Decolonising Minds: The Pan-African Cultural Festival

As Algeria prepares this month to host the second Pan-African Cultural Festival, with 48 countries participating, Martin Evans describes the original festival held 40 years ago in Algiers and the spirit of creativity and anti-colonialism that defined it.

On July 21st, 1969, 4,000 artists converged on Algiers for the first Pan-African Cultural Festival. Representing 31 nations from across the continent, painters, poets, photographers, musicians and intellectuals transformed the streets into a meeting place of creative culture. Energy, idealism and optimism abounded as for the next ten days the Algerian capital pulsated to the sound of music and debate long into the hot, balmy nights. It was without doubt a high point in post-independence Africa. Coming together in this way, the Algiers Festival embodied the belief that, free from imperialism at last, Africans had the capacity to shape their own history.

The idea for a Pan-African Cultural Festival originated with the Organisation of African Unity two years earlier. Algeria was chosen to host and coordinate the event because of its unique place within the decolonisation process. This was the country that had fought the longest and bloodiest war of liberation, winning independence from France in 1962 after eight years of conflict and 132 years of colonial rule. This was the country, too, whose struggle had produced the prophet of the African revolution: Frantz Fanon (1925-61).

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