Posts Tagged ‘FESMAN’

If you work for the State…you won’t get paid!

March 22, 2011

Time for a bit of rant.

An old friend used to run a public space embellishment agency. Was in deep trouble because he had done his work and was now waiting for payment: from the local authorities.

Senegal is replete with these stories. It’s what the president, sorry His Majesty, sorry The All-Seeing and All-Knowing One, has famously called “the informalisation” of everything. You see, this government does not like contracts and such like very much. Backroom arrangements are much more convenient.

This is, of course, the stuff of politics. Take, for instance, the case of Bara Tall, a celebrated local entrepreneur who has been building roads and other infrastructure for the State – and is still waiting for his money. But instead of being pad for his troubles…he was put on trial for fraud.

Did he over-invoice? We don’t know. But his real crime was having a political partner who, over time, became the mortal enemy of the president (Google “chantiers de Thiès” for background). That’s why his life and business had to be destroyed; first by non-payment, then by a politically motivated court case. Like all ruling families past and present, the Borgias, the Blairs, the Mugabes and the Clintons – the Wades are ruthlessly efficient in that respect.

Unfortunately for them, Bara Tall is fighting back – and so far, he’s winning. Last week, a court ordered the state to pay him some of the money he is due.

And while on the topic – remember this one?

No, you don’t. Like most Senegalese, who have happily forgotten about it. But on March 9th this year I read a story about a young gifted kora player Noumoucounda Cissoko, who stunned the audience with his virtuosity on the opening night. Three months later, he’s still waiting for his money. He should have gone over to the Trade Fair Grounds, picked up one of those Apple G5 Desktop Computers doing sweet bugger all there – and hey presto!

You know, sometimes, just sometimes, one would wish that the usual “We have turned the page, let’s forget it” – or “Well, I am sure my money will come insh’allah” would make way for a little bit more, er, bite. I’m no fan of predatory lawyers US-style but Christ, in instances such as these, the only right response is of course: “Sue the ß@$+@Â∆$ till they bleed”.

It is all very well to say that this is not according to cultural mores. I prefer to live in a polite society and Senegal is a very polite society. But here is a fact: the shysters who organise this theft fest no longer live in this society. They orbit out there, in a gangland of their own making. They have forfeited the right to protection under Senegal’s politeness rules.

Quick one – Relentless… resumes shortly

January 8, 2011

But this is quite stunning…

Remember that Global Festival of the Black Arts, Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres, last month? No, you probably don’t, since it ended December 31st and few outside the circle of the organisers had heard about it. Anyway, here’s a link.

Let’s look away from the massive amount of money wasted on AppleMacs, luxury cars, contracts to chums of the Royal Family. This happens everywhere.

No. Let’s take a look at some of the people who have made this whole thing possible.

The technicians on and off the stage, who worked up to 20 hours a day (and sometimes longer) to prepare the stage, get the sounds and the lights and everything else right.

Tell you what? They haven’t been paid. It was promised – but they haven’t been paid.

The hostesses, ready smiles, troubleshooters, standing outside calming irate visitors because yet another conference had been called off…Working hours could be anything up to 12 hours, sometimes more.

Tell you what? They haven’t been paid. It was promised – but they haven’t been paid.

And yesterday, local daily Le Populaire tells us that the folks of the communications department, who had to deal with ill-tempered journalists who needed their accreditation like yesterday, the folks who had to tell the rest of the visitors about the never-ending changes in the programme…

Tell you what? No, this is getting boring. Now, read this instead…

A word to the organisers. Don’t talk – ever again! – about this having been a celebration of Black Arts or the African Renaissance and all the rest of your flowery phrase-turning – when you cannot be bothered to pay your own people who have worked and worked and worked and worked and worked some more…

You ought to be utterly ashamed of yourselves. But you probably aren’t.


FESMAN – one more week and one last thought

December 24, 2010

The Senegalese have a great sense of decorum. Europeans are far less equipped in that department. So one morning, we get an earful from an irate French woman who, like me, has missed a conference. Her parting shot: ‘…and then they expect us to take blacks seriously!!!!’ She was, without a doubt, enormously impressed with herself. What an annihilating parting shot!

She is, of course, dead wrong.

First, you must make a clear distinction between the previous two Global Festivals for the Black Arts (1966 and 1977) and this edition. The first two had the Arts in the centre. This one does not. It has the Ruling Family and Its Party in the centre and they use FESMAN to show off.

The newly rich and powerful (or in this case: both) always buy art. Not for the art itself – they don’t give a toss. No: it’s all about them. Look at me! How sophisticated I am!

But, and this is the second point, FESMAN is also a gathering of excellent people. You should enjoy it for the quality available. Just ignore the monstrously bad organisation; this mess is the logical consequence of who the organisers are.

The French woman has it backwards. She’s also in the worst possible position to make any statements about “taking blacks seriously”. Not even because she hails from the former coloniser. More so, because there are a lot of Francophone cultural circles in Africa where the colonial party has never ended. Just take a look at all those incestuous little gatherings at supposedly “African” cultural happenings…and feel your stomach churn. The cinema festival Fespaco in Ouagadougou was like that – until the Nigerians and South Africa broke up that cozy little côterie.  Here’s hoping that the Bamako Photo Biennale will be next. On and on it goes.

This festival is not about the Black Arts, it certainly is not for the Black Arts. But we don’t need some spoiled inconvenienced French visitor to remind us of that simple fact.

Fesman glimpses and it ain’t pretty

December 23, 2010

The Global Festival of the Black Arts (Fesman, in French) was originally planned for December 2009. It also costs something like 70 billion CFA Francs, according to the Gazette, a decent weekly here. That’s a cool €107 million. So here’s the question: what the @##!!$$ have the organisers been doing with all that time and all that money. Because Fesman is, in all honesty, a bloody shambles. Take a look at these:

1. In Walfadjri (one of Dakar’s better newspapers) today, the report of a bitter press conference by the architects who were supposed to have had their public conference about architecture and urban development in Africa, an incredibly important issue. They were, according to this report, chiefly talking among themselves and some of their exhibition material never left Customs. Fesman did not pony up the cash to have it released.

2. Upstairs from the restaurant area at the exhibition space CICES: two tables. Parked on top of them, still in their plastic packaging: eight brand new Apple G5 desktop computers. These things ain’t cheap. I bought mine four years ago for €1,700. Do the math, that’s easily 20 grand parked there, without supervision. Three days later I pass the same scene. They haven’t been used once. Ten days on, some have been switched on but left standing. In the “children’s corner…’ There’s only one word for that: waste.

3. Same week, the Gazette reports that the festival has splashed just shy of eleven million euros on roughly one hundred luxury vehicles, acquired through a non-existing company, Six Senegal. You get the picture, right?

a fleur de presse. The lady on the cover is the president's daughter and therefore a Fesman top boss.

4. I meet a local musician who tells me that the organisers had not even considered him for the music programme, even though he lives and works in Dakar. Then, he tells me he gets an SMS in which a show is announced – featuring himself and a few colleagues. An SMS…riiiiight.

So basically, I ask him: you don’t know exactly when you are supposed to play, you don’t know where you are going to play, there is no contract and you have no time to rehearse. ‘That’s right,’ he says, ‘and that’s why I will be demanding cash up front. Otherwise, we won’t go. Besides, I have my own show coming up soon. I’ll concentrate on that – and my new clip. Fesman is secondary.’

5. The mayor of Saint Louis claims that his city’s organising committees never received any info about the Global Festival of the Black Arts. Corroborated by a few members in the organising committees. Quote: ‘In the morning we don’t know who will show up in the evening.’ Now this actually makes perfect sense: Saint Louis is run by the Opposition and this is very strictly a Dakar Showcase for the Ruling Family and Its Party.

6. Those hundreds of pretty festival hostesses in a special festival dress! Well, they only perk up when strictly necessary. Most of the time they spend talking among themselves, because the guests have – once again – failed to show up. Tell you what: when you are supposed to smile at incoming celebrities and VIPs but you don’t get paid as promised  (according to a report in Le Populaire), you quietly decide that said celebrities and VIPs can go %%##@@ themselves. You just don’t tell anyone.

PS: just done a spot check. They still haven’t been paid. There is a word for that but we’re trying to run a decent blog here…

7. Taximen!! Too may cars chasing too little money. Fesman would be manna from heaven…er…forget it. Quote: ‘We get nothing out of this festival. I tell you: nothing!’ All guests are transported by one and the same company, Senecartours. Here’s how.

‘Fesman?’ asks a man. Just him and the driver on a 40-seater passenger bus. ‘We’re going to town.’ I was actually just leaving for lunch in my own neigbourhood restaurant – otherwise I would have had an entire bus to myself. That’s why taximen don’t even bother to show up at the festival hotels and the festival sites. All business gone… and if you want to know how one company got to hog all Fesman transport, a trip to the Ruling Party headquarters might be instructive…the Fesman main site sits right opposite…

8. I really could go on. A few well-connected individuals and by chance also some small businesses are doing OK out of the festival but for most it’s like the FIFA World Cup in 2010: hot air, empty promises and no cash.

Some final thoughts on Fesman – tomorrow.

Random Exhibitions

December 19, 2010

Around the corner from my flat is CICES, a giant exhibition area. Every city’s got one – think of the RAI complex if you’re from Amsterdam.

CICES plays host to a series of conferences on cities, architecture and, as I found out by accident, cinema. All part of the massively disorganised shambles known as the Global Festival for the Black Arts, FESMAN being the French acronym. The Black Arts deserve a lot better than this presidential glorification party but I’ll stop boring you to tears with that…

So: last Monday, I went looking for the conference on cities, which finally took place – on Wednesday. I walked around the exhibition area…building site more like…when I was called. “Kai lekk!”, which means come and eat.

So instead of listening to some drone from academia discuss asymmetrical parallels (no, none of us knows what that means) or conceptual processes, deconstructivism (all in the conference program)…I was having thieboudien with Momar Thiam and his younger colleague, Mr Kassé. Thieboudien: – look that up, it’s among the top ten best dishes on the planet.

They were setting up an exhibition about the history of Senegalese cinema. Also intended to be a strong argument for a national museum of the national cinema. They don’t have to look far; Mr Thiam, himself a film director, keeps all the historical billboards, artefacts, press clippings and everything else…in his own home.

The caretaker of national cinema - and his private collection

Come last Saturday, five days after my first visit – and Mr Thiam’s exhibition is ready. The adjacent one on architecture still reverberates to the sounds of hammers pounding nails. There are very few visitors. Which he finds, quite naturally, disappointing. But he soldiers through with the interviews (first me, for Radio Netherlands, then a colleague for TV5) and still hopes that after years of non-committa promises, he will finally get his museum. I hope so too. But instead of a new home for Mr Thiam’s wonderful collection, we’re more likely to get this:

another monument that will dwarf another landmark...

This is from the architecture exhibition, featuring some work on traditional abodes in Benin, dwellings in Mauritania, a completely random set of new buildings and cityscapes in Ouagadougou, Accra, Dakar  and Bamako – and designs. Lots and lots of designs.

Like the one above.

This is not a copy of the “sail” building in Dubai. Nor is it the locally planned equivalent of a section of the Sydney Opera House. No. It’s…a Monument, a Memorial. We don’t nearly have enough of these in Dakar. It will sit off the historical island of Gorée, which over centuries of Portuguese, Dutch, French and English rule acted as a transit port for spices, hides, gold, gum arabic and most notoriously, slaves. Gorée’s role, though, has been much exaggerated; the main centre of the slave trade in Senegal was the old capital, St. Louis.

If this ever gets built, it will dwarf everything on this tiny island – just 900 metres long and a few hundred metres wide. It’s estimated to cost something of the order of €35m – that’s more than that other Monument. No-one will like it but the president wants it and what the president wants, happens.

Back to the lives of lesser mortals. On my way out of the CICES complex I ran into two young men from Pikine, miles and miles away. ‘We’re not connected to FESMAN…’ Well, that makes you part of the vast majority of Senegalese…

‘This is our marketing: walking around with our arts.’ Would I come and visit them? Definitely, as they gave away glimpses of their lives in the few minutes we spoke: failed overseas migration, life in one of Dakar’s poorest areas, struggling to make money through arts and not being shy about wandering into a party to which they were obviously not invited.

Moral of the story? Ignore official programs. Always accept an invitation to eat. Talk to everyone who does not carry an official badge.