Jobs in Africa creative economy are informal

Clay Dance group showcase a dance perfomance  at National Theatre auditorium. A recent report has labelled work in the African cultural and creative economy as somewhat atypical owing to its informality, among others. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Covid-19 negatively affected the African CCE and exacerbated many preexisting decent work deficits in this sector.

A recent International Labour Organisation (ILO) report has labelled work in the African cultural and creative economy (CCE) as somewhat atypical owing to its informality, prevalence of microenterprises and lack of job security.

The CCE dangles a form of employment, the report adds, that is often insecure (temporary, part-time) or consists of income-earning opportunities undertaken by freelancers such as project-based work, short-term contracts or own-account work.

Titled “Promoting Decent Work in the African Cultural and Creative Economy”, the report further proposes interventions to develop mechanisms to ensure freelancers, microenterprises and informal workers have labour and social protections similar to other workers.

The report recommends advocacy and lobbying to strengthen social dialogue structures in order to ensure the principles of decent work are applied to sector actors (cultural workers, freelancers, small/microenterprises). Such an endeavour, the report further offers, will enable governments (departments of labour and culture) to recognise the importance of sustaining the CCE.

“There is a need to establish programmes to increase decent jobs for youth and women in this sector,” the report says. “This will mean developing appropriate legislation and economic policies, financial incentives, relevant education and training (including skills accreditation) and, very importantly, advancing labour rights and social protection for youth and women. A key starting point is to ensure the adoption of legislation by individual governments that extends social protection to cultural workers, freelancers and cultural professionals.”

Pandemic effects
The Covid-19 pandemic has negatively affected the African CCE and exacerbated many of the preexisting decent work deficits in this sector, the report notes. 

“This has rekindled the urgent need for measures that provide social protection coverage, appropriate working conditions, respect for labour laws and gender equality,” Ms Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon, the ILO assistant director-general and regional director for Africa, says.

Mr Firmin Edouard Matoko, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation  (Unesco) assistant director-general of the Sector for Priority Africa and External Relations, says despite remaining largely untapped, Africa’s creative economy remains one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world. It accounts for 3.1 percent of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with the export of cultural goods and services reaching $389.1 billion in 2019.

“Too often, the impact of culture is underestimated and not connected to the social and economic issues of our time,” Mr Matoko notes, adding, “Recently, the pandemic has demonstrated this all too well by exacerbating the vulnerabilities of the cultural sector. Unesco estimates that the gross added value of the cultural and creative industries shrank by $750 billion in 2020. Behind these figures, the first people to be hit economically were cultural and creative professionals.”

Work to be done
Per Mr Matoko, 8.2 percent of workers in Africa are in the cultural and creative sectors.
“Many African artists and cultural professionals carry the burden of precarious contracts, low incomes and a lack of professional status. Yet the African creative economy is characterised by its vitality, employing young people and nurturing innovation,” Mr Matoko says.

The study was undertaken between September 21, 2021 and February 21, 2022. It identified the challenges and opportunities for promoting decent work in the arts and culture sector. The context for this analysis includes the ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work, 2019, the Abidjan Declaration (2019), the ILO’s Global Call to Action (ILO 2021a), the AU Social Protection Plan for the Informal Economy and Rural Workers (SPIREWORK), the Revised AU Plan of Action on Cultural and Creative Industries (2008), and the Statute of the African Audio Visual and Cinema Commission (2019).

It also provides an outline of trends shaping the nature of work in the African CCE and policies. An analysis of the decent work challenges in the different countries and sub-sectors is also offered for good measure. 

The study chose five sectors of the CCE to investigate more thoroughly, each located in one of the five sub-regions of Africa. These included cultural heritage in Egypt, dance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), fashion in the United Republic of Tanzania, film and TV in Nigeria, and live music in South Africa.

The report further clarifies the status, scope and existing dynamics of the value chain in this economy. It is thought this evidence will be crucial for policy interventions going forward in order to mitigate the existing uncertainty and vulnerabilities experienced by many cultural workers and practitioners.

According to the ILO, there is a need for government measures that provide social protection coverage, appropriate working conditions and respect for labour laws and gender equality. These are necessary conditions of a framework to ensure the African CCE contributes to human development, economic growth and social inclusion.

The digital environment has dramatically affected the CCE, leading to changes across the value chain. This has affected business models, stakeholder relationships, audience development, remuneration and intellectual property management, the report notes. African countries experience the effects of new digital technologies both positively through new opportunities for “audience reach, innovation and growth” ,and negatively thanks to inadequate intellectual property protection and issues around unfair remuneration for content creators.

“This indicates a need for intermediaries such as hubs, aggregators, incubators and accelerators to bridge the gap between the CCE and the digital economy, as well as for strong workers’ and employers’ organisations to ensure a level-playing field for negotiating fair remuneration models…,” says the report.

The report also observes that there are decent work deficits in the African CCE. Employment opportunities, a key aspect of decent work, are measured by “indicators that provide insights regarding the quantity of labour demand and supply in an economy.”

ILO adds thus: “However, the CCE is not characterised by standard employment relationships and is considered precarious and uncertain.”

Egypt an exception
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) report notes that an exception in its study is the cultural heritage sector in Egypt where the culture and media sector alone employed 13,034 people in cultural venues in 2018. A further 1,968 were employed in the public sector and public affairs, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS). The Bibliotheca Alexandrina, for instance, has more than 2,440 employees.

The archaeology professionals interviewed for this study put the number of archaeologists at around 1,000. That said; most jobs in the cultural heritage sector are considered informal, making it difficult to protect them. The development of Egypt’s heritage wealth also generates indirect employment through the tourism sector. As an illustration of cultural and non-cultural jobs created in the tourism and aviation sectors, CAPMAS statistics show that 45,746 were employed in the public sector in 2019.

A key aspect of the report is the recommendation of a programme of interventions to improve labour relations, upholding international labour standards and fundamental principles and rights at work, stimulate entrepreneurship, skills development and employment prospects, foster social dialogue and representation, and provide for adequate social protection and occupational safety and health in the CCE.