French visa ban controversy: Nigerien artists refuse to let culture be “taken away”

Yacouba Moumouni, flutist and singer

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This Nigerien flutist and singer has a message. It is one directed at France, his country’s former colonial power who has banned cultural venues from collaborating with artists from his country.

“The French should respect us. If we say “ah I’m not going to give a visa” that’s like saying to a child “ah if you don’t do that, I can’t buy you a sweet.” We are not at that level, we have gone beyond that.” Yacouba Moumouni says. He is not alone with this view and message.

In Niger, artists are reacting to this amongst other issues that includes France’s decision to suspend visa issuance to nationals of the country.

“We will not beg. We are companies of the world. We are artists of the world. And the world has to deal with us. We can’t remove our cultures from the world’s culture”, Rachid Ramane, President of the Federation of Artistic and Cultural Associations of Niger says.

“Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali are experiencing problems today, and not the least of them. It’s not too much to ask for independence and autonomy. People should understand us” Ramane stressed.

On Thursday, a letter sent out by the French General Directorates for Cultural Affairs to national drama and choreography centers called for an immediate halt to all projects involving nationals from Niger Mali and Burkina Faso.

Garba Mahamane Lawali, director of the Niger musical training and promotion center believes any culture that doesn’t open up, that closes in on itself, is a culture destined to die. “In Africa, we thank God we are open to everyone, and if it’s not because we can’t go to France, we have Africa, we have the other parts of the world. All they have to do is close themselves off. They will see if they can evolve. All they have to do is to be more moderate. It’s a time… it’s a time when they need to have the intelligence to face up to this new era.”

Led by military juntas who sacked democratically elected presidents from power, Niger Mali and Burkina Faso are currently engaged in a diplomatic row with their former colonial power France.

On 29 July and 6 August, France suspended all its development aid and budget support operations with Niger and Burkina Faso. It had already done so for Mali in November 2022.

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