Govt tipped on how to grow arts industry

Joseph Mayanja, alias Jose Chameleone (centre), performs at a concert. The arts sector plays a pivotal role in driving demand for various other industries, including telecommunications, broadcasting, breweries, and more. PHOTO/file

What you need to know:

Despite the sector’s potential and significance, public investment in the arts, culture, and creative industries (CCIs) has been limited.

Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa’s recent endorsement of a musical battle between Ugandan artistes Joseph Mayanja, popularly known as Jose Chameleone, and Moses Ssali, alias Bebe Cool, has ignited a debate in artistic circles about the government’s priorities in the arts industry.

While musical battles and celebrity showdowns undoubtedly garner attention and generate excitement among fans, experts reckon such events shouldn’t take precedence over more substantial issues within the creative sector.

Mr Tayebwa’s support for musical battles is not an isolated incident. It follows President Museveni’s recent promises to provide financial support, equipment, and an updated copyright law to artistes.

The President also pledged to invite artistes for discussions on common user facilities. While these announcements were met with enthusiasm, they have also raised concerns in one school of thought that contends more pressing issues in the arts industry abound.

Significance of the arts

A 2014 mapping study by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) revealed that 386,000 people were directly employed in this sector. By 2017, the sector contributed three percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Furthermore, the arts sector is the third most interlinked sector in Uganda. This essentially means that it plays a pivotal role in driving demand for various other industries, including telecommunications, broadcasting, breweries, and more.

Despite the sector’s potential and significance, public investment in the arts, culture, and creative industries (CCIs) has been limited. During the Covid-19 pandemic, for instance, the government allocated Shs10b to a stimulus fund. While this fund did provide relief to promoters who suffered losses, thanks to pandemic-related curbs, experts hold that its reactionary approach left a lot to be desired.

Challenges, solutions

So what next? Mr Charles Batambuze, the vice chairman of the National Culture Forum (NCF), an apex body for all associations in the arts industry, argues that there has been no substantial public investment in the sector, both before and after the pandemic. This, he adds, has led to the untapped economic potential of the CCIs in Uganda, resulting in losses in terms of tax and non-tax revenue collections, job creation, and livelihoods.

Mr Batambuze recommends a collaborative effort involving various arts leadership figures. There was a semblance of this when the NCF, representing the private sector, met with officials from the department of culture in the Gender, Labour, and Social Development ministry. Various associations, including the Uganda Musicians Association (UMA), as well as individual artistes and industry stakeholders, also graced the meeting.

While the engagement identified several significant obstacles hindering the sector’s full realisation, there wasn’t a meeting of minds insofar as mapping out proactive measures is concerned. Furthermore, the set of visionary strategies aimed at unlocking the industry’s full potential look primed to remain on paper.

Poor access to markets

The arts and creative industry, by its very nature, is a realm of unpredictability and heightened risk. Unfortunately, this inherent risk factor renders it unattractive to conventional lenders and investors. Unlike some other sectors, creative enterprises in Uganda lack access to government-backed loans that could serve as a safety net against this risk. Consequently, artistes and creatives find themselves navigating a financial landscape riddled with obstacles, struggling to secure the necessary financing to fuel their ventures.

Uganda boasts of an abundance of raw artistic talent. However, the transformation of this talent into sustainable, thriving creative businesses faces a significant roadblock in the form of a skills shortage. Experts say there is an urgent need to equip creative entrepreneurs with a diverse skill set encompassing technical prowess, effective business management, digital literacy, and the intricacies of cultural entrepreneurship. This skill gap poses a notable hindrance to modernising the sector.

The digital age has ushered in a world of unprecedented opportunities for global market access. Regrettably, many CCI entrepreneurs in Uganda have not harnessed these opportunities. Challenges include poor digital literacy, a dearth of exposure to digital platforms, and the high cost of data limiting the local streaming market. Furthermore, restrictions on international payment gateways, exemplified by the unavailability of platforms like PayPal, coupled with a bitcoin ban, pose considerable barriers that hinder the sector’s ability to tap into global markets.

Infrastructure bottlenecks

In the realm of creative expression, infrastructure plays a pivotal role in shaping the industry’s success. Uganda’s creative sector grapples with inadequate facilities and venues. This deficiency not only limits the potential for domestic artistic endeavours but also drives away direct foreign capital inflow. Events organisers and producers often opt for countries boasting superior facilities and more favourable taxation policies, leaving Uganda at a disadvantage.

Governance within the realm of CCIs remains fragmented, creating a challenging environment for artistes and creative entrepreneurs. The existing laws and policies are either outdated or insufficient to effectively address the dynamic needs of the sector. This fragmentation hampers the industry’s ability to flourish under a coherent and progressive regulatory framework.

What needs to be done?

These proposals, carefully crafted by experts and industry insiders per Mr Batambuze, signal a promising path towards revitalising the creative sector and bolstering its role in the nation’s socio-economic landscape.

One of the pivotal initiatives gaining traction is the creation of a dedicated fund tailored specifically for CCIs. The rationale behind this move is to provide artistes and creative entrepreneurs with access to affordable credit, designed to align with the unique demands of their ventures. This innovative approach seeks to address the inherent high-risk nature of the sector, making it more appealing to a diverse range of capital investments.

Recognising that a skilled workforce is the backbone of any thriving creative industry, calls are growing louder for significant investments in training and capacity development programmes. These initiatives aim to equip CCI professionals with a wide spectrum of skills, including technical expertise, business acumen, and digital literacy. By nurturing a more proficient workforce, experts add, the creative sector can seamlessly transition into the modern age, positioning itself for sustained growth.

Commercialisation drive

Domestic digital markets, experts further reveal, can get a tonic by way of lowering the cost of data to cut the cost of uploading content and encouraging local consumption via streaming and downloads. Progressive tax policies to attract investments in local content delivery networks, digital services providers and other digital platforms to support the digital economy also need to be made more accessible, UMA told Saturday Monitor. It is also critical to invest in festivals, fairs and exhibitions to create a vibrant local art market scene which brings closer the opportunities for skilling and co-productions. Bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations should incorporate unique demands of the CCIs to ensure access to export markets.

To bolster the commercialisation of creative works and elevate Uganda’s status as a regional hub for cultural production, investments in culture infrastructure are deemed essential. This visionary proposal encompasses the establishment of multipurpose performance arenas, cutting-edge exhibition spaces, world-class theatres, and state-of-the-art recording studios. Such infrastructure developments hold the promise of providing fertile ground for creative talents to flourish and connect with broader audiences.

In an ever-evolving landscape, governance and regulation must keep pace. Therefore, there is a concerted effort to streamline and modernise the frameworks governing CCIs. This includes the removal of obstacles that hinder the sector’s proper development through the introduction of more responsive and forward-thinking laws and policies. Key reforms are needed in financial regulations to enable Uganda to fully embrace the digital economy by enabling access to international financial gateways. Copyright reforms need to take care of new streams for royalties such as private copy levy on gadgets and regulations of revenue share for Caller Ring Back Tunes (CRBTs) among others. A regime of fiscal incentives, says Mr Batambuze, is needed to bolster the CCIs in Uganda.