Stephen Chifunyise Own Correspondent
The news of the creation of the Ministry of Rural Development, Preservation and Promotion of Culture and Heritage by the President must have been received by some stakeholders in the cultural sector with a happy sigh of relief and exclamation: “At long last. It has been done!”
Since 1980, all combinations of ministerial portfolios with the culture function have looked like hesitant efforts at recognising the huge task of facilitating the preservation, promotion and presentation of national cultural heritage as a critical facet of national development.
Over the years, the major challenge in the development of a coherent national strategy for comprehensive cultural development has been the scattering of several cultural functions in several ministries without a firm platform for the harmonisation of policy actions, strategies, legislations and regulations, responsible for creating an enabling environment and conditions for growth and development of the cultural sector.
Developing a common stand by those who hold leadership positions in different administrative structures dealing with the culture functions scattered in different ministries has just been as difficult as the creation of a forum for public agencies dealing with culture in developing synergies and collaborations in identifying and dealing with challenges being faced by the cultural sector.
It has also been difficult for stakeholders in the cultural sector to develop an effective forum or platform for dialogue with all leaders of departments and public institutions dealing with culture in different ministries concerning the development of effective strategies for finding solutions to challenges they face.
Even the recent task of formulating a national cultural policy faced serious drawbacks as it was evident that the scattered nature of culture functions in different ministries made it difficult for one entity with culture function to produce an effective multi-stakeholder consultation that involved all ministries and public institutions with culture functions and the civil society organisations in the cultural sector.
There were questions as to whether the Ministry of Sport, Arts and Culture had the overall mandate on cultural heritage issues when some of the major public institutions with responsibility for cultural heritage in the Ministry of Home Affairs were not visible in the gatherings that dealt with what should be the concerns of the national cultural policy and its validation.
A critical area in the role of Government in facilitating the preservation of national cultural heritage is the development of a national strategy for the formulation and implementation of clear policies, legislations and regulations that impact on the performance and viability of the cultural sector.
The nation’s capacity to benefit from a wide range of national development policies, legislations and regulations in the area of culture is greatly reduced when the lead public agencies in the cultural sector and ministries with culture functions have no common platform to consider the formulation and implementation of enabling policies and when they lack a common platform for developing harmonised responses to concerns of the creative and cultural civil society and non-governmental organisations in the cultural sector.
The haphazard manner in which the nation has dealt with international conventions, regional protocols and bi-lateral cultural agreements was clearly due to a lack of a clear national focal point with a mandate on the preservation of national cultural heritage.
All the above point to the advantage of having a ministry with a clear mandate for facilitating wholesome and comprehensive preservation of national cultural heritage.
Given the implied advantage of an almost stand alone ministry of culture, there are several assumptions on what entails the newly created Ministry of Rural Development, Preservation and Promotion of Culture and Heritage.
The first assumption is that the traditional leaders – the chiefs as custodian of national cultural heritage – will input significantly on the role of the new ministry and its public institutions on policies, legislations and regulations that impact on the preservation, promotion and presentation of the national cultural heritage.
In the past, consultation of chiefs on culture issues, especially on cultural policy, legislations and regulations has been an after-thought and unstructured.
In the field of culture, the term “preservation of cultural heritage” implies the efforts of communities and traditional leaders in maintaining continuity in the practice of cultural heritage.
A majority of communities and traditional bearers of cultural heritage in this country are in areas under the jurisdiction of chiefs.
The second assumption is that all portfolios and public institutions responsible for culture functions will be under the “roof” of the new ministry.
This would mean that public institutions such as the National Museums and Monuments, the National Arts Council, The National Gallery, National Archives, National Library and Documentation Services, the Censorship Board and the National Handicrafts Centre will join the Arts and Culture Department as portfolios and institutions with culture responsibilities coming under one roof of the Ministry of Rural Development, Preservation and Promotion of Culture and Heritage.
The third assumption is that all cultural and creative industries will be the concerns of the Ministry for Rural Development, Preservation and Promotion of Culture and Heritage.
For many years, it has not been clear which ministry with a culture function is concerned with or responsible for the audio-visual and music recording industries.
The tendency has been to consider issues to do with film making, film exhibition and training in film production as concerns of the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting.
Audio-visual and the music recording industries are major cultural industries which are aspects of the cultural sector.
Issues to do with the funding of the audio-visual sector, whether they have to do with the funding of the exhibition of audio-visuals such as film festivals or the funding of film-making activities are matters that should be considered under the funding of the arts as a major concern of the ministry responsible for culture.
Some leaders of arts organisations have indicated that they fear that the absence of the term “Arts” from the name of the new ministry may imply that the Arts are considered as an insignificant sector.
This should be addressed by simply stating that the arts are a major element of culture and that in fact the arts are the most significant feature of cultural identity.
Therefore, all cultural industries that use the arts as their raw materials should be the concern of the ministry responsible for culture.
The fourth assumption is that the new ministry will be responsible for aspects to do with cultural impact assessment in all development projects that normally require environment impact assessment to be undertaken before being allowed to go ahead.
Cultural impact assessment of all development projects should be regarded as part of ensuring the preservation of national cultural heritage. The fifth assumption is that the new ministry will be responsible for producing a system of establishing the contributions of the cultural sector to the national economy through cultural statistics produced from a comprehensive data collection on all cultural activities taking place throughout the country. It has always been argued that the cultural sector must demonstrate its contribution to the nation’s gross domestic product to justify the budgetary allocation to the ministry responsible for culture.
If the above mentioned assumptions become reality then the new Ministry of Rural Development, Preservation and Promotion of Culture and Heritage will indeed become an effective platform for harmonising of all efforts aimed at developing a viable cultural sector based on effectively preserved cultural heritage.