“I want my children to live in a world where Africa is represented and African stories are told by Africans, and not a narrative that is crafted by somebody else who doesn’t know what is happening on the continent,” says Elizabeth Kperrun-Eremie, an innovator from Nigeria.
The realization that African languages are dying, and the next generation of Africans might grow up unable to speak indigenous languages and not knowing their culture, and the desire to preserve local languages, drove her to create Tesem, an interactive phone application that teaches children words in English and some indigenous African languages.
In a conversation with African innovators during the recent Africa Dialogue Series (ADS) 2021, Ms. Kperrun-Eremie, who previously built a folk story-telling app, said Tesem was her contribution to preserving culture through technology.
The app was well-received in both Africa and the diaspora, meeting growing demand for such products.
The conversation was among several activities during the recent fourth edition of the annual ADS in May under the theme “Cultural identity and ownership: reshaping mindsets.” The theme was drawn from the African Union’s (AU’s) theme for 2021, “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want.”
Both themes are anchored in Aspiration 5 of the AU’s Agenda 2063, which envisions an Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, shared values, and ethics.
To contribute to reshaping mindsets and changing the narrative about the continent, daily throughout May, the ADS showcased the continent’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. This year’s broad and inclusive ADS activities provided an opportunity to increase the participation of a cross-section of people in discussions about the continent. It celebrated the continent’s identity, culture, history, and achievements, and brought together key stakeholders to discuss challenges and opportunities for Africa. The conversations, which took place over the first three weeks of May, fed into the three-day public policy forum during 26-28 May, which was organized around plenary meetings at a political level, thereby contributing towards influencing policy.
Virtual activities included art and innovation exhibitions, conversations with academics and experts, artists, film makers and youths among many others, music, and documentaries on African history, all of which reflected Africa’s rich cultural heritage and diversity. Activists, anthropologists, archeologists, architects, civil society, economists, educators, historians, innovators, media practitioners, researchers, and policy makers among others, shared their wealth of knowledge and ideas for accelerating Africa’s development.
The role of cinema to promote cultural identity, the use of culture for innovations that address emerging challenges, the power of museums to foster unity and social cohesion, the role of art in peacebuilding, the cultural and creative industries' contribution to economic growth and the value of indigenous knowledge in tackling modern problems, were among the wide range of topics discussed.
“Through these activities, we promoted debate about culture, in the understanding that culture goes beyond artistic demonstrations and entails a deep feeling of belonging to a community that it is ready to exercise ownership of its own development. This is the real power that culture has as a trigger of sustainable development,” Ms. Cristina Duarte, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa said.
Ms. Fatima Kyari Mohammed, Permanent Observer and Head of Mission of the African Union to the UN, added that understanding how culture and traditions have helped people in Africa to survive and adapt for generations in the past, could be key to developing sustainable policies to mitigate future challenges and fast track development.
Mr. Issimail Chanfi, Permanent Representative of Comoros to the UN and Chair of the African Group for May, stressed the importance of reshaping mindsets and changing perceptions so that Africa ceases to be addressed as a continent in need of aid and is perceived as an equal player on the global arena.
“Africa’s past and present are full of success stories, as seen during the ADS,” he said, noting that great civilizations were born on the continent without the help of external players. He added that ambitious projects like the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) are underway, indicating that African countries are ready to lead a new approach to development but to achieve this, they need committed partners who respect Africa’s role as a global player and ensure that past inequalities are not used to maintain a global imbalance.
“Certainly, culture evokes ancestral traditions, a connection with our proud past and our powerful sense of identity today, but it also provides us avenues to chart our future, one that is prosperous and peaceful,” Professor Eddy Maloka, Chief Executive Officer of the African Peer Review Mechanism said.
“Culture can and must play a role to help Africa rewrite its narrative and its developmental aspirations, particularly those in Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he emphasized.
The ADS amplified voices of African experts, exposed the world to unknown facts and untold stories about the continent’s diverse cultural heritage, history and knowledge base, and created a rich repository of information about Africa that can be used for reference beyond the weeks-long event.
“During this month of the ADS, we have witnessed that a new narrative is indeed possible, if only we give voice to African experts,” Mr. Chanfi said.
The annual ADS is the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA)’s flagship event. It provides a platform to advocate for Africa and her development challenges. It also aims to create a new narrative that reflects Africa's vision as enshrined in 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the AU’s 2063 Agenda.