She dreamed of becoming baker, spy, swindler, classic star dancer but she became the “Captain of a fleet of little boats”: The Zinsou Foundation. Marie-Cécile Zinsou, President of the Zinsou Foundation, granddaughter of the youngest senator of the castle of Versailles, youngest in the administration board of Versailles, Beninese and Talented, one could say much about her but the most important is to talk about what she does, of what gave me the desire to interview her.
On June 6, 2015, I attended the 10th anniversary of the Foundation in company of artists, works of Romuald Hazoumé aka the can-artist, and the magic of the Wakpon application by Pierrick Chabi: Beninese painters on a Beninese application! I saw the museum of Ouidah out of its walls: A shock! I saw 10 years of motivation and work rewarded, a constantly large and constantly dazzled public. I saw energy, and a lot of sewers … Yes, I felt the work that the Zinsou Foundation is doing as a sewer work. At each exhibition, through each child who opens a book, each cultural event, I see pride and dignity being sewed toghether.
The Zinsou Foundation was born in the SOS village from a family will, from a decisive encounter, at Sikècodji under the “Quick and Bad” flag, on june 06, 2005, with Romuald Hazoumè.
But … the Zinsou Foundation is?
The Foundation is a desire, a will, a process, a daily routine, a team, a training, surprises, human adventures, magic. It is also 6 libraries, 24 exhibitions, 65 declared employees, the exhibition area of Cotonou, the Museum of Ouidah, life-saving emergency activities, a bus, Labs, the little brushes, a family matter, local, private and foreign sponsors. It is many things at once.
A difficult challenge?
No ! It was a gamble because if the SOS Children’s Village were interested in contemporary art, there was no guarantee that all of Benin children would be interested. But not difficult. It happened stage to stage. Everyone said it was a bad idea but I did not doubt, my family either. It was an intuition, a belief that it would work.
How many time did you lift the champagne?The success of the Zinsou Foundation is the public. Click To Tweet
It’s the bus that carries the children, it’s the teachers who call us saying: Can you come to pick us, we want to visit you. It is the 3 bus tours every day. It is the 10th anniversary of the Foundation. It’s 127,000 people last year in the libraries. It’s five millions people who participated in the Foundation’s activities. It is the Japan Imperial Prize, a first in Africa.
What were the reefs and icebergs that you met during the cruise?
I’m not very good at this kind of questions, I have a very selective memory which is not much based on negative matters. There are some inconveniences, there is always someone who says “this foundation, they have plenty of money, I’ll enjoy it”, there is always a kind of politician here and there who tries to tax you, threatens you, or people who think that you are running on some kind of corruption.
There is no library in Ouidah because there is no political will to give us a building, even ruins we would take. The big pitfalls are when you are not fully independent. Or even when you are. For example, when we built the loft of Bruce Clarke in Ouidah with all the papers, the minister of culture, in violation of all the laws of this country, sent a bulldozer to demolish it.
I can’t tell you everything because it has no interest. The reefs, they are bypassed, dealt with. The advantage is that we can see them. We just have to navigate, not to lose the cap, not to lean on the reefs. There is always some smart guy who wants to play the more Beninese, making reflections on my size/height/waist, my color. But all that does not mean anything!
Does our state carry you in its heart?
The foundation is apolitical. There are ministers who have helped us to do a lot. It’s more a matter of personal than political commitment. We have very few contacts with the government. Culture is not a priority, people are hungry they say. But culture is our identity. It is absolutely essential.
What about the people of Benin?
They are the purpose of the foundation. Reading the guest book, the tweets of all the youngsters who come, the people who come to visit, parents who send children, children who come alone. People deeply know what we are working for. The goal of the foundation is to work on the idea of culture as a right and not a luxury. Having the freedom to know. We have a fair relationship with the public.
The fleet runs on what?
Mainly patronage. But also the revenues of the shop, the Foundation’s coffee shop which gives us a little percentage.
What does your telescope tell you?
They say the goal is never reached. When you start a project, what is difficult is not the creation but the daily routine. Click To Tweet What is difficult is to daily open the libraries at the same hour. What is complicated is the daily. It is how the walls remain always white, the floors always clean, how the books don’t get damaged, how we replace them. Will people be thinking about downloading Wakpon to see the museum of Ouidah, anywhere? That’s what my long view tells me. That we must keep the cap, hold on and look towards the future, pay attention to the reefs and see what remains to be done. 10 years, it’s a good job. It proves that it’s not the attraction of novelty.
An SOS to send?
Yes. An SOS which is : The legacy of our country. Our history, where is it? It is in the reserves of our museums? I have bad news. At the Museum of Abomey, reserves are either drowning either burning (underwater or in flames otherwise!) The Archives of Porto Novo are in which state? The architectural heritage of Porto-Novo? The PLM Aledjo Hotel is crumbling! When you have emergencies, like getting one’s wages, how to take care of children, how to build roads, you are not in heritage restoration issues. But meanwhile, as no one says anything and the state is not doing its job, our legacy will disappear. How will we get, in 30 years, to live without records of our history? Click To Tweet
The SOS I want to send, it is a SOS Legacy! It must be addressed now. It is our generation that have to deal with it, think about it, preserve and pay attention. The question is about you your children ? What will you tell them? What history will you tell them if you have no trace of it? We are close to losing everything. I make remarks around me, I ask questions.
Béhanzin we still known, but Akaba for example? Does he ring a bell? How will you tell your children where you come from if you don’t’ know it either? We are not far from losing our history. Young people should be aware of that. It’s true that we have technologies, new culture products from elsewhere. Someday, we will look back, and wont know where we come from anymore, wont know who we are. Click To Tweet
Flowers to send?
To you, this whole generation of teenagers, young adults on Twitter, who pay attention! To your readers, to this generation which is not just in technology consumption, which is able to be interested in everything. I find it very reassuring. This under 25 generation which have all the favorable conditions, which is doing good stuff. No it was not better before. Many things are improving.
Tomatoes to throw?
Tomatoes are for those people who see underdevelopment as the only perspective in Benin. My father who use to say a stupid thing. What is the difference between underdevelopment and development? The development you do things, underdevelopment you do not do things.We are not a ridiculous country, there is no fatality in underdevelopment. Click To Tweet
Tomatoes for those who only think of their own interests, who set up businesses to steal the little money of the people, for those whose only ambition for the country is underdevelopment. It is solely a question of will, of thought. We have a huge cultural potential, an educational background that can absolutely be saved. At one point, people who govern us are people who want to leave us in this situation or worsen it. These people deserve tomatoes.
This interview triggered an alarm in me. Indeed, what would I say to the next generation, about this homeland that I claim to love so much? What stories of valiant warriors, brave kings, which traces will I show them ? Will I give them as much pleasure as my father gave me when he told me of the Benin of the old days aka The former Danxomè Kingdom ? Will I make them shudder of will as much as my grandmother made me shudder while telling me the history of my ancestors? What will be the roots of the future world? What legacy will we leave to our children?
Clinging to the new tablet, the new celebrity, but no past? And what if nobody was doing anything? Benin, as a history saunters in our dungeons, our so-called emergencies, our priorities … What good for is a country of rich people without history? Tell me dear readers,What if the Zinsou Foundation did not exist?
On the Zinsou Foundation:
Fondation Zinsou, Street 400, Cotonou, Bénin
Téléphone :+229 21 30 99 25