Pan-African festival invites France to take a fresh look at Africa
France is to host a flagship pan-African event in December designed to break down negative stereotypes of Africa and its people. Announced in a speech by French President Emmanuel Macron in 2017, the Africa2020 Season will bring together change makers from the continent to "tell their own story".
N'Goné Fall had her doubts when she was first approached to organise the Africa2020 Season.
"Why would they do something as crazy as inviting a continent, we're too big for that country, regardless how big France is," she tells RFI of her initial encounter with advisors from France's presidential council for Africa.
"In the back of my mind, I was thinking they are going to do the most pointless project. How can I help them? How can I save them so that they don't embarrass us and make us angry by telling the world this is what Africa is about, please let us tell you who we are."
Because even when you think you know Africa, you don't. It was this premise that prompted the Senegalese-born architect to take on the mega pan-African project known as Africa2020 Season: an eight-month extravaganza showcasing the best the African continent has to offer.
"Sometimes you meet people saying, 'Oh, I've been to Africa, I love it so much, I know Africa.' Seriously, I’m 53-years-old and I'm still trying to figure out what this huge continent is about," Fall told RFI in an interview recorded earlier this year.
See the world through Africa's eyes
Fall was speaking before subsequent coronavirus lockdowns forced the event to be pushed back by six months from June to December.
Little has changed in the format. Spectators will be treated to over 200 projects in the fields of art, science, technology, entrepreneurship and the economy, while school children will also be given lessons on African history.
The season is a civil society-driven event and an "invitation to understand and look at the world from an African perspective," Fall said.
More than a dozen so-called 'African headquarters' will be set up in mainland France and in the overseas territories to enable curious onlookers to "discuss, dream and change the world together," Fall commented.
French soft power push?
The Africa2020 season was announced in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in 2017 by French President Emmanuel Macron as he sought to reset France's relations with the African continent.
It has nonetheless come under criticism for being a tool by the French government to assert its soft power in a region courted by China.
"Do I seriously look like a puppet?" retorts Fall.
"Yes, France has its agenda, but who doesn't have an agenda? You think that 200 projects led by more than 200 African professionals from the civil society, some of them being let's say, radical activists, are accepting to be part of this amazing adventure to be manipulated? That's a fantasy."
How will she measure the success of Africa2020 Season?
The fact that little by little African history will be inserted into the French curriculum by virtue of a partnership between Unesco and France to change the way how Africa is taught in schools.
"Bear in mind that these French kids will be learning the same history that I learned when I was a kid in Dakar and that our kids are learning today. For me that's success," she said.
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