African Creative Industries: The Sleeping Giant
African Creative Industries: The Sleeping Giant

African Creative Industries: The Sleeping Giant

African creative industries, which encompasses films, TV, literature and a host of other activities is enormous and growing larger. Even when the global economy contracted, the creative industry continued to grow, especially in China and other Asian countries.

Africa’s contribution to this vast industry, unfortunately, is negligible. While the continent has a deep pool of talent, it lacks the infrastructure and capacity to commercialise its creative talent and reap the vast fortunes that are lying in wait.

In recent times, there has been much talk about the potential of the creative and cultural industries to contribute to Africa’s economic growth and thus to the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals which resonate loudly with the African region.

Numerous studies in the global north have affirmed the design, music, craft, film and television, fashion, publishing, heritage, cultural festivals and related components of the creative and cultural industries as key drivers of job creation, foreign exchange earnings, income generators and catalysts and supporters of other industries such as leisure, printing, tourism and transport.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) undertook global studies and issued two definitive reports in 2008 and 2010 highlighting the contribution of the creative industries across the globe, revealing too the resilience of the sector in the face of the economic downturn.

The 2010 report states: “In 2008, the eruption of the world financial and economic crisis provoked a sharp drop in global demand and a contraction of 12% in international trade. However, world export of creative goods and services continued to grow, reaching $592bn in 2008 – more than double the
2002 level – indicating an annual growth rate of 14% over six consecutive years.

The reports also reveal, however, that Africa’s share of the global creative economy stands at less than 1%, with the key contributors to this 1% being North African countries and South Africa. These findings point both to underinvestment in the creative and cultural industries on the continent, as well as to its potential for growth. As the 2010 UNCTAD report states: “The growth is a confirmation that the creative industries hold great potential for developing countries that seek to diversify their economies and leapfrog into one of the most dynamic sectors of the world economy.”

Rich in talent but no infrastructure

Various international conferences have advocated “culture as a vector of development” and in 2008, AU ministers responsible for culture adopted the African Union Plan of Action on Cultural and Creative Industries, an ambitious commitment to kick-start the coherent development of the sector in the region.

UNESCO adopted the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in 2005 and two thirds of African countries have signed this Convention, which calls for greater investment in the creative and cultural industries of the global south and for creative products from the global south to have preferential access to global north markets. In many ways, the theoretical stage is set for the rapid expansion of African creative and cultural industries, and yet, there are many challenges to overcome in order to realise this potential.

As with minerals and other commodities, Africa is rich in talent and creativity. But, as with minerals, most countries lack the infrastructure and expertise to beneficiate this talent and creativity into sustainable, let alone, profitable enterprises. As a consequence, the talent drain – like the brain drain – from Africa means that many countries in Europe and North America benefit more economically from African artists than do these artists’ countries of origin.
Of course, there are significant exceptions with Nigeria’s film industry one of the most notable. Nollywood, as it is referred to, is the second-largest movie industry in the world – after India – in terms of the number of films produced annually.

It is also the second-largest provider of work in Nigeria (after agriculture) and produces about 50 movies per week with an average of 130 people employed per movie. Much of the investment in the industry is by private individuals and those active within the industry itself rather than government.
The Nollywood model of rapid production and home consumption is also being exported across the African continent so that Ghana, Kenya, Cameroon and other countries are adopting this model rather than the American and European models evidenced in South Africa and North African countries.

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Bearers of cultural traditions
The importance of creative and cultural industries is not limited to their economic value however, as they are also key bearers of cultural traditions, moral values, worldviews, ideological assumptions and ideas.

For this reason, when discussions at the World Trade Organisation addressed the unrestricted opening of markets to creative goods and services in the 1990s, a number of countries objected as they feared being swamped by films and television products from Hollywood, for example, that would then obliterate their own audio-visual industries, but, more importantly, spread American worldviews, values and ideas to consumers.

It was in this context that the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions was adopted as a legal instrument granting governments the right to invest in, and protect their creative and cultural industries, without this being considered as an unfair intervention in free trade.

By virtue of its underinvestment in the creative and cultural industries, Africa is largely absent in the global market of ideas, values and aesthetics as conveyed by music, theatre, literature, film and television and through the gross imbalance of trade with African countries importing overwhelmingly more creative goods than they export, African consumers tend to imbibe the ideas, values and perspectives embedded in creative goods from Europe, North America, India, Brazil and China.

For Africa to stake its place in the global arena of ideas and aesthetics, and to increase its market share in the world’s creative economy, there will need to be greater vision and political will on the part of both government and the private sector to invest in all aspects of the value chain: education, creation, production, distribution and consumption. The creative and cultural industries sector is characterised by micro and medium enterprises, by risk-taking and passionate entrepreneurs. What they most require is access to capital and business expertise.

Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) is a network of private sector companies that support the arts in South Africa through sponsorship, but also through mentoring cultural entrepreneurs and through in-kind support. A similar network of companies throughout the continent could partner with Arterial Network – a pan-African civil society network of creative practitioners and entrepreneurs – to nurture Africa’s extensive raw materials of talent, and to translate it into profitable income and global influence.


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Written by African Business Magazine

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