USA - The Network Journal - 14 June 2008
An Artificial Poverty - Time to commercialize the creative industries

At the beginning of June, delegates from some 45 countries were preparing to descend on London for London Calling, one of the world’s biggest events in the music business. From June 18 to 20, the delegates, including the Africans among them, would explore the latest developments in music technology, services, business models, revenue opportunities and emerging markets. “Knowledge is shared, inspiration is gained and the future explored,” organizers of the annual event say.

Music is one of the industries earmarked for growth in Africa under the Creative Africa Initiative launched in April in Ghana at the 12th ministerial meeting of the United Nations Confe-rence on Trade and Development. Developed by Agoralumiere Internatio-nal, a nonprofit organization, in partnership with UNCTAD’s Creative Industries program and the Africa Union, the initiative is intended to create an enabling environment for Africa to take its creative industries to a higher level of business, production, skills, markets and exports. Its launch featured a series of events showcasing the continent’s creative industries, including an exhibit of contemporary art, fashion shows, music concerts and dance.

During the same meeting, UNCTAD and the United Nations Development Program jointly released the report “The Creative Economy Report 2008: The Challenge of Assessing the Creative Economy Towards Informed Policymaking.” The report’s definition of creative industries embraces activities ranging from traditional folk art, cultural festivities, books, paintings, music and performing arts to more technology-intensive sectors, such as design and the audiovisual industry, including film, television and radio. It also includes service-oriented fields, such as architecture, advertising and new media products, such as digital animation and video games. Since the late 1990s, creative industries have emerged as one of the most dynamic sectors in the global economy, the report says, with trade in related goods and services reaching $445.2 billion in 2005, up from $234.8 billion in 1996. Between 2000 and 2005, the trade grew at an average rate of 8.7 percent a year. Creative economy-related products, such as cameras, computers, broadcasting and audiovisual equipment, saw $274 billion in exports from developing countries alone in 2005. Developed countries dominate the global market for creative products. In Europe as a whole, the creative economy is expanding 12 percent faster than the overall economy, according to a recent study prepared for the European Commission. Italy was the top exporter of creative goods among developed countries in 2005, reflecting its competitive position in the field of design.

At the same time, exports from developing countries more than doubled between 1996 and 2005, from $55.9 billion to $136.2 billion, respectively, mainly on the strength of exports from China, the world’s leading exporter of creative goods, and strong gains elsewhere in Asia — India’s movies and software and South Korea’s digital animation products, for instance. The picture was less positive in many other developing countries, particularly in Africa, whose trade of creative products as a whole commands only 0.4 percent of the world total of $424.4 billion. Africa recorded only a $1.7 billion mark in 2005, with design taking $829 million, publishing $480 million, arts and crafts $298 million.

James Shikwati, director of Inter Region Economic Network, a think tank in Nairobi, Kenya, laments these abysmal numbers. “In our quest to industrialize Africa, we have frowned upon art and thought we should all be scientists. In the process, we have started losing valuable aspects of our creative culture which we would ordinarily have used to launch ourselves to industrialization,” he wrote in Kenya’s Business Daily newspaper in April.

He pointed to countries like Malaysia and Singapore, where strategists are tapping into the world creative economy. “The point is, we have ignored our creative economy by erroneously viewing African music, art, design, games to be either evil, waste of time and uncivilized,” he wrote. “Elsewhere, people are making billions of dollars out of this because they have governments that are keen on promoting sound policies that not only protect art, but also make it easier for individuals to commercialize the same.”

Africa’s poverty is artificial, Shikwati concludes, because the continent is rich in culture and has simply failed to commercialize it.  By Rosalind McLymont