Artists and creative people in Africa continue to miss out on the wider opportunities provided by the emergent global economic sector, the “creative economy”.
A report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) shows that despite registering some of the highest percentage growths in such fields as arts and crafts, music and design, the continent earns the least from its creative people.
“Despite the richness of their cultural diversity and the abundance of creative talent, the great majority of developing countries are not yet fully benefiting from the enormous potential of their creative economies to improve development gains,” the report says.
The comprehensive report, titled Creative Economy 2008, puts into facts and figures, the contributions made to global economic growth by artists, musicians, architects, designers, creators of software among others.
The term “creative economy” has been steadily gaining wide usage within government and artistic circles. On the one hand it’s seen as a useful bridge linking the arts with the wider, mainstream sectors of the economy.
But on the other hand, critics say it provides nothing new and is merely a repackaging of creativity that has always been present.
The report defines “Creative industries” “as the cycles of creation, production and distribution of goods and services that use creativity and intellectual capital as primary inputs.
They comprise a set of knowledge-based activities that produce tangible goods and intangible intellectual or artistic services with creative content, economic value and market objectives.”
UNCTAD points out that the growth in information technology has for the first time pushed creativity to the fore as a possible leading growth area in the future. The organisation adds that the imperative is for governments to strengthen intellectual property protection laws to enable creative people benefit from their output.
The report shows that the sector grew by 8.7 per cent from 2000 to 2005 – the period which the report is based on.
Over all, trade in creative goods contributed US$424.4 billion in 2005, representing 3.4 per cent of total world trade. 2005 is the latest year UNCTAD uses in this report, released at the close of 2008.
However, the bulk of this money was made by the OECD countries, followed by emergent economies in Southeast Asia.
In the same year, the entire African continent made US$ 1.7 billion only, up from a paltry US$0.9 billion in 2000.
In comparison, in the year 2000, Japan alone is estimated to have exported “creative goods” worth US$ 4.8 billion.
However, the figures by themselves do not tell the whole story, for the African continent is the third fasted growing producer of creative products behind Asia:
While in 2005 – the latest date at which UNCTAD collated the figures – Japan exported creative products worth US$ 5.5 billion, and Africa, only US$ 1.7 billion, the Japanese increase was a 15 per cent growth compared to Africa’s, 82 per cent.
A number of factors play here: while the humble African figures are a reflection of poor data collection, meaning there might in actual fact be more production of creative products than is recorded. Crucially, the bulk of products in the “creative economy” depend on possession of hi-tech production, an area Africa lags behind in.
Lack of supportive public policies, poor integration into global economy and lack of investments in the sectors are some of the other factors keeping African “creative workers” from earning as much as their compatriots elsewhere.
“For the moment, African creative products are very under-represented in world markets despite the abundance of creative talent on the continent,” says the report.
It also highlights lack of copy right protection as a virulent enemy of creative industries which “destroys the ability of African artists to have a viable career as an artist or, in fact, the creative industry to become viable.
There is some evidence to suggest that in the music industry at least, pirate operators have a competitive advantage since their costs are lower and they have minimal capital investment requirements.”
It goes on to say that Africa as well as the rest of the developing world “[has] been facing domestic and international obstacles that need to be fully understood and overcome through cross-cutting institutional mechanisms and multidisciplinary policies.
In this scenario, development strategies must be updated to cope with the far-reaching cultural, economic and technological shifts that are reshaping society.” However, the situation in Africa is not even. Countries within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have a much better infrastructure and benefit the most from the creative sectors, with bigger and better run museums and galleries supporting the crafts and visual arts.
South Africa is the biggest exporter of creative products on the continent, followed by Namibia, Tunisia, Morocco and Kenya. Public policy in the SADC region is also more supportive than elsewhere on the continent. The report makes note of the emergence of musical traditions like Congolese rumba, Zaïroise Moderne, Afropop, gospel; new sounds like from “urbanized youth,” like the South African Kwaito and Tanzanian Bongo Flava.
The main centres for music production the report points out are in East Africa - Kenya and Tanzania; West Africa - Ivory Coast , Mali , Nigeria and Senegal and; Southern Africa - South Africa and Zimbabwe,
It points out as noteworthy, the support political leadership has provided in countries like Congo and Tanzania.
“The realization of value from the creative content of Africa is often in the hands of foreign distributors such that income leaves the countries where the content is created and produced,” the report says, adding that “in Africa, however, because the artists expect to receive little or no royalty from record sales partly owing to piracy and partly to the inadequate collection of copyrights, they negotiate a bigger share of an up-front payment that essentially signs away their rights to the music.”
The report highlights the emerging infrastructure helping to raise the profile of artists:
“The Biennale of Contemporary African Art of Dakar undoubtedly makes a critical contribution to ensuring the promotion of artists and the diffusion of contemporary creative works within and beyond the continent.”
Also known as Dak’Art, the Senegalese Biennale has become a large expo for African art, drawing in as many as 289 artists from 34 countries including a contingent from the African Diaspora and artists from the rest of the world.
Despite the hurdles it outlines, the report notes that artists on the continent are increasingly coming up with creative solutions, pointing at the runaway success of the Nigerian film industry, "Nollywood", as a good example:
“The emergence and rise of the Nigerian video-based film industry, the so-called “Nollywood”, is a creative response to satisfy the cultural needs of modern African society Nonetheless, developing countries are lagging behind in the film industry, since on average, they produce 1.2 films per million inhabitants compared with 6.3 films in developed countries.”
Africa has put together measures to try and harness the creative sectors. The Nairobi Plan of Action 2005 attempts to create legal and institutional infrastructure to support the cultural industries. The report advises the continent to “integrate into the global economy by nurturing…creative capacities and enhancing the competitiveness of [its their creative goods and services in world markets, provided that appropriate public policies are in place at the national level and market imbalances can be redressed at the international level.
In this respect, support for domestic creative industries should be seen as an integral part of the promotion and protection of cultural diversity.”
Artericle First published on the African Colours Website: http://www.africancolours.com/african-art-editorials/425/international/failing_to_call_the_tune.htm