Africa’s Cultural and Creative Revolution: A Saga in the Making

Africa’s creative sector is evolving into an intrinsic part of the continent’s economic diversification and is a positive indication that its nations are waking up to their inherent creative prowess

Writer: Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais, Founder of Quantum Global Group

There’s been a lot of talk in recent times about the potential for Africa’s creative sector to lend itself more effectively towards ongoing economic diversification efforts, and that in itself is a positive indication that African nations are waking up to their inherent creative prowess. Be it film, music, arts, crafts, fashion, design or multimedia, the talent available on the continent is monumental and presents vast opportunities for creative-led jobs for Africans. But so far, what I’m observing is a lot of discussion and not enough collaborative action on catapulting the African creative sector into a high value sector.

In the December, 2015 EY study, ‘Cultural Times – The First Global Map of Cultural and Creative Industries’, the global creative sector is said to have generated US$2,250 billion in revenue per annum; creating 29.5 million jobs. The study revealed that Asia-Pacific is the world’s largest market for cultural and creative industries (CCI), accounting for US$743 billion in revenue – 33 percent of global CCI sales – and 12.7m jobs, representing 43 percent of CCI jobs worldwide. Europe and North America are the second and third largest CCI markets, while Latin America and the MEA (Middle East and Africa) region rank fourth and fifth, respectively. The MEA region apparently generates US$58 billion in revenues – three percent of global CCI revenues – and 2.4 million jobs, or eight percent of total CCI jobs.

In comparison, these statistics may appear small but they are in no way negligible. In South Africa, another study conducted in 2014 found that the creative sector had created between 162,809 and 192,410 jobs, about 1.08-1.28 percent of employment in the country, and that they contributed 2.9 percent to the GDP. In the North, Morocco’s publishing and printing industry employs 1.8 percent of the work force, and is an industry that is worth more than $370 million.

Just imagine what these numbers would look like if all of Africa, as the world's second-largest and second-most-populous continent, unleashed its full creative potential.

Commercialising creativity

While it’s true that African nations currently lack the infrastructure, regulatory frameworks and capacity to commercialise its creative sectors, I believe that the more pertinent point here is to look at what’s at stake if we don’t make moves to support the creative sector right now.

That stake is youth employment; high stakes considering that youth represent the largest demographic across the continent and that more than 11 million young Africans enter the workforce every year. The reality is that the current key growth sectors are simply unable to create the necessary jobs at the pace required.

A recent report from The Cultural Times also estimated that cultural goods in Africa are largely provided through the informal economy, which is believed to employ 547,500 people and generate US$4.2 billion in revenues. This is a sector that employs largely women and youth, incidentally the two most vulnerable demographic.

How then do we bring this segment into the formal fold? Since it is generally a labour-intensive sector with the potential to generate both skilled and unskilled jobs, why not prep the creative sector to absorb these entrants?

Governments, policymakers and other stakeholders need to be attaching much greater importance to investing in creative industries throughout the value chain of education, creation, production, distribution and consumption. Doing so will simultaneously stimulate other industries such as leisure, printing, tourism and transport.

On the upside, there are strong moves in the right direction with institutions such as the African Development Bank (ADB) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) looking into reforming policies and introducing innovative financing mechanisms to support creative industries such as fashion and art in order to create new economic opportunity in Africa.

The buck doesn’t stop with the public sector alone though. The private sector too has an immense role to play in upscaling and commercialising the current talent pool on the continent. Local investors, industry experts and the diaspora need to step up efforts to invest and provide much-needed knowledge transfer to support the growth of creative-led SMEs within this eclectic sector.

Combining innovation and creativity

Here’s where innovation comes into play. There is a natural symbiotic relationship between innovation and the creative sector. Given that modern technology can be adopted somewhat cost effectively today, Africa’s cultural and creative industries are in the position to create, exchange and export creativity at a faster and simpler rate than ever before. It is one of the few sectors where one can operate virtually in a fairly lean and low capital environment.  

As innovation ecosystems continue to unfold across the continent, be it in the form of creative clusters, technology hubs and media hubs, there are incredible opportunities to upscale Africa’s creative sector entrepreneurs, elevate the overall quality of the region’s creative output and enhance Africa’s share of voice in the global creative market across all genres. 

Take Nollywood for example, Nigeria’s massive film industry that produces some 2,000 films annually and directly employs around 300,000 people. Nigeria has the potential to become Africa’s digital, entertainment and film making hub provided it can start tapping into new technologies that are available today especially in special effects and animation.

Nigeria should really look at creating a film and entertainment-led innovation hub, where youth can be trained and mentored by local, regional and international veterans. In the typical co-working set up offered by most innovation hubs, youth can be exposed to peer-to-peer networking and creative exchange to script, direct and produce their own films via innovative financing mechanics such as crowd sourcing. Virtual classrooms make it possible to extend knowledge transfer into non-urban areas if infrastructure and electrification can be improved.

In Angola for instance, where there isn’t a specific creative sector that is thriving as yet, I’ve collaborated with the public sector to construct the country’s first hybrid innovation hub, Fábrica de Sabão, comprising of an incubator and accelerator hub as well as co-working and MakerSpace. Built in the heart of Luanda’s largest slum, it is designed to be an ecosystem for inclusive and creative exploration to thrive. One of the key initiatives currently being set up is the hub’s dedicated radio station through which local youth can be trained in the world of media and broadcasting. It’s also a space for local, regional and international artists to exhibit their works and conduct workshops for Angolan children and youth so that they stand a chance to build sustainable and creative-led businesses for themselves in the future.

Keeping it intrinsically African

In the bigger scheme of things there is certainly strong headway in the right direction. Africans are increasingly aware that there always has been and will be global demand for African creativity especially in textiles, art, crafts and music. They are now starting to question why other nations in the developed and developing worlds should continue to economically benefit from their creative output when it can be channelled towards strengthening Africa’s regional creative license that will in turn create new trade patterns between African and global markets. 

There is pride in being African and sharing African creativity with the world. The diaspora are increasingly playing a bigger role in mobilising knowhow and capital in Africa. We need to see a stronger push in  elevating the media and advertising skillset in Africa, because the continent is poised to become the next big consumer market as the middle class segment continues to grow and I expect that this sector will take off in a big way very soon. At the same time, it is important to ensure that the cultural and creative industries protect and project African authenticity and ingenuity rather than emulate global ideas for the sake of being in trend with ideas and thoughts from other developed regions.

Africa’s cultural and creative revolution is only a matter of time, a reality that can be met in the very near future, but it takes creative vision as well as intellectual and financial capital from both the private and public sector to nurture these industries from ground-= up. They often cannot deliver a quick return on investment. But in the long-term they offer socio-economic growth, a rich supply chain and cultural transformation; and these are industries that will outlive the riches generated from the finite natural resources that have for too long been at the centre of economic policy and economic growth in Africa.

Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais is an internationally active Swiss-Angolan entrepreneur and innovation influencer and has founded and led numerous businesses over the course of his career.

Read this and more in the latest issue of Africa Outlook here.