Thank you for this opportunity to bring a much misunderstood and under estimated, yet important service sector in Africa to the table of the African Union Trade and Industry Commission, AU Member States, experts and colleagues in Africa and the Diaspora, likewise. The sector to which I am referring is the Creative and Cultural Industry (CCI), the life blood and ultimate expressions of African’s frustrations and tribulations, hopes and aspirations; and in the context of goods and service, the daily bread which feeds millions of Africans while simultaneously feeding the minds, hearts and souls of African and worldwide consumers. Art, crafts, music, fashion, photography, film, literature and more are portions of CCI, which we all use and benefit from in daily life. Yet do we know the value? Are we ready to nurture, develop, protect and leverage the proverbial “bird in hand” verses focusing on the “two birds in the bush”?
“The notion of culture is often disconnected from the economic dimension…” states Ernst & Young in the First Global Map of CCI, published in December 2015 with the cooperation and guidance of over 150 international renown artists and CCI experts including Beninise singer Angelique Kidjo and Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow. The Ernst & Young report on CCI revenues state the figures surpass even telecom services worldwide, placing CCI estimated revenues at US$2,250billion providing 28.5m jobs. The top earner in this study was television, second was visual art and third newspapers/magazines. Visual art earnings were valued at US$391b and positioned as the number one employer of over 6.70m people worldwide. Keeping in mind, that these numbers don’t properly reflect the informal CCI economy, estimated at another US$33b delivering 1.2 million jobs.
Ernst & Young’s report, specifically on Africa and the Middle East, state a combined generated income of US$13.1billion dollars providing over 350,000 jobs in 2013. So what do all these numbers mean for Africa as we try to protect and preserve the historic component of our artistic expressions and promote contemporary creations; while balancing the immense opportunities for Africans to organize and leverage our CCI, changing the course of the “commodification” of culture… to Africa’s benefit?
Allow me to reflect, for a moment, on the European Renaissance, 14th–17th Centuries, that set the trajectory for the current robust trillion dollar CCI with institutional infrastructure from early childhood education to museums and more positioning them as leaders in art and culture to date. Ironically, many African treasures are amongst in their vast collections, but that’s another discussion. Visual or fine art, a significant component of the Renaissance Period, was reserved primarily for the elite; juxtaposed to the African relationship with visual art. Continental creativity, a language of sorts, had profound meaning to creators and society alike, with myriad symbolic and substantial relevance and use. Intrinsic value was placed on amulets, ceremonial masks and sculptures etc. stemming from ancestral, spiritual and/or social norms. Much like modern art, the traditional creations also memorialized time, space and circumstance, but woven into everyday life; unlike western modern art.
The relationship with visual art in Africa began its slow and steady change in the post-colonial era, barely a few decades ago. But value or economic systems have still not been developed to ensure the development, protection and promotion of CCI from Intellectual Property protection to publishing and other essential areas. The focus over the past several decades was placed on art education, on a limited basis. For instance Ethiopia, on July 23, 1958 HIM Emperor Haile Selassie I opened the first ‘By African For African’ art institution on the continent with founder and namesake, Artist Alle Felege Selam, stating, “We have established this institution because We consider it a matter of great importance to revise and develop fine arts in our country… . If Ethiopian paintings and other works of art attain such a high standard that they can… hold their own amidst exhibits from other countries, they can certainly help in the efforts to make Ethiopia known more widely as a nation fully participating in the spirit and substance of modern civilization.” Eight years later in April 1966, Senegal President Leopold Sedar Senghor, hosted the Pan African driven WORLD FESTIVAL OF BLACK ARTS in Senegal promoting worldwide black culture. The poet president Senghor unapologetically stated, “The civilization of the twentieth century cannot be universal except by being a dynamic synthesis of all the cultural values of all civilizations. It will be monstrous unless seasoned with the salt of negri-tude for it will be the savior of humanity.”
Let us move forward to 2014, to the Pan African island state of Jamaica, my birth country and one of the most popular countries in the world, based not on our beaches but our culture. The former Prime Minister, Portia Simpson, created a National Cultural and Creative Industries Commission supported by a technical working group with Members drawn from across relevant government ministries and agencies and representatives of the CCI for policy development to help drive the creative industry. The intention is to significantly increase economic and development opportunities, while positioning Jamaica, enhancing its leverage, and finally facilitating and empowering ‘creative practitioners’. This is the most poignant point of my presentation, in that our continent can take a page from Jamaica’s book, our African Diaspora, in order to help us better understand the potential and process for the development of services, protection and promotion of culture and not just relegated to sub-committees in Ministries of Culture or Social Affairs, but Trade, Industry, Finance etc. So again, we thank the AU Commission for this inclusion.
So though Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Senegal amongst many other African nations realized the value of culture, the arts were contextualized socially and strong value chains were not put in place to ensure participation in the emerging economy of art. Was this oversight influenced by our historic relationship with art or was it our natural desire to develop based on the mainstays of agriculture and other industries? Maybe both. However, I propose the delay in creating a system for CCI in general has put us on the rear side of a well-established art industry that decides our value for us. Take for instance, Sotheby’s auction house. Is it fair or even fathomable that the famous auction house estimated the value of the iconic 16th century – 22 cm tall ivory mask, looted from Benin by the British, at over US$6m? And Christie’s auction house, sold Ethiopian-American Julie Mehretu’s 2013 painting for over US$4.6m; making her the number 7 top selling living female visual artist in the world! How the value determined was and I pose to this august body, couldn’t these pieces have been worth even more if our value was factored in? A value system would also increase potential income and opportunities for related service providers in or related to CCI such as insurance, security, technology, transportation, media, manufacturing and more.
Allow me to share two prevalent moments in CCI on the continent that buttress my point. In 2005, as Managing Director of the Bob Marley Foundation, we coordinated the Bob Marley 60th Birthday under the auspices of Nana Rita Marley and with the support of then AU Chairman Alpha Konare, under the theme Africa Unite. The month long event of music, art, dance, and symposium attracted over 200,000 local and international visitors and over 300 international journalists. Coming forward to this past July; my firm co-sponsored a multi-million dollar collection for Julie Meheretu in Addis Ababa at the Gebre Kristos Desta Contemporary Art Center. In both instances we were faced with challenges that could have caused cancellations but worst, the economic impact, just on insurance, transportation, technical support etc benefitted the West, monetarily, more so than those on the continent. Had we as Africans, created a CCI network or coalition, millions could have rolled into continental based businesses in the above mentioned areas.
The time is perfect for us to stake our claim to African creativity for the benefit of the artists and all stakeholders or face being further disenfranchised and worst wiped out of the market by cheap reproductions from Asia. We propose the creation of a CCI Coalition for the continent under the MBA brand – Made By Africans – which may facilitate the:
Protection of our intellectual property through out and across all member states and internationally through integrated systems created and implemented by and for us,
Unencumbered movement of goods and services from the African CCI sector throughout the continent through harmonized immigration laws,
Provide a standard for CCI which ensures quality, consistency with concern for the environment and use of readily available local raw and manufactured materials,
Emphasize the creation and capacity building of our women and youth, the main ones impacted by and/or involved in CCI,
Organize the sector on the continent as a united force to deter low quality reproductions of our goods; be it cloth, kitsch or other products;
Brand MBA to ensure the domestic (continental) and international market are conscious and sensitized to the products or services under this brand, created by a CCI continental coalition, which ensure not only quality products and services but in support of indigenous knowledge and creativity and strong economic and value systems, and finally the coalition would
Provide various levels of support and opportunities to CCI sector, ensuring innovation, networking, resource sharing and more for all CCI service stakeholders.
In closing, I wonder what does the future hold for Africa in regards to CCI? My answer, based on the efforts of several AU member states, including Burkino Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal, Zambia amongst others are evaluating re-thinking of the potential of CCI. The arts are an inherent component of culture and tourism, and Africa’s substantial inventory and access to ancient and fine art, alike, make the continent a powerful place for such a coalition. In closing I share the following quotes, AUC Director for Trade and Industry, Madame Treasure Maphanga says, “Arts and culture are more than our heritage, they represent a key vehicle for Africa’s structural transformation and economic emancipation.”
According to Bob Marley’s song, though Marcus Garvey’s message, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds…” And finally on behalf of the Pan African Diaspora who loves and stands in solidarity with Africa, I quote the Hon. Kwame Nkrumah, “I am not African because I was born in Africa, but because Africa was born in me.” Thank you, Betam amaseganalu.
This article was first published in September 2016