29 July 2016 | Tunde Obileye
I was recently in Lusaka, Zambia, attending the African Development Bank AGM as an observer.
We were hosted at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre, a modern facility in the centre of Lusaka. As we listened to the speeches at the opening ceremony I was wondering about the maintenance of the facility until a speaker referred to the centre's history. The Mulungushi was built in 1970 by the Zambian government to represent freedom for all Africans from colonial rule.
Zambia was one of the 'frontline states' - a coalition of southern African countries including Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe - determined to ensure democracy based on majority rule was entrenched in the then South West Africa (Namibia) and South Africa. The centre remains pivotal.
Infrastructure and its management are critical to preserve not just the facilities and buildings, but also the history of nations and peoples. Africa has a lack of written history; most of it is transferred by word of mouth. But recent history is directly linked to infrastructure. In Nigeria the FESTAC town in Lagos was built for the 2nd Black and African Festival of Arts & Culture in 1977 (FESTAC 77) - initiated under pan-Africanist leader Leopold Sedar Senghor (the first was in 1966 in Dakar). FESTAC 77 represented the largest cultural festival to have been held on the continent but FESTAC town today bears no semblance to this feat. Same with the National Stadium and National Theatre in Lagos; important landmarks have been allowed to rot.
The Mulungushi thrives as a conference centre, but it does less to teach history to young Africans. FM provides a chance to bridge this gap. It can facilitate private-public investments to turn sections of such buildings into museums for historical documents, undertake maintenance to keep the original idea behind such buildings, and manage them as places where businesses can thrive.
Tunde Obileye is MD/CEO at Great Heights Property & Facilities Management, Nigeria