The arts are not always in a prominent place on the political agenda in Africa, Latin-America and Asia. Nevertheless, an increasing number of governments recognise the importance of culture in itself and in connection to social and economic development. Part one in a series on cultural policy in non-Western countries.
For many decades in Namibia, discrimination based on race or culture was rampant. Despite this, when it became independent from apartheid South Africa in 1991, cultural policy was given an important role to play, as it was felt that art and culture lay at the heart of the creation, development and democratisation of a nation.
'Unity in diversity’ is the slogan of the Namibian cultural policy drawn up in 2001, which is based on international guidelines laid down in such publications as UNESCO’s World Report on Culture. Everybody is entitled to their own culture as long it does not impinge on the rights of other cultures. The aim is to encourage mutual understanding, respect and tolerance and thus to achieve national unity. Much of this effort is aimed at the younger generation, with art and culture now forming an integral part of the school curriculum.
The preservation of the cultural legacy is another priority issue. In Namibia, the National Monuments Council was set up in 1969 to supervise the preservation of Namibia’s historical monuments. In 2001, the Ministry for Elementary Education, Sport and Culture broadened the term to encompass language and spirituality too, so these are now deemed to be part of the Namibian cultural legacy too. 'This rich heritage gives us a unique Namibian and African identity, and one that forms the basis for our further development,’ says the Ministry. Another positive development is that a new National Heritage Council is now being set up that will also be dedicating itself to combating the illegal trade in artistic works.
But it is not just the past that must be preserved: the Namibian government also wants to open the door to new artistic forms and collaborative ventures. One aspect of this is that it has organised an annual art festival for local artists. Since 2002, the Namibian Film Commission has been encouraging local film production and promoting the country as a film location. The Namibian Book Development Council, an umbrella organisation of writers, publishers and printers, has amassed the largest collection of Namibian literature. These books are not only finding their way into metropolitan bookstores but also to the eight community libraries in the country’s poorer regions.
Since its independence, Namibia has signed international cultural treaties for exchanges and training programmes. Since 1991, the Franco Namibia Culture Centre and the Goethe Centre have been playing an important role in the cultural life in Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek.