By Wallace Mawire
European Union Delegation to the Republic of Zimbabwe, Ambassador Timo Olkkonen has revealed that the delegation will soon release additional substantial funding to support additional cultural activities across Zimbabwe.
Ambassador Olkkonen made the remarks at the official opening ceremony of the Culture at Work Africa second networking workshop being held in Harare, Zimbabwe on 17 to 21 February 2020 under the theme: Promoting the public value of intercultural dialogue for social cohesion in Africa.
Culture at Work Africa was launched in February 2018 with support from the European Union in Brussels. Its objective is to promote intercultural dialogue and cultural diversity in urban and peri-urban areas to enhance social inclusion of vulnerable and marginalised groups and to contribute to sustainable development in Africa.
Culture at Work Africa is driven by a consortium of eight African, European and international partners which include Interarts, Arterial Network, Centre for Fine Arts-BOZAR, Culture et Developpement, Regional Centre for the Living Arts in Africa-CERAV/Afrique, Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust, International Music Council-IMC and the Committee on culture of United Cities and Local Governments-UCLG.
It was co-funded by the European Union with support from the Barcelona City Council.
The event has brought together the beneficiaries of the grants of the 1st and 2nd call for proposals. Over 50 professionals involved in the 35 projects funded by Culture at Work Africa in 15 African countries are attending the workshop in Harare.
According to Olkkonen, the EU is committed to promoting culture in Europe and Africa. He told participants at the workshop that the EU delegation is an important actor and had established solid development partners through their EU delegations in the respective countries.
“We see our support to the diverse and rich arts and culture sector in Africa not only as a way to preserve cultural traditions, but also as a tool for development of Africa and its people,” Ambassador Olkonnen said.
He said that the continued recognition of culture in the development agenda of the EU and other regional and international bodies as well as Zimbabwe’s constitution and the legislation of the countries represented at the workshop attested to the need for governments to step-up their efforts in the promotion of arts and culture as a goal and as an enabler for dialogue, social inclusion, skills development and cohesion.
Olkkonen said that in most of the 15 countries targeted by the project including Zimbabwe, there are common challenges such as high unemployment, gender inequalities and violence, be it ethnic, political or economically driven. The project seeks to address the challenges through harnessing the power of culture and cultural diversity for social cohesion by promoting inter-cultural dialogue.
He added that Zimbabwe was one such country where various processes for national dialogue were being initiated and implemented by government and non-state actors. He urged government, civil society and the church in Zimbabwe to take a cue from the event on how they can anchor dialogue through cultural spaces to contribute to social cohesion.
He added that he was positive that cultural practitioners in Zimbabwe would share their challenges on funding to the sector and favourable policies and laws.
According to Olkonnen, national cultural institutions in Zimbabwe such as the National Arts Council, National Museums and Monuments were operating below capacity due to severe funding constraints and inadequate and dilapidated infrastructure.
He said that free artistic expression was being stifled by restrictive laws and regulations hindering innovation and growth of the arts sector.
He told Honourable Kirsty Conventry, Zimbabwe Minister of Youths, Sports, Arts and Recreation that if the problems in the sector were not tackled, Zimbabwe risked losing the opportunity of benefitting from the power of culture to contribute to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and also its won target of being a middle income economy by 2030.
Olkkonen implored the government of Zimbabwe not to regulate culture and arts to the periphery of development.
“Government should invest in the arts and culture sector and most importantly open up cultural space for free creativity and expression.
He added that this will be accelerated through amongst other things such as equitably liberalising the airwaves, expediting the reform of laws such as the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act and other media laws.
He also called upon cultural actors at the workshop to partner governments and the private sector in order to combine the innovation of people with the transformative nature of the arts and culture to contribute to a peaceful environment conducive for development and realisation of human rights for all.