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Interview with H.E. Norbert Richard Ibrahim: “Culture must be at the heart of development policies”.

As a new year begins, His Excellency Dr. Ibrahim Norbert Richard, Assistant Secretary General of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) in charge of political affairs and human development met with us to revisit the key moments that will mark the future of the ACP cultural and creative sectors, particularly in these times of pandemic.

Your mandate with the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) began in the midst of the negotiations of the new partnership agreement between the ACP countries and the European Union (EU) which have just been concluded. How do you see your mandate?

I am honoured to have been able to join the OACPS at a time when it was revisiting the terms of its cooperation with the EU, its long-standing cooperation partner. As the ACP represents some 1.5 billion men and women in 79 countries, the idea of making my contribution, however modest, to the economic, human and social development of these countries and to the well-being of their populations is a source of great satisfaction to me.

However, many challenges remain, from the eradication of poverty, the restoration and maintenance of peace and security, human rights, democracy and governance, to the fight against climate change… These problems, which are not new, call for coordinated and integrated measures at national and regional levels, but also for strong partnerships, such as the one established between the EU and the members of the OEACP, which was concluded on 3 December last, after two years of negotiations. And human development and its intrinsic corollary, culture, which are part of my remit as Under-Secretary General, are at the heart of these issues.

What orientations have emerged in the new post-Cotonou agreement in support of the cultural and creative sector in ACP countries?

Culture is one of the priorities of this new cooperation framework between the OACPS and the EU. Unlike the Cotonou Agreement signed twenty years ago, it is not only recognised as one sector of activity among others, but as a transversal dimension that must also be taken into account in other development policies. Culture, in fact, underpins all human activities and determines the ways in which we produce, consume and behave in society. The new agreement also highlights the humanist and societal values linked to culture, presented as a universal right for all, a vector for dialogue, peace and tolerance and a guarantee of diversity. It also recognises the role of the creative industries and cultural heritage in maintaining social cohesion, but also as a source of creativity and innovation, and as a driving force for economic development, and is a strong statement against the illicit trafficking of works of art, a scourge that affects many ACP countries… It is a very comprehensive framework that is established, and a clear mandate for the cultural and creative sector to fulfil its role in favour of the human development of ACP countries.

A recent World Bank article[1]  identifies culture as a key lever for economic recovery “post-COVID-19”. After having been severely weakened by the health crisis, how can the cultural and creative industries in ACP countries ensure this role?

Unfortunately, the crisis is not over, and at this stage we do not yet have an overview of the damage it has caused to the cultural and creative sector in ACP countries. But we can already anticipate that its impact will be dramatic, as it is everywhere in the world, because the pandemic has hit a very rich but intrinsically very fragile ecosystem, especially in developing countries.

It must be said, however, that culture is by definition resilient, and has the power to constantly reinvent itself because, as I mentioned earlier, it is inherent to humanity and its way of seeing and building the world. But it also fosters the resilience of communities by strengthening social cohesion, enabling them to overcome their traumas and recover more quickly from such a crisis.

We all know how much art and culture nourish social integration, pleasure, learning, creation of meaning, self-realisation… Not forgetting that artistic expression and entertainment can help to disseminate health intelligence, encourage behavioural change and promote public health recommendations.

This unprecedented crisis will have served to reveal the vulnerabilities and dysfunctions traditionally linked to the cultural and creative sectors, and paradoxically could contribute to structuring them and making them stronger. In this respect, it constitutes a calamity, of course, but it also offers an opportunity to make courageous choices, to strengthen the cultural sectors and to move forward in the recognition of culture as a key sector of human and economic development. In order to do so, there are many measures to be taken and significant investments are required. Above all, the creative sector must be able to fully benefit from the post-Covid economic recovery programmes launched in many countries, so that it can recover more quickly. But it is also important that the effort does not wane once the crisis is over, and that culture, like the environment to which it is directly linked, becomes a pillar of this “next world” that we all hope will be more sustainable and virtuous.

In this context, the implementation of appropriate public policies aimed at supporting and strengthening cultural and creative industries is indispensable.

The ACP-EU Culture Programme, funded by the EU and implemented by the OACPS, represents one of the main tools for supporting the cultural sector in ACP countries. How do you see the results of this first year of activity in 2020?

The ACP-EU Culture Programme illustrates the great ambitions of the OACPS and the EU towards culture and creativity as drivers of sustainable human development in ACP countries. Launched in 2019, it has really reached cruising speed this year 2020, inaugurating an innovative principle of cascading grants with very promising results. Indeed, the three audiovisual co-production support funds launched in partnership with the Organisation internationale de la francophonie and the Côte d’Ivoire Film Industry Support Fund (CLAP ACP), the Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée (DEENTAL ACP) and the World Cinema Fund of the Berlinale (WCF-ACP) have already made it possible to grant financial support to 52 fiction, documentary and series projects in African and Caribbean countries, for a total support of €1,793,000. New calls for projects will continue this momentum in 2021. We have also set up this year a major support mechanism for culture and creation in the six ACP regions, with a budget of €26 million. Starting in 2021, six partner consortia, made up of regional and international organisations, will launch annual calls for proposals targeting all sectors of culture. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the implementation of the programme has continued unabated, and as we come to the end of 2020, we can be proud of the work accomplished.

After a somewhat turbulent year, what wishes would you like to express to cultural and creative operators in ACP countries for 2021 ?

In the words of Aimé Césaire: “I always have hope because I believe in man. Maybe it’s stupid. Man’s way is to achieve humanity, to become aware of himself”. This is also the role of culture, which founds our humanity and makes us more noble. I hope that this crisis helps us to become more aware of the importance of the humanist values of respect, tolerance, sharing and dialogue. After a year marked by confinement, distancing, fear of others and loneliness, I dare to believe that this new year will bring hope, closeness and socialisation, where “living together” regains its full meaning. Artists and creators, in ACP countries as elsewhere, have an essential role to play in this renaissance, and must be supported and encouraged to do so.



Photo: Organization of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States

[1] World Bank blog:


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