Creative economy ‘reeling from the effects of Covid-19’ crisis

A scene from Alex Mukulu’s play ‘30 Years of Bananas’

A scene from Alex Mukulu’s play ‘30 Years of Bananas’ performed during the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala.

Photo credit: Morgan Mbabazi | Nation Media Group

Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs) players in East Africa say they are yet to fully recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The region’s economies were battered by lockdowns and other Covid-19-related measures. The CCIs, which largely depend on tourism and international travel, were among the worst-hit sub-sectors.

In early 2020, governments banned all mass gatherings to curb the spread of the deadly viral disease that was ravaging communities globally.

The Covid-19 restrictions saw artists and organisers close, cancel or postpone their scheduled festivals, concerts, tours, theatre shows, movie premieres and film and television productions.

Creatives mainly work with a large number of freelancers to organise festivals, concerts, tours, shows and exhibitions. Many of these too are yet to recover from the losses the industry incurred.

Performing arts

The most affected were the performing arts (theatre, festivals, live music, dance and events), audio-visuals and visual arts.

“The creative economy in Uganda is in a sorry state due to many factors, top among them the absence of a well-designed and articulated policy framework to create an enabling environment for sector’s growth,” renowned Ugandan visual arts practitioner and consultant, Nuwa Wamala Nnyanzi, told the Saturday Nation

“The measures taken to curb the spread of Covid-19 only made an already bad situation worse. All activities were halted and nothing sensible was put in place to mitigate the effects,” Nnyanzi added.

She added that even as the government continues to collect revenue from the CCIs, it had refused to acknowledge the impact of the arts and creative sector on the GDP. 

“However, a casual scan of the happenings over weekends clearly shows the culture and creative industries are resilient, vibrant and significant employers of the youth, through the entertainment activities,” Nnyanzi says.

“In my opinion, the state of the creative economy in Kenya has not realised its full potential and this impasse is mostly due to a lack of awareness and understanding by the general public on what is contained in the national policy on culture and heritage,” founding director of Nairobi-based Ketebul Music Tabu Osusa said. 

“The situation is made worse by the lack of implementation strategies as well as the lack of credible regulatory agencies that can make this sector attractive for both the creatives and consumers,” Osusa told the Saturday Nation. 

“The industry in Kenya has not fully recovered from the Covid-19 crisis for the simple reason that most artistes who depended on selling their musical works through international tours have not fully resumed doing so. Getting visas to Western countries is still quite a challenge due to restrictions that were put in place due to Covid-19,” Osusa says.

“Furthermore, most of the local entertainment joints that were closed during the Covid-19 pandemic are not fully operational,” he adds.

Tourism industry

For her part, Dar es Salaam-based Culture and Development East Africa (CDEA) Executive Director Ayeta Anne Wangusa, said: “The sector in Tanzania is closely linked to the tourism industry, which is recovering after the pandemic.”

According to Ayeta, the music and film sectors are vibrant, with Singili music emerging as a unique beat from Tanzania. She, however, calls for infrastructural facilities such as entertainment venues that can host big international events. 

The Creative Economy Outlook 2022 by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) indicates the Covid-19 pandemic had deepened the pre-existing vulnerabilities of certain creative industries.

Reports indicate that during this period, as many as 10 million jobs disappeared from the cultural and creative sectors, which contracted by $750 billion globally in 2020. 

According to the UNCTAD report, the most vulnerable sectors were the performing arts, visual arts and the heritage sector. These have high levels of informality, a high proportion of freelancers and increased use of short-term contracts. 

Asked if the Tanzanian government had provided support to the creatives as a recovery plan from Covid-19, Ayeta replied: “There is a political will to support the sector. The government has established a culture and arts fund to provide artists with non-interest funds. However, it is not described as a Covid-19 recovery plan since the economy did not really close down.”

“In 2020, the Kenyan government released $1 million ‘Work for Pay’ for local creatives but the stimulus was too little, too late to make any positive impact in the creative industry,” Osusa said.

Nnyanzi, who is also the vice-chairperson of the National Arts and Cultural Crafts Association of Uganda (NACCAU), said: “Not that I know of. In fact, to date, NACCAU owes the Uganda National Cultural Centre (a government parastatal) more than Ushs300 million ($80,000) in-ground rent arrears accrued during the two-year lockdown. Our appeals for a waiver have not been heeded yet. Ironically, it is the same government that locked down the economy and did nothing meaningful to mitigate the resultant effects!”

Digital art industries

On a positive note, the digital art industries (online film, music streaming services and gaming) remained lucrative during the lockdowns because they do not depend on face-to-face interaction and large crowds. Creatives are adopting online marketing to remain competitive globally.

“Diamond Platnumz (Nasibu Abdul Juma Issack) clocked two billion views on YouTube. All bongo flava artistes monetise their music on YouTube. Instagram is a favourite platform for creatives. TikTok is also becoming popular. Even the artisanal and fashion sectors are using social media for marketing their products,” Ayeta says.

“Some creatives have successfully embraced online presence to market their works. However, streaming has not worked for the majority. The reason being that most musicians in the country find it rather difficult and expensive to access the services of these streaming platforms,” Osusa says.

“They (creatives) are trying despite the economic, political and technological hurdles instituted by the government. The absence of a coherent e-commerce policy, inaccessibility to affordable Internet services, lack of digital knowledge, and government’s interference with social media has somehow hampered affordable digital market access,” said Nnyanzi.

Asked where he sees the creative economy in Kenya in the next two years, Osusa replied: “The future of the Creative Economy in Kenya will depend heavily on global factors, both negative and positive. The sector could improve provided there are no new outbreaks of Covid-19 and how the health authorities deal with the pandemic in case of resurgence.” 

For the Ugandan creative economy, Nnyanzi, said: “The creative economy will continue to grow despite the challenges, albeit at a slower pace. However, it would be more beneficial if the government changed its attitude towards it and invested more in research, innovation and development and established a fully-fledged ministry with a clear and decent budget line allocation.”

Ayeta is optimistic, though. “The film and music sectors are growing, with the Kiswahili language giving them an East African audience. Digital platforms like Netflix and DStv (Digital Satellite Television) will be pivotal aggregators for film and music. There will be an improvement in the collection of royalties through the revision of the copyright law that established Copyright Management Organisations (CMOs).”