At meetings in Santorini in 2000 and Lucerne in 2001, the International Network for Cultural Diversity endorsed the concept of a new Convention on Cultural Diversity, a global treaty designed to provide a permanent legal foundation for government measures to promote cultural diversity.  The Steering Committee has elaborated a draft of possible terms of such a Convention and delegates will have an opportunity to discuss it in Cape Town.


At the 2001 meeting, Burama Sagnia, Coordinator of the African Itinerant College for Culture and Development in Senegal, challenged delegates to consider how the proposed Convention could ensure that the cultural dimensions of international cooperation are fully understood and acknowledged by the industrialized nations.  He argued that it could, for example, establish a mechanism through which the cultural impacts of development projects could be assessed, in much the same way that environmental impacts are reviewed.  He discussed the pressing need to develop cultural capacity in many countries and made an appeal for the practical integration of culture in sustainable development frameworks and processes.  He urged the INCD to consider how the Convention could be a catalyst for improvement.


As a result of the discussion last year in Lucerne, and parallel discussions underway in the ministerial network, the Steering Committee determined that the relationship between cultural diversity and development and the implications of these within the context of the Convention would be the primary theme of the 2002 meeting in Cape Town.


This paper was prepared by the secretariat to facilitate the discussion on these issues.  It will attempt to tease out some definitions of the most important terms, to highlight some of the contradictions and to raise provocative questions.  Since the South African INCD office played a significant role in drafting the paper, and since that government has similarly drafted a working paper for the ministerial meeting, it tends to approach the issues from a South African context and takes a developing worldview.






Individuals acquire their sense of identity, their self-esteem and their core values and worldviews from the community in which they grow up and live.

These aspects of an individual’s character and knowledge are acquired through the expression of their community’s culture, including:  language, music, visual arts, artisanal and traditional practices, theatre, poetry and song. Culture is thus integral to individual and community stability, their sense of worth and their capacity to make sense of the world.


At another level, culture and cultural products are located within the realm of hegemonic warfare, within the battle to provide leadership with respect to ideas, values, beliefs and worldviews whether it is across the globe, within nation states, within communities, institutions or organisations.


It is no coincidence that both colonialism and apartheid decimated the cultural lives of indigenous communities.  Generally, those cultural forms which could be used for the domestication of the “locals” or to serve divide and rule strategies, were encouraged, while native communities’ ways of interpreting and making sense of the world, and which affirmed their personal and communal identities, were destroyed, suppressed or ridiculed as inferior.  Foreign languages were imposed as official languages, and churches with their foreign religions played a significant role in the domestication process.


The arts were never encouraged among the colonised either through the educational system or through facilities or resources provided for them; foreign forms like opera, classical music and ballet were imported for the entertainment of the coloniser and apartheid elites, and were imposed as the ultimate arbiters of artistic endeavour and excellence.


By controlling the institutions of socialisation which are the primary conveyors of “culture” – the mass media, educational system, etc – the colonial and apartheid powers sought to extend their hegemony in order to influence and ultimately shape the values, beliefs, worldviews and aesthetic tastes of the native majority. In this way they sought to gain broader legitimacy for inherently unjust social, political and economic structures, biased in favour of an elite minority.


In the “knowledge economy” culture has emerged as an important (if not primary) site of the local, national and global struggle for leadership with respect to the ideas, beliefs, worldviews and values that shape our worlds.  The mass media, the arts and related cultural industries are powerful political phenomena because of their capacity to influence, reinforce or challenge the hegemony of those who lead our world, countries, communities, institutions and organisations.


In a post-colonial, post-apartheid world, culture, cultural products and the mass media may serve – whether consciously or unconsciously – as important vehicles for neo-colonialism, both of individual minds and of nations.  They are not neutral, but serve particular interests. 


For this reason, it is necessary to give attention to culture and its role in the global economy, in global power relations, and within individual nations.




Like “culture”, there is no one definition of “development”.  Generally, though, “development” is a complex process that seeks to overcome the adverse social, economic and human conditions left particularly by colonialism and apartheid in countries or communities affected by these.  “Development” aims to equip such countries or communities with the requisite skills, technology, access to information, cash and other resources, to enable them to be relatively self-sustaining now that they are self-governing entities. 


Depending on their particular conditions, and the legacy bequeathed by colonialism or apartheid, “developing” countries will define development and their development needs or priorities differently.   But while development is understandable and necessary in post-colonial and post-apartheid contexts, development does not always serve the same interests.


For example, for multinational corporations, development may simply imply the minimal skills and resources post-colonial communities require in order for them to continue to provide relatively skilled, but cheap labour to produce the goods that generate profits elsewhere.  It might also imply the “development” of real and potential markets (with sufficient literacy, numeracy and earning power) to whom to export or sell their goods, in order to provide better returns for foreign shareholders.


As another example, for new elites in post-colonial or post-apartheid countries or communities, development may have the rhetoric of serving “the people”, but the forms that such development takes (including the political and economic forms and strategies), or the priorities undertaken, may simply reflect the short-term economic and social self-interests of such elites (usually in collaboration with former colonisers or beneficiaries of apartheid), rather than the interests of the majority of citizens.


On the other side of the development equation, governments providing the development aid, either directly, or through official aid agencies, may simply do so in order to “purchase” influence with the governments concerned in order to wield greater political clout on the international political stage or in the region of the benefiting country, or to be seen to be doing the right thing, or to pave the way for their multinationals to be given preference for contracts and other “development” deals emerging from such countries.


Whatever the motivations for development, and whatever the interests served, development – like culture – is not neutral.  It is but one site of struggle for ownership, direction and leadership, or to gain the maximum benefits for particular interest groups or stakeholders.




The legacies that development seeks to deal with are quite concrete – lack of housing, poor education, inadequate health care, unemployment, etc.  Generally, the development strategies initially employed to address these had their origins in European/Western economic and social models. 


But after their first two International Decades for Development, UNESCO initiated a World Decade for Cultural Development from 1987.  They explained this Decade thus:


Despite the progress achieved, the first two International Development Decades (in the sixties and seventies) revealed the limitations of a development concept based primarily on quantitative and material growth.


From 1970 onwards, critical reflection gave rise to the Intergovernmental Conferences on Cultural Policies…in all parts of the world, and finally led to the Mexico City Conference of 1982 to put forward with great conviction the idea that “culture constitutes a fundamental part of the life of the each individual and of each community…and development…whose ultimate aims should be focused on humankind…must therefore have a cultural dimension.”


The two principal objectives of the World Decade for Cultural Development – greater emphasis on the cultural dimension in the development process and the stimulation of creative skills and cultural life in general – reflect an awareness of the need to respond to the major challenges which shape the horizon of the twenty-first century.


Development impacts directly and indirectly on the way of life of a community.  Education, technology, new skills, increased earning power and access to information – all of these affect the individuals and the communities who are the beneficiaries of “development”.


As such, development may be viewed as a cultural process that may be hindered or facilitated by culture.  Development impacts upon the culture of those intended to be “developed” and in turn their culture impacts on the development process. 


Development brings with it new ideas, new values, new insights, increased access to information, contact with other cultures, the promise of a better quality of life, new aspirations, and invariably, a local or indigenous culture is influenced and evolves organically within the paradigm of the development ends and strategies.


Initial models and strategies of development were not as effective as they might have been because they were at odds with the cultural paradigms of those whose lives were to be improved.  As well, these development models were themselves constructs and carriers of particular cultural values and beliefs (and could thus be viewed in some instances simply as neo-colonial strategies, i.e. more sophisticated attempts at harnessing the cheap labour and raw materials of developing countries).  Consequently, the progressive view emerged that development must be sensitive to, and must, as far as possible, be integrated into the cultures of the intended beneficiaries.




Cultures are at their most stable when communities are at their most isolated. 


Development implies progress, upward economic mobility, greater physical well-being, a better quality of life and the like.  But is this necessarily a good thing, given the cultural ruptures that development initiatives bring?  Or is it better to have a way of life with fewer consumer goods but perhaps more meaning?


Development will have its maximum effect when it is most sensitive to the cultural conditions in which it is to have an impact.  But the very nature of development as a rupture (even if an objective improvement) to the way of life of the community, will cause an evolution of that community’s culture.



Culture and development are complex processes that impact on each other in  significant ways which in turn have major repercussions for the communities and individuals concerned.  Clearly, both because of the impact that culture has on development and that development has on culture, the cultural dimension of development cannot be ignored. 




It appears that while international aid agencies such as the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), bodies like UNESCO and some governments in the “developed” world, understand and are committed to “the cultural dimension of development”, developing countries – ironically – have little regard for it.


This is reflected by the following:


a)     development priorities are often listed as the most obvious i.e. housing, health care, job creation, education, etc, but with little understanding or integration of the cultural dimension into strategies addressing these.   Despite the Decades for Cultural Development, there is little anthropological input or cultural assessments of the impact of development in the formulation of development strategies.


b)     cultural issues generally, and the arts in particular, are regarded as luxuries, “touchy feely” phenomena that have little to do with human or social development or with meeting the primary needs of human beings


c)      few developing countries have cultural policies in place


d)     many of those that have cultural policies do not provide the resources (skilled personnel and funds) necessary to implement such policies


e)     with culture having little status in developing countries, arts practitioners and cultural activists constantly have to argue for their sector in terms of the national discourse of the time e.g. national reconciliation, contribution to the economy, job creation, education about health care themes, etc. 


f)        where creative or cultural industries are being developed – even with their clear job creation and income-generating potential – they are often at the initiative of the NGO sector or international agencies, rather than local authorities.




Why does there seem to be less understanding in the developing world about the cultural dimension of development?  Is it because politicians have a short shelf life, and so would generally go for the more obvious short-term, visible gains that would satisfy their constituencies?  Is it simply that they are not sensitised to the importance of the cultural dimension of culture?  Or is it that new elites have bought into the “cultural package” bequeathed to them by their former colonisers, and have little interest in preserving or addressing traditional or indigenous cultural approaches that might embarrass them?

Whatever the reasons, is it the case that “the cultural question” is not an issue for developing countries?




While human beings may change their values, ideas, worldviews, dress codes, eating habits, and the like, and not lose their intrinsic worth or access to universally accepted human rights, cultures do disappear, are eroded, evolve or are subsumed – not because they have lost their value or worth, but because of benign, organic developments within the culture, or because of conquest or other forms of coercive pressures on that culture.


Cultural homogenisation leads to a particular set of ideas, values and worldviews coming to prevail, and legitimising a world order, a global economy where an elite consumes most of the world’s non-renewable resources and the majority of people live in abject conditions.


It is precisely because of the inequities of the global world order that cultural diversity is imperative i.e. that other ideas and values inform trade and political relations, to ensure that the rich and the powerful cannot act with impunity like the modern equivalent of colonisers of the world.


Cultural diversity is under threat because:


a)     development, even in its best forms, impacts on local and indigenous cultures, leading, at worst, to their extinction


b)     bilateral and multilateral trade agreements are trying to establish “free trade” for cultural goods and services, so that “market forces” can dictate the dominance of foreign material (music, films, television programmes, books, etc) in local markets, thereby undermining the local expressions of culture


c)      mass media such as television and information technology now have a global reach that advances values, ideas and worldviews arising out of, and perpetuating a particular “way of life” or culture, that those who live in different cultures may aspire towards for lack of alternatives, or because this way of life is projected as “the ultimate”, leading to rejection of their own culture


d)     developing countries simply do not have the resources or the political will to counter the influence of culture and the cultural products of the developed world.




Cultural diversity – on the surface – is a desirable end.  But – like culture and development – cultural diversity is fraught with contradictions and serves different, and often, conflicting interests, depending on the conditions.


For developed countries that might face the threat of Hollywood movies and television programmes undermining their local film industries, or whose music industry might be threatened by imports from elsewhere, the language and strategies of “cultural diversity” are understandable and might be effective to counter such threats.


But the perspective may be substantially different in developing countries.  For example, “cultural diversity” was used in the context of colonialism and apartheid to divide-and-rule.  Thus, to emphasise “cultural diversity” now – rather than, say, national reconciliation – might be seen to be promoting “neo-apartheid”.  In South Africa today, one of the major groups advancing “cultural diversity” is the white, Afrikaner group who were the primary implementers and beneficiaries of apartheid.  In a non-racial society, some of them feel threatened and demand that their cultural rights be respected and defended.  Against the background of the international emphasis for “cultural diversity”, this group would have a valid case, but in the context of South African history, fears of neo-apartheid regimes are raised.  Some post-colonial or post-apartheid leaders might want to promote cultural diffusion, to de-emphasise cultural differences, to advance new “national” cultural forms and symbols, rather than cultural diversity. 


In some developing countries, leaders come, and hold on to power because of their ethnic background and because of the dominance of their ethnic group within the broader population.  Particular ethnic groups may be rewarded and advanced in the civil service and society generally, while others are marginalized.  In its extreme forms, genocide may be committed by one ethnic group against another in order to obtain, and maintain power.





In developed countries with sophisticated, democratic political systems, respect for the rule of law and the like, where there is relative demographic homogeneity or the historical dominance of one particular culture, cultural diversity in the “way of life” sense takes the form of “multiculturalism” as some societies develop strategies to integrate increasing numbers of immigrants from other countries.  In some developing countries where access to power, social mobility and even life itself may be linked to one’s cultural background, cultural diversity provides sharper challenges.


Cultural diversity is premised on pluralism, tolerance, a sense of democracy, freedom of expression.  Yet many developing countries – or their leadership – display major deficiencies in these areas.


For example, freedom of expression can be regarded as a threat; alternative views to those of the dominant party are regarded as “counter-revolutionary”, and forms of democracy are implemented that prejudice some groups and individuals.


Thus, we come to following questions:





25 September 2002