Cablegate: El Fasher Cultural Center Ambitious, Underfunded


DE RUEHKH #0891/01 1671212
P 151212Z JUN 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. SUMMARY. Situated on the outskirts of the bustling central
market, the El Fasher Cultural Center includes a theater, music room
and public library. The Center, managed under the watchful eye of
General Manager Ibrahim Abbakr has eight departments - art and
painting, folklore, music and bands, drama, children and youth,
poetry and writing, the library, and a general activities
department, which includes handicrafts and languages. Although a
part of the Ministry of Culture, Abbakr told FieldOff that his
center has no budget for programs, only for staff salaries. The
center offers language, music and other types of classes for a small
fee in order to raise funds, and occasionally organizes handicraft
sales. The Center also is affiliated with El Fasher's own movie
cinema, which is in need of revitalization. However, Abbakr noted
that such activities generally break even without turning much of a
profit. Despite financial challenges, Abbakr continues to develop
projects that he hopes will one day help to bring lasting peace to

Radio Station

2. Abbakr passionately described his highest priority project - a
radio station dedicated to cultural programming. In the past, the
Cultural Center was allowed to broadcast cultural programs on the El
Fasher radio station. However, he complained, the El Fasher station
will only allocate limited time for these programs, and has a short
broadcast range (approx 40 km). Therefore, the center would like to
establish its own radio station devoted to programming that promotes
cultural understanding, reconciliation and peace building efforts.

3. Abbakr described how a folklore hour, done in different local
languages and celebrating the various Darfur tribal cultures, could
help promote cultural appreciation and diversity. He mused that the
station could even have children's programming, teaching about
tolerance, non-violent conflict resolution and possibly even healthy
habits. Abbakr said that a detailed study, including technical and
personnel requirements for establishment of the station, had been
completed, and that he had selected a location for the station.
However the center would likely need most, if not all, of the
technical equipment - transmitter, etc. - some of which would likely
be difficult to get due to existing sanctions.

Cinema Renovation

4. Another project that Abbakr hoped to complete was renovation of
El Fasher's only cinema. Previously an open air cinema that showed
Bollywood and American films, the cinema has been closed since the
conflict in Darfur began, and has fallen into disrepair. Without
the cinema, there is no regular entertainment in El Fasher, and
nothing to keep the youth engaged and out of trouble, Abbakr
lamented. The cultural center is currently overseeing renovations
to the building and repairs to damaged walls. Abbakr has also
spoken to a film company in Khartoum about sub-leasing or renting
films for use in the El Fasher cinema. However the film projection
equipment needs to be replaced, and the theater needs new seating.

Public Library and Theater

5. The Cultural Center houses a small public library collection.
Most of the Arabic books are very old, Abbakr explained, as the
library was looted after the Darfur conflict began. There is a
small English-language book section, donated by the British Council
when it closed up El Fasher operations, and a children's section.
The library includes several large rooms which are available for
events, and appears well trafficked (on the day of Fieldoff's visit,
there were two groups of Master's students from the University of El
Fasher, as well as a handful of researchers, in the main library
area). FieldFSNs report that the library is a popular recreation
spot. Abbakr said that a local businessman rents the theater in the
cultural center complex and shows movies on a tattered screen at

6. The library could benefit from a more modern selection of books,
including academic and reference tools, as well as children's books
(there is plenty of space for donations). Abbakr would also like to
procure a projector, and would be "very happy" to screen selections
from the Embassy's public diplomacy collection in a multi-media
room, or in the theater. He is also seeking computer donations, in
order to create an internet caf (Note: There are no internet cafs
in El Fasher, and the vast majority of citizens do not have
computers or internet access in their homes. End note). Abbakr
would like to offer internet services for free, possibly on a
reservation basis, but speculated that the center would probably
have to charge a small fee to cover electricity and service provider
fees. In the theater area, Abbakr would like to build a roof or
protective covering over the open air seating area, in order to
facilitate use of the space during the warm late morning and
afternoon hours.


7. Both the Cultural Center and its manager are impressive. Abbakr
believes in the power of art and culture in transforming the
conflict in Darfur and healing its wounds. The meager offerings
currently available at the center clearly attract a following that
is hungry for knowledge, entertainment and some distraction from the
grinding conflict in Darfur. With little else to do in El Fasher
for enjoyment (besides sporting events), the center presents some
interesting possibilities and a prime venue for US-sponsored events.
In fact, the Field Office plans to hold the first Independence Day
representational reception in El Fasher on July 4, 2008, at the
Cultural Center, incorporating some of the music and dance groups it

8. In the short term, English and Arabic book donations will help
to build goodwill and increase the value of the library. The Field
Office will give the center almanacs and other reference books
supplied by the Embassy in a small ceremony the week before the 4th
of July reception. These books will be displayed during the event,
to highlight the Cultural Center's growing book collection. A
projector to show US Embassy DVD materials also would be a
high-value contribution, and could be used to screen public
diplomacy materials both for entertainment and educational purposes.
Both initiatives are low cost and quick impact, and would help to
raise the center's profile while offering more cultural and
entertainment options to the public.

9. Support for cinema renovations could be another relatively low
cost project with potentially high returns. The cinema would
generate income which could fund other cultural projects, and would
provide badly needed entertainment. Most important, the cinema
would provide an alternative activity for youth, who are most
susceptible to recruitment by armed movements and criminal gangs.

10. In the longer term, it may be worthwhile to consider
opportunities to assist the Cultural Center with radio broadcasting
and internet availability. Radio is by far the most effective means
of communication in Darfur, and most people either own a radio, or
can crowd around one with neighbors (a common scene). Educational,
entertaining and even peace-building programming could reenergize
public awareness and create meaningful dialogue about peace and
reconciliation initiatives. Access to the internet would allow
women, youth, educators, civil society representatives and political
activists to interact with a wider range of news sources, and with
counterparts around the world. The Darfur conflict has been largely
fueled by feelings of marginalization and isolation, which could be
mitigated by having better access to the internet.


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