Every day, Africa’s creative talents are hitting the headlines. In Cape Town, the voices of the South African opera stars Andiswa Kedama and Pauline Malefane are captivating the public in U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, a Xhosa adaptation of Bizet’s famous opera. In Agadez, Bombino, an internationally acclaimed guitarist, author and composer hailed as the new Jimi Hendrix, is enthralling spectators with his words and music promoting change.
Every day, Africa’s creative talents are hitting the headlines. In Cape Town, the voices of the South African opera stars Andiswa Kedama and Pauline Malefane are captivating the public in U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, a Xhosa adaptation of Bizet’s famous opera. In Agadez, Bombino, an internationally acclaimed guitarist, author and composer hailed as the new Jimi Hendrix, is enthralling spectators with his words and music promoting change. In Accra, over 30,000 people dance the night away at the P-Square concert, the famous Nigerian hip- hop duo. In Luanda, the performances of Big Nelo and C4 Pedro are hailed with equal enthusiasm. In Maputo, models strut the catwalks of “fashion week” wearing the latest creations of African couturiers such as Alphadi from Niger, Intisaar Mukadam from Zimbabwe, David Tlale from South Africa or Taibo Bacar from Mozambique, a young talent of 29 whose clothes have already been shown in Milan. In Kinshasa, people come in droves to enjoy the paintings and sculptures by the artist Rhode Bath-Schéba Makoumbou. Throughout the continent and in the African diaspora, families are watching ﬁlms from Egypt or Nollywood (the Nigerian Hollywood) on their television screens.
African stars are breaking down the barriers of stereotypes and geography: from Lupita Nyong’o, the Oscar-winning Kenyan, to Rachel Mwanza, a seventeen-year-old Congolese former street kid and the ﬁrst African to win the Best Actress award at the Berlin Film Festival, from the South African singer Lira, winner of multiplatinum discs to a whole range of young stars of African literature such as Ondjaki,
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or NoViolet Bulawayo, examples abound. A number of new African visual artists are also creating a storm. The Tate Modern in London recently exhibited the works of Meschac Gaba from Benin and Ibrahim el-Salahi from Sudan, while for the ﬁrst time, the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion for the best national pavilion was awarded to an African country, Angola.
These examples serve to offer only a small glimpse of the enormous variety of creative talents Africa has to offer. The African informal sector (mostly unregulated by the State) enables tens of thousands of people and communities to ﬂourish and earn a living from their artistic talents. For a lack of sufﬁcient reliable data, it is difﬁcult to quantify the contribution of this sector to the economy, but it is undoubtedly substantial.
These talents represent the core element of the creative economy •1, a concept which covers the visual arts, crafts, cultural festivals, painting, sculpture, photography, publishing, music, dance, cinema, radio, fashion, video games and architecture. This relates not only to the leisure industry, but is also a question of personal expression, innovation and education to improve standards of living and social cohesion. It is a serious industry, one of the most rapidly growing sectors in the world. In 2012, international trade in creative goods and services generated 624 billion dollars in revenue. The creative industries account for between 5 and 8% of revenues and jobs in the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands and Australia and represent between 2 and 4% of GDP in countries such as Argentina, China, Colombia, Malaysia, Poland, Romania, Singapore or South Africa. In Nigeria, the recent overhaul of the national accounting system revealed that the ﬁlm industry, audio recordings and music production alone accounted for 1.42% of GDP.
Although Africa is clearly brimming with all kinds of talent, it is failing to ensure that they bear sufﬁcient fruit. In 2010, several reports showed that Africa’s contribution to world exports of cultural goods was minimal (less than 1%). The situation has certainly evolved since then, but this percentage is a good indicator of how much ground needs to be covered. Africa’s presence in world markets for creative goods and services continues to stagnate. The reasons are well known: poor capacity to supply, ignorance of intellectual property rights, obsolete policies and regulations, lack of investment in necessary infrastructures, etc. For example, whereas there are 40,000 cinemas in the United States, 20,000 in India and 13,000 in China, there are fewer than 1,000 throughout the whole of Africa, which is one cinema for every million inhabitants. Such disparities show how far there still is to go, but also the potential for growth to be exploited because if creativity is a new currency, it is up to Africa to reap its rewards.
With 54 countries, more than 3,000 different cultures, a multiplicity of languages and dialects, the sociocultural landscape of the continent is incomparably rich and varied. Its music, ﬁlms, performing arts and crafts are already widely known and artists simply want to achieve even greater fulﬁlment within their discipline, whatever it may be. They will succeed as long as they understand how ‘value chains’ function, know how art is commercialised and know what incentives to use. To this end, lessons need to be learned from the greatest creative economies in the world, beginning with that of the United States where the creative sector represents approximately 6% of GDP, as a result of a deliberately aggressive strategy.
Given that between 7 and 10 million young Africans are seeking work on a daily basis, every opportunity must be grasped with both hands. The luxury industry in Europe alone generates 800,000 jobs. The creative economy can lead to ‘value chains’ in Africa linking artists and entrepreneurs and then from entrepreneurs to distributors to create modern jobs. Cabo Verde, where there is said to be the greatest concentration of musicians per square kilometre, is a good example of the way in which a country can make use of its resources to make the creative economy the cornerstone of its development strategy. With very few raw materials, the country is trying to turn its cultural heritage into a major component of its economy. It has made every effort to ensure that artists and producers can offer creative goods to both the local and export markets. A microcredit system called the ‘cultural bank’ was established in 2012 to facilitate access to start-up capital for small businessmen and creators in all its islands. To offer greater incentives for creative activity, networks linking the sale of arts and crafts, museums, performance spaces and festivals were set up everywhere to enable arts and culture to stimulate the economy on a day-to-day basis. The Atlantic Music Expo held last year in the capital, Praia, also helped to attract a wide range of music industry professionals from across the world and put them in touch with local musicians, entrepreneurs and distributors to create new ‘value chains’.
Africa has also become a continent of ‘big buyers’, in ever-increasing numbers. For example, in 2013, Nigeria represented one of the famous Selfridges of London’s biggest consumer markets. Dom Pérignon ranks Nigeria just behind France as the fastest growing market for the purchase of bottles of champagne. Indeed, for Africans, real luxury would be to ﬁnd at home what they buy abroad, but the emergence of a new class of consumers with substantial incomes has become a reality. This new class is driving local demand for goods and services commensurate with its lifestyle, thereby stimulating public and private investment in culture. African luxury brands are enjoying ever-increasing success, from the Ysmara gourmet range of teas or chocolates to Kourage Athletics sports equipment, not to mention upmarket Sandstorm safari luggage, among others. Economic forecasts show Africans’ buying power will continue to rise in the coming years. Lagos already constitutes a bigger consumer market than Bombay in India and African households are spending more than their Russian counterparts! This is unlikely to stop, especially given that by the middle of the century there will be more Nigerians than Americans in the world.
Furthermore, technology and the digital revolution has enabled Africa to become a pioneer in low-cost innovation. Through the advent of digital cinema, for example, Nollywood has achieved rapid development to become the third most important ﬁlm industry in the world in terms of value, after Hollywood and Bollywood. This industry is worth between 500 and 800 million dollars a year. The country’s second-largest employer after the agricultural sector, it produces an average of 2,000 full-length ﬁlms every year. Full-length ﬁlms on DVD sell for 2 dollars each with an average of 50,000 copies. This affordable form of entertainment for Africans and model for rapid production is now being exported to Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya and Mali. These countries have adopted the Nollywood model in preference to the traditional models of America and Europe.
Serious studies show that, among the creative industries, the fastest- growing are those specialising in software programming and video games (followed by music and ﬁlms). From Ma3Racer – downloaded by almost 250,000 people in 169 countries within a month of its issue – to Afro Fighters, Masai & Keke – a huge hit in India – not to mention comic strips designed for mobile phones, African video games are really ‘taking off’. But this sector can and must develop even further in Africa. With 629 million mobile phone users in Africa, there is huge potential, especially for developers of apps. The average African currently spends 6 dollars a month on his mobile phone, as compared with 48 dollars spent by the average American. This difference proves that the future belongs to Africa, provided that it does not squander its opportunities.
It is a matter of urgency to create awareness at the political level that the creative industries can fuel growth, as is conﬁrmed by many international summits and all kinds of publications. UNCTAD and UNESCO have published studies on the subject. Two thirds of Africa’s countries have signed the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions which is designed to increase investment in the creative and cultural industries and to give the South’s creative products preferential access to the markets of the North. The continent has adopted several sets of guidelines to promote development and growth in the creative industries. The Nairobi Plan of Action of 2005 for Cultural Industries, the Declaration and the Abuja Charter of 2010 for African Cultural Renaissance and more recently, the Praia Declaration, places the focus on the potential of Africa’s youth in the creative economy.
Governments now have a key role to play in designing and executing robust institutional and regulatory policies and in ensuring that they are followed up, in support of creative forces and the marketing of their works. It is crucial to provide them with a supportive environment and ad hoc legal protection. For example, piracy continues to be a serious problem because of the inability to enforce copyright. South Africa estimates losses on its revenues from DVDs at 44%, including 15% on online sales. To ensure the growth of the creative economy, it is essential to impose a system for the protection of intellectual property rights. This system not only regulates ownership, but also enables creators and authors to control the exploitation of their work and to facilitate sales, while stimulating substantial investment.
Strengthening partnerships with the private sector and civil society would make a signiﬁcant contribution to improving investments at every level of the creative industry, to developing human resources and to consolidating local supply capacities. For a long time, Africa has been losing many artists whose works are being looted, legally or not, and who consequently leave and settle outside the continent. Africa can no longer allow this constant drain of its talents to continue. Now is the time to strengthen or even create specialist training in entrepreneurship, artistic development, modernisation of production, improvement of distribution networks and promotion of consumption and brand images.
Given that the majority of the creative industry consists of small enterprises, partnerships and facilitation of access to ﬁnance in the form of credit, donations or loans are indispensable. The Kwani Trust, a literary network based in Kenya, publishes and distributes contemporary African works, provides training opportunities, organises literary events and maintains a network throughout the world. Bozza, a ready-to-use digital solution, enables African musicians, poets, photographers and ﬁlmmakers to publicise and sell their digitised works. Arterial Network, a civil society network of creators and entrepreneurs, specialises in identifying unknown talents and helping them earn a living from their work and gain recognition. Lastly, Ecobank’s development fund for West Africa, the ﬁrst of its kind in the banking sector, is a testament to the interest created by the creative industries in the world of ﬁnance.
Creativity has become the new currency of our time. If Africa sometimes seems to be lagging behind when it comes to health or industrial development, it certainly is not in this effervescent sector. Now it must gain the maximum beneﬁts from the cards that it holds!
 According to UNCTAD, the creative economy consists essentially of nine sectors: cultural heritage, cultural sites, visual arts, publishing and written information, industrial creation, performing arts, audiovisual industries, new media and creative services.
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