If Africa is going to move away from being seen as a homogenous entity with intractable problems, then it is essential to create an environment for discussion where Africa is seen, not only in a positive light, but also in a rounded way. […] One needs to present diversity in a rounded way, not merely counteract negative images. (Pravina King)
Scotland Africa ’97 was a nation-wide initiative started by the Centre of African Studies at the University of Edinburgh. With planning beginning as early as 1994 and the first influx of funding being received from The Binks Trust in 1995, the initiative encompassed an astonishingly large number of events all throughout Scotland, and attracted the participation of a range of institutions and organisations both within Scotland and around the African continent.
The primary aims of the initiative are described in an introductory brochure as being:
- To increase the awareness, understanding, and appreciation of Africa among people of Scotland;
- To examine the many bonds which, from the past and in the present, intimately link Africa and Scotland;
- To highlight the current issues which influence the daily lives of people in the many countries of Africa and in Scotland.
In a 1998 interview over the impact of the Scotland Africa ’97 project, general coordinator Pravina King of the Centre of African Studies stated:
Scotland has had such a long relationship with many African countries, especially certain former British Colonies, covering spheres such as education, medicine and governance.
It was exactly these connections that were celebrated by the Scotland Africa ’97 programme, with events and workshops ranging from the visual and performing arts, to lectures and seminars, social and historical exhibitions, children’s activities, fairs, and even sporting events, all taking place between May and October 1997. With funding from prestigious institutions such as The Scottish Arts Council and the City of Edinburgh Council, as well as the University of Edinburgh, the programme certainly proved to be ‘a celebration and exploration of the rich diversity of experience that link Africa to Scotland and vice-versa,’ so much so that it gained the patronage of the Princess Royal as well as South African President Nelson Mandela, who stated in a letter to the Director of the Centre of African Studies, Dr Kenneth King, to have been ‘pleased and honoured for receiving such a prestigious invitation.’
Visits from the Black Umfolosi acapella and dance performance group, the Ghanian choir of the Presbyterian Training College of Akropong – Akuapem, and a number of African authors, artists and academics who offered public lectures and seminars were only a few of the highlights of Scotland Africa ’97. A fundraising dinner was organised by the University of Edinburgh in support of a scholarship for a student from Africa to study at the Centre of African Studies, and Professor Olywole Akinwande Soyinka was recognised with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science in Social Science for ‘his contributions as educator, social commentator, and activist’ as well as ‘his plays, his poetry and his writing.’ The impressive and diverse range of activities and connections fostered by Scotland Africa ’97 was characterised by a positive spirit of community and cultural exchange, in which traditions, artistic outputs, and daily issues could be openly discussed and explored through a variety of media and practices.