STEP BY STEP…

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“Africa is claiming it’s economic independence-step by step.” Mrs. Treasure Thembisile Maphanga, Director, African Union Commission Department of Trade and Industry

“The Parliament of The Gambia on Monday approved ratification of AfCFTA – paving way for the needed minimum threshold for the agreement to come into force in July this year. Gambia’s ratification brings to total number of countries to ratify the AfCFTA to 22 – the required number for the Agreement to enter into force, as per Article 23 of the AfCFTA” writes Dan Ngabonziza in the online KT Press. The African Union brokered deal can be counted as a feather in the cap of African Union Commission (AUC) whose ‘core mandate is to support the AU in boosting intra-African trade, fast track establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) and to ensure Africa’s competitiveness in the global economy. Additionally, the CFTA aims to “create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments…”. Albert Muchanga, AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry states emphatically in an interview with DW.com, “When you create a larger market, you create opportunities for large investments. Right now, members of the African diaspora are coming to us to start the process of investment. This will increase employment opportunities for our children.”
Well done! My question is what will the largest free trade area in the world mean for African Cultural Creative Industries (CCI) and will there be space for the African Diaspora to add value to the underestimated and undervalued area of culture in particular? Cameroonian economist Martial Ze Belinga, asserts, “…the development potential of the economy of culture in Africa must be unlocked. This overlooked industry could become one of the most flourishing of the continent.” Though not a new position, the new proponents for culture include a range of professionals from economists to engineers joining a host of avant-garde African artists and activists advocating for change in CCI from Intellectual Property Rights and Access to Customs and Banking. If CFTA assigns experts to this area from a wide range of stakeholders, CCI could accelerate the CFTA process in myriad ways. Needless to say, artists and cultural movements can popularize and promote CFTA to the everyday African, who needs to know about the opportunities in CFTA. Secondly, CCI will realize increase of capital, fulfilling Ze Belinga’s economic outlook with liberal trade in art, movies, music, fashion and more. Now, is therefore the time for alliances to be formed across sectors to advance CCI in Africa. But let us ensure the beneficiaries of this foreseeable paradigm shift, to use an old school term, include the artists and practitioners, forerunners, who paid heavy dues so we could reach this point in our industry.
However, equally exciting for me as a Creative, are the opportunities for cross cultural pollination and creation (with pro-African commodification), across the continent and extending to the African Diaspora, echoing Muchanga’s testimony. When I sit and reason with genius maestro, Father of Ethio-Jazz, Dr. Mulatu Astatke speaking of the “Scientists of Sound” and the influence of sounds from the bush which have evolved into myriad music movements from jazz and blues to reggae and rap (missing elements…recognition and remuneration) I am in awe. On a side note, a recent example of musical cross-pollination is the incredible version of Ye by Nigerian singer Burna Boy by covered by rising Jamaican young sister, Koffee. Atlanta based composer and CCI entrepreneur, Desta Tonge, sums it up, “This goes beyond the typical tracing the origins of instruments, polyrhythms, and melodic lines through migration trails or colonial influence. I think social media platforms are allowing artists to discover each other and collaborate at a rapid rate.” CFTA can and should be a major provider of platforms for this engagement that also allows for the flow of capital derived from culture, reversing the “starving artist” model inherited from Western counterparts.
As usual, there are many questions, concerns and comments and yes, the realization of the CFTA process is riddled with challenges including looming legal, banking, social and political issues; but SO WHAT? Should fear of facing, if not rising to and even above encounters that push our limits beyond belief, further retard our development? If we say it is time to rise then let us do so together with trust and confidence in the true spirit of African unity and solidarity. To date, 22 countries have ratified and we are confident that the remaining 33 will follow suit soon. I say the most important thing is to begin the journey. My Sistar, Mrs. Treasure Thembisile Maphanga, Director, AUC Department of Trade and Industry says it simply best, “Africa is claiming it’s economic independence-step by step.”

Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.