On the 28th-30th December 2018 the first edition of the Festival of the Islands of Casamance successfully took place on the Niomoume Islands of the Casamance region in Senegal (Ceesay, 2019) (Figure 1). The Festival was a three-day event bring together the arts, the Islands traditions, a conference and an Island tour all in the name of ‘peace and unity’. The event was attended over the three days by more than 1000 Island inhabitants, guests and visitors. The Festival was the first ever artistic and cultural gathering for the Niomoume Island and its people. The Festival is an innovative event combining the creative industries, ecotourism under the umbrella of ‘peace and unity’ to come together to solve the Islands’ social, environmental and economic problems. Mr Sens Sagna a well-known and highly-regarded Senegalese artist who is based in the UK was the cultural ambassador of the first edition festival (Figure 2). Mr Sagna through his pride in his West African heritage and his vast artistic experience and skills wished to develop collaborations between the Creative Industries sector (an industry worth £133.3bn and accounting for 8.2 per cent of the UK economy), the University of Manchester to potentially support and advise with the Festival and the problems being faced by The Niomoume Islands and the West Senegal region. Mr Sagna, Ambassador of the Festival explained that, “when the initial idea of the Festival was sent to me, I was immediately interested in getting involved and supporting a positive initiative and further understandings how of the creative arts and his skills and experiences could be drawn into the project” (Ceesay, 2019). He explained that this is the positive direction he would like to see the creative industries take in the future. He emphasised the importance that the festival has for bringing people together, to make the community well-known and for the opportunities it can create. He urged “all to embrace and support the future of the festival”.
(Figure 1- Ceremonial dance by Niomoume Islanders at the Festival)
Mr Sagna is collaborating with Dr Anita Greenhill in looking at the potential of skills development and knowledge enhancement on digital content-building in the creative industries, with a particular emphasis on the positive impact creativity can provide in the development of ecotourism (Oluwatobi Emmanuel Olaniyi, et al 2018, 593). West African cultural skills and knowledge, particularly those associated with their artistic traditions are considered the most developed in the world (Faola & Kalu, 2018). Therefore the unifying values that creativity produces as opposed to a predominantly economic focus in much development theory can be reconsidered. The potential value of the creative economy is increasing exponentially but the industry is still not fully understood and in many instances undervalued. Earlier feasibility studies (Greenhill, 2019) have demonstrated the impact the creative industries can have on social unity and the integration of marginalised groups. Attending the festival has helped to build links and opened up potential routes for international collaboration and research within West Africa.
(Figure 2. Attendees including Mr Sagna, Dr Anita Greenhill, Mr Ousmane Samoure at the First edition of the Festival of the Islands of Casamance 2018)
The initial findings from the research showed that, whilst creativity has the potential to improve the situation of marginalised groups, the artistic community is often caught between traditional knowledge and skills acquisition, and contemporary culture and economic reality (Greenhill, forthcoming). This is a situation that is mirrored in Senegal, where cultural initiatives are being developed which both promote the themes of peace and unity and look to encourage and support economic development. However, a lack of basic infrastructure (especially digital infrastructure) across the country creates a series of challenges (Figure 4). Indeed, Senegal is the perfect place for the arts and healing to come together due to the fact that the country continues to be the location for Africa’s longest ongoing conflict (the Casamance Conflict). Alongside this, the Senegalese state has reaffirmed its desire to put culture at the heart of the issues of national economic and social development. This link is something that is helped by the fact that many West African performers often hail from conflict zones and so represent some of the most marginalised people in the world.
(Figure 3. Festival of the Islands of Casamance wrestling performance 2018)
The growing use of culture, and in particular music, as part of wider efforts to address issues of peace and unity within Senegal is reflected in the Festival activities. The overall aim of the festival is to give all those who participate a platform where they can develop their skills, cultural experiences and creativity. This festival is organised by Ousmane Samoure, one of the project’s community partners, and looks to create a lasting legacy, which aids the development of the region (where there is a lack of basic supplies of clean drinking water, medical provisions, electricity and internet provision, etc.). Crucially, these festivals operate in areas that are socially isolated and, in the case of the Festival of the Islands of Casamance, have never had a cultural festival before (Figure 3).
(Figure 4. Wells are dug in the rice fields for fresh water supply)
The project looks to learn from these Senegalese initiatives and the stakeholders involved, in order to develop and join together similar work being carried out in South Manchester. This will be achieved by looking to establish a prototype for a structured process to creative production that generates social, cultural and economic value by focussing on community-driven innovation (with an initial emphasis on the creative industries and technology).
References, useful links
Ceesay, B (2019), Festival of the Islands of Casamance was a huge success, BlockTV Gambia
Faola, T Kalu, K (eds) (2018), Africa and Globalization: challenges of governance and creativity, Palgrave Mcmillan: Grewerbestrasse, Switzerland
Greenhill, A (2019) Festival of the Islands of Casamance, http://www.facebook.com-The-Festival-of-the-Islands-of-Cassamnce
Oluwatobi Emmanuel Olaniyi, Shadrach Olufemi Akindele & Babafemi George Ogunjemite (2018) Ecotourism suitability of Okomu and Pendjari National Parks, Anatolia, 29:4, 593-604, DOI: 10.1080/13032917.2018.1486329