Strange goings on in Morocco. Until a few days ago Marrakesh was getting ready to host the first African Capital of Culture. Its PR was in full swing. But just eight days before its official launch it was announced that Marrakesh has “withdrawn” and Rabat will hold the title.
Marrakesh was invited to hold the first, pilot, African Capital of Culture title by the “owners”, the Africa region of the Union of Cities and Local Government, at its Africities conference in 2018. (No link to the UCLGA site as it seems unsafe).
And since then it has been developing a programme. Its honorary president Mahi Binebine, a well known painter and cultural figure, attended a formal presentation in Paris on 16 January. He was with the president of the organising committee and general secretary of UCLGA, Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi.
To quote a media interview with the pair:
“In Africa, people no longer dream at home, they dream towards the North and we have to stop.” This plea by Moroccan artist Mahi Binebine is at the heart of a new pan-African event, “African Capitals of Culture”, to strengthen the dialogue between artists and economic opportunities in the cultural sector on the continent.
On the program of Marrakesh Capital of Culture: an “African garden” presenting sculptures near the very crowded Jamaa El Fna square, the travelling exhibition including paintings “Lend me your dream”, at the initiative of investors Moroccans and presenting around thirty major artists from the continent, a literary fair, concerts, fashion shows “with African colours, yellow, garish red!”, describes Mr. Binebine.
Coming to Paris for the launch, the president of the Organising Committee of African Capitals of Culture and general secretary of the UCLG, the Cameroonian Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, recognises that “too often, culture has been left behind” by the authorities on the continent and that “most” professionals in the sector do not live by it.
“There are efforts to be made so that Africa’s contribution to universal culture is commensurate with its cultural depth,” he believes. According to him, cities have “a big role to play” in making the “junction between the cultural substratum carried by the traditional authorities and the modernity called by the cultural industries”.
So far so good. The official launch was set for 31 January with a street parade.
And then suddenly an announcement, from UCLGA, saying that Rabat would hold the title.
Mr Binebine on 22 January (six days after the Paris presentation) put a post on Facebook:
“I have the sad regret to announce to you that it was decided (for incomprehensible reasons) and after several months of intense preparation, that the ocher city would desist in favor of Rabat”,
The Moroccan press had reported “royal anger” after a visit of the King ” predicting that the “delays and failures” of the projects would cause an “administrative earthquake”.
More background here.. although very little light being shone on the reason for the change.
A press release from UCLGA said
“After examining the assets of the city in terms of the specifications for the celebration of African capitals of culture, the committee welcomed the candidacy of Rabat, and decided to designate Rabat as the African capital of culture in 2020/2021 ”,
It was signed by the Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG Africa), Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi.
A team has been put in place, including members of the management of the African Capitals of Culture, to work on the general programming of the various events and activities. This team will present the results of its work and consultations to the public next March at a conference planned in Rabat.
Rabat was nominated as a “Capital of Culture” by the government in 2014.. one of many cities around the world which adopt the title as a tourist marketing slogan.
Not an auspicious start to the African Capital of Culture idea.