Cultural diplomacy is known as a type of public diplomacy and soft power that includes the “exchange of ideas, information, art and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding. Explorers, travellers, traders, teachers and artists can be all considered living examples of informal ambassadors. Through the interaction of peoples, the exchange of language, religion, ideas, arts and societal structures have consistently improved relations between divergent groups. In 2014, we can see a good example of African Cultural Diplomacy in the little borough of a West African capital city: Ouagadougou.
Ouagadougou is known as the capital of Burkina Faso. However, outside the governmental and business functions of this unique city remains the unknown fact that the city is one of the cultural capitals of the world. The city hosts several major festivals: the International Craft Show of Ouagadougou, the Festival International de Théâtre et de Marionnettes de Ouagadougou (The International Theatre and Puppets Festival of Ouagadougou), the Jazz Festival of Ouagadougou and two other important theatre festivals.
Early January 2014 saw the launch of this years FESTICO (Festival de danse et de musique traditionnels de Colsama; the Festival of dance and traditional music) in Bobo District 07 (one of the numerous boroughs in the country). For its first edition, 2014 FESTICO pushed the traditional lines in the organization of festivals. It is clear that the producers wanted to perform something different this year. Inspired by Abdoul Aziz Sinka and his German friends, it was oordinated by the Association Woka – Kuma; a combination of Bissa and Dyula words which means “Let’s Talk”. Mayor Moussa Hema (Sponsorer of the first edition) and his assistants of technical services played a key role in making FESTICO 2014 into what many would interpret as a success.
Casually, FESTICO can be a gold mine for the development of District 07 and starting from Bobo. The developers of the Festival were already in good terms with the German’s idea of brewing cultures and open doors. Cultural exchanges had taken place prior to the festival between German and Burkinabe delegates. A member of the Bobolaise council delegate was invited to Berlin for the Oktoberfest.
An opportunity and agreement for Burkina Faso to export local products that were pleasing also materialised from the pre-festival talks. This illustrates the effectiveness of dialague, exchanging of ideas and willingness to open up cultures for stakeholders beyond the country and the continent. Furthermore, Burkinabe artists are to be invited to Germany by the cultural promoters of this country through hoteliers, airlines and restaurants as there are expectations that Burkina Faso that will host a larger FESTICO event next year in 2015. The German delegation impressed by the Burkinabe promised to return with more men and women next year according to the Burkina Faso in Switzerland.
Cultural Diplomacy certainly produces opportunities. FESTICO can also be a catalyst for tourism growth in the borough district and Moussa Hema (Mayor) with offers no shortage of future potential. Best, South / North relations between the borough and 07 German cities can be ripened. In any case it is the wish of Moumouni Sinka, president of the Kuma – Woka Association to promote the best traditional dance festival in Burkina Faso and West Africa.
Between the 2nd and 11th of January; a play titled L’héritage was another partnership between two nationals Augusta Palenfo (one of the leading Burkinabe actresses, comedians and director of FIRHO, the International Festival of Laughter and Humour) and Swiss director Roger Nydegger. It was staged at the Carrefour International Theatre in Ouagadougou (Cito). The drama covered a multitude of topics including the problems found in Africa and elsewhere. Through this stage, the promoters of this show wanted to draw attention to the similarities that may exist between an African and European families.
“Through this theatrical piece, we wanted to show that there is indeed a certain modernity in Africa and also that blacks and whites are experiencing the same problems, the same concerns and issues. This is because when both continents talk about the other; both see themselves one way and the other continent in another way.”
Roger Nydegger (Swiss Film Expert).
The city is also the meeting place for all lovers of African cinema. Since 1969, every 2 years, the Ouagadougou Pan-African Film & Television Festival (FESPACO) welcomes thousands of festival-goers and represents must-see festival. At the very beginning of this new millennium, Ouagadougou was once again the leader of another cultural phenomenon, The International Hip Hop Culture Festival born under the name Ouaga Hip Hop. There is certainly scope for the cultural diplomatic practices of creative people within this city to grow – Let’s hope this will be the start of something other West African festivals can follow.