It was a sensual display of fashion magic, screenings of some of the award-winning films and an orchestra of deep music played live by artistes from African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. It was also a reflective moment for ACP countries to discover and see how to exploit the latent potential locked in the creative.
This was at the recent international conference held in Brussels, Belgium whose theme was’Culture and Creativity as Vectors for Development’.
An initiative of the European Commission, the Brussels meeting brought together more than 500 professionals from these countries and the European Union. There were artists, politicians of influence and others from the world of cultures to discuss how to tap into the flow of creative and cultural wealth generated by the ACP countries more effectively for development.
Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid whose initiative it was said: « Looking at the creativity, the wealth and diversity of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, I am more convinced than ever of the untapped potential of culture and creativity for innovation and development ».
A 2008 report by the United Nations (UNCTAD) identifies creativity as one of the intangible products that the world could use more wisely to sustain development especially in the context of dwindling natural resources and shaky economic systems.
« Today, creative industries are among the most dynamic sectors of the world economy, » said the report that has since become one of the most quoted documents by economic planners trying to integrate creative industries into the national economy.
Under the creative industries are all sectors that exploit the intellect for innovation. These include media, advertising, music, publishing, and architecture.
Between 2000 and 2005, international trade in creative goods and services grew at 8.7 per cent says the report.
The value of world exports of creative goods and services reached $ 424.4 billion in 2005 representing a 3.4 per cent of total world trade, says the report.
After realising the potential in creative industries, many countries have moved to formulate policies that favour their growth. These countries include Britain, India, China and Singapore.
In 2003, British creative industries contributed three per cent of the GDP while Norway earned up to 3.2 per cent of the national GDP from these sectors; Czech Republic harnessed 2.3 per cent.
UN says Asian countries are reaping from their investments in these industries whose most important raw material is creativity.
After adopting tailor-made cross cutting policies, China bacame the leading producer of value-added creative products in 2005.
« With the exception of South Africa, Mali, the member states of CARICOM and certain states of the WAEMU, the cultural economy of ACP countries has not been greatly studied up to date, » said Francisco Ayi, a specialist in cultural policies especially in Africa.
This is because Africa has considered creative industries as a product only meant for entertainment and communal cohesion – in fact some African communities will still get offended if an economic value is attached to a work of art.
South Africa’s publishing industry alone rakes in around US$200 million and 3,000 highly-rated jobs. The same country’s cinema earns up to around ISD 550 million and employs 30,000 people, according to South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry.
Other sectors like music earned US$200 million while the mostly ignored handicraft earned the country up to US$220 million which is 0.14 per cent of the GDP and employed up to 38,000 people according to figures from the country’s Ministry of Trade and Industry.
Vale of Kenya’s creative industries, apart from music whose contribution to the GDP was reported by a World Bank report, is yet to be known.
In the Brussels meeting, Kenyan government was represented by Finance assistant minister, Dr Oburu Odinga and Culture and Heritage Permanent Secretary, Dr Jacob ole Miaron.
« The Brussels meeting was important in that it created an opportunity for policy makers to view culture not only as an entertainment activity, but also a vector for economic development, » said Dr ole Miaron.
In Kenya, the creative industries have largely survived without proper legal structures. A cultural policy has just been passed by Cabinet, but is yet to be launched. There is neither organised lobbyists for the industry nor adequate grants.
At the Ministry of Planning, statistics on creative industries are not available. They are categorised under « others, » which could mean that in the eyes of planners the sector still belongs in the peripheries.
For the few cultural institutions that exist, Government funding dried up; most of them duplicate programmes hence making them insignificant in terms of economic output.
Two weeks ago (in April 2009), a group of East African artists and other professionals for the first time gathered in the coastal town Mombasa for the East African arts summit to deliberate on the industry as a serious contributor to the economy.
« The cultural industry has to start looking outside the way we have been working. We don’t want to be left out in the debate on creative economy, » said Judy Ogana, who is the general manager GoDown Arts Centre that organised the arts meeting.
« Everybody is talking about creative economy and cultural entrepreneurship. It was to interrogate and see how to get into the creative industry .. »
One of the tangible achievements expected to come out of the summit is a handbook to guide players in East Africa.
A long standing cultural expert, Prof Kimani Njogu says that creative industries is a new vocabulary in Kenya.
« The summit was a moment of learning because I could see the tensions and opportunities and creativity as an engine for development; I could see an opportunity to think more practically on the place of creative industry in our national economy. »
Locally- that is in Kenya- efforts sponsored by the World Intellectual Property Organisations are just about to produce a report that will indicate the value of the country’s creative economy. The Ministry of Culture and Heritage is also preparing to start a process of evaluating the industries.
« The funding may not increase substantially but we have re-organised our budget priorities to serve the industry better, » says Dr Miaron.
« For the first time, we are going to provide funds for a study to establish the contribution of the creative cultural industries to our GDP. Grants to artists have also been increased. »
Other interventions that the ministry promises include re-focusing grants to communities to support micro enterprises in the cultural segment, review of institutional, legal and economic framework to support creative industries.
The ministry is also preparing to intensify lobbying for resources from the Treasury and development partners to support activities associated with the creative industries, says Dr Miaron.
According to the UN report of 2008, the most significant obstacle to growth in Africa’s creative industries is lack of strong domestic policies supporting the industries. A systemic global bias against African products is another impediment to the growth.
Brussels meeting came up with a declaration that Africa, Caribbean and Pacific intends to use as a guide to exploit the arts.
« If it is supported by the political leaders of the European Union and ACP countries, this declaration has a real chance to create a new dynamic, » says the Brussels declaration that was adopted at the end of the conference in Brussels.
Through a well choreographed poetic performance by two performers, the Brussels declaration was read to an attentive group of artists, policymakers and politicians. The declaration recommends a raft of interventions for the different players in the creative industries.
One of the proposals is that every ACP government ministry introduces a cultural aspect in their programmes. Currently, many culture ministries or departments around ACP operate independently with scanty resources. Besides, ACP experts also recommend integration of cultural industries in the different programmes carried out at international levels, especially on funding. This is whether UN, AU, EU or other related bodies that bring the world together.
In the declaration, cultural experts also want to be recognised as key actors in development; culture to be integrated into all aspects of national and international planning.
The spirit of the declaration is to eventually weave culture into political, economic, national and international engagements.
Governments were urged to create right laws, and economic tools to guide development of the industries. With such interventions, ACP culture experts said they expected to see « a harvest from our imaginations. »
Already, countries that have embraced creative industries have dividends to show, where they grew faster than the traditional service and manufacturing sectors of the’90s.
This article was first published in Business Daily. Writer can be reached via: [email protected]///Article N° : 8690