Coronavirus – Africa: Clustering in special economic zones can boost the creative industry in Central Africa, says ECA’s Pedro

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The creative industries constitute an important lever for economic diversification in Central Africa and can help countries of the sub-region build back better in a post-COVID-19 dispensation, said the Head of ECA’s Office for Central Africa – Antonio Pedro – to a range of actors from across Francophone Africa who attended a virtual conference dubbed “ResiliArt”.

The event was convened by UNESCO’s Regional Office for Central Africa, as a sequel to a 15 April 2020 global conference organized by UNESCO’s Director General, to have culture ministers and professionals unpack the challenges posed by global crises to artists and their cohorts as well as articulate strategies to build a stronger and more resilient art industry in Central Africa.

Mr. Pedro told the virtual assembly that like the rest of the continent, Central African countries are yet to take advantage of the huge opportunities for employment and economic transformation offered by the modern services of the cultural space such as music, film, fine arts, fashion and television entertainment.

This scheme of things is perceptible at the level of contribution of the creative industries to GDP. For instance, the cultural sector is responsible for 11% of GDP in the United States while in Africa, its contribution is barely 3%.

Even with Nollywood which is Nigeria’s second largest employer, generating between 500 and 800 million dollars per annum in film production, its contribution to GDP is only 2%, which indicates the untapped potential of the sector

Nollywood could have been doing better in revenue generation, were it not for the loss of circa USD 2billion per year as a result of piracy. This constitutes a major difficulty for the creative industries in Africa, Mr. Pedro observed.

“The complexity and opacity of the production and monetization chain within the creative industries in Africa makes the sector more informal and discourages investors and insurers from contributing to its viability and bankability,” he noted, while arguing that if artistic creators in Africa in general and Central Africa in particular were properly insured, they would have been better-off during the current pandemic.

But as things stand, without any safety nets, the cultural and creative world is one of the hardest hit by the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 as social restriction and distancing measures have led to cancellation of shows, closure of theatres, museums, concert halls, restaurants and other venues for artistic performances and events.  According to Mr. Pedro, estimates show the shutdown of creative industries in South Africa, for instance, would cost the country a revenue loss of about R 99.7 billion (circa USD 5.75 billion) in 2020.

If an ideal environment is created for the creative industries to prosper, they could bank an annual revenue of around USD 4.2 billion, benefiting Africans below 35 years, who make up 74 percent of the continent’s demographics, in terms of employment.

“To develop this sector, we need very strong regulatory institutions and structures to support young creators which the continent has in unlimited supply,” Mr. Pedro pointed out.

He encouraged governments and other actors in the ecosystem to consider blockchain as a potential solution for the management of intellectual property rights as it allows decentralized but secure management of registrations corresponding to patents and other rights that creators should benefit from.

“But culture industrial clustering, which would involve spatial concentration of interconnected organizations, firms, professionals and practitioners in the creative industry is a very important step to consider in the short term,” he submitted as he pointed out the efficiency of this model in such clusters as Hollywood and Broadway in the US and Leicester Square in London, UK. Up-and-coming examples in Africa, he noted, would be found in Woodstock – the fashion hub of Cape Town and in the Bramfontein and Keyes art zones in Johannesburg, all in South Africa.

He concluded that creative industry clusters can be modeled on the Special Economic Zones that are springing-up in certain countries including within Central Africa.

Speakers at the virtual conference agreed that governments in Central Africa should henceforth consider cultural production as pivotal to economic development. They therefore called for the formulation of a regional strategy for the resilience of the creative industry, the development of exchange platforms for artists and public structures, the setting up of guarantee and solidarity funds for the arts, massive digitization of cultural products, sustained efforts to fight piracy and the creation of foyers for the industry at local council levels.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

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