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AFRICOME - Berlin - 3 February 2004

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On the 3rd of February 2004, the German Central Department of Political Education (Bundeszentrale fuer politische Bildung) started a 3-year (2004-2006) program termed Africome, which focuses on Africa. The program is intended to inform the German society about Africa by means of discussion forums/podiums, arts exhibitions, fashion shows, cultural, music and film events/festivals. To mark the begin of the program, the organizers invited government officials, media professionals, managers from industries, academics, artists and organizations to discussion forum, cultural performance, exchange of views and ideas, videos show and music concert. Among the invited honorable speakers and guests are the Nigerian Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka, the former German president Dr. Richard von Weizsaecker, the Cameroonian philosopher and political scientist Dr. Dr. Jacob Emmanuel Mabe  and Dr. Uschi Eid, MdB, who is the G8-Africa-Representative of the present German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Afritopic was there and reports below.
 
The interest in the event was enormous. The event's hall at the Kronprinzenpalais in Berlin was full to the brim. The black community made a statement by showing up in comparatively large numbers including members of Initiative Schwarze Deutsche (ISD), ADEFRA and media professionals from Afroberlin TV, The African Courier and cyberNormads. The event began at about 10:00 am with African music delivered life by the daughter of the respectable South African singer Audrey Motaung, who could not appear herself due to illness. The daughter and her background singers presented African ballads at its finest. The entertainment was followed by the opening speech of Thomas Krueger, the president of Bundeszentrale fuer politische Bildung (bpb). He described the current perception/knowledge of Africa by Germans as confirmed by the Africa research conducted by bpb in the past 11/2 years, and the goals of the program, Africome. Referring to the German past as a colonial master in Africa, Thomas Krueger explained the need for Germany to accept her post-colonial responsibility and be ready for open discussions on topics relating to the issue. Doing so would be good for the Germans and especially the 300,000 Africans and Afro-Germans living in Germany. He went on to explain the major results of the Africa research as follow:
Within the German population, the knowledge of Africa in all aspects is generally low. Little is known about the history, geography, culture, politics or socio-economics. This result is the same for people from different educational levels and age groups. In general, the picture, image or knowledge of Africa is superficial and stereotypical despite the mass tourism in Africa. The reasons for the shallow knowledge of Africa, according to the findings of bpb are two-fold. One of the reasons is the lack of topics on Africa in the German schools. The second reason is the image of Africa presented by the German mainstream media, which is determined by the commercial value of the news. It follows that the media prefers sensational news with negative and scandalous contents about Africa.
Another major result of the Africa research shows a general pessimism about Africa. Generally speaking, Germans believe that the situation in Africa is hopeless. The donations for Africa are decreasing because people believe that money donated is going into the pockets of corrupt government officials and the African elites. According to Thomas Krueger, while these arguments might be true, it is important to encourage and motivate more people to be involved in changing the situation and promoting the right course. The important role of the German politics cannot be overstressed. He commented on the visit (January 2004) of chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to Africa as a positive political move.
The third major result is encouraging. It reveals that there are potentially many people who are interested in Africa and are ready to participate in African events or ready to work for non-government organizations, cultural centres, institutions and foundations dealing with African issues. We would like to see the interest and motivation of these people grow even stronger. This could be achieved through the support of the government and the media, Thomas Krueger said. He continued in his speech to describe the motives behind Africome. The program is intended to promote Africa awareness and place Africa on the political education agenda in Germany. 
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Weizsaecker, Soyinka and Krueger
 
It is intended to create new impulse for ideas that would make Africa interesting in its entire manifold. The program events should help defeat the cliche opinions about Africa and present the colourful, culturally rich Africa without denying the problems facing the continent. Ending his speech, Thomas Krueger expressed the organizer's hope that people in Germany would be ready to clear uncertainties and mobilize fresh energy to pave the way for a sincere partnership with Africa.

After his speech, Dr Richard von Weizsaecker took the pulpit to welcome Prof. Wole Soyinka, the august guest of the event as well as the audience. In his welcome address, Dr. Weizsaecker commended the excellent works of Prof. Soyinka in the literary field and his relentless efforts to bring Africa in the limelight of globalisation. Dr. Weizsaecker went on to comment in favourable tone of the hospitality he experienced during his visit to Nigeria and the wonderful time he had discussing with Prof. Wole Soyinka, who he has had the undeserved privilege to meet on several occasions. He finally called upon Prof. Wole Soyinka to give his lecture.

 

Wole Soyinka thanked Dr. Weizsaecker, organisers of the event and the audience. He then started with his lecture titled African Perspectives for the 3rd Millennium what role, if any, for Germany?. In his lecture, Wole Soyinka began with the problems and dilemma which Africa faces and the interdependences with world organizations such as the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), UN (United Nations) and the World Bank/IMF (International Monetary Fund). He cited the difficulties that Africa encounter in implementing its development programs as one of the major problems. He explained the long processes involved in getting the necessary mandate from all or major African countries in order to pass a resolution. Recalling his experience as a committee member of the task force formed to resolve the Cameroon/Nigeria boarder issue, Wole Soyinka talked of some government officials lobbying for war in order to achieve their own financial interest without taking the welfare of both countries and the inhabitants into consideration. Wole Soyinka moved on to suggest ways by which improvements could be achieved, problems resolved and reduced. According to Wole Soyinka, it is important for Africa, perhaps through NEPAD (The New Partnership for Africa's Development), to start programs that would motivate and mobilize Africans to take part in the development programs. There should be programs that educate, integrate and encourage women and programs that would prepare children for future tasks. He called upon the African Development Bank to take up its responsibility and play a major role in funding the programs alone or in partnership with other international organizations. Wole Soyinka digressed to give a snapshot of the historical Berlin Conference (1884/5) that divided Africa, the post-colonial African issues including tribal/civil wars which contribute enormously to the problems facing Africa today. Coming back to the Millennium, Wole Soyinka warned against the marginalization of Africa from the globalization process. Finally, Wole Soyinka expressed his hope that with time Africa would be able to resolve its problems. A long round of applause followed Wole Soyinka's lecture.

At the Press Conference
Next on the event's agenda was a refreshments break. After the break, accredited journalists were offered the opportunity to put questions forward to a panel consisting of Prof. Wole Soyinka, Dr. Richard von Weizsaecker, Thomas Krueger, Juergen Hoeren (Head of the Cultural program SWR2) and Matthias Kleinert (advisor to the chairman, DaimlerChrysler). The contents of questions put forward to the panel included the acceptance of Blacks/Afro-Germans in Germany, the introduction of affirmation law in Germany, the impact of culture on politics in relation to the present situation in Africa under the phrase political power of culture, reparation payments for the atrocities committed against blacks during the Nazi regime, erecting a memorial as a symbol for blacks who lost their lives due to inhuman tests conducted on them by the German Nazis and the activities of German industries in Africa in view of the continent's educational, health and economic development. Dr. Weizsaecker acknowledged that the acceptance of foreigners in general and people of African descent in particular within the German society is still very low. We have to work on improving our attitude towards people from other backgrounds, he said. He appealed to the German population to be open and embrace the fact that there are Germans with multicultural roots as enriching. However, he does not think that the creation of an affirmation law as it is in the USA is necessary in Germany. In connection with the issue of Blacks subdued to inhuman laboratory tests by the Nazis, Dr. Weizsaecker is of the opinion that the German government should do its duty and make sure that a sign/memorial is erected.
Audience and Journalists
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Answering a question on the of reparation payments, Prof. Soyinka said that it is imperative for the German government to make a symbolic reparation payment to people of African descent. He also analyzed the phrase political power of culture within African context, using the Yoruba culture as an example. According to him, the Yoruba culture is accommodating and incorporates a liberal religion. If the culture is made an integral part of politics and the basic characteristics of the culture are practiced, the chances are high that we achieve long-lasting peace in Africa. Matthias Kleinert, who is the advisor to the chairman at DaimlerChrysler informed the press of the development activities of the company in Africa. Mathias Kleinert said that DaimlerChrysler has invested a lot in the training and education of its employees and affirmed that the quality of the goods produced by the African employees is as good as those produced in Germany. He said that the company has started a project focused on children education in southern Africa and he his willing to consider project proposals focusing on children welfare/education from organizations or individuals. The questions and answers session came to an end after about 45 minutes.
Wole Soyinka
An African multicultural performance followed. The ensemble consists of artists from different countries including Maisha Eggers (Kenia), Aminatu Jalloh (Sierra Leone),  Ida Kassiekpo Ouhe (Elfenbeinkueste), Rita Zulu (Sambia), Ives Bobito-Masanga (Ruanda), Hassan Jalloh (Sierra Leone), Samuel Makinde (Nigeria), Patrick Mokomboso (D. R. Kongo, Zaire), Harry Louiserre (Guadeloupe, Karibik), Louis Sitson (Kamerun) and Jubril Suleimon (Nigeria). Eisi Gulp directed the performance called word-up for Africa. The artists from various backgrounds formed an ensemble to depict African cultures in forms of dance, songs/chorus and gestures whereby the audience is invited and encouraged to participate.
The next program on the event's agenda was a discussion podium with the topic African Perspectives: German Support; Perspectives of the German African Politics presented by Dr. Andreas Mehler (Director of the Institute for African Studies in Hamburg). The discussion panel included Dr. Uschi Eid, MdB (G8 Africa representative of the German chancellor), Harro Adt (Africa representative of the German foreign office), Matthias Kleinert (advisor to the chairman and responsible for the foreign relation and politics of DaimlerChrysler), Dr. Dr. E. Mabe (lecturer at the Technical University of Berlin) and Dr. rer. pol. Stefan Mair ( Foundation for Science and Politics). In the relatively heated discussion, the pros and cons of the German political concepts concerning development aids to Africa were argued. In the opinion of E. Mabe, The development aids as practiced by the German government are intended to serve the German interest and provide profitable business opportunities for German firms.
In counter argument, Matthias Kleinert said that it is immensely important for the German firms to be profitable in Africa in order to be able to provide the crucial financial help needed in the development projects. Towards the end of the discussion podium, some members of the audience criticized the program for omitting important critical issue facing Africa such as exploited children, child soldiers and women rights. The moderator, Dr. Andreas Mehler, apologized and explained that the various issues could not be discussed in a single program. There are other events ahead organized by bpb that would deal with other African issues, he said. He thanked the panel as well as the audience for their participating in the discussion and informed them of the evening program commencing at 19 pm.
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Event's Photo Album
Soyinka, Weizsaecker & other guests
Black Community 
Press Conference 
South African Group 
Performers' Corner 
Discussion Podium 
Kwaito Music 
 
Kwaito Music
 
The evening program took place at the Hebbel Theater am Ufer (HAU 2) in Berlin. The program was a mixture of South African music videos, disco and life-performance. A documental film called Kwaito Generals was shown. The film tells the story of how the first South African pop/Afro-house music, Kwaito, was created after the apartheid regime in South Africa.  At about 21:00 pm, Bongo Maffin took the stage to perform kwaito music life. Kwaito is coined from the Zulu word kwai, which means rage and to, the first two letters of township. The group rendered a fantastic symbiosis of Afro-house, hip hop, Zulu-rap and Gospel, which kept the dancing floor swinging through into late in the night. As a day devoted to Africa went to an end, one has a feeling that with combine efforts problems could be resolved and life could be better for all.
 
February 2004 
 
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