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St Louis, Senegal. Photo via Yoann Gauthier on Flickr

How One Senegalese City Plans to Cash in on its History, Heritage and Culture

What's stopping us from unleashing the Bilbao effect on African cities?

A few years back while backpacking across West Africa (Ivory Coast to Benin) I spent a few days in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. I was in the search of mystical catfish found in a river in a small village in this town. My Burkinabe friends in Abidjan had told me about how these catfish were revered by the villagers. I had heard about the elaborate mourning ceremonies whenever any of them died, the multi-day funeral processions. That was how I found myself in this unique village split into four distinct areas for Muslims, Animists, Griots (Storytellers, drummers etc.) and iron-workers.


The groups co-existed with each other though they maintained their own identities and living areas, but they all revered the catfish. A few days into my stay in Bobo-Dioulasso, my couchsurfing host offered to take me to an old beautiful mosque in the city center. Little did I know then that what I was visiting was not just beautiful, but also extremely unique—the largest example of Sudano-Sahelian architecture that you will ever see—a mix of mudbricks, adobe plaster and large wooden-log support beams that jut out from the wall face. I would have left Bobo-Dioulasso without ever seeing this lovely mosque.

A Mosque in Bobo-DioulassoPhoto: Ciku Kimeria

A few years earlier in Hargeisa, Somaliland, I visited the Laas geel caves, a side trip from the Hargeisa International Book Fair. Prior to this visit to Somaliland, I had no idea that these lovely caves existed. The prehistoric rock art in the Laas geel caves dates back to between 9000—3000 BC. The rock art is among the oldest found in Africa dating back over 5000 years. This treasure to humanity is not even protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site as Somaliland is not internationally recognized though it has been autonomous and at peace for over 25 years.

These and other experiences have led me to question why Africa is not reaping the full benefits of the value of its cultural elements. How can the African continent, that is home to so many of the world's cultural gems not be benefitting from these assets? And worse still, not even get recognized locally, regionally or globally for all her cultural wealth?


A view of Laas GeelPhoto: Ciku Kimeria

This is one of the key questions that the founder of Forum de Saint-Louis in the northern Senegalese city of Saint-Louis is trying to address.

Saint-Louis was Senegal's capital city from 1673 -1902 and French West Africa's capital from 1895 to 1902, when the regional capital was moved to Dakar. Following independence, when Dakar became the sole capital of Senegal, the city of Saint-Louis experienced a great decline which is in some ways still evident. There was a huge loss of jobs and human potential as investment favored Dakar over Saint-Louis. In 2000, Saint-Louis was named a UNESCO world heritage site as it is rich in over three centuries of history, has a deep cultural heritage, fascinating geography (ensconced between the savanna, the desert, the ocean and a river,) and the city is at the confluence of tradition and modernity, Islam and Christianity, Europe and Africa. Saint-Louis still has a long way to go to capitalize on its UNESCO world heritage site designation and revitalize the city.

When the Guggenheim museum opened up in Bilbao, Spain two decades back, the idea was met with skepticism by many. At the time, Bilbao was an industrial city with signs of urban decay—the museum was to be built in the run-down port area. Within the first year of its opening, the naysayers were proved wrong when tourism revenues to the city grew by 20 percent and jobs in the area multiplied by 7 times. This became known as the Bilbao effect. With the Guggenheim museum and subsequent projects, Bilbao has been transformed to a service city that is strong both socially and economically.

The Guggenheim BilbaoPhoto via Paolo Margari on Flickr

Saint-Louis aims to replicate this Bilbao effect. A walk through the lovely streets of Saint-Louis bursting with history, treats for the art-lovers and foodies, 300 year old buildings carefully undergoing restoration, art, artists and art-lovers clearly reminded me that even though investing in culture can promote tourism, create jobs and grow economies, even at its most altruistic level, the cultural economy should be celebrated in its own right given that it enhances social inclusion and a sense of identity.

The major effort to revive this historic city is driven by a businessman and visionary – Amadou Diaw– the founder and President of Groupe ISM (l'Institut supérieur de management), one of the most respected business schools in the region. His own family has called Saint-Louis home for generations. He is the founder of Forum de Saint-Louis and several other initiatives to highlight the city's culture and history—including the new photography museum.

The Forum de Saint-Louis at the end of 2017 brought together an eclectic mix of over 500 thinkers, experts across different sectors, business leaders, policymakers, musicians, film directors etc. Gaetan Siew a leading architect from Mauritius spoke about the issue of cultural capital—the economic value of cultural assets, anything contributing to a community's creativity, knowledge, traditions, culture, meaning, and vitality. Siew, a leading authority on the issue, estimates that the cultural economy accounts for 7 percent of the world's GDP, is worth over 2.2 trillion dollars and creates 29 million jobs.

It's a massive opportunity that is mostly squandered. There is no excuse for the continent not to capitalize on its cultural economy. If we don't do it, someone inevitable will and it would be better for us Africans to be the ones that grow and benefit from such initiatives.

Ciku Kimeria is a Kenyan author "Of goats and poisoned oranges," a communication consultant, adventurer and travel blogger. She is a freelance writer for various publications including Quartz Africa, Ozy, African Arguments and The Africa Report. Follow @cikucheru on twitter and instagram.

In April we're exploring "The Hustle"—the things people do to survive and thrive at all costs. Click here for more stories about all the ways people manage, make and squander money.

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Listen to Samthing Soweto’s Album ‘Isiphithiphithi’

Samthing Soweto's highly anticipated album is finally here.

One of the most anticipated albums of the year, Isiphithiphithi by Samthing Soweto is finally here.

The South African artist's project consists of 12 songs and features Makhafula Vilakazi, Shasha, Kabza De Small, DJ Maphorisa and Mlindo The Vocalist.

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Gallo Images/Getty Images

South African Telenovela 'The River' has Been Nominated for an International Emmy

This is the popular telenovela's first International Emmy nomination.

One of South Africa's beloved telenovelas, The River, has received its first ever International Emmy nomination in the category of "Best Telenovela", according to IOL. The River will go up against other telenovelas from Columbia, Argentina as well as Portugal. The 47th installment of the International Emmy Awards will take place on November 25th of this year and will be held at the Hilton in New York.

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Culture
Photo (c) John Liebenberg

'Stolen Moments' Uncovers the Namibian Music That Apartheid Tried to Erase

The photo exhibition, showing at the Brunei Gallery in London, highlights artists from Namibia's underground scene between 1950-1980, a time of immense musical suppression prior to its independence.

Before its independence in 1990, a whole generation of Namibians were made to believe that their county had no real musical legacy. Popular productions by Namibian artists from previous eras were systematically concealed from the masses for nearly 30 years, under the apartheid regime—which extended to the country from South Africa following German colonization—depriving many Namibians of the opportunity to connect with their own musical heritage.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold," a new exhibit currently showing at London's Brunei Museum at SOAS University of London, seeks to revive the musical Namibian musical traditions that the apartheid regime attempted to erase.

"Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country," said the exhibit's curator Aino Moongo in a statement of purpose on SOAS' site. "Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of country's former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country's musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear. This sound, that roots your culture to the musical influences of jazz, blues and pop from around the world, is unique, yet familiar. It revives memories of bygone days, recites the history of your homeland and enables you for the first time to experience the emotions, joys and pains of your ancestors."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

The 'Stolen Moments" project began in 2010 in an effort to champion Namibia's unsung musical innovators. For the collection, Moongo and Assistant Curator, Siegrun Salmanian—along with a group of international scholars, artists, photographers and filmmakers—curated a large-scale photo exhibit that also features a 120-minute video projection, focusing on the dance styles of the era, along with listening stations, a sound installation that features "100-hours of interviews with musicians and contemporary witnesses," and displays of record covers and memorabilia from the period between 1950-1980.

The musicians highlighted, produced work that spanned a number of genres—a marker of the country's vast and eclectic underground scene. Artists like the saxophonist Leyden Naftali who led a band inspired by the sounds of ragtime, and the psychedelic rock and funk of the Ugly Creatures are explored through the exhibition, which also centers bands and artists such as The Dead Wood, The Rocking Kwela Boys, Children of Pluto and more.

"There are many reasons why you've never heard this music before," Moongo continues. "It was censored, suppressed, prohibited and made almost impossible to listen to. Its creators are either long gone or have given up on music making, by reasons of adversity, death and despair. And yet this beautiful music exists with a liveliness, as if it had never stopped playing. It is still in the minds of the few who can remember, with the ones who played it, and on those rare recordings that have survived in archives and record collections scattered around the globe. Allow me to share these stolen moments with you."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs


Photo (c) John Liebenberg

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"Stolen Moments" is now showing at the Brunei Gallery in London and runs through Sept 21.

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Foul Language and Depictions of Rape Spur a Book Recall Campaign in Kenya

Kenya's Top Book seller pulls a South African book for youth due to foul language.

A main book supplier in Kenya, Text Book Centre, has announced that they would not stock a book due to its "vulgar and foul language." The book, Blood Ties, was written by South African author Zimkhitha Mlanzeli. The banning comes just after a video went viral in Kenya of a school child having a verbal outburst peppered with strong language. As reported by BBC, the removal was sparked by parents showing outrage after excerpts from the book were shared on twitter. These excerpts contained use of the f-word as well as a description of a rape scene.

As per their statement, the Text Book Centre claims they believe in "upholding high moral standards and raising generations of responsible citizens who are not only educated but ethical." The Kenyan publisher, StoryMoja, has defended the book in a statement of their own. They argue that the book is part of a new series showcasing books that deal with "contemporary societal issues" and that this particular book is a fictional story that grapples with the negative repercussions of peer pressure. "In actual fact, the book guides readers on the steps to take should they find themselves in a similar situation and underscores the sensitivity with which victims of sexual abuse should be treated." The statement also highlights the fact that the publishers had listed Blood Ties for readers in high school or above.


The discrepancy is that some schools have recommended the book as a reader – meaning for younger children aged 12 or 13 – though it has not been approved by the Kenyan Institute of Curricular Development (KICD), the entity in charge of managing texts used in schools. In a tweet, the KICD claimed that the book was not approved and that some teachers may be recommending texts without ensuring they were endorsed by the KICD. The dispute is sparking debate as to what should be taught in Kenyan schools.

As of late this morning, StoryMoja is in the process of recalling all copies of the book from stores and schools across Kenya. In a tweet they claim that it is because they have determined the language used in the book is the issue and not the subject matter.

Censorship is always a contested topic, just last month we reported on Nigerian authorities censoring a music video for "threatening security." Also, Kenya's censorship tactics have been in the global eye since a refusal to screen the film Rafiki for its homosexual heroines despite being lauded at international film festivals.

Here are some reactions from Kenyans on Twitter:





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