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Nollywood as a tool for International Rebranding & Diplomacy

By: George Ndukwu
 Published May 26th, 2010

Diplomacy is the normal means of conducting International Relations. The present Nigerian government has set up a policy of Citizens diplomacy as our foreign policy thrust. It should be noted that this is however, the first time any Nigerian government has enunciated a clear cut foreign policy objective since independence.

Sometimes international relations is portrayed as a distant and abstract ritual conducted by a small group of people such as Presidents and Diplomats. This picture is not an accurate one. Although Leaders do play a major role in international affairs, some other people participate as well. Other citizens participate any time they vote in an election, they buy a Product or Service traded in the world markets and every time they watch the news, films and other programmes on television. Global communications are profoundly changing how information and culture function in international relations. The media over which information travels - telephones, films, magazines and so forth shape the way ideas take form and spread from one place to another. According to UNESCO, there are about one and half billion television sets worldwide.

According to Wikipedia, Films are cultural artifacts created by specific cultures, which reflect those cultures and, in turn, affect them. Film is considered to be an important art form, a source of popular entertainment and a powerful method for educating or indoctrinating citizens. The visual elements of cinema gives motion pictures a universal power of communication. Films are the most influential medium in the society today. Without a word of dialogue, images rendered on a screen can evoke many different emotional responses

The thrust of this write up is to attempt an expository analysis on the use of our own motion picture industry to launder the image of our dear country abroad through International Rebranding and Diplomacy. Diplomacy has developed various instruments and techniques of formal and informal penetration. One of the pervasive of these is Propaganda - the use of radio, press, motion picture and other methods of making a direct appeal to Peoples rather than to governments through formal channels.

Diplomacy is no longer confined to political and economic relations, its activities now embrace the whole field of educational and cultural relations. While this is as Charles Frankel termed it “the neglected part of foreign affairs” it is now receiving attention and is becoming increasingly important. That is why Nigeria must key in into this aspect of diplomacy so as to establish and achieve desirable cultural policy objectives. It requires the cooperation of many people in both official and unofficial positions and it gives greater depth to our Nation’s relationships with other countries. It means that our diplomacy will not just be governments dealing with governments, but also citizens speaking to citizens of different nations. .

Cultural Imperialism
The emerging global culture is primarily the culture of the white Europeans and their descendants. The information revolution carrying global culture into our midst is, despite its empowering potential, an invasive force in practice. This dominance has been referred to as cultural imperialism.

Most communication over the worlds broadcast networks is neither news or sports but drama, soap operas, films, situation comedies(SIT-COMS), documentaries etc. Here cultural imperialism is strong, because so many films and TV shows originate in Hollywood [home of U.S. movie industry]. So there is need for us in Nigeria to replicate the Americans in other to project our national identity and values and minimize external cultural influences.

Nigeria’s image abroad is that of corruption, crime, electoral manipulations and abject poverty. Our movies always project rituals and the supernatural which portrays us in a bad light. We need to re-evaluate our Movies and check the way we showcase our value systems in our films. We must be clear and certain in what we say or do and in what we support or do not support. Projecting a good national image through cultural diplomacy will eventually enhance our acceptability in the international arena, fast-track our vision and progress as a nation and add immense value to our society.

Cultural Diplomacy
One of the ways to counter Cultural imperialism is through effective, strategic and dedicated Cultural diplomacy. Cultural Diplomacy comprises the exchange of ideas, information, art, lifestyles, value systems, traditions, beliefs and other aspects of culture. Nigerian government should deliberately propound foreign policy decisions on how best to project, promote and protect our National image. Agencies like the Nigerian film cooperation should be mandated to research and design procedures to pursue an articulated cultural diplomacy regime through our films and to ensure successful intervention in the area of pervasive cultural intrusion into our society.

Since the middle of last year, there has been worldwide celebrations of the 50th anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart’ the African classic novel written by our own Professor Chinua Achebe. It is considered one of the most influential books ever written with more than twelve million copies in over fifty translations. An equally classical Movie of the same title was shot two decades ago by Nigerian Television Authority [NTA] as an adaptation from the novel. As at the moment that the celebrations were going on in different parts of the world, we missed a unique opportunity of exhibiting the Movie around the world to showcase our rich cultural heritage and make our voices heard and felt in every capital of the world. We have gradually let a golden opportunity pass us bye. Film festivals all around the world should have been ‘Nigerianised’ with this aesthetic Movie. Cinemas worldwide would have been culturally taken over by Nigeria.

Public Diplomacy
Film is seen by public diplomacy advocates as an enormously important avenue for otherwise diverse cultures to understand each other. It involves the use of truthful propaganda to communicate with citizens in other societies rather than their governments. Nigerians and Africans in Diaspora are constantly being barraged with news about high scale corruption, criminality, kidnapping etc by aggressive and overbearing foreign media agencies. We must get adjusted to the fact that the world does not view us as we see ourselves. Any time there is an explosion in the Niger Delta, the whole world raise their arms in despair to the extent that the world oil prices shoots up. To an average foreigner, Nigeria is in a state of war and the Niger Delta is being compared to Darfur in Sudan.

We can use our films to talk to world citizens and explain the true position of things, even to our fellow Nigerians abroad who are even afraid to come back home to visit or to come and invest in the economy. Through our movies, intending tourist will learn to disregard Travel Advisories pasted in their airports warning them about travelling to Nigeria.

The movie Black Hawk Down showcases American intervention in Somalia in 1991 and American Soldiers - One Day in Iraq is all about the Gulf war from the American point of view and how they want they whole world to view it. We can reach out to world citizens and consciously transmit pictures about the true situation at home. We must use our Movies to explain our big brother roles in Sierra Leone and Liberia through our ECOMOG intervention. Equally, we must project our National Tourism potentials and destinations as well as attract foreign direct investments [FDI].

The Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation [NTDC] has recently introduced the Navigator Digital Map for Nigerian roads. This innovative technology that helps a tourist to navigate throughout the country is surely a suitable prop for our movies. Choosing our UNESCO World Heritage sites like the Osun-Osogbo groove as a movie set and location is a sure way of attracting tourists into our country. Documentary films, which is a broad category of visual expression that is based on the attempt, in one fashion or another, to "document" reality should be encouraged.

The Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation [NTDC] should commission the Nigerian Film Corporation to produce Travelogues and Instructional films. Our football stars like Jay Jay Okocha and Kanu Nwankwo are the pride of African and European soccer. The Ministry of Information & Communications should commission documentaries on the lives and career of these living soccer legends and United Nations ambassadors . These documentaries will be spiced with our foreign policy messages and distributed as promotional films for the country.

Citizens Diplomacy
Film can be said to be a powerful tool in citizens diplomacy. Citizens diplomacy is the concept that the individual has the right, even the responsibility to help shape foreign relations. Corporate organisations, Multinational companies and Multilateral agencies must exercise this function as part of their Corporate social responsibility.
Through our films, we stand to promote citizens diplomacy for the benefit of our society. Conscious efforts should be made by all stakeholders in the industry to think of Nigeria first in all their movies. An Ethiopian lady who had cause to spend part of her childhood in Nigeria promoted Nigerian ideals of marriage in the her Hollywood movie, Fat Girls. [2006]. Mexican Soap Operas of recent have dominated prime time in our local television stations. Independent television producers association of Nigeria [ITPAN], has strongly taken up the advocacy of checkmating this ugly trend, in consideration of the fact that it is killing the local Soap Opera industry as well as subjecting a sizeable number of our citizens to cultural imperialism from a fellow developing country. That is citizens diplomacy in action which is very, very commendable.

The fact still remains that we have always had a very popular and thriving Soap Opera culture in Nigeria, from The Village Headmaster to Cock crow at Dawn, Fortunes, Ripples, Mirror in the Sun and the immensely successful Checkmate which permeated into the rest of Africa culturally. A conscious effort in this direction of using soap operas effectively in cultural and citizens diplomacy will rub off on Nigerians in Diaspora and enhance our image abroad.

The Nigerian musical video sector is really vibrant. In Nigeria, most of our notable Pop stars like TuFace Idibia and P-Square have promoted our image all over the world through their superlative music videos. Asu Ekiye’s award winning Niger Delta gospel video became a showpiece to be delighted in. If you tune in to major satellite and cable TV channels round globe, Nigeria music video reverberates all the time. With our rich music video culture, we stand to use the medium as a platform for vigorous cultural and citizens diplomacy.

Nollywood -the Nigerian film industry, has the capacity to provide a platform for the positive promotion and projection of the values of the Nigerian nation, its cultures and peoples. Films and television are enormously important avenues for international cultural understanding, which is a key goal of modern public diplomacy strategy. The can be used as tools of shaping the message(s) that we wish to present abroad, especially the current Rebranding campaign by the Ministry of Information & Communications. In this case, since this present Nigerian government has adopted citizens diplomacy as major foreign relations policy, we can now adopt “Population – centric foreign affairs” within which populations assume a central component of our foreign policy, since people and not just countries are of global importance in a world where technology and migration increasingly face everyone.

On the informal side, all stakeholders, participants, consultants, practitioners and decision makers in the film industry should now see themselves as our cultural ambassadors and thereby assume responsibilities that will lead to placing our cultural foreign relations in the right perspective. The key factor here is the production of didactic movies. Any time we produce films, Soap Operas and documentaries, any time we premiere a movie, any time we exhibit at film festivals, any time we screen our films in cinemas and any time we distribute video tapes, VCDs and DVDs, we should always think proudly Nigerian first.

George Ndukwu is Media/Legislative Aide to Deputy Chief Whip, IMHA
He was a Special Projects Consultant to TELL Magazine
& was Producer of Technology Africa – NTA Plus Abuja.

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