FESTAC ’22: Culture, if Properly Harnessed can be a Major Tool of Economic Development – Olusegun Obasanjo

It was indeed an exciting moment, yesterday at Verde Hotel, water front in the beautiful city of Zanzibar where the former Nigerian President, H.E Olusegun Obasanjo represented by Prof. Jeleel Ojuade, a Professor of Performance Studies (with emphasis in dance ) University of Ilorin, Nigeria, gave a captivating speech at the opening ceremony of the FESATC ’22 on the theme “My Africa, Your Africa, Our Africa” where notable African personalities such as Prof. Abdulrazak Gurnah, the 2021 Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature; the Minister of Tourism and Heritage, Hon. Simai Mohammed Said; Hon.Cuthbert Ncube, Chairperson, African Tourism Board; Mr. Hassan Ali Mzee, Chairnan, Zanzibar Association of Tour Operators (ZATO); Mr. Yinka Abioye, Chairman Inspire Africa, the organizer and host of others too numerous to be mentioned here were in attendance as well as large number of Zanzibarians who trooped out to also show their unflinching supports to such a rare event that was held last 45 years ago in Nigeria, tagged “FESTAC ’77”.

The full speech of His Excellency former President Olusegun Obasanjo will do justice to the whole narration here rather than from the reported angle.

Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen, I beg to stand by all existing protocols. This is because given my stature and the collective weights of all others standing on existing protocols there is a likelihood of a collapse which would be unsuitable, undesirable and unsavoury for our purpose, here today. Such a collapse could trigger pandemonium.

Be that as it may, I am very pleased and I feel highly honoured to be invited in multiple capacities to this epochal event as Guest of Honour, Speaker and Inaugural Torch bearer. I am humbled by your kind gesture for which I shall remain eternally grateful.

I heartily congratulate and rejoice with the Organizers, Sponsors, Partners, Collaborators and all who have played a role or another in putting together this event. They are too numerous to mention but I shall specially recognize and acknowledge the Government and good people of Zanzibar under the able leadership of Dr. Hussein Ali Mwinyi, the 8th President of Zanzibar for being a great Host ; The FESTAC Africa chaired by Mr. Yinka Abioye of Inspire Africa Connect; Zanzibar Association of Tour Operators (ZATO) chaired by Mr. Hassan Ali Mzee; Zanzibar Minister for Tourism, Mr. Simai Mohammed Said; Zanzibar Association for Tourism Investors (ZATI); Zanzibar National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC); Hotels Association of Zanzibar (HAZ); and last but not the least, AU – ECOSOCC NIGERIA. I also welcome, most heartily, Tourists and our brothers and sisters in Diaspora from North America, Brazil and the Caribbean as well as other parts of the World.

As I stand reading this speech at the podium, I am overwhelmed with emotions. Mixed emotions I should say. Mixed emotions of Nostalgia, Grief, Relief and Elation. Nostalgic feelings because I am reminded of and I reminisced on FESTAC 77 which held in Nigeria. Then, I was the Head of State and Patron, FESTAC 77.

For me, it is a familiar terrain. It’s an Island I have been to. It holds good and great memories for me. I, therefore, crave your indulgence to go back, a little, the memory lane.

This exercise back into memory is because some of the things said then still hold true today. They are
timeless and relevant even to our cause today. Permit me to utilize three quotes to buttress my point:

“Nothing is more appropriate at this time in Black and African history than a re – discovery of those cultural and Spiritual ties which bind together all Black and African peoples of the World over”

An Excerpt from my speech at FESTAC 77. If then was a more appropriate time, now is the most appropriate time. In all honesty, there is no time left especially in the face of a technologically enabled onslaught determined to exterminate our Culture via a very dangerous social media content and campaign. Take a look at our Youths today, they are less proud of their African culture and skin. Need I say more. I hasten to add that regular hosting of events like this and an aggressive technologically backed – up campaigns would help in promoting Black and African Culture and probably redeem some of our straying youths who have been deculturized, out of their own free volition, though.

An excerpt from the speech of Commander (as he was then) O P Fingesi, President of the International
Festival Committee, Organizers of FESTAC 77, readily comes to mind:

” This is indeed a moment when Black and African peoples must intensify their efforts to posit their true identity in the contemporary World. This festival represents an effort on our collective part to come together as a people so as to set in motion a new cultural awakening and Cultural awareness in the Black African World”. Fingesi’s speech probably came ahead of its time. There is no better and urgent time than now.!

His Excellency, Leopold S Senghor, then President of Senegal reached certain conclusions on FESTAC 77,
that are worthy of attention and consideration even today:

” If we wish, the second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture to be a success, as I do, we should consider its Colloquium as the most important point which should define and illustrate black civilization and above all its Spirit, that is, its Culture, which is today, the most powerful force in the Universal civilization. I am patiently waiting for the outcomes of the Colloquium and roundtables at this Festival. With the calibre of men & women assembled to lead or participate, I have no doubts that Justice would be done to the topics for discussion. However, let state clearly that whatever outcomes we come out with, they should have practical applications and not mere rhetorical or theoretical constructs and concepts as is common to most academic expenditions. I did note at the 40th anniversary of FESTAC 77, hosted by the University of Lagos but organized by the
Centre for Black Culture and Civilization (CBACC), that ” if you want to kill any group of people, if you want to destroy them, take away their culture and they would have no identity left”.

So much so about Nostalgia

I am grieved because it has taken close to 45years after the second edition before this third editioncame on board. You will recollect that the very first edition was in Dakar, Senegal in 1966. Nigeria was billed to hostthe second edition in 1970. Nigeria’s political instability and civil war didn’t permit the hosting until 1977. Let us sympathize and show understanding with Nigeria, it baffled me that no other African country came forward during those turbulent years of Nigeria. Now, let’s leave that alone, what excuse or justification do we have for over four decades hiatus. But for the Grace of God upon me and others of my generation, we wouldn’t have witnessed this. As a matter of fact, how many Heads of Governments who witnessed FESTAC 77 are alive today.

The point really is that we should take this event more seriously, have clear hosting timetable and determine intervals just like Nations Cup or the World cup.


I am relieved of my griefs by the fact that indeed and at last and to the Glory of God, in my lifetime, it has happened again, the forty – something years hiatus, nothwithstand. Though, late, not too late and certainly not too little after all, to be late is better than never.

As the Chair of Intra – African Trade Fair ( IATF) Advisory Council, it gladdens my heart and I am highly elated that Trade and Commerce have been creatively infused into the Festival via Business Expos, Investment Forum etc. This is a good and refreshing addition to the idea of the festival and a serious improvement on the ideals of it. For this I commend the organizers for their vision, fore and far Sightedness.

The Intra – African Trade Fair Advisory Council has been at the forefront of a campaign to increase trade and commerce among African nation which peaked at 19% in 2015/16 only to drop to 15% in 2018 compared to Europe which stands at 65%, this is abysmally low. It is my conviction that the trade and commerce dimensions will aid and boost results in this regard. I also hope that when the scores shall be taken after the whole exercise, the quantum of business deals struck should tower above the 2nd IATF 2021 at Durban, South Africa which exceeded $36billion dollar mark. It should set a benchmark for IATF 2023 to hold at Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire. My optimism is anchored on my firm belief that, culture and
economic development are not opposed to each other. Culture, if properly harnessed can be a major tool of Economic development.

I shall conclude by taking a return to the theme of the festival, Celebrate Your Culture : My Africa ! Your Africa ! Our Africa Network, Explore, Trade and Fun. Shall I then put it in my own way :

As you are here, physically or virtually, kindly join me to celebrate our Culture, celebrate us, celebrate with us and in the course of all that, network, explore, engage in trade and commerce and don’t forget to have plenty of fun.

Once again, my sincere gratitude and appreciation to you all.
God bless you !
God bless Africa.


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