Strengths, weaknesses of E. Africa’s creative economy
Posted Tuesday, January 26 2016 at 02:00
The creative economy of East Africa can be described as fragile, fragmented and at an early stage of development. Bamuturaki Musinguzi writes about the shared issues which currently hold the sector back.
Uganda’s exports of cultural goods and services were estimated at $20 million (Shs69.4billion) between 2004 and 2008. Copyright industries here employ about 100,000 people countrywide, according to a mapping study commissioned by Uganda National Commission for Unesco in 2009.
But Uganda’s creative economy has a number of weaknesses. For instance, lack of government funding means that even well-regarded institutions such as the National Museum, face an uncertain future.
For the past three years, the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) has been lobbying government to support mainstream culture in all development initiatives, and specifically to earmark at least one per cent of the national Budget to cultural development programmes.
The CCFU executive director, Emily Drani, observes that “there is limited political will and financing of the culture sector, reflected in the low priority given to cultural heritage on the national development agenda.”
The ICT infrastructure is still restricted to urban regions as only 18 per cent of Ugandans currently have access to the Internet.
“But even in the urban areas where ICT infrastructure is abundant, it is hardly exploited towards the growth of the creative industries,” the Ugandan playwright and actor, Philip Luswata, told DN2, a magazine in Daily Nation.
The study observes that the Uganda National Cultural Policy of 2006 mainly relates to traditional forms of literature, music and dance, and not to the creative economy.
The policy is the first comprehensive instrument that takes into account the country’s cultural diversity, and was formulated to guide the formal and informal systems of managing culture at all levels.
The government admits in the policy that, generally, capacities in the culture sub-sector are inadequate. These include limited qualified personnel, materials and equipment; knowledge about markets for products; infrastructure; and coordination. This status quo undermines the potential for culture to contribute to national development.
Kenya’s situation is not very different. It is by far the economic and creative hub of East Africa, but a new study shows that it has numerous weaknesses which are spread across her neighbours.
The study, by the British Council and titled ‘Scoping the Creative Economy in East Africa,’ analyses the state of the creative economy in the region and confirms that Kenya is also a hub of continent-wide significance, offering strong competition and collaboration potential to South Africa and Nigeria.
Nairobi, the study points out, has attracted global giants such as IBM, Google and Microsoft because it has the universities, infrastructure and dynamism that make it a natural leader in the region.
But that is where the rosy tale ends. In contrast, the complete lack of funding - for the Kenya National Theatre, for instance - by the government, means the local arts scene is a shell of the powerhouse it once was.
According to the study, released in May last year, there is lack of training and skills in home-grown television and film makers, meaning the quality of the visual and audio product is sometimes wanting.
“This is quite evident in the lack of professionalism in the local film industry, with most Kenyans preferring to watch cheap Mexican soaps and Naija movies,” Tabu Osusa, the executive director of Ketebul Music, based in Nairobi, told DN2.
The British Council study shows that the quality of advertising, especially on TV, is weak compared to international markets, and Osusa concurs, saying this could be due to lack of creativity on the part of the creators of these adverts.
The study observes that the East African creative economy has a number of strengths such as cultural distinctiveness, very strong traditions, and real flair across creative sectors including music, crafts, fashion, visual arts, film and - increasingly - digital content industries.
The film industry in Tanzania is undoubtedly strong, but government attempts to strengthen copyright protection by stamping films either seen as a poor attempt to crack down on copyright infringement.
Tanzania’s creative economy is strong in music and film, partly due to the fact that Kiswahili, with more than 130 million speakers, and English mean access to pan-African markets, but it is massively underdeveloped and suffers a lack of confidence, expertise and experience in Tanzanian exporters. The craft, design and fashion sectors are also strong, with very distinctive aesthetic and strong connections to tribal communities and identities. But professionalisation, capacity and links to market are all major handicaps.
According to the ‘Scoping the Creative Economy in East Africa,’ study, Tanzania lacks proper distribution channels for films; and filmmakers are routinely ripped off or are naive in the way they structure deals.
The study notes that a visa cost for any visiting artiste is more than $1,000 (about Shs3.5m). This makes artistic collaborations difficult.
“This is a very backward thinking system where, after failing to enforce the available tax structures, the government would rather ‘overtax’ to enable its organs to fleece artists and art promotional institutions through the many, many fees, of which the artists’ visa fee is only one,” Dr Martin Mhando, a leading Tanzanian filmmaker and academic,, says.
According to the British Council study, the education system is not geared up to meet the demands of any sort of the knowledge economy.
“The government ought to encourage a commercial view of arts education - in the creation, funding and developing of a system where identified arts students are encouraged to form enterprises even at the school level for them to understand that the arts pay,” Dr Mhando adds.
Mr Yusuf Mahmoud, the chief executive officer of Busara Promotions, the organisers of the annual Sauti za Busara music festival in Zanzibar, laments that even after 11 successful editions, the festival still receives zero financial support from both the governments of Zanzibar and Tanzania.
The creative economy of East Africa, therefore, can be characterised as fragile, fragmented and at an early stage of development. While there are fundamental and important differences between countries, there are many shared issues which currently hold the sector back. These include pervasive corruption, bureaucratic and incompetent systems from another age, lack of fundamental infrastructure, and systemic poverty.
If the East African creative economy is to grow, there should be efforts to promote creative education, legal and financial services, merge culture and the creative economy, a need for large scale projects which can really change opinion, and to grow export markets for creative products.
Low wages, poor working conditions and limited opportunities for too many talented people are among overall weaknesses identified by the study. The East African creative economy is also characterised by weak creative education and low levels of entrepreneurialism, management and leadership across the arts and cultural sector; plus low levels of literacy across the wider population.
Abridged from Daily Nation