between Nigeria and Ghana. The Ghana edition of the festival holds in July.
  The guest list was an impressive fusion of political and cultural heavy-weights from across divides. In attendance were former Commonwealth Secretary, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; Governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola; his deputy, Titilayo Laoye-Tomori; Ghana High Commissioner in Nigeria, Alhaji Abdulkareem; Trinidad and Tobago High Commissioner, Nyahuma Mentuhotep Obika; The Gambia High Commissioner, Mrs. Angela B. Colley; Oba Gbenga Sonuga; Chief Frank Okonta; mater print maker, Bruce Onobrakpeya; renowned artiste, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett; and Prof. Ropo Sekoni among others.
  In setting the tone for the festival colloquium, the organisers, Taiwo and Kehinde Oluwafunso, said the festival was a cultural event that came into being in Ghana and designed for the enhancement of Africa, with the gathering of the best brains on the continent to chart new visions for Africa through robust debates.
  They stressed that integration of the continent was key to its future and development quest and tasked leaders to take immediate action in using culture and tourism as effective tools to drive the continent’s growth.
  They argued that it was not enough to knock on doors of foreign institution donors to beg for money if only Africa could apply itself to processes of economic development by looking inwards and harnessing available local ideas and resources. They said now, more than ever before, had the need for Africa’s integration, tourism, and rebirth become imperative for the continent’s future.
  With African Economic and Social Integration, the Experience of Ghana and Nigeria as theme, it was clear the festival was out to set a clear mandate that would take Africa from the backwoods of under-development.
  Also, with Trinidad and Tobago High Commissioner in attendance, PANAFEST would seem to have its eyes set on the over 250 million Africans in the Diaspora as a potent force in the transformation that the continent must make to reinvent itself.

Africa’s economic woes
FOR keynote speaker, Aregbesola, Governor of Osun State, Africa’s economic woes was traceable to the continent’s checkered history of slave trade, colonialism, post- and neo-colonialism and the unending political crises that continue to bedevil it. A combination of these, he stated, had pushed the continent to a marginal position from which it must break free. He noted that concrete action was needed to reverse the continent’s disadvantageous position in the era of global capitalism so Africa could be better served.
  Aregbesola posited, “As things are, Africa is delinked from the world in many respects, more importantly in economic terms, which means it is largely disconnected from the many benefits that accrue from the process of economic globalisation.
    “I’m an unrepentant advocate of regional integration. It is commonsensical, for instance, that the contiguous states of the South West maximise their proximity to Lagos and take a huge chunk of the sprawling city’s N3.5 billion daily food market. Given our common history, culture and heritage, it is in our interest to cooperate maximally in the diverse areas of economy, education, infrastructure, arts and culture, and social interactions.
  “The first stage of integration is progressive political platform. This is why the progressive states of the South West were quick to embrace, promote and work towards regional integration the moment they came to power. It is our vision to re-enact the regional economic integration framework, which effectively enhanced great socio-economic developments of the autonomous regions of First Republic.”
  On his part, guest of honour, Anyaoku, who flew into the country just to attend the festival, commended PANAFEST initiative, and noted its significance to the continent’s quest for a better future. He noted, “people often forget that human history began in Africa; it’s been proven through historical evidence. The history of our continent is the history of the world, but it is regarded as the least one to be developed. Our generation that is passing away for a new one is looking up to it to make Nigeria what Nigeria should be. I’m very encouraged by the integration in the South West zone of Nigeria. It’s a great example for the rest of the country.
  “If our country is to realise the hopes of our founding fathers, we need to restructure our existing structures of governance. We need true federalism. The kind of federalism we practice today cannot develop this country the way we want it. We must go back to the six units. The example of the South West regional integration should set the pace for this country.
  “Ghana has been one of the beacons for this continent; successive governments have kept Nkrumah’s flame alive. We all must keep the flame alive. I wish the organisers every success.”

Tourism in The Gambia
HIGH Commissioner of The Gambia, Colley, in recounting her country’s tourism development infrastructure, would seem to be indicting Nigeria that was yet to decide what to do in that regard. And Nigeria’s inaction in taking the lead would later infuriate Trinidad and Tobago High Commissioner, who was to express his dissatisfaction with the abandoned and undeveloped slavery sites in Badagry.
  Commending theorganisers, Madam Colley said, “We are here to add our weight in organisers’ endeavour to put the African culture back to its rightful place. The legacy of slavery and colonialism had kept us at odds with our true history, cultural identity and prevented unity and growth amongst our people and within the continent. PANAFEST is trying to address the most traumatic interruptions that ever occurred in the natural evolution of Africa societies, which among other forms of trauma, profoundly eroded our self-determination, esteem and freedom.
  “But what the festival is doing is not only creating an environment for a productive healing process for those whose ancestors where taken away from the continent years ago to re-unite and forge a positive future in the present dispensation of global development, but PANAFEST is also celebrating the strength and resilience of Africa’s culture and achievements of Africans in spite of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, colonialism and their aftermath”.
  With a population of only 1.7 million people, Colley said, The Gambia is a multi-cultural country with a vibrant tourism industry, widely referred to as ‘The Smiling Coast of Africa’. Among the heritage sites that The Gambia boasts include Kunta Kinteh Island, formerly known as James Island, the Stone Circles in Wassu, the Slave House in Janjangbureh and Fort Bullen in Barra.
  Two biennial cultural festivals celebrated in The Gambia are designed to bridge the gap between Africa and sons and daughters of Africa stolen during the Slave Trade era. Colley said the first one is known as ‘Roots Homecoming Festival’, “which creates the opportunity for people of African descent to further discover, re-affirm and re-embrace their ancestral identity as well as enjoy the tranquility of The Gambian environment.
  “The second one is the ‘Kanilai International Festival’, which has been gaining momentum since its inception a decade ago. It creates opportunity for Africans and those of African descent from all over the globe to unite as a people, share their cultural talents, appreciate each other’s cultural values in an effort to foster better understanding among nations and peoples in order for us to live in peace”. She extended the invitation of The Gambian Government to organisers of PANAFEST to these two festivals in her country.

Pilgrimage to Ile-Ife
STILL on maximasing the abundant tourism potentials in Nigeria, Aregbesola lamented the neglect the sector had suffered in the country, and said it was indefensible that such a valuable economic resource should suffer such dire fate. He stated that Osun State has mapped out a tourism policy soon to be implemented as a viable economic tool to generate employment and wealth creation. His approach, if implemented, has the potential of causing a revolution in tourism industry in the country.
  According to him, “It’s quite ironic that tourism, one of the most auspicious industries on the African continent, has not been fully explored to the level that it can be used as part of the resources with which the continent can trade itself out of poverty, as is the case with the many countries in America, Europe and Asia.
  “Consequently, we have designed a practicable culture and tourism policy whose main objective is to attract the attention of the world as well as making tourism a worthwhile venture. We are developing the tourist attractions in the state because we want to attract investments there. We have identified about 67 notable tourist sites and monuments for this business.
  “Ile-Ife alone as the spiritual origin of the Yoruba people is being packaged for pilgrimage by millions of Diaspora Yoruba people in West Africa, the Americas, Caribbean and Europe. We are putting infrastructure in place to make it worthwhile for all. The point has been made repeatedly that tourism can help stem the tide of poverty, preserve Africa’s cultural heritage, provide employment for its increasingly large army of unemployed youth, create long-lasting opportunities for entrepreneurship and promote stability”.
  Aregbesola restated his conviction that Africa has the capacity to reinvent itself from the position of a marginalised continent to one that can “transform itself, unite its peoples, and contribute quite significantly to the development of world economy. What is required is visionary leadership that will encourage the formation of useful economic ties and harness the huge available potentials for development of our various interests…
  “The role of a nation like Nigeria is to lead the sub-region, lead Africa and the Diaspora. We must rework Nigeria into meeting its historic duty. Nothing lacking outside of leadership for Nigeria to take the historic role of taking Africa to the next level of development”.

HIGH Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago, Obika, a Diaspora African, could not understand why Africa has continued to wear the tag of under-development in spite of its huge potentials in material and human resources. With a population of just about 1.2 million people, Obika said his country has long mastered the oil and gas industry and wondered why Nigeria could not power itself on its abundant oil and gas resources. He stressed the need for Nigeria to develop its infrastructure and strengthen intra-regional trade.
  Obika noted that with a population of about 250 million people, Africa’s Diaspora could emerge as a regional power in the world, and enjoined Africa to position itself properly to benefit from such huge economic block. Obika affirmed that Africa’s children in the Diaspora had not deserted the continent, but stressed that Africa needed to move forward with its Diaspora people.
  With an overwhelming passion in his voice that rose in cadence, Obika declared, “My heart bled when I paid a visit to Badagry recently. Something needs to be done about the historical sites in Badagry. We have to take back control of our history. We cannot allow the historical sites in Badagry to be left unattended to”.

WHILE responding to the colloquium theme, Onobrakpeya and Sonuga restated the place of culture in a people’s life as a viable tool for integration, unity and peace. They both stressed Africa’s historic place as the cradle of world’s civilization, and charged the continent to shake off the negative tag given it by the West and be determined to forge ahead as a people with a common identity, with one destiny!

Performances and exhibition
OSUN Cultural Troupe opened proceedings with a dance performance and drumming. The performance from Lagos State Cultural Troupe thrilled the audience, with the theatrics of the dancer with a bottle balanced on his head. Jojo Beats, too, thrilled with his eccentric beating on his cheeks and mouth to produce a unique xylophonic sound and rhythm.
  With his beats, he got the Yoruba audience, especially the elderly ones, to respond to the folk songs he pelted out, as he beat his cheeks to produce the rhythm in a manner similar to the talking drums. Aregbesola was so enthralled that he made him a discrete donation.
  Murhi Amulepoja also did his chants. The duo of Exodus also did their stuff before the fashion parade took place. Art and crafts makers, who were mainly girls, showed off the beauty of locally, hand-made and hand-woven fabrics of adire, aso oke and others. It was a graceful moment that showed that the power of Africa textiles that had long been neglected for foreign ones. Lere Paimo, too, thrilled with his African, earthy rhythms. When he fetched the young protégé he is nurturing to the microphone, everyone recognised a child-prodigy in the making; his pulsating vocal power and inflexion gripped the audience that applauded non-stop.
  Performances from ATM and Sky also spiced up the festival. Although handicapped, Sky’s velvety, R&B voice got the audience rocking on its seat, as he gyrated and stumped to the power and passion of the American R&B music he mimed.
  Eventually, dignitaries were conducted round the exhibition stand of assorted artworks on display. They ranged from sculptural pieces, bronze and clay works, painting, textiles of various make – adire, batik, aso oke and other hand woven materials, both ready-made dresses and those yet to be made.

INDEED, the duo of Taiwo and Kehinde Oluwafunsho, pulled off a remarkable cultural fiesta. Although held indoors, it did not weaken the spectacle expected of a festival, especially with a colloquium from which unique ideas of growth were spawn.

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