Enabling local authorities and cultural managers to collectively realize the potential of culture in local development in Cameroon
For several years now, the debate over the place of culture in the development agenda has been challenging policymakers all over the world to integrate culture in development policies and strategies, at global, national and local levels.
In Cameroon, this challenge has proved to be a particular daunting one, especially at the local level. Mbuagbaw E. Peter, coordinator at the Research Centre for Peace, Human Rights and Development (REPERID), explains why:
“On the one hand, most councils in Cameroon still don’t recognize the potential of culture in promoting multidimensional, sustainable development. On the other hand, the few councils that do recognize this potential, lack the knowledge about the legal framework of laws related to the link between culture, council policy and development. And then, there’s also the fact that cultural actors and stakeholders are neither included nor involved in policy formulation and implementation at local level”.
To turn this situation around, REPERID designed a project entitled “Decentralization, the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and Local Policies: a new paradigm for local development strategies in Cameroon”, with the support from UNESCO’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD).
The project was created to specifically assess, almost in tailor made fashion, each and every one of the issues pinpointed by Mr. Mbuagbaw.
The first assignment was clear: to help councils learn about the potential of culture in local development and understand the role they play in guaranteeing that such a role be fulfilled. Accomplishing this task was priority number one, since all the other parts of the project would be incidental to that. So, REPERID organized 10 advocacy meetings (5 in French and 5 in English), which ended up reaching a total of 200 cultural actors and Council executives.
Once all councils were on the same page in regards to the relationship between culture and development, it was time to equip them with the required legal knowledge to realistically use culture as a tool to promote economic growth and social development. For that reason, the project offered 2 capacity-building workshops to 90 Mayors, Councillors and Secretaries General of Councils in the North West (Anglophone) and West (Francophone) regions of Cameroon.
Finally, after educating and training the councils, the next step was to create a way for the private and public sector to work together in the formulation and implementation of local policies. So, REPERID identified the key stakeholders from both sectors and organized them in a database (which was expected to reach a total of 900 registered members but ended up with almost 2000). This database eventually led to the implementation of the NECAs (Network of Cultural Actors), a networking platform where cultural actors are now directly linked to council executives in each municipality.
One strong example of how REPERID’s project has been instrumental in promoting development by linking culture and local governance is the case of the Disability Welfare Rehabilitation Movement (DIWEREM), an NGO based in Bafut and that promotes social inclusion and empowerment through culture.
“The project implemented by REPERID has guided our local council in bringing together, for the very first time, various participants with diverse cultural backgrounds. By exchanging experiences with these other cultural actors, we realized the need to create a place to exhibit and commercialize our products. That resulted in the creation of the DIWEREM Craft Café Restaurant, which has become a great source of income for us. So, we went from producing art to actually starting up a business. And this would have never happened if not for the help from REPERID”, says Wanchia John Ngwa, president of DIWEREM.