According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), culture defined as a "complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, laws, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by [a human] as a member of society."
As the mother continent and first inhabited region on earth, Africa is characterized by vast lands and one of the largest populations on the planet with rich human heritage and cultural diversity. The broad history of Africa tells the world about the story of her civilizations ranging from the first artists that left impressions on their rock shelters to the scholars who built great universities in the Sahara.
The treasure of Africa’s unique identity encompasses iconic natural places as Serengeti, Table Mountain, and Victoria Falls and the origin of the history of mankind from the fossil hominid sites of Olduvai Gorge and Sterkfontein to the pyramids of ancient Egypt. The high walls of her great forts and castles from the colonial era recite sad stories of slavery and remind us of the long history of Africans’ struggle for independence and liberation.
Africa’s rich history and culture are so diverse that it varies not only from one country to another but also within regions and countries. The culture of each ethnic group holds together the authentic social fabric of traditional practices and rites, art, music, and oral literature through which identities are built. As such, diversity of cultures, religions, languages, and traditions should not be addressed as a barrier to development, rather the continent should take advantage and build on this rich diversity in its quest for prosperity and change of the attitudes of its people towards issues related to economic growth, social development, and relation with the environment.
What matters most is the ability to use Africa’s legacy of cultural resources to trigger the development and economic transformation of the continent in order to realize the vision of The Africa We Want by 2063.
Discovering the Treasure
The first step to harnessing the potential of Africa’s culture is to create global economic opportunities and raise awareness of Africa’s massive contribution to modern life and global culture.
Music and fashion are good examples of the global impact African culture tend to have. Many modern icons in the music industry have incorporated African instrumentation, ideas, and ideals into their music. There are various forms of music most of which have either originated from Africa or at least have been affected by African music on some level. Many modern instruments have evolved from ancient African forms, and many other types of music have adopted similar techniques in terms of rhythms, patterns, harmony, or simply the evolution of melody.
On another hand, the modern fashion industry often borrows very heavily from African
culture in the design of the latest fashion trends. Today’s music and fashion industries undoubtedly owe an immense debt of gratitude to Africa’s culture and creativity. It, therefore, becomes evident that the rich culture of Africa has not only contributed but also continues to sustain development in many industries in modern societies.
The collective consciousness of opportunities towards the potential of African cultural resources can go a long way in reinforcing pride and confidence in local products as well as triggering innovation and creativity. Furthermore, it could open an avenue for unleashing innovative resources to enable people, particularly youth and women to lead full, productive, and meaningful lives by raising their income and improving their standards of living in terms of income, health, education, and security.
Indigenous Solutions for Global Questions
With an increasing human population, trees and forest reserves globally are cleared every day to make way for agriculture in fertile lands and to meet the increasing needs in food as well as urban planning to meet housing demands. The current increasing rate of natural resource degradation and loss of species has a major adverse effect not only on human beings but on all life on the planet. The loss of species in the ecosystem comes with the loss of economic benefits and social well-being, especially within rural populations. It is well documented that formal mechanisms of natural resources conservation and protection have not yet halted the aggressive land degradation and deforestation. However, long-standing practices such as traditional agroforestry, a method still employed in many African communities, could provide a solution that balances agriculture and maintenance of forests and trees across landscapes.
If the question is how to conserve and protect biodiversity, an answer to this would be to revisit the wealth of culture before industrialization and the introduction of modern forms of conservation models. African traditional beliefs, environmental ethics, and socio-cultural practices in the conservation of natural resources can contribute to addressing the global questions of biodiversity conservation and environmental rehabilitation and protection. Apart from economic aspects, African communities have a close and intimate cultural connection with their lands, forests, trees, and surrounding biodiversity. The benefit of the ethical and responsible use of the planet's resources and ethics remains apparent in many cultural and social systems of traditional Africa especially in sedentary and pastoralist farming communities where their practices directly impact the conservation of valuable biodiversity in their immediate environments.
Over time, Africans have developed elaborate and resilient traditions associated with the conservation and management of environmental resources. In fact, the conservation of environmental resources and ecosystems is an integral part of the indigenous African culture. This culture can enlighten policymakers, inspire research and innovations and provide a solid foundation for sustainable use of ecosystems and development. There is a great potential to scale up the environmental experience in Africa through empowering rural communities to develop their own traditional practices to scale up innovative solutions for forestry management and farming. Ecological practices, traditional knowledge, and beliefs