The continent has long been ripe with talent and cultural riches


The African continent is home to approximately 1.3bn people and by the end of the century that number is expected to jump to 4.2bn. The continent will probably overtake Asia and be home to the world’s largest labour force as early as 2040. 


Not only is the continent’s unemployment rate well above the global average, but up to 70 per cent of employed Africans are trapped in vulnerable, low paying jobs, with all too many living in outright poverty. To maintain stability and advance prosperity, African governments face the tremendously daunting challenge of tackling unemployment and creating millions of new jobs for a booming working age population. 


To do so, they will need to add non-traditional strategies to their national development plans. The creative and cultural industries are an increasingly important piece of the puzzle. 


These industries — design, fashion, film, television, radio, music and much more — have all too often been overlooked as legitimate avenues for jobs and gross domestic product. But that is starting to change. African governments should embrace and support the creative industries in their efforts to drive sustainable development and create jobs. 


Zambia, Nigeria, Uganda and others place a strong focus on agriculture in their latest development plans, while countries such as Ethiopia prioritise industrial growth. The creative industries should be an added layer in constructing more diverse and economically viable markets.


Jobs in the creative and cultural economy have proved resilient to the economic shocks that consistently hurt core sectors in many African economies. In 2016, the Nigerian economy fell into recession, but while the oil sector struggled, the creative industries saw impressive growth. 

The music industry alone is expected to double present-day revenue by 2020 to approximately $86m. In Nigeria, Nollywood film production generated between $500m and $800m annually. The industry directly employs 300,000 people and indirectly more than a million. 


The success of Nollywood demonstrates how the creative economy can trigger a value chain between artists, entrepreneurs, distributors and support services to boost jobs and contribute to GDP growth. 


Yet challenges to growth remain. Lack of intellectual property rights and enforcement have limited the ability of artists to earn a return on their investments, causing many to leave their home countries to go abroad. 


Efforts to promote the creative industries are hindered by a scarcity of capital. Banks and investors often shy away due to the lack of capital that creators are able to offer as collateral and other associated risks. Even when money is invested by wealthy individuals or by friends and family, creators struggle to commercialise their products and maintain the working capital necessary to increase professionalisation and profitability. 


The components of market success, however, are starting to come together. Smartphone and tablet ownership continue on a steep upward curve, creating a foundation for digital content development and dissemination. It is estimated that the South African music economy will have annual growth of 4.4 per cent between 2015 and 2020, fuelled by surging digital music streaming revenues. Similarly in Kenya, the mobile music industry is starting to contribute to GDP in a measurable way: $10m growth in industry revenue is projected between 2015 and 2020. 


Country measurement of the creative industries’ contributions to GDP, encouraged after Unesco provided guidelines in 2009, is prompting African governments to take steps. Two-thirds of African countries have signed the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, and Kenya has taken a lead by publishing the Nairobi Plan of Action on Cultural Industries and facilitating the buildout of institutions such as the Music Copyright Society of Kenya and the Kenya Film Commission. 


African countries have long been ripe with talent, creativity and cultural riches. However, it is only now, with new technologies and commercial markets, that global success is starting to materialise. Much remains to be done. African governments should continue to measure the contribution of the creative industries to employment and GDP growth and facilitate strategic alliances between the public and private sectors to incentivise capital investment. 


Development finance institutions and governments in Europe and the US should develop innovative initiatives to fast-track the professionalisation of creative industries in Africa. When governments truly recognise the value of the creative industries and make a conscientious effort to support and promote them, African film, fashion, music and more can leapfrog forward and stake their claim as part of the global mainstream. Aubrey Hruby is co-founder of the Africa Expert Network, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and co-author of ‘The Next Africa’ (2015).




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