For many centuries, culture has been a valuable heritage passed on from one generation to the other.
Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Malawi subscribes to, also affirms everyone’s right to freedom of expression and opinion, association and choice of education for one’s children.
This freedom is the basis of the world’s cultural diversity, which is a fundamental part of the heritage of humanity which cherishes and nurtures cultural diversity.
Despite cultural preservation and promotion being paramount for every country’s existence, Malawi has been caught napping to the extent that it has been depending on foreigners to free its thinking and reflection on culture.
Unesco’s World Commission on Culture and Development, in its 1995 report, Our Creative Diversity, stated that any nation that believes in creative diversity needs to create a sense of itself as a civic community that preserve cultural heritage and promotion of living cultures.
It argued that a society’s heritage—from national monuments, museums, and galleries to a people’s language, history and religion—is an essential source of meaning and fulfilment to people living now.
Hence, the importance of protecting and preserving this heritage.
However, creative industries, which are engines for promoting cultural heritage such as folklore and traditional songs and expressions, have been facing acute funding challenges in Malawi.
“Cultural promotion is not at a level that we wanted in Malawi because it is not prioritised. Authorities are only good at underscoring the importance of culture yet this is not translated into actions on the ground,” says cultural anthropologist and storyteller Dyson Gonthi.
He warns that Malawi’s heritage may become extinct if efforts by government and other stakeholders remain a lip service.
“The loss of any cultural heritage is a threat to history and values of any country,” warns Gonthi, adding in other countries there is strong political will that encourages the revitalisation of culture.
He cited the 1998 Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies for Development held in Stockholm, where Canada was recognised for its cutting-edge policies promoting cultural diversity. Canada Council for the Arts made efforts to bring Aboriginal artists into the mainstream of its programmes.
In each of its six programme areas—dance, music, theatre, publishing and writing, visual arts, and media arts—the Council was reaching out to strengthen the capacity of Aboriginal people in effective arts production industry.
It is against this glaring background that a Cultural Support Scheme (CSS) was introduced under Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) to strengthen the capacity of Malawi’s arts associations.
According to the project’s coordinator Anthony Kapinga, the CSS was established in 2004 with funding from The Royal Norwegian Embassy to benefit the country’s nine rights holder associations.
The Royal Norwegian Embassy has been implementing the CSS programme for over 10 years in Malawi.
The mission driving Norway is to contribute to the promotion and preservation of Malawi’s cultural heritage.
For example, the Norwegian government and Cosoma signed a K260 million contract in 2012.
“Partly, the grant scheme aims at promoting and strengthening the capacity of these associations so that they promote cultural heritage effectively,” explains Kapinga.
He says since the inception of the CSS programme, there has been meaningful and traceable structures and projects by the country’s arts associations.
Commenting on the outcomes of the CSS, Film Association of Malawi (Fama) president Ezaius Mkandawire says his office is established now.
“There was time when the country’s arts associations were operating as briefcase entities with no proper offices and projects. But now with the coming of CSS programme we can locate where offices and projects of these associations are. Today, we have also running costs and opportunity to apply grants from Cosoma under CSS programme,” says Mkandawire. n