While the value of cultural relations, and arts, culture and heritage practices are widely agreed upon, research into what this means in sub-Saharan Africa is limited. In a context where important questions about decolonisation and colonial legacies are being discussed, it seems timeous to collaborate on such a study to unpack these issues. The African Centre for Cities and the Goethe-Institut are collaborating on a project entitled Imagining Impacts – The Goethe-Institut in Africa which emerged from a long-shared interest in understanding the role of culture in sub-Saharan Africa.
This research project explores the role of culture on the continent through the work of the Goethe-Institut and its regional network. The Goethe-Institut has a range of regionally focused, and locally specific projects which offers a unique opportunity to develop a case study for European engagement in an African context.
The project was launched in September 2020 with an inception meeting where 15 projects and organisations funded by the Goethe-Institut were invited to reflect on interconnected themes in order to help shape the research process:
1) Decolonisation and just transitions in Africa
2) Solidarity, support and social cohesion
3) Spaces for daring and dissensus
4) Power and agency.
Key to the meeting was a facilitated panel discussion with three South African cultural experts, Russel Hlongwane, Molemo Moiloa and Nomusa Makhubu. Hlongwane cautioned against South African exceptionalism when considering impact in the region and called for thinking about radical experimentation as an important creative tactic. Moiloa, when reflecting on impact assessment as a process, asked how we liberate the idea of impact from its historical and political legacies which tend to be about managing damage? Makhubu asked what we do about the deployment of concepts and the burden of history? The panel discussion was used as a starting point for a broader discussion about how to develop a contextually relevant research project that can make sense of practices, partnerships and power dynamics.
The research will involve making sense of impact, influence and innovation at the institutional level of the Goethe-Institut itself, as well as exploring how this intersects with a diverse collection of projects that have been supported by the Goethe- Institut. A crucial part of this is developing a programme of events and activities for 2021 where these can be thought through collectively.