What African (Sub-Saharan, of course) elements can be found in the capital on the Vistula? Our diplomatic representation is rather symbolic as for half a hundred countries on the continent (apart from six countries north of Sahara). Only DR Congo, South Africa, Nigeria and Angola have their embassies in Warsaw. To this a few consulates can be added (Guinea, Senegal, Gambia and Ghana). African cuisine can be tasted in only two restaurants. In the Saska Kepa district, on Francuska street there is the cosy Cafe Baobab serving Senegalese food, with a beautiful exhibition of photographs from the family album. Another Western African restaurant is the Nigerian Home Africa Bar in the Wola district. The honour of African shopkeepers is defended by the Ethiopian arts shop Sztuka Etiopska on Krucza street, offering traditional handicrafts and, among others, Coptic crosses.
The African Centre. Such an institution would be certainly useful. No doubt about that. A multifunctional venue with a restaurant, a concert hall (also for film viewings, conferences and panel discussions) and an exhibition room. It would be a place of meetings, a place of multi-cultural exchange open to all African artists and the diaspora. Such a centre would promote the music and arts of Africa and the rest of the world. Film festivals showing movies from different parts of Africa, panel discussions, literary and poetic evenings as well as other cultural events would be a step towards restoring an objective view of the African continent. After all, Africa has so much to offer in every field of art. If writers like the Congolese Alain Mabanckou or talewriter Kama Sywor Kamanda came to Warsaw, they would have a place to interact with the African diaspora and Polish readers.
The biggest African population in Warsaw can be found at the 10th anniversary stadium. That's first of all where Nigerians run their informal businesses. Another group are students and graduates of Polish universities. The latter have set up families and found work.
Why do we need such a centre? First of all because knowledge about Africa among Poles is scant. Surprisingly, one of the most prominent experts in African affairs went under the name of Ryszard Kapuściński and hailed from Poland! How many African literary works can be found in Warsaw public libraries? Africa has a very rich literary output, unfortunately hardly known, not only in Poland.
What project? The African Centre in the centre of Warsaw, where the African diaspora and the Polish people can find books by African authors, documentaries shot by Africans or authorized by African historians, magazines, music. And speaking of music I don't just mean popular entertainment like Papa Wemba, Magic System or Awilo Longomba, but also more ambitious artists such as Salif Keita, Miriam Makeba, Fela Kuti, Pierre Akendengue, Ladysmith Black Mambazo or Richard Bona.
There should be as many books about Africa as possible. And it's not about competing with the National Library or the University of Warsaw Library (who knows if Africa figures there at all). The centre would offer annual subscription. Its goal would be to promote the cultures of Africa through the literary works of African writers.
The centre would need to be promoted not only in the media but also through patronage. Here of help could be such portals as Afryka.org, Kontynent Warszawa and a new platform called Afrix.org (in four languages: Polish, French, English and Portuguese) as well as diplomatic institutions. One must not forget African-friendly MPs, Polish artists or firms with operations in African countries.
And funding? I am convinced that a well-prepared project can obtain an EU subsidy, with the support of embassies, the city council and other institutions.
It is important for the centre to be independent not only because we have a lot to say about global issues: what slavery did to us; what development aid should look like; who deliberately spoils the image of Africa and insults our continent by claiming it's the origin of AIDS; what tolerance means for us; what our poetry is like; what religious traditions there are; what the origin of our whopping debt is...
The centre would also create several jobs for Africans. We have graduates in various fields – history, economics, literature or accounting – who could breath life into this place.
Such an institution would become another friendly place on the map of Warsaw. Everywhere else African literature is buried in the so-called Third World pile. As if the term has existed for ever. It's time to distinguish our literature, as it is no third part of anything. Every foreigner or a Pole coming to Warsaw will be able to say: „I'm going to the African Centre or to the Zachęta gallery.”
That's what we must aim at!
Text by: Mamadou Diouf
Translated by: Alicja Minda