Artistic freedom is becoming an incentive in the Gambia’s literary and cultural development by individual Gambians and various creative industries. It continues to beef up as the product of collaborative efforts involving women and young girls, experts, researchers, agencies, institutions, and the Government. With time evolving and the change of government in 2016, many Gambians are now expressing themselves through the medium of arts to exercise their inalienable rights to artistic freedom. The establishment of the National Human Rights Commission of the Gambia (NHRC) in 2019, has enabled various Gambian artists/writers to exteriorize the importance of a full spectrum application of human and fundamental rights in relation to artistic freedom and their users.
In the Gambia, the National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC) harmonizes the application of artistic freedom and its development by member-organizations in accordance with existing cultural policies. One of such instruments is the 2004 Copyright Act of the Gambia that seeks to mainstream artistic freedom by Gambian artists across social, cultural, economic, environmental, political, scientific and technological domains – and acknowledged their importance for peace-building, sustainable development, and reconciliation processes in society.
The Copyright Act urges the taking of concrete, long-term and sustainable measures at every level to promote, protect and advocate for the rights of the Gambian Creative Industries, and especially, to support efforts of individual artists living in and outside the country.
Various strategies and strategy instructions were made and given higher priority by the Government of the Gambia in the past four years. Below are the existing policies and statutory instruments made to support the growth of artistic freedom for individuals and cultural and creative institutions in The Gambia:
- The Gambia National Infrastructure and Communications Act (NICI ACT)
- The Copyright Act, 2004
- The Copyright Regulations 2019
- The National Centre for Arts and Culture Act 2007
- The Gambia Information and Communications Act 2001
- The Newspaper Registration (Amendment) Act 2004
- The Criminal Code (Amendment) Act 2004
- Industrial Property Amendment Act 2015, etc.
The Gambia’s major policy and measures to support artistic freedom and the development of creative establishments is the NCAC Act from which a database of Gambian writers was developed to promote the artistic freedom of various Gambian creators in the literary arts. The Writers’ Association of the Gambia (WAG) has formulated this draft article on artistic freedom which has informed relevant aspects of the National Human Rights Commission of the Gambia (NHRC) Act 2019. Where the founding-president of the Writers’ Association of the Gambia (WAG), Dr Cherno Omar Barry, is currently the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission of the Gambia.
The NCAC Act has also encouraged the establishment of various groups such as, the Music Union, Slam Poetry groups, choir groups and artists’ clubs where individual Gambian creators had begun to express their artistic rights and freedom in filmmaking, singing, theatre and writing. The NCAC has also conducted national training on artistic freedom and cultural rights for over 100 artist youth-led organizations and continue to use them as advocacy tools for the development and promotion of artistic freedom in The Gambia.
To ensure a vivacious artistic freedom rights, the NCAC Act defines a person’s freedom to use his or her chosen language as a prerequisite to freedom of thought, freedom of opinion and expression, access to education, health and information, cultural expression, and other rights similar to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The extraordinary and diverse richness of indigenous peoples of the Gambia and their languages, which embody indigenous knowledge, hold the intimate understanding of their distinct nationwide and worldviews, perspectives and ways of life.
In 2019, the WAG conducted a summer training on creative writing for 50 young Gambian writers. This was funded by the US Embassy in Banjul. It was meant to raise awareness on artistic freedom and also harness the skills of young writers.
The Writers’ Association has initiated the ‘Read Only Gambian Books Literary Programme’ to allow the use of 70% of Gambian books in our school curriculums. This initiative also promoted the use of indigenous people’s languages of the Gambia and their revitalization with diverse challenges that require a multifaceted and integrated approach in addressing political, economic, social, cultural, environmental, institutional, health-related, educational artistic freedom issues, communication and information, as well as the whole field of scientific and technological endeavor for the well-being and sustainable development of Gambians.
Among the notable books that had been approved by the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education of the Gambia (MoBSE) over the years for use in junior, secondary and tertiary institutions as supplementary reading materials includes:
- Gendered Voices by Prof. Dr. Pierre Gomez, Mr. Hassoum Ceesay and Madam Isatou Ndow
- The Shock by Michael Hamadi Secka
- The Memories of Reflection by Modou Lamin Age-Almusaf Sowe (Modou Lamin Sowe)
- The Magic Calabash by Nana Grey-Johnson
- When The Monkey Talks by Baaba Sillah
- Costly Prices by Ramatoulie O. Othman, etc
Implementing and coordinating agency for artistic freedom rights of cultural and creative institutions and industries in the Gambia had been the overall duty of the National Council for Arts and Culture for the past four years, but the key partners in the implementation of cultural and creative policies and measures are:
- The Writers’ Association of The Gambia (WAG)
- The Music Union of the Gambia
- The Fashion Designers Association
- The Photographers Association
- The Gambia Theatre Association
- The Gambia Association of Filmmakers,
- The Gambia Music Producers Association, etc
Citing from the National Conference on Artistic Freedom organized by the WAG in 2019 on the theme “role of linguistic diversity in building an artistic freedom community with shared future: protection, access and promotion of language resources”, communities have had the capability to define their own needs, expectations, and requirements. It is therefore crucial that the major players in the creative industry, private sector and donor community had paid a serious attention to the rights of artists and their freedom when developing services, products and solutions, including digital platforms.
Efforts are being intensified to create the Artist Endowment Fund by the NCAC in order to support artistic and cultural projects in The Gambia. The Artist Registration Card scheme of the NCAC also seeks to ease mobility of Gambian artists and their needs and interests, as cultural actors.
Many projects and initiatives, including research activities, within public and private sectors as -well as donor community – have considered a “twining” partnership under which budgets have made available a share for the adaptation and customization of such activities to artistic freedom, in addition to the budgets devoted to such activities per sector.
In 2019, Facebook limited developed its application in Wolof, one of the National languages of The Gambia. This will surely be a great measure to foster creativity and freedom of expression globally for Gambians.
The National Artistic Freedom Conference focused on key internationally recognized legal instruments:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965),
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966),
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (1990),
The Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992),
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006),
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), as well as the work of international human rights treaty and other bodies in this field.
Presently, there are fifty-five independent artistic associations and thirty-nine community based organizations (CBOs) exercising their full artistic freedom in The Gambia, and twelve of them were created by the NCAC through the Act. The new Gambia is undergoing series of evolutions with the establishment of more private newspapers, TV channels, and FM stations— thereby creating the avenue where creative actors are expressing themselves freely.
The Gambia has and currently experiencing a new system of democracy where individual citizens and the creative associations and industries are fearlessly expressing their grievances adequately in various forms of arts.
By Modou Lamin Age-Almusaf Sowe, Secretary General, WAG
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