The million jobs in Africa’s creative industries

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This year is the African Union (AU)’s year of arts, culture and heritage.

For decades, African nations have focused on different avenues and sectors for job creation but have largely ignored the creative industries, until now.

To keep up with population growth and the demand for jobs, African countries must jointly create one million jobs every month. To do this, they need to look beyond the much-acclaimed manufacturing and agriculture which are typically labour-intensive sectors.

Read: Investing In The Creative Industry In Africa

Underpinning Africa’s vibrant entertainment sector is the arts including film, music, fashion and handicrafts which are now increasingly becoming a global sensation. To help Africans tap the potential in the creative industries, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) has launched the Creative Africa Nexus (CANEX), a programme to support Africa’s creative and cultural industries.

To highlight and nurture talent, the bank has announced a series of virtual forums in the lead-up to the Intra-African Trade Fair 2021 (IATF2021) to be held in Kigali, Rwanda from September 6 – 12.

On 25 February, digital innovators and experts from across some of Africa’s key creative sectors including fashion, film, music and XR shared their experiences and successes from the year of Covid-19, and for a post-Covid world that will be forever changed.

Designed specifically for African creatives looking for ways to monetise their content across the digital landscape, the forum is a space to share, discuss and create solutions that will encourage creatives to find innovative ways to use existing technology to increase their remuneration and thrive in their careers.

Throughout 2020, lockdowns were declared across the world, as was the new norm of working from home. Almost overnight, the digital world became the only means of connecting to work, family, friends and colleagues. The lack of physical events and gatherings had a particularly adverse impact on the creative sector.

However, creatives across Africa and the world rose to this challenge, and despite the many barriers and challenges presented by Covid-19, creatives were able to develop innovative ideas and leverage off technologically driven solutions.

From 3D fashion shows and virtual concerts, hybrid film festivals and gallery exhibitions, African creatives are already ahead of the game and have a lot to share with their peers and those in other sectors.

The IATF2021 virtual event will host some of the top innovators who will also be on hand at the CANEX Summit.

Creative industries are a job multiplier in Africa and generate US$4.2bn in revenue across the continent. Complex value chains twine together multiple service providers and interestingly, the industries are recession-proof since they are dependent on local demand.

For creative economies to take shape in Africa, various obstacles must be overcome. Currently, members of civil society are the primary initiators of cultural industries and to ensure their success, it is important for governments to support such initiatives through well-informed policy-development and increased investment.

By drawing up policies supporting the sector, the government can sway the outcomes since they have an immense role to play in the success or failure of future creative economies. African governments must focus on copyright, intellectual property rights legislation and enforcement to clamp the rampant piracy. In addition, governments must reduce censorship and excessive bureaucracy which limit the development of creative and cultural industries.

Cultural tourism is one of the main areas to focus on since tourism is the fastest-growing sector of the world economy. Tourism has the potential to greatly contribute to the economic growth of the continent thereby improving the livelihoods of local populations.

Read: China is king of creative goods and services

Traditional African weapons. Culture plays an important role in boosting the African economy through tourism. [Photo/Kenya National Archives]
Cultural tourism is a good bet for the continent since it has great wealth in cultural heritage.

Another area to look at is fashion since, over the past few years, Africa’s fashion industry has significantly developed. The most notable is that the African fabric and fashion have become popular beyond the continent attracting Western audiences and fashion designers.

African designs have evolved into an industry with a considerable impact on global trends. Fashion stimulates local economies by providing jobs to designers, textiles producers and tailors.

The film industry is probably the most noticeable example of the booming creative industries in Africa. Nigeria’s film industry, Nollywood, is the fourth biggest economic sector in Nigeria and the films are known worldwide.

Countries can diversify their economies with the use of cultural elements and the success of Nollywood illustrates how. With such a sector, there is a reduced dependency on external forces creating jobs.

Just like the film industry, the music industry has grown exponentially with an increasing number of platforms distributing and sharing African music. The music platforms stimulate, promote and sustain the diverse music sector in Africa.

Cultural festivals continue to attract tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world which is generating significant incomes for the hotel, craft, food, bars, and trade sectors. This is in turn creating thousands of jobs including in goods and services which are supplied by the local populations.

The festivals have helped to sustain communities by reviving traditional performances such as traditional dances, oral traditions masks and puppets among others. In addition, the festivals have allowed locals to socially interact with festival-goers which is fostering mutual understanding and the formation of new cross-cultural businesses.

In January 2020, Afreximbank set up a US$500 million fund to support Africa’s creative industries. Afreximbank President Benedict Oramah says that the continent faces a challenge to effectively monetize its creative output. Once it does so, he said, innovation would follow.

With the coming into force of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), it would help address a number of the challenges to boosting Africa’s creative output, including uneven intellectual property protections, fragmented payment systems and inadequate human capacity in creative industries.

But to succeed, those in the creative sectors have to adapt and invest in technology to help grow the continent’s creative entrepreneurship.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a notable acceleration in consumer shifts and digital trends that were in motion prior to the crisis.

To maintain the momentum and to grow the multibillion-dollar industry further, entrepreneurs must take advantage of enabling tools at their disposal. E-commerce, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and digital printing are tools that will shape the future of the sector in Africa.

Read: AfDB, AU banks on creative industries in Africa for GDP growth

I have 10 years of experience in multimedia journalism and I use the skills I have gained over this time to meet and ensure goal-surpassing editorial performance. Africa is my business and development on the continent is my heartbeat. Do you have a development story that has to be told? Reach me at njenga.h@theexchange.africa and we can showcase Africa together.

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