What started as a small festival in the 1960s in Kumasi in the Ashanti Region resulted in the birth of a National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFAC), to create a common platform for the promotion of national unity and integration through culture and arts.
Four decades down the lane, this unifying biennial initiative has been hit by a number of challenges ranging from postponement through lack of funds to continuing waning interest.
However, NAFAC has in some way, projected and promoted Ghanaian identity through culture and the arts on the international front, thus making it worthwhile.
At a four-day training workshop for some selected journalists reporting on culture, organised by the Cul-tural Initiatives Support Progra-mme, an EU funded programme, resource persons and participants made a critique of NAFAC.
Leading a discussion on the topic: "Reflecting on Festivals-A Critique of NAFAC", Efo Kodjo Mawugbe, Director of the National Theatre, noted that it has become evident that traditional festivals are well established in the country than governmental festivals.
The governmental festivals, he explained, are those which are instituted by government to address certain needs in the country, and have changing themes all the time, like NAFAC and PANAFEST.
These festivals, he underscored, have not been internalised locally for the people of this country to appreciate and participate in them, saying "the people of Cape Coast for instance do not see themselves as part of PANAFEST. Meanwhile people take days off to attend their traditional festivals".
On NAFAC, he expressed concern about the lack of consistency, attributing it to non-flow of funds for its organisation, noting that it took 10 years to organise the Brong-Ahafo event after that of Eastern Region.
He said it is important that the needed funds are raised for the festival, noting "funds sometimes arrive late and in most cases, monies for the NAFAC celebration arrive after the event".
Further, he said, the traditional authorities and the various cultural groups invited to the festival mostly charge unreasonable prices for participating, noting "people want to be paid before they carry their chiefs in palanquins".
Efo Mawugbe admitted the fact that the organisation of NAFAC over the years has been fraught with problems, adding "perhaps, organisers have not done a review of the past events".
He underscored the need to have a permanent planning committee or secretariat which is currently absent in the system, so that the events could be planned ahead of time.
He said that NAFAC has benefited a lot from military regimes than in civilian governments, especially during General I.K. Acheampong’s rule, but said "the real politicians do not even want to hear about NAFAC.
On whether it is worthwhile to celebrate NAFAC in view of its challenges, Efo Mawugbe said "it is, because as a nation, there must be a time to take stock of things that are considered as our values. NAFAC is a forum to address the ills in society, like explicit lyrics and dances".
The Ministry of Chieftaincy and Culture’s takeover of NAFAC organisation from the National Commission on Culture which has the rich experience and the right human resource could kill the festival, he said.
The Editor of the Graphic Showbiz, Nanabanyin Dadson, said "mediocrity" is what is collapsing NAFAC, noting that the event, especially the last one in Kumasi, was faced up to low participation and technical problems and described it as "a rather sad one", noting that the stages were improvised.
He expressed concern about how the country is "allowing politics to creep into the arts", as he recounted how the government made efforts to borrow money for the Wa NAFAC celebration, which never was the case in other regions.
Mr Kwasi Gyan Apenteng, Programme Coordinator of CISP, advocated a NAFAC Fund to provide financial resources for the organisation of the festival.
He noted that NAFAC has come to stay, saying "people are passionate about it and so we need to research into it to make sure that it is well planned and organised to make impact".
On his part, Appiah Agyei of CISP identified language at NAFAC celebrations as a barrier. He noted that the indigenous people often do not understand the English language used, thus they are deprived of information at the function.
Contributing, one of the participants, Maureen Apraku-Dentu of GTV, said people have not developed interest in NAFAC because they are not aware of the significance of the festival, and therefore called for media involvement in the festival.