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Cultural and creative industries: a soft power on which Africa must capitalize

Africa, a land of creativity and perpetual source of inspiration, accounts for only 5% of the global market of cultural and creative industries, estimated at 2,250 billion dollars of revenue per year. This situation is changing today as African players in the sector are stepping up their initiatives to turn the continent’s potential into growth and jobs. Analysis. 

By Dounia Ben Mohamed

For Raoul Rugamba, founder of Africa in Colors (read his interview), the way forward is obvious: “If we want to stimulate a real economic recovery, Africa must increase its soft power and take advantage of the talents it has,” stresses the Rwandan cultural entrepreneur, for whom it is essential to bet on cultural and creative industries (CCI). That conviction is shared by many African actors in the sector.  

While the continent’s youth population is expected to double and reach more than 830 million people by 2050, and only 3.1 million jobs are created annually for 10 to 12 million young people entering the labor market́ in the same time interval, CCIs are standing out more than ever as a major job provider. A real growth driver for African economies in search of diversification… and recovery. 

“2021, a year full of promise for the creative economy”

Hence the UN’s initiative to designate 2021 as “International Year for Creative Economy,” the institution intending to contribute to the promotion of a sector considered strategic – and aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals – in this post-COVID world. 

It remains to fill the many gaps in the African creative ecosystem: protection of copyrights – for every Nollywood production purchased, 9 are pirated -; professionalization of the sectors and creation of training institutes in key sectors (fashion, audiovisual production, graphic design and video games, crafts, plastic arts …); mobilization of funding, particularly private … 

A momentum conducive to strengthening CCIs

The current momentum is, indeed, conducive to strengthening CCIs.  After the initiatives taken by the UN, UNESCO, the OIF, ECOWAS and the AU, it is now the turn of the African states to get started. In addition to the Nigerian giant, which has set up a fund to facilitate Nollywood productions, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire have released funds to support their film industry. As for the Cape Verdean authorities, they have launched an innovative cultural bank, the Autonomous Support Fund for Culture (FAAC). The Fund takes into account the realities and local needs of the cultural sector, in particular through the establishment of a “cluster” of creative industries and the launch of three national dissemination networks (crafts, arts and museums).

“Creative industries can be powerful drivers for more equitable, sustainable and inclusive growth strategies for African economies”

Financial institutions are also beginning to bet on the sector, like the African Export-Import Bank Afreximbank, which in January 2020 set up a $500 million fund dedicated to creative entrepreneurs. “Creative industries can be powerful drivers for more equitable, sustainable and inclusive growth strategies for African economies,” said the president of the pan-African financial institution, Benedict Oramah. However, he regretted that “due to underinvestment in the creative and cultural industries, Africa is largely absent from the global marketplace of ideas, values and aesthetics conveyed through music, theater, literature, film and television. 

The Nigerian-born banker assures us, however, that “today, change has come”. He takes the example of the “astronomical growth of Egypt’s creative exports over the last decade” or “the growing importance of the Nollywood industry”. These have prompted the Nigerian government, in its economic recovery and growth plan, to predict export revenues of one billion dollars from this industry. Better still, with the entry into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the expected increase in trade, a huge single African market for creative products should be created.

The health crisis has hit the sector hard 

The health crisis born of COVID-19 has nevertheless hit the sector hard. Studies published on the subject estimate that the cancellation of public performances cost authors about 30% of their income generated from rights in 2020. The global film industry as a whole has lost $7 billion in revenue (UNCTAD data). On an African scale, the situation is even more critical. Financial losses in the cultural and creative industries in the second quarter of 2020 varied considerably from one country to another, with figures ranging from US$ 134,360 for Uganda to US$ 1.49 billion for South Africa! Among the most affected sectors, the performing arts (music, dance, theater and other live events) have been particularly hard hit due to the ban on gatherings during the pandemic. Hence the urgency to support artists… by inviting them to digitalize their offer.

“The challenge is to ensure that Africans are themselves players in this market rather than mere consumers”

In fact, many CCI players have taken the lead, offering digital creative activities to a world deprived of entertainment in the wake of the first confinements. More generally, the creative and cultural industries play a central role in the digital transformation underway on the continent, with niches exploding such as gaming and eSports. This makes Africa an increasingly attractive market for global leaders in the sector. Olivier Madiba, founder of the Kiroo Games studio (see his interview on the next page), is a connoisseur of the African video game scene and warns, however, that “the challenge is to ensure that Africans are themselves players in this market, rather than mere consumers”. He illustrates his point with the poor performance of the African book, which, if it “had benefited from better support from African leaders in previous generations, would be a real industry in Africa today. However, “this is not the case and it is a pity because it is a tool that we need”, regrets the CEO of the Cameroonian animation studio.

CCIs, a unique channel of expression to change the narrative on Africa

However, there is optimism, with African professionals in the sector determined to address these challenges head on.  They are convinced that CCIs are a unique channel of expression to change the narrative on Africa. This is their ultimate ambition: to propose to the continent but also to the world a history of Africa written by Africans, and this from its greatest asset, its cultural diversity. 

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