Tower of Eiffel in the heart of Kigali?

“That any human community is necessarily governed by rules and principles based on culture; and that culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive linguistic, spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of the society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs;
Stephen Mugisha
Stephen Mugisha

“That any human community is necessarily governed by rules and principles based on culture; and that culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive linguistic, spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of the society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs; That all cultures emanate from the societies, communities, groups and individuals and that any African cultural policy should of necessity enable people to evolve for the increased responsibility in its development…”(an extract from AU’s charter on culture).

Africans must work hard to restore their self-esteem, dignity, innovation and creativity that were lost a hundred years ago during the times of European incursions to the continent in the names of explorers and missionaries.

Since then Africa has suffered and continues to suffer from external forces of compulsion- from slave trade, to colonialism, resistance to liberation struggles, Neo-colonialism to cultural imperialism, to the present search for Continental unity-the struggle continues.

To some people through these turbulent times, Africa has something to celebrate and to others Africa is still under captivity through neo-colonialism and imperialistic policies propped up by our colonial masters.

It’s no wonder therefore that we are still defined as Francophone’s, Anglophones, Lusophones, pro East or West blocs! When the first Europeans stepped on our land, they ensured that everything African was labeled inferior beginning with the continent itself; they called it the Dark Continent.

They claimed our land and renamed our physical geographical features including Mountains, rivers and Lakes after their Kings and Queens and thereby killing and disparaging our beliefs, innovation, originality and self-esteem.

It’s very unfortunate that these standards set by non-Africans continue to haunt us and shape our thinking and behavior to date. It’s time to reshape ourselves with knowledge of who we are and who we are not.

It was through this cautious thinking that of recent as I was having a stroll around Kigali City my eye caught the Tower of Eiffel of Paris molded together with the Atomium of Brussels seated at the apex of Grand Pension Plaza building in the middle of Kigali!

For those who might not know, both of these are iconic and magnificent creations in their respective home countries with high value of art and cultural symbolism.

When I say cultural symbolism, I hope you will agree with me that whenever the phrase Tower of Eiffel is mentioned the next word on your mind is something like France or Paris. It’s the same case with the Atomium of Brussels, though relatively younger compared to the Tower of Eiffel. May be it could be one of the reasons why it is being exported or promoted.

At this juncture we need to pause and ponder on some rhetoric questions. Who were the architectural designers of this building and why were these particular symbols used? Were our own engineers involved at some point?

Don’t we have our cultural symbols that would have crowned this building? What if we used Agaseke that have grown to be synonymous with Rwanda in today’s global village?

Or as imparted in our mind, if we still feel that our cultural values and symbols are still inferior, would it not be better to create new ones than copying or promoting what is not ours?

What if we used the statues of our heroes of African resistance and independence, past and present? Otherwise, how are we going to engender our national pride and sense of patriotism in the young generation if they have nothing to refer to as their own?

Without a sense of bitterness and repudiation, we must wake up to a new call to restore our lost values and cultural heritage. In the words of Martin Luther, human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable, every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice…change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.

Through the concerned institutions and as stipulated in the AU Charter on culture we must work hard to promote our values, symbols and cultural heritage to counter cultural imperialism of the west.

Africa must gain its rightful place without the guilty of wrong deeds and sense of bitterness, short of our cultural values, artifacts, symbols and other mores for posterity we shall be a lost people. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent!

The writer is an educationist, author and publisher.

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