Creative arts could easily provide jobs, reduce poverty in East Africa

The visual and performing arts remain largely neglected by governments in most countries, yet this is an area which, given the necessary support, could provide jobs and alleviate poverty. GRAPHIC | FILE |

What you need to know:

  • Judy Ogana, the general manager of the GoDown Arts Centre in Nairobi, describes the creative economy in Kenya, as fresh and vibrant, but yet to realise its full potential.
  • The creative sector has historically been under-valued and, consequently, underfunded by the government.
  • Ogana notes that it was only in 2010 that the National Policy on Culture and Heritage was launched and although the new Constitution has elevated the place of culture in Kenya, the sector is yet to benefit.

The creative economies of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, like those of most other African countries, are still bogged down with a host of problems.

These include scarcity of funds, lack of skilled personnel, poor distribution systems, small markets, and copyright infringement. As a result, they cannot grow. 

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) the core creative arts are literature, music, the performing arts, and visual arts.

The core cultural industries are film, museums, and libraries. 


The wider cultural industries are heritage services, publishing, sound recording, television and radio, video and computer games, while related industries are advertising, architecture, and design and fashion. 

Judy Ogana, the general manager of the GoDown Arts Centre in Nairobi, describes the creative economy in Kenya, as fresh and vibrant, but yet to realise its full potential.

The creative sector has historically been under-valued and, consequently, underfunded by the government.

Ogana notes that it was only in 2010 that the National Policy on Culture and Heritage was launched and although the new Constitution has elevated the place of culture in Kenya, the sector is yet to benefit.

“Yet, artistes are more recognised now than ever — from musicians to actors, filmmakers and dancers — there is more hope in this sector than ever. Kenyan visual artists are being sought out on the world stage.

“The government has opened academies to tap talent, especially among the youth, and the current regime places emphasis on talent enhancement as a way of alleviating poverty and providing jobs for the youth.” 


Emily Drani, the executive director of the Kampala-based Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU), bemoans the state of Uganda’s creative economy.

“While Uganda’s cultural heritage presents a potential resource for the creative industries to generate new and innovative products and services, there has been limited investment in the knowledge, skills, infrastructure, and education in this regard.”

Drani adds: “Limited exposure, professionalism, and originality of the producers of creative products and services has resulted in products that do not fare well in the face of international competition in respect to foreign artistic content (music, film, artefacts, etc).

“Avenues through which Ugandan artistes can acquire and enhance their technical competence are almost non-existent outside academic institutions and even within these institutions, courses related to the creative economy are not seen as producing ‘serious’ professionals.” 


She notes that the creative sector is mainly driven by private initiators, most of whom are donor-dependent. This affects the development of creative thought because interventions are time-bound and have limited scope.

Nuwa Wamala-Nnyanzi, a Kampala-based visual artist and consultant, concurs. “The majority of players depend on their meagre savings because they have no access to funds that would spur reasonable growth.

“The government neither invests in nor promotes the creative industry, but only reaps where it did not sow.

“For instance, letting out its premises at exorbitant rates to private players who have staked a lot to produce and market art.” 


Yusuf Mahmoud, the chief executive officer of Busara Promotions, which organises the annual Sauti za Busara music festival in Zanzibar, observes:

“We recognise the enormous potential of the creative industries to provide meaningful employment, reduce poverty, and improve livelihoods.

“Tanzania is blessed with many great artistes and creative talent, but we lack skilled or experienced managers and creative industry professionals.” 

Mahmoud notes that his group organises Sauti za Busara festival to develop skills in the creative sector, adding that it provides a forum for intra-African exchange by bringing together diverse artistes and audiences.

“Furthermore, the festival brings clear benefits, promoting Tanzania as a destination for cultural tourism, with positive global media exposure continuing throughout the year.

“Many festival visitors now stay an extra week, bringing economic benefits for the wider population at a time when the tourist season in Zanzibar would otherwise be slow,” Mahmoud adds.


The GoDown is part of a creative economy working group (CEWG), which comprises 10 Kenyan cultural organisations interested in its growth and development. 

Formed mid last year, CEWG is spearheading the exploration and re-positioning of the creative economy in Kenya as a viable sector and to influence relevant legislation.

“We aim to promote and enhance the growth of the creative sector in Kenya,” Ogana said, adding that fragmentation, gaps in critical aspects of the value chain, and lack of critical data are the major challenges facing the sector in Kenya.  

Although Ogana says the launch of the national policy in March 2010 was a huge milestone, “the celebration of this policy, which was to be the blueprint for the growth and development of the sector, was short-lived as challenges regarding how to actualise it proved a test for the Department of Culture, which is still grappling with the document — four years on.”  


She acknowledges that it has been an uphill task to lobby for recognition and resources. 

“This has been due to fragmentation in the sector and lack of empowered structures within the government.

“The more organised sub-sectors such as film and music have managed to lobby for tax breaks and legislation that favours their particular sub-sectors.

“An overarching parastatal such as a national arts council would be well placed to spearhead initiatives that would open up opportunities for leveraging these pieces of legislation,” she explains.  

Drani notes that the major challenges facing the sector in Uganda include the influence of some religious institutions that demonise culture in general (rather than specific negative and irrelevant cultural practices), limited political will and financing, and lack of a ministry of culture with cultural-related structures spread out across different ministries and departments. 


Although the 1995 Uganda Constitution recognises the existence and importance of culture supported by national policies such as the National Culture Policy (2006) and the Uganda National Cultural Centre Act 1959 (CAP 50), investment in operationalising national and international policies is woefully inadequate, at less than 1 per cent of the national budget. 

CCFU is advocating support to be increased from less than 0.05 per cent to 1 per cent by 2015, arguing that the cultural sector has great potential for creating employment and generating revenue.

However, to realise its full potential, significant investment must be made in heritage development.

Drani says a significant increase in financing would result in, among others, visible contributions to sustainable development in the form of “enhanced cultural tourism by capitalising on, and investing in, our cultural diversity.

Financial and technical support to community museums and cultural centres will enrich the diversity of Uganda’s resources for local and international tourism and revenue generation.”  


She says culture is the basis for human dignity, so investing in its preservation and promotion contributes to a sense of belonging, self-determination and esteem, and social cohesion.  

Wamala-Nnyanzi concurs, adding that the proposed increment would go a long way in improving products and the welfare of producers and dealers, leading to greater appreciation of the sector.  

“The country’s image would significantly benefit from the untapped talent… At the moment, the government is not only reaping where it did not sow, but also milking without feeding the cow.

“It should start by patronising Uganda’s visual arts as a way of establishing a local market before thinking about the external market,” Wamala-Nnyanzi says. 

And Mahmoud notes, “The Tanzanian government does not directly support the creative sector in terms of policy or budget allocations. I guess they see it as low priority compared with more pressing needs like education and health.”


Mahmoud adds that, while in most countries artistes and festival promoters can get financial support from the local, regional, or national authorities, in Zanzibar, it is the o0ther way round as artistes pay the government for the privilege of hosting a festival that promotes the country as a destination for cultural tourism. 

“I would love to see the Tanzanian government implementing policies and supporting the creative industries.

“If young people had the opportunity to access education, vocational training, and skills development in the arts and events management and promotion, sound and lighting engineering, media skills and so on, it would greatly contribute to building an arts infrastructure that nurtures creativity, supports local talent, creates jobs and income, as well as putting Tanzania on the world map, as happens in Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa, thanks to a thriving cultural sector,” he says.


Mahmoud would also like to see a compulsory quota for pan-African music content included in local TV and radio programming, which, apart from local pop music, is mostly foreign.

“I think that’s scandalous, when some of the best music in the world is right here in Africa,” he says. 

According to Unesco’s Creative Economy Report 2013, marketing objectives in Africa are beginning to take root in the visions of local officials, who are also beginning to recognise that civil society bodies have a key role to play in building production and distribution infrastructure, as well as in the development and financing of cultural and creative enterprises. 

International non-governmental organisations and overseas development organisations have been widely associated with these efforts and a number of cities in the global North have also partnered with African cities in this field, it adds.  

“Broadly speaking, there is little effective partnership between the cultural and creative industries on the one hand, and government on the other, although the picture has begun to change for the better in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal ,and South Africa.

“To remedy this situation, artistes and cultural practitioners across Africa are adopting innovative business models and alliances, as illustrated by the Festival sur le Niger and the Book Café in Harare.”


African artists and cultural practitioners are becoming more visible through the campaigns, programmes, organisations, fairs, markets, exhibitions, and cultural spaces that they themselves are promoting.

“These provide opportunities for networking and working together and articulating claims and rights to government and the media.

“In the museum and gallery world in particular, a new generation of curators are changing the terms of engagement. New private sector visual arts projects have been implemented in a number of African countries. 

“While the need to connect creative economy development with that of other sectors, such as hospitality, transport, or trade, is increasingly recognised, policymakers still resist linking these sectors, notably as culture is still perceived as a luxury by many,” the report observes. 


Figures published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in May 2013 show that world trade of creative goods and services totalled a record $624 billion in 2011, and that it more than doubled between 2002 to 2011; the average annual growth rate during that period was 8.8 per cent.

Growth in developing country exports of creative goods was even higher, averaging 12.1 per cent annually over the same period. 

Across the African continent, the cultural and creative industries have seen rapid growth in recent years.

Unesco’s Creative Economy Report 2008 indicates that Africa contributed less than 1 per cent to world exports of creative goods, but noted that this low figure could be explained by the limited support capacity in the continent as well as the fact that most of the cultural industry production takes place in the informal sector.  

“However, even with respect to the formal economy, these figures tell only part of the story as the bulk of commercial activity of these industries is in the hands of small, independent producers,” the 2013 special edition observed, adding:


“It is in the informal sector that the African creative economy is the most vibrant.

“Connected to this is the high rate of population growth that the African continent is likely to experience, with the arrival of more than 400 million young people on the labour market over the next two decades.” 

Most of the growth in six of the 10 countries where economic growth was the highest between 2001 and 2010 has taken place principally in the extractive industries.

“Thus, for young people, the informal sector of Africa’s creative economy can provide a range of opportunities to work, create start-ups, and develop skills. Clearly, the full employment potential of the cultural sector is still untapped,” the report notes.


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