A week will hardly pass by without a news item or two in the lifestyle section in the Rwandan media about an upcoming entertainment event. It speaks of the country’s burgeoning cultural and creative industry (CCI) that, in many ways, reflects a global trend.
The Great Black Music exhibition ending this month is a case in point, especially how globally integrated the country has become. The exhibition showcases interactive evolution of black music through the ages and across continents, of which Rwanda is the first to host in East Africa among other countries across the world.
The real story, however, is about how CCI is getting entrenched in the country as may be seen in examples such as the Blankets and Wine event set to be hosted for the first time in Kigali this month, after its origins in Nairobi and subsequent hosting in Kampala. The event simulates a picnic-like family outing that will combine live music, cuisine, crafts and fashion.
Similarly, various shades of artists from the region have been flocking to Kigali and, vice versa, Rwandan artists, especially to Kampala. This is in addition to the vibrant entertainment industry by locals for the locals.
The role and CCI potential combining entertainment, commerce and job creation has been gaining a lot of attention in recent years.
The UN cultural organization, UNESCO, defines cultural and creative industries as activities “whose principal purpose is production or reproduction, promotion, distribution or commercialization of goods, services and activities of a cultural, artistic or heritage-related nature.”
In its 2010 Creative Economy Report, UNESCO further concludes that “adequately nurtured, creativity fuels culture, infuses a human-centred development and constitutes the key ingredient for creation, innovation and trade while contributing to social inclusion, cultural diversity and environmental sustainability.”
This has since been followed up with the 2013 report which confirms the creative economy as one of the most rapidly growing sectors of the world economy and a highly transformative one in terms of income generation, job creation and export earnings. It is this trend that reflects in Rwanda.
To better grasp the extent of CCI, a study mapping out the macro economy of creative industries in the world found that the sector formed an integral, massive and universal cornerstone of the global economy generating US$2,250 billion of revenues (3 percent of world GDP) and 29.5 million jobs. (See, Cultural Times: The first global map of cultural and creative industries, December 2015).
Overall, the mapping drew out eleven CCI categories, namely, Advertising; Architecture; Books; Gaming; Music; Movie; Newspapers and magazines; Performing Arts; Radio; TV; and, Visual arts.
Africa and the Middle East were clustered together and found to have achieved US$58b in revenues (3 percent of the total globally) and 2.4 million jobs (8 percent of total CCI jobs).
In the meantime, a recent British Council study, Scoping the Creative Economy in East Africa, generally found one of the region’s overall strengths as “cultural distinctiveness, very strong traditions, and real flair across creative sectors including music, crafts, fashion, visual arts, film and, increasingly, digital content industries.”
While acknowledging the growing market, it conversely also found some of the overall weaknesses as “cultural conservatism which can lead to an aversion to risk, experimentation and the influence of different cultures. Also issues of tolerance and inclusion.”
Low wages, poor working conditions and limited opportunities for too many talented people was another weakness.
More broadly across the continent, the global CCI mapping report found the notion of “culture” as often disconnected from the economic dimension. Though it mentions Francophone Africa, there are those who would argue people across the continent are used to attending festivals and performances and practicing theatre for free. Artists rely upon other financial revenues, such as sponsorship, to finance their lifestyle.
It suggests that this African attitude to culture fosters free — and illegal — reproduction of music, video recordings and other art, and intellectual property rights are widely ignored.
This may be so, but if these are weaknesses and challenges, there’s also an observation that the cultural and creative industries generate nonmonetary value that contribute significantly to achieving people-centred, inclusive and sustainable development.
This is already happening in the EAC, such as during the third edition Jumuiya ya Africa Mashariki Utamadini Festival (JAMAFEST) set to be held in Kampala next month.
The biannual festival, hosted on a rotational basis among the EAC states, aims to foster regional integration through arts and culture. The second edition was hosted in Nairobi in 2015, the first in Kigali in 2013.