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Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The ‘Donation’ – Pt. 2

By Andrew Mulenga

As much as the Norwegian embassy in Lusaka’s donation of 40 works to the Lechwe Trust Collection has brought a certain degree of approval within the Zambian visual arts community, there are concerns towards the impending departure of the Norwegians themselves, however, Ambassador Arve Ofstad assured Zambia that bilateral collaborations in the field of arts and culture will possibly remain open-ended.

Here I am, 1997, ebony, sand-stone, metal,
122 x 71 x 48.5 cm by Flinto Chandia
(Photo credit: Lechwe Trust)
Addressing invited members of the diplomatic community, prominent collectors and personalities on the local art scene, representatives of arts organisations, government institutions, the media and artists during the opening of “Donation” the on-going commemorative exhibition at the Lusaka National Museum, he expressed confidence that the donation will contribute towards an early realisation of the Lechwe Trust’s long term ambitions to create a permanent display of contemporary Zambian art that will help preserve national cultural heritage and benefit locals and visiting tourists.

“Most of the artworks on display were acquired by the Embassy during the 1990s, a period when the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) explicitly supported cultural nation-building through individual artists, art institutions, as well as the organisation of arts in Zambia,” stated the ambassador who has been head of mission for the past five years.

He pointed out that through NORAD, his government funded activities such as renovations of the Henry Tayali Visual Arts Centre in Lusaka, support towards the Visual Arts Council offices in Livingstone and Chipata.

“This collaboration also directly involved several Norwegian artists, who were greatly inspired by their Zambian experience. This productive interaction continues to this day involving Norwegian institutions such as the Academy of Fine Art (Kunstakademiet) in Oslo and Kunstbanken Hedmark Kunstsenter, in Hamar,” he continued.

Before attempting to clarify his embassy impending closure, he stated that the display of artworks was part of Zambia’s continued cultural nation-building and the individual works were building blocks in her identity, and as such, they constitute part of the world’s cultural exchange. A heritage he stated, that will continue to be shared in the future.

Ambassador Arve Ofstad and
Lechwe Trust Chairperson
Cynthia Zukas exchange art catalogues
at the Lusaka National Museum
(Photo by Andrew Mulenga)
“Let me now add a few words about the closing of Norway’s Embassy in Lusaka. I am not happy about this, but it is a decision by my Minister of Foreign Affairs, who has to make the best use of Norway’s resources in order to promote Norway’s interests in the world, in the same way as Zambia has to prioritise its resources for diplomatic representations.

“The decision-makers in Norway believe that our development aid is even more needed in other countries, which are poorer than Zambia, or more affected by natural or political crises. Norway wishes to focus our cooperation on fewer countries and sectors,” he added.

He maintained that at the same time, Norwegian business interests were growing in Zambia, although not yet well established and that perhaps in the future, a growth of commercial interest, tourism and other interactions may warrant a re-opening of the Embassy.

“Let me add, with reference to an article in the Post Newspaper today, that I feel I have been quoted somewhat out of context, or maybe I did not express myself clearly enough. It is correct that we from the Norwegian side have been concerned about some development issues and challenges in Zambia, as in fact many Zambians also feel. But these issues are not the reason for closing the embassy,” stated the ambassador.

Mother and child breast-feeding, 1993, oil on canvas,
137 x 107 cm by Dabson Njobvu
He stated that he hoped for more opportunities to clarify the departure and that he hopes the countries share common interests in promoting democracy, peaceful development, and women’s emancipation and as such the two countries will find common grounds in international platforms for the promotion of these values.

“I am sad to leave a Zambia where there are still so many development challenges. I nevertheless hope that the Embassy has left behind some positive footprints, and as I have said on other occasions, Norway is not leaving Zambia, we just have to find new ways of communication. I trust that we will meet again,” stated Ofstad.

In a related story by Mukosha Funga published in the Sunday Post of 10 April under the headline “It’s pointless to keep funding a country that can’t manage its own resources – Ofstad”, ambassador Ofstad asserted a more caustic tone insinuating corruption and the lack of certain mineral resources among the main reasons for the departure.

“…there was also the feeling that the anti-corruption fight has been going very much up and down and we feel that when a country doesn’t make enough use of its own resources, is not doing well enough in terms of public resource management, in terms of its distributional policies, then we should leave,” read Ofstad’s quote in part.

Township, 1990, oil on canvas by Style Kunda
According to the article, he went on further to state: “Norway’s external interests outside are very much linked to oil and there is no oil in this country, and related to the marine, shipping industry, there is no harbour in this country, so it is difficult to say that Norwegian companies will be coming very strongly but there are some coming in agriculture and in energy and maybe that will grow further.”

Further addressing the tourism question he declared that as much as there is fantastic wildlife in Zambia, the tourism industry is undeveloped and Norwegians had been losing their passports here so they have found it was more necessary to keep their embassies elsewhere.

Nevertheless, this latest donation to Lechwe Trust is its second gift from a departing European embassy, the first being that presented by the defunct Royal Netherlands Embassy who similarly donated works by Zambians in the guise of supporting cultural heritage in 2013. Anyhow, in a speech read on behalf of Minister of Tourism and Arts, Jean Kapata by permanent secretary Stephen Mwansa during the opening of the “Donation” exhibition, she was grateful for the assistance from the broader diplomatic community and pleaded for continued support towards the arts.

Copies of the Donation catalogue are available
from the Lusaka National Museum and the
Henry Tayali Gallery in Lusaka
“I want to put on record that the Zambian cultural sector, particularly the arts, received the biggest donor support ever from Zambia’s development cooperation with Norway, and this support covered all the art disciplines; namely, visual arts, music, theatre, dance, media and literary arts. Norway has truly been a friend,” read the speech in part. In conclusion, her speech was a direct appeal to the ambassadors present to consider as parting gifts the donation of their old embassy buildings to the people of Zambia for use as national galleries -- whenever a consulate is leaving.

The announcement of the departure and remarks from Ofstad however attracted swift condemnation from Oslo-based Victor Mutelekesha, one of Zambia’s leading visual arts exports to Norway in an e-mail dated April 19 addressed to the ambassador and copied to several Zambian media houses.

“I read with disappointment that you will be closing down the Norwegian Embassy in Zambia largely due to corruption. This is the decision Norway has made so I can’t stop that. But I have few questions that need answering because siting corruption as the reason for closing down the embassy is slightly misguiding and gives a very wrong impression about Zambia,” wrote the 40 –year old who studied has a BA and MA Fine Arts from the National Arts Academy in Oslo and has lived there for 15 years exhibiting extensively partially through Norwegian government grants and awards.

He argued that Angola ranks among the 6 lowest countries on the transparency international corruption index list (2015) and yet Norway was maintaining an embassy there. He further argued that according to the same transparency listing , Zambia ranked number 76 on the corruption index beating Tanzania at 117, Kenya at 139, Uganda at 139, China at 86, Russia at 119, Nigeria at 136 and Malawi where the Norwegian embassy is relocating to sis at 112.
“Unless it’s something I haven't read or come across, but I know that your current government’s Policy is to realign its global strategy/commitments and closing and relocating some embassies is one way of doing that,” continued Mutelekesha “Yes there is corruption in Zambia and there is misappropriation of money here and there but if that was the main reason of leaving Zambia then I truly expect Norway to close more than half its embassies around the world, unless otherwise. Mr Ambassador, complete truth goes a long way in establishing young democracies. Injecting blame politics at such a crucial moment in Zambia’s election calendar doesn’t help.”  

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