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Infrastructure and Connectivity in Advancing Africa’s Creative Clusters

Diverse creative and cultural industries, such as new media and creative services rely to a great degree on information communication technology (ICT). Growing globally at 8-12% annually the Creative economy is poised to become the driving force behind the economic prosperity in most African countries. This sector in African countries that embrace digital technology will encourage and enable sustainable context-specific cultural, social and economic development. Investment in the industry is a key driver for the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals in the African region.

Creative economies create jobs for disadvantaged population groups and make an important contribution of around three per cent towards the global economy. The creative and cultural industries innovative power shines out into other branches of the economy and they are a pioneer in tomorrow’s world of work. This gives them the potential to drive development inclusively and in the long term. There has been a growing interest in the role that culture and creative industries play in developing nations.

Native cultural forms and the creative industries are the most important cultural sectors in African countries. Cultural and creative industries, which include arts and crafts, advertising, design, entertainment, architecture, books, media and software, have become a vital force in accelerating human development in connection with social change and cultural obligation.

If well organized, the creative economy can be a source of structural economic transformation, socio-economic progress, job creation and innovation while contributing to social inclusion and sustainable human development. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s Creative Economy Report 2008 defined the creative economy as “the interface between creativity, culture, economics and technology as expressed in the ability to create and circulate intellectual capital, with the potential to generate income, jobs and export earnings while at the same time promoting social inclusion, cultural diversity and human development. This is what the emerging creative economy has already begun to do.”

Technology and economics are the key factors that drive extraordinary growth in the creative industries worldwide. The technological transformations in communications brought about by the digital revolution and the economic environment within which this revolution has taken place have combined to create the conditions for this growth. The convergence of multimedia and mobile telecommunication technologies has led to an integration of the means by which creative content is produced, distributed and consumed and has in turn fostered new forms of artistic and creative expression.

In the first 20 years of the 21st century, the increasing visibility of cultural and creative industries in cities across Africa has been emblematic of the African renaissance. The continent is rich storytelling tradition. Be it Senegalese music, fashion from Kenya, South African animation films or design from the Middle East, cultural and creative products convey identity, content and values. Africa’s contribution to this vast industry, unfortunately, is negligible. While the continent has a deep pool of talent, it lacks the infrastructure and capacity to commercialise its creative talent and reap the vast fortunes that are lying in wait. Although, the sector has experienced substantial economic growth since the turn of the millennium.

Evolving Digital Economy in Nigeria

The digital economy presents a significant opportunity for African arts to tap into a larger market. In Africa, digital technologies have become a part of arts, media and entertainment, in particular in Kenya and Nigeria. With the foundational financial and digital infrastructure to support the creative industries increasingly being put in place and Africans staying home more due to the pandemic, now is the right time for investors to double down on Africa’s creative industries to spur economic recovery. A report by investment group Palladium indicate that the continent’s cultural goods sector in 2020 is estimated to employ about half a million people and generate $4.2 billion in revenue, and major companies such as Netflix, Universal Music Group, Sony Music, and Warner Music Group have recently entered the African market. Similarly, in 2020, African Export-Import Bank announced a $500 million credit facility to support African cultural and creative products.

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Indeed Africa can utilize its rich heritage and creativity to power economic development.
A 2018 United Nations report indicated that, the global market size for cultural and creative goods more than doubled its size between 2002 and 2015, from $ 208 billion to $ 509 billion. With proper investment in creative talents in sub-Saharan Africa, creative ideas can be turned into successful businesses. An Ernst & Young study (2015) indicates that cultural industries in Africa and in the Middle East are worth US$58 billion in revenues, employ 2.4 million people and contribute 1.1 per cent to regional GDP. The most lucrative of these industries in Africa are music, visual arts and movies.

Although, the low internet penetration holds back the rise of a promising sector such as online gaming. This in contrast with the high potential of the market. In fact, cultural policies are lacking or are not well implemented in many countries according to Ernst & Young. In Nigeria, where the film industry is undergoing important developments and has earned its own brand, labelled “Nollywood”; in Kenya, where digitalisation is expanding; and in different parts of the continent where the fashion and music industries are finally entering the international scene. Nigeria’s film industry, Nollywood, accounted for $7.2bn or 1.42 percent of Nigeria’s GDP in 2016.

Dynamics of South Africa’s Informal Economy

The southern region of our continent is recognised as an economic hub that is flourishing in almost all sectors especially tourism and arts. South Africa’s music industry is estimated to hit $178m in revenue in 2020. Yet in 2019, only 1.1% or $22M of total African start-up investment went to entertainment companies. Cultural goods trade data shows a deficit in cultural goods trade in 2018: South Africa’s cultural goods exports were valued at US$ 446.5 million and cultural goods imports at US$ 469.8 million.

While this deficit the value of cultural goods exports has been growing faster than the exports of other goods. South Africa’s cultural goods exports grew at 14.6% per year between 2015-2018, making up 0.47% of South Africa’s total commodity exports in 2018 (up from 0.37% in 2015). South Africa’s cultural goods imports have fallen dramatically since 2012, making up 0.50% of South Africa’s total commodity imports in 2018 (down from 0.6% in 2015). All indicators point to growth in the creative industries, and we are getting much better at perception and therefore valuing the wider impacts of a strong creative industries sector underpinned and infused by excellence and distinctiveness across the arts and cultural sectors. In Africa, the exact contribution of the sector remains unknown for lack of reliable data; but it is important.

Based on the fact that cultural industries are one of the most rapidly developing sectors of the global economy, these figures are expected to rise significantly. Gaining prominence as a solid path to economic growth and development at an impressive pace, creative economies, with their focus on culture and creativity as sources of export earnings and job creation, are being acknowledged as novel and innovative tools in the quest for durable development.
Nevertheless, beyond mere praise for the economic benefits that creative industries produce, the social benefits that accompany these monetary results are not to be underestimated. Creative economies have shifted international focus from mere economic development to human development.

Over the years, the increasing popularity of African fashion has simultaneous impacts on the economic situation and cultural perception of the continent. African fabrics and fashion became popular among Western audiences and fashion designers. African designs are no longer perceived as a “traditional”, ethnic or original input to new collections, but has instead evolved into a rapidly developing industry which exerts a considerable impact on global trends. Design is a component of creative economies, has served to contribute to the development, illustrating the symbiotic relationship that exists between culture and economic growth. The advent of African Continental Free Trade Area offers opportunities to African textiles manufacturers through transborder trade within the continent.

Technology and the digital revolution have opened doors for the continent to be a trailblazer for frugal innovation. Various cultural industries, such as new media and creative services rely to a great degree on information communication technology (ICT). Boosting the continent’s fashion industry in Africa with the help of digital technology and the internet is helping African fashion entrepreneurs to showcase their product, thereby providing easy access to their product within Africa and beyond. Fashion blogs, magazines, on-line shops of young designers have made public recent developments in African fashion. While, fashion merchandise stimulates local economies by providing jobs for designers, producers of textiles and tailors. Moreover, numerous development programmes has encouraged local communities to set up and maintain sustainable businesses. This has also facilitated knowledge exchanges between the Global North and the Global South.

The creative industries and tourism enjoy a rich relationship with much potential for mutually beneficial collaborative partnerships. Improved opportunities for co-creation and co-curation can ensure that programme accessibility, design, and implementation are as tailored to the local agenda and needs as possible. As most countries in Africa seeks to diversify its economy away from dependency on oil revenues, the creative industries, based on their current economic value, provides a veritable incremental source of employment, revenue and growth.

Since publicly funded cultural institutions play only a small role here, creative and cultural professionals of the continent have been hit by the COVID-19 crisis, they hold both obstacles and opportunities for Africa’s digital economy. With current developments of cultural industries being primarily initiated by members of civil society, it is necessary that such action is actively supported by governments through well-informed policy-development and increased investment in these sectors. Government policy has an immense role to play in the success or failure of future creative economies.

A significant hurdle to the flourishing of creative economies in Africa is the lack of copyright, intellectual property rights legislation and poor enforcement, perpetuating rampant piracy. Censorship and excessive bureaucracy are inhibiting the development of creative and cultural industries. These obstacles can only be overcome through policy reform, which necessitates political will. This on the other hand, will require a realization on the part of governments, that cultural capital is an indispensable, income-generating resource, whose cultivation will produce effects that surpass mere monetary gains.

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