By Anote Ajeluorou
Until very recently, Europe’s collaboration with the continent was a one-way affair with Africa depending solely on the West for all its needs. But things have long begun to change, so said the Press and Cultural Attache of the German Embassy in Lagos in a recent interactive session with the media. For Dr. Burkard Weth, the view that changed Africa is always seeking assistance from Europe without offering anything to Europe in return has changed, even in the West.
Weth stated at the German Cultural Centre, Goethe Institut at City Hall, Lagos Island, that there is a lot of expertise Europe could tap from Africa and be the better for it. “Collaboration with Africa used to be one-way,” he said. “But now, it’s a two-way traffic of cultural exchange because we need their expertise, knowledge, ideas and scholarship”.
He further explained that Germany’s cultural policy is a steady component of the country’s foreign policy, which aims to represent its strategic interests abroad. Such interests, Weth explained, include “Providing a contemporary picture of German culture and at the same time to create sympathies for Germany and stimulate curiosity for its culture.
“Today, German policy must brace up to face numerous challenges like the progressive globalisation of the economy, science and culture, the deepening and strengthening of the European Union and the menace to security by terrorism.
“So, first of all, foreign cultural policy should contribute to the creation of a peaceful world order. It should help to mask the problems, which arise from economic and cultural globalisation thereby reducing conflicts or preventing them whether ethnic, religious or cultural.
“Secondly, German culture policy is aimed at supporting the European process of integration. So the European Union should not only be seen as a bureaucratic institution, future Europe should become a common public space. So, foreign cultural policy and education policy pursue different purposes.
“First of all is the presentation of Germany as a country with a varied cultural scene. Second is strengthening Germany as a place for education by the assignment of scholarship to young people and young researchers from all over the world; spreading German language in Europe and all over the world; contributing to worldwide conflict prevention.
“For example, the construction of schools and a university in Afghanistan, support of the European integration, the preservation of the cultural variety in the world in supporting the restoration of cultural sites in developed countries, and creation of a stable fundamental for international relations for the dialogue of all people”.
Weth also stated the instruments Germany is using to fulfill its cultural policy at the global level to include such programmes as university exchange, foreign school cultural programmes, linguistic support and cultural dialogue.
“Here in Africa, the strengthening of the cultural collaboration with sub-Saharan Africa includes a steady representation and structures in the respective partner country,” he said. “Then there’s social and human communication, offer of information, material support and lastly, language courses.
“We have a lot of institutions with which we collaborate in order to organise these programmes. First of all, our main partner is the Institute. Together with the Goethe-Institut we organise exchanges; and there is academic exchange; we cooperate with DAAD, the German Academic Exchange Service and a number of other foundations. These institutions help us to provide scholarships with residences.
“One basic element is the preservation of cultural heritage. We support the programmes of research of the Nok culture and the preservation of Kano Wall. There are the political foundations, which also offer political education programmes.
“So, there are a lot of programmes and different instruments which we use in order to show what is going on in Germany, to provide a realistic and comprehensive picture of Germany and to stimulate interest in the country, and for the population.”
WETH also gave his assessment of Nigeria’s culture since he assumed duty over a year ago. He said, “Nigeria has a very diversified culture with different landscapes, ethnicity, languages and rich groups. It’s so amazing; I’m still going to discover Nigeria. I’ve been to Kano, seen the Durbar. Nigeria is very rich and diversified and vibrant; it’s very interesting”.
Unlike most Europeans setting out for Africa for the first time, Weth said he had a positive image of Nigeria before coming, having consciously read and learnt about the country, saying he had no preconceived notion. He advised, however, that politics and culture should be kept apart as culture has an inherent value of its own, saying, “culture should not be used as political instrument”.
He stated that the German Embassy is doing all in its power to raise money to get certain cultural projects executed in the country. He lamented that counterpart funding from the Nigerian government had not been forthcoming, which he said has stalled several joint projects already planned.