PANAFEST and Emancipation Day in a COVID-19 pandemic(1)


… domestic tourists must be the focus

The Pan African Historical Theatre Project now known as PANAFEST was mooted by the late Efua Sutherland in the mid-1980s as a cultural vehicle for bringing Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora together around the issues raised by slavery which remain prevalent.

PANAFEST addresses the most traumatic interruption that ever occurred in the natural evolution of African societies which among other traumas, profoundly eroded the self- confidence and freedom for self-determination of a whole people. The theme for this year’s celebrations is securing the African family: our soul, our health, our wealth. 

One questions that still beats the mind of many people is the fact that, the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade lasted for over 400 years.  I happened to be in Salaga and witnessed some of the routes being used by the slaves during their journey to the south.

It’s really unconceivable seeing the distance they had to walk in their quest to join the ship through the door of no return added to the inhumane treatment they received along the way. I just returned from Paga and visited a slave camp near the Paga Crocodile Pond. It’s intriguing to know that the slave trade might have affected the whole of the West African coastline.

As mentioned in an earlier article, a former member of PANAFEST Foundation highlighted some fact which must guide us all in our quest to sustain these events most especially post COVID-19.

He gave us a history of previous similar events on the continent which eventually faded out. He writes that the First World Festival of Black Arts provided the impetus for FESTAC (The second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture) held in Nigeria in 1977. Despite its lateness, FESTAC finally came to pass.

As was envisaged, it brought together peoples of African descent from around the world, including the black indigenous peoples of Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Caribbean, Central America, South America, North America and Europe.

It was a premier Global African event that had the potential to give African unity a great boost. It’s magnitude and spectacle was unprecedented. Indeed, it was the cultural Olympics of the African World.

But that too suffered the same fate as the First World Festival of Black Arts. The Global African Family did underestimate the intrusive and destructive power of its external adversaries and their internal agents.

The same level of political vulnerability and egotism that characterized the immediate post-independence African leadership, (with few exceptions) reared their ugly heads again. Some African leaders would rather spend their national treasures in acquisition of destructive military arsenal to fight among themselves than fund Pan-African cultural festivals.

They would rather empty their national coffers to fill the banks in foreign lands than to build cultural institutions to showcase the splendor and dignity of their arts and culture. The blunted edge of the envisaged power of Pan-African cultural festivals during this period was symptomatic of the political chaos and an absence of vision that characterized political and intellectual leadership of that era.

With the absence of all that could unite us, a vacuum was created and filled by all that could divide us.” He concluded by offering some recommendations about PANAFEST and what must be done. He made these recommendations since June 2003.

  1. The success in nurturing Panafest/Emancipation Day into an economically viable national endeavor hinges on two primary factors: National perception and international perception. National perception comes down to selling Panafest/Emancipation as an event for all Ghanaians and not fashioned only for some Ghanaians and foreign tourists.

Tourism has both internal and external dimensions, and each complements the other. All Ghanaians should therefore see Panafest/Emancipation Day as a national event beneficial to us as one people. There is not a shortage of good mothers and fathers, grandpas and grandmas to nurture this young cultural institution. However, the young baby, should first, be recognized as a legitimate product of national effort.

In other words, the nation has to come to grips with the fact that, Panafest/Emancipation Day is its baby and should therefore show commitment to its survival. Through its governmental machinery the state should provide the necessary support to inputs to ensure the growth of Panafest/Emancipation Day.

The Analysis of previous efforts point to two major factors that can make or break Pan-African cultural festivals: 1.The presence or absence of unqualified internal support and operational efficiency; 2. Genuine external support or direct and indirect efforts at destabilization. To guarantee the viability and longevity of Panafest/Emancipation Day, African leaders should put the long term interest of Africa above their own personal political ambitions and give full support to the use of cultural festival in promoting African unity.

They should desist from making such cultural festivals instruments of partisan political maneuvering and rather support a group of independent minded, highly dedicated and professionally proficient individuals to plan and manage all aspects of Panafest/Emancipation Day. The African Union should adopt it and weave it into the fabric of its overall vision and programs.

Events in the world today have vindicated our forbearers’ insistence on the unity of Africa as the surest way to ensure true political liberation and rapid economic development. Given what we know now about the capabilities of detractors and supporters of African unity, we should know our true friends and do the right thing to attract their genuine support while we remain alert about potential manipulations and machinations.

We can be distracted from our path to progress only if we allow it by not being vigilant. Such detractors will find no fertile grounds to sow the seeds of disunity if we ourselves have saturated the soil with our own seeds of unity. Friends would extend genuine help only when we are genuine and highly dedicated to our cause. Such help should be sought without compromising our dignity and cultural integrity.

2. Governance

Given the historical reality that Panafest was born and nurtured in a national cradle, it may be argued that the governance of Panafest should be under an absolute control of its original parent – the State.

However, experiences of our political history, alert us to the potential dangers of such an absolute state control. It is all too real the potential for the politicization of such a politically non-partisan cultural institution of an international character. The dilemma, however is that, Panafest/Emancipation Day, at this stage is financially too fragile to stand and walk on its own.

Given the potential development benefits and risks inherent in Panafest/Emancipation Day, its structure and operation should be reviewed and if need be reconstituted. The current Panafest Foundation should be legally chartered as a quasi-state cultural institution and charged with the responsibility of administering Panafest/Emancipation Day.

It should then be place under an appropriate State Ministry and the relevant cultural agency, the National Commission on Culture, (NCC) in this case. State policy would then guide the festival and all related operation.

Financial support from the State should be given without any political strings attached. The NCC should limit itself to playing an advisory role, allowing a full administrative autonomy to the PF. The current structure of the PF may be reviewed and if necessary revamped and strengthened to make it more financially capable.

The Smithsonian Institution (SI) model in the U.S. may provide some ideas for modification to suit our local situation. Like the SI the State, through Parliamentary appropriation, should provide financial support, (including wages for executive positions and support staff) for the program planning and implementation. The PF should, however be given the freedom to solicit for funds or in-kind contributions from inside and outside Ghana to augment State financial support. The use of such funds should be fully accounted for in the annual report of the PF.

To justify such a State financial obligation, a Board of Directors should be appointed by the State under the recommendation of the NCC and in consultation with the PF. The PF under the guidance of The Board of Directors should be given the authority and the freedom to initiate, plan programs and execute them in a manner that would represent the national character.

To achieve this rather abstract concept of “a national character”, the NCC, the Board of Directors and the PF should solicit ideas from independent and open-minded cultural scholars and cultural practitioners from diverse cultural and professional backgrounds, – a sort of a think-tank. A mechanism should be in place for an interaction among the NCC, the PF the Board of Directors and this think-tank in order to foster the formulation of mutually acceptable program content and implementation strategies.

Program content and venues, as necessity should reflect the national character, and accommodate diversity from the Global African Family. Emphasis should be placed on quality, dignity and diversity. The overall goal of “Re-uniting the African Family” should be the guiding light. Certainly, it will take more than administrative and political ingenuity to achieve this goal. Indeed, it will take faith in each other and a mutual appreciation of our common destiny.

The alternative structure of governance is to maintain the private status of the Panafest Foundation and turn it into a sort of NGO. If the PF is to maintain such an absolute independence from the State, it will need to revamp its operations and aspire to self-reliance. Obviously, there are benefits and risks in going absolutely independent, but it is doable. Strategies to achieve self-reliance are discussed below, under the sub-headings, Funding and Promotional and Marketing Strategies.

Other recommendations where about Nationalizing and internationalizing these events, deriving ways of sustaining the PANAFEST Foundation by ensuring its financial independence, embarking of an extensive promotional and marketing strategies. Other recommendations include; supportive infrastructure and social environment, dissemination and utilization of program outcomes and embarking on an extensive Membership Drive.

Today, it’s obvious that the focus has not being much on Ghanaians living here i.e. the domestic tourists but rather Africans from the diaspora and it is a fact that publicity has been the best. Funding has also been a challenge and the forces of evil have also succeeded in dividing us and our peers from the diaspora.

I must however commend the PANAFEST secretariat for still ensuring the event is still held irrespective of the challenges they face. It is my hope that we shall rebrand PANAFEST/Emancipation with much focus on Ghanaians right here in Ghana especially with the COVID-19 pandemic impeding many people travelling to Ghana this year. With all data showing that domestic spending is what has propelled countries to the top, I hope the focus will change.

Philip Gebu is a Tourism Lecturer. He is the C.E.O of FoReal Destinations Ltd, a Tourism Destinations Management and Marketing Company based in Ghana and with partners in many other countries. Please contact Philip with your comments and suggestions. Write to [email protected] / [email protected]. Visit our website at or call or WhatsApp +233(0)244295901/0264295901.Visist our social media sites Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: FoReal Destinations




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