The significance of culture as an effective tool for enhancing foreign relations took centre stage at the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) Quarterly Public Lecture Series.
The lecture, held recently at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos, was centred on the theme: “Culture as an effective tool for enhancing foreign relations”.
The Quarterly Public Lecture Series was conceived by NICO as a platform for stakeholders to deliberate on how to use culture as one of the building blocks for economic and national development.
In his paper, the guest lecturer and a senior research fellow and head division of African politics and integration at NIIA, Dr. Sharkdam Wapmuk, said culture could indeed serve as an effective tool for enhancing Nigerian foreign relations.
He noted that the nexus between culture and international relations has emerged as an area of interest to both scholars and practitioners in the field International Relations.
He added: “International Relations concerns itself with relationships among nation states, with each state implementing its foreign policy.
“Each state in the international system has its cultural system, which is made up of ideas, behavior, literature and arts, food, traditions, social, political, intellectual orientations and how it organises itself.
“Culture has become a key product in the international tourism market and an important instrument for enhancing relations of states. Globally, the volume of tourists engaged in cultural activities accounted for 40 per cent of international arrivals in 2016 (UNWTO, 2016).
“Since tourism as a general term refers to leisure travel, cultural tourism refers to tourism that is motivated by one or more aspects of the culture of a particular area. Cultural tourism can be defined as that activity which enables people to experience the different ways of life of other people.
“Cultural tourism helps them in gaining first hand understanding of their customs, traditions, the physical environment, the intellectual ideas and those places of architectural, historic, archaeological or other cultural significance which remain from earlier times (Csapo, 2012). It has been shown that cultural attractions and events are particularly strong magnets for tourism.”
He added that cultural tourism has served and still has huge potential to enhance Nigeria’s foreign relations. He also underscored the significant roles of Nigerian films, food culture, music, dance and literature as instruments for cultural diplomacy.
“From the reciprocal gifts of ancient rulers to modern diplomacy, culture has been used as a way for leaders and countries to show who they are, assert their power and build lasting relationships. Since time immemorial, culture has been a tool for friendly relations between the people in kingdoms, chiefdoms, and many others that later became Nigeria, and other territories.
“This involves hosting, receiving and building friendliness with other people and the use of cultural items as gifts such as beads, kola nuts, cloths, salt, cowries, animals, and even inter-marriages.
“The practice of promoting foreign relations through cultural diplomacy has not been completely neglected, but could be enhanced to derive more benefits. In today’s globalizing world, more than ever before, culture has a vital role to play in international relations. Cultural exchanges give us the chance to appreciate points of commonality and shared values.”
Earlier in his address, the former Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who was represented at the event by the acting DG of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAA), Mrs Ndidi Aimienwawu, noted that the theme for the lecture was apt.
He explained that the lecture was as coming at a time when government was concerned in entrenching its foreign relations with other countries of the world, through strengthened cultural diplomacy.
The minister added: “It is also pertinent to note that culture is the totality of the people’s way of life and there is an urgent need for us to preserve, promote and present our unique cultural heritage for the socio-economic growth and development of our country.
“One thing that is achieved by this is that good relationship with other nations is established through cultural diversity and enhanced foreign relation.”
In his address, the Executive Secretary, NICO, Louis Eriomala, said: “Culture can be positively deployed in foreign relations to create understanding; promote our national heritage and market the Nigerian brand.
“Culture is beyond the food we eat, the language we speak, the clothes we wear etc, it is what we are; our existence and cultural heritage which some have argued, is greater than all the mineral resources of a nation put together.”
Dignitaries at the lecture include former Nigerian Ambassador to Ethiopia/Permanent Rep. to AU and UNECA, Otumba (Ambassador) Olusegun Akinsanya, who was the chairman of the occasion; former Foreign Affairs Minister, General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd); Erelu of Lagos, Princess Abiola Dosunmu; and renowned scholar and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Management Services) of the University of Lagos, Prof. Duro Oni.
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