By Qipase Maulidi:
All well meaning governments have establishments for culture within the civil service. For Malawi, we had for a very long time the Department of Culture under the Ministry responsible for culture.
Five national establishments for culture operated under one directorate. That is the office responsible for the arts, the national archives, the Museums of Malawi, the national office for monuments and antiquities, and indeed the censorship office.
All these worked under the Directorate of Culture. The Department of Culture has since been reformed to three separate departments.
However there appears, once in a while, confusion suggesting that the Department of Culture is still intact as a government department.
To make matters worse, there are some quarters who are making the picture more complicated by claiming that there are now two Directors for Culture.
Culture is dynamic and so was to be for the Department of Culture. In 2012, Government did a functional review for the Department of Culture.
The functional review analysed the organisational structure and came up with recommendations to improve organisational efficiency, effectiveness, and also to align its functions to national and international standards.
The report for the functional review recommended restructuring the Department of Culture into three separate departments. The new proposed departments were Department of Museums and Monuments, Department of National Records and Archives and the Department of Arts.
The final approval for this restructuring was given in 2014, and for the next two years, the then responsible Ministry for Culture did the preliminary works for the unbundling of the Department of Culture and establishment of three departments for culture.
In 2017, the three departments became functional and the Directorate of Culture went into oblivion. These three departments for culture are now all under the Ministry for Tourism, Culture and Wildlife.
All the three departments have a specific mandate which contributes towards the general mandate on culture. The mandate for the department of Arts is to preserve, develop, promote and regulate the Arts.
The department has two divisions which are the Division of Arts and Crafts and the Regulatory Division, better known as the Censorship Division.
The mandate for the Department of National Records and Archives Services is to collect, organise, preserve and make the country’s documentary heritage accessible to the public for purposes of reference, research and posterity.The Department has two divisions: Records Management Services and Public Archives.
Thirdly, the Department of Museums and Monuments was made up by combining the former Museums of Malawi and the National Antiquities Office. The Department has been re-organised to three divisions, namely Research, Education and Outreach and Conservation.
The mandate for the Department of Museums and Monuments is to preserve, conserve, promote, study and present the natural and cultural heritage of Malawi. The Department has a role to savage our rich tangible and intangible cultural heritage from going into extinct and interpret this heritage to all Malawians and visitors; alike for national identity and posterity.
Having gone this far, it may as well be said that there is no directorate among the three which can claim exclusive mandate on all matters of culture as was the case before. The departments complement each other towards realising the national agenda for culture.
Culture is one very broad term and this may as well be the reason that the then Department of Culture had been mobile for many years. Cultural issues easily fit as complementary to a number of ministries under the social sector.
In retrospect, we may as well bear with those who have been slow to acquaint with the fact that Culture is now a collective name for three departments collectively responsible for culture.
In the 80s through to mid to mid 1990s, the Department of Culture was part of the Ministry of Education Science and Culture. Then it was re-grouped as Youth, Sports and Culture, before moving to Tourism , Wildlife and Culture in 2007.
In 2016, Culture was relocated to Sports and Culture. This was for about a year before the Ministry was re-configured to Civic Education, Culture and Community Development.
The more things change the more they remain the same, and so has it been for the three departments for culture. Come July 2020, the three Departments for Culture were relocated to the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife.
When all is said and done it would be an anomaly to talk about culture and not say anything about the current National Cultural Policy. The overarching policy goal is to identify, preserve, protect and promote Malawian arts and culture for national identity, unity in diversity, posterity and sustainable socio-economic development.
The policy ushers in three policy priority areas. First is the preservation, conservation, presentation and safeguarding of Malawi’s culture for national identity, education and posterity. The second policy priority area is to develop and promote of Malawi’s culture for sustainable socio-economic development.
The third policy priority area is mobilisation and prudent use of resources for cultural development.
The policy was developed to operationalise the various international instruments which Malawi has ratified for Culture, to be the point of reference for the formulation of legislation, to guide the coordination of arts and cultural programs, and to create a proper interface with national planning instruments, including the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy.
For now, the long and short of it is that we no longer have the ‘Department of Culture’ but three directorates for culture.