Art & DesignThe Rise of Africa’s Creative Economy.

Wayne MatengoOctober 17, 202117111 min
Photo by Martin Bekerman on Unsplash
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Back then, who knew that we would be able to create memes from any situation and earn the titles “meme king” and “meme queen”? Who knew that we would have dancing pallbearers at funerals? Who knew that we would be able to have a live virtual concert in the middle of a pandemic and be able to have a feel-good moment like it was physically live? These few instances only scratch the surface of the enormity and variety of the creative talent that Africa is and has been churning out, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When people asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, your childhood answer was always something along the creative lines: an artist, a musician, an actor or maybe even a writer. The most influential creative and prolific artist of the 20th Century, Pablo Picasso once said,

‘Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.’

This quote has proved to be true in many of our African households. Chasing creative dreams is cute for a kid, but now that you need to earn a livelihood, everyone seems to expect you to go into what they see as more of a practical career.

What is the creative economy?

The creative economy is a term that has been coined to underpin all the elements of the creative industries which include, but not limited to: advertising, architecture, arts and crafts, design, fashion, film, video, photography, music, performing arts, publishing, research and development, software, computer games, electronic publishing, and TV & radio. These industries are considered the lifeblood of the creative economy.

In a nutshell, the creative economy is a dynamic concept that involves the inter-linkages between human creativity and ideas, intellectual property, knowledge and technology. The creative industries are among if not the most vigorous sectors in the world economy that seek to provide new opportunities for developing countries to leapfrog into emerging high growth areas of the world economy. Africa is already witnessing this revolution take place.

If you think that the creative economy is small and meant for the lucky few, then you are mistaken. As at 2015, the cultural and creative industry was generating $4.2 billion and was responsible for employing close to 547,500 individuals in Africa. It is worth noting that a majority of these activities take place in the informal sector, thus getting reliable data becomes a challenge.

However, that should not block African economies from realizing their full potential from the cultural and creative industries. Africa is quite a creative continent that has been on the forefront of exporting various forms of creative and cultural products globally. This has seen several trends spawn from different parts across the continent.

The most prominent example is the presence of the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood. Nollywood is globally recognized as the second largest film producer, and is currently the fourth largest economic sector in Nigeria. These films are known worldwide to showcase the Nigerian culture and talent as they endeavor to challenge and change the discourse stereotypes about the African continent.

Alongside the film industry, is the African music industry which is a volcano that is at the verge of erupting (if it hasn’t already). This exploding attention and popularity of the African music industry has prompted a rise in transnational and transatlantic music collaborations. According to a PwC report, the music industry in Africa – especially in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya – is expected to grow at a faster rate than that of the world’s average.

Projected compound annual growth rates in the entertainment and media sector, 2015-2020 .

(Source: Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2016–2020, PwC)

Despite this success, capturing the entire value of the African music markets is challenging. This is due to presence of weak legal protections for intellectual property coupled with rampant piracy that is leading to the rise of the underground economy.

The growth of the creative economy can be attributed to the rising numbers of mobile and internet connection. As at 2015, around half a billion Africans had subscribed to mobile services (PwC). Partnerships between telecommunications companies and creative industry have resulted in an explosion of digital distribution. People are now able to access and share these materials very easily than before.

On the other hand, creatives are now able to generate, produce and share content seamlessly. Aside from the internet penetration, demographics is also playing a major role in enhancing the growth of the creative industry. Africa is the youngest continent in the world, with 70% of the people under the age of 30. This has spurred a huge interest in the creative industry.

The impact of the cultural and creative industry will only be felt if governments become intent on measuring its contributions to employment and GDP growth. Moreover, public and private sectors at large should develop more innovative initiatives, services and products that provide support to the creatives while fast-tracking the professionalism of these individuals.

The United Nations declared the year 2021 as the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. This is a great way for African states and governments to kickstart a conscientious effort to support and promote the creative economy in order to realize the full potential of this industry and stake their claim in the global mainstream.

Africa’s cultural and creative revolution is only a matter of time, a reality that can be met in the very near future, but it takes creative vision as well as intellectual and financial capital from both the private and public sector to nurture these industries from ground-up.

They often cannot deliver a quick return on investment. But in the long-term they offer socio-economic growth, a rich supply chain and cultural transformation; and these are industries that will outlive the riches generated from the finite natural resources that have for far too long been at the centre of economic policy and economic growth in Africa.

Wayne Matengo

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