The Gains of Nigeria Cultural Diplomacy By Frank Meke

There is no denying the fact that Nigeria can do more than well with culture as at diplomatic tool, particularly when nations and peoples are increasingly being restricted through immigration laws to fraternise and exchange ideas. To my mind, the Chinese has made a major economic, social and political inroad into most nations today including the United States and Europe through cultural diplomacy.

Since culture in the context of this discussion centres more on peoples way of life, the Chinese culinary wonder has over the years enjoyed head to head advantage over that of other older civilizations and to its advantage, the presence and acceptance of China as a world power.

Indeed, while any nation can nose dive on any economic indices, the Chinese cultural and food export index has remained healthy and growing by the day. On arrival in any city in the world, it is easier to find a Chinese restaurant than a Mexican, Japanese or Nigerian food outlet. It is a strong message which has brought good measure of global goodwill and acceptance to Chinese corporate outfits and its government foreign policy.

The famed Chinese cultural policy has brought its people respect, no wonder the Chinese mingles easily with host communities wherever they are found and usually not visited with any type of attack across the globe.

Specifically, it is on this score that one thumbs up the initiative of Lai Mohammed, our Minister of Culture and Tourism to embark on diplomatic fence mending gesture with South Africa through the “soft” window of cultural exchange and outreach.

According to the minister who smiles broadly these days and which in itself is another message to hopeful Nigerians on possible expected full restoration of our tourism rebound, the Nigerian cultural diplomatic activities will centre on joint musical concerts, films and movie production with South Africans, exhibition of the best of Nigerian delicacies and gastronomy and a showcasing interaction with the best of our Nollywood stars.

Lai Mohammed message to the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria Mr. Lulu Mnguni (pictured) will indeed be a text case of how far reaching this opportunity and initiative can help change the Nigerian tourism narratives. Though South Africans are not notable individual visitors to Nigeria, the aggressive presence of their business are all over the Nigerian map.

To end this xenophobic attack on Nigerians in that region of Africa, the Lai Mohammed cultural diplomatic tool must be well thought out and sustained. To recommend the aggression of the Chinese order will not be out of place and the winning post is to count and cultivate new generation of Nigerian adventurous gastronomic entrepreneurs that can make available our food and fashion across the globe.

That Nigerians are the most travelled in the world possibly after the Chinese, is never in doubt but checks all over the world reveals that deliberate stone walls are erected against import and export of finished Nigerian food products, making the presence of Nigerian flagship restaurant(s) very difficult to thrive outside Nigeria.

I write on this score from experience, so our minister must build bridges across other relevant government and International Agencies to create a level playing field for Nigerian culinary enterprises to break even in what has become today, the greatest weapon in diplomatic engagement.

To grow this dream, there is need for the minister to direct NCAC to come up workable plan to rebuild our foreign cultural departments as part and parcel of Nigerian foreign affairs initiative. Sadly and from experience, I had seen and noted that most of our foreign missions are poorly founded and the culture personnel poorly trained to make any meaningful impact.

There is no point to appoint or send cultural attaches to foreign lands without clear cut mandates and funds to drive this new global initiative.

If culture is to be our “new oil” and goldmine, then the National Assembly, the Ministry and its agencies must be seen to be on same page and working towards same direction. Nigeria today has a strong community presence in the United Kingdom, China, United States, Germany and UAE – Dubai to be precise but without the presence of our rich diverse gastronomic wonders.

However, I must commend the government of Dubai for the very growth of Nigerian restaurants which abound in that country. It is not so in Germany, Spain, the United States and in China where deliberate road blocks are placed against “free” import of our finished food products.

This stumbling block has made it difficult for the Nigerian communities in these places and their friends from sustaining interaction on Nigerian foods and culture. The restrictions which the minister and NCAC boss Segun Runsewe must thrive to remove, has age long negative impact on the real penetration, acceptance and understanding of the hospitable nature of the Nigerian people.

Again, Minister Mohammed has shown “talk initiative” on cultural diplomacy, the true test lies in the aggressive and deliberate execution of this agenda beyond South Africa. Welcome to the oldest game in world diplomacy, Mr. Minister. I am with you on this one!!