Appeal to save The Africa Centre

BY A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT LONDON - Two years and three months ago, Africans in the London Diaspora were surprised to learn that The Africa Centre was to be closed indefinitely. Ostensibly this was to facilitate critical renovations to the building in the centre of London's vibrant Covent Garden.

For any African familiar with London, the Africa Centre is no small dive; it is steeped in the history of the continent since the end of colonialism.

Kenneth Kaunda spoke there, Zimbabwe’s liberation heroes drank there as they negotiated Lancaster House, Jacob Zuma threw a party there, Sally Mugabe taught there – the list of who’s who in African politics can be traced through the Centre. Then there was the music, a great deal of African talent from Tuku to Salif Keita to Baba Maal to Dorothy Masuka and Brenda Fassie – they all played there and drew Africans of every nationality to its hall to celebrate Africanness and to reach out to the British public in an explosion of culture and talent.

Since the closure in 2003, there has been no news as to when the Africa Centre is likely to return to its primary role of providing a meeting ground for Africans and a hub of cultural expression to those of us who cling on to our African identity. Instead, the idea of closing the centre for renovation is being more of a tall story as the months tick by. The reality is that the current Africa Centre Board of Trustees and its Managing Director cannot explain why they have persistently failed to find the funds to keep this august centre afloat, why they have allowed the state of the building to deteriorate to such an extent that it is now attracting the attentions of estate agents and may have to be sold.

This would be a major tragedy for all Africans in Europe, as the Africa Centre is the only venue of its kind in all of Europe dedicated to the promotion and understanding of all things African. The current management of the Africa Centre failed to grasp a golden opportunity to turn things around by failing to raise the money needed to secure a crucial Three Million Pound grant from the Arts Council for England and Wales.

But there is a whiff of familiarity about this tale of men in power. Consider this: the current Managing Director has been at the helm for 4 consecutive terms of office, around 12 years; with some of his friends on the Board of Trustees for an almost similar length of time. New members have been brought in generally with a view to keeping things as they have always been. The occasional few who have not toed the line have often been run out. There is no indication that despite major failings, the Board of Trustees and the Managing Director are likely to admit their failure and leave people with a vision and Africa at heart to take up the challenge of restoring what is a very important venue for all Africans in this part of the world.

“The Africa Centre Community” is determined to keep the Africa Centre open, and if you are interested in helping us lobby the powers that be, email your thoughts to [email protected]

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