The ICD “Experience Africa” Program

Global Trends in Creative Economies in Africa

The Multifaceted Contributions of Culture & Creativity to Development

Global Trends in Creative Economies in Africa

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development's Creative Economy Report 2008 recently defined the creative economy as "the interface between creativity, culture, economics and technology as expressed in the ability to create and circulate intellectual capital, with the potential to generate income, jobs and export earnings while at the same time promoting social inclusion, cultural diversity and human development. This is what the emerging creative economy has already begun to do."

Having emerges relatively recent, the concept of creative economy is a constantly evolving one, but is widely accepted to be driven by the cultural industries, which, according to UNCTAD, are composed of the following 9 sectors:
  • Traditional cultural expressions - arts and crafts, festivals and celebrations
  • Cultural sites - archaeological sites, museums, libraries, exhibitions, etc.
  • Visual arts - paintings, sculptures, photography and antiques
  • Publishing and printed media - books, press and other publications
  • Design - Interior, graphic, fashion, jewelry and toys
  • Performing arts - live music, theatre, dance, opera, circus, puppetry, etc.
  • Audiovisual - Film, television, radio and other broadcasting
  • New media - software, video games, digitalized creative content
  • Creative services - architectural, advertising, creative R & D, cultural and recreational
A recent report revealed that Africa's share of the global creative economy is less than 1% and that the export of creative goods in Africa increased by only 0.6% between 2002 and 2010. However, these figures are due to change, as creative industries are gaining increased recognition as key ingredients in fuelling Africa's economic growth, as illustrated by the numerous international summits and publications devoted to the expansion of the cultural industries in Africa, such as the African Creative Economy Conference, and the UN's regular Creative Economy Reports, respectively. Indeed, in UNCTAD reported a 13.9% growth rate of cultural industries in Africa in 2008. Considering that cultural industries are one of the most rapidly growing sectors of the global economy, these figures are expected to rise significantly. Gaining prominence as a solid path to economic growth and development at an impressive pace, creative economies, with their focus on culture and creativity as sources of export earnings and job creation, are being acknowledged as novel and innovative tools in the quest for durable development. However, beyond mere praise for the economic benefits that creative industries produce, the social benefits that accompany these monetary results are not to be underestimated. Creative economies have shifted international focus from mere economic development to human development.

 With the deadline for the Millennium Development goals rapidly approaching, widespread insistence on the integration of culture as a catalyst of development into the post-2015 development agenda is greater than ever. This was echoed in UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon's speech earlier this year when he claimed that "too many well-intended development programs have failed because they did not take cultural settings into account...development has not always focused enough on people. To mobilize people, we need to understand and embrace their culture. This means encouraging dialogue, listening to individual voices, and ensuring that culture and human rights inform the new course for sustainable development." Indeed, this year's Creative Economy Report has insisted that by-products of injecting culture into growth strategies are inclusive social development, inclusive economic development, environmental sustainability and peace and security.

The remarkable cultural diversity boasted by the African continent holds much promise for the effective usage of the untapped creative potential that is inherent in the continent with the highest amount of countries, accounting for around 15% of the world's population. It has been estimated that over 2000 different ethnic groups form the demographic of the continent and that between 2000 and 3000 languages are spoken in Africa, making for a rich and varied socio-cultural landscape. In addition, the fact that 200 million people in Africa are aged between 15 and 24 (with projections of these figures doubling by 2045 as per the 2012 African Economic Outlook report), further contributes to the prospects of innovative and entrepreneurial strategies that will significantly boost the creative and cultural industries of the continent.

When examining the creative and cultural industries in Africa, it is worth noting that the majority of such activity takes place in the informal sector, thus impeding the obtaining of reliable data; and that in general, government policy has yet to dedicate sufficient efforts to the exploration of culture as a source of income and development. Nevertheless, the growth of the cultural and creative industries is inevitable as numerous actors, primarily CSOs and local officials are investing in cultural and creative enterprises. Such grassroots development of these industries has not escaped the attention of many governments and undoubtedly will stimulate a rethinking of policy geared towards the enhanced harnessing of cultural capital. This will further drive the current "Rise of Africa" by expanding the scope of development initiatives beyond economic growth to encompass dimensions of human development necessary for not only durable prosperity, but for political stability and the preservation of cultural heritage in Africa. For this to occur, it is paramount that the cultural fields are no longer regarded as a 'luxury' in Africa, but as an integral part of the development process, for, as stated by the BRUSSELS DECLARATION BY ARTISTS AND CULTURAL PROFESSIONALS AND ENTREPRENEURS; "Many surveys and studies show us that culture and art is one of the most dynamic economic sectors in terms of employment, economic growth and wealth creation. It also promotes social cohesion and democratic participation in public life. Finally, unlike mineral resources, social and cultural capital is a renewable resource."   

Trends in Creative Economies of Africa

Creative Cities

Launched by UNESCO in 2004, the Creative Cities Network is rapidly expanding, and now encompasses two cities in Africa. Creative cities are considered to be 'creative hubs' promoting both socio-economic and cultural development through their use of creative industries. Furthermore, members of the network are 'socio-cultural clusters' which connect socio-culturally diverse communities with the goal of fostering a healthy urban environment. Most recently, Brazzaville (in the Republic of Congo), has been designated the 'City of Music', as of October this year. The city of Aswan in Egypt, was appointed as UNESCO's first 'City of Crafts and Folk Art' in 2005, owing to its unique heritage in folk art and its nature as a hub of exquisite craftwork, arts education, creative exchange and civil engagement. Aswan serves as a prime example to demonstrate the use of cultural capital to stimulate development. For instance, by celebrating ancient sculpture from the time of the pharaohs, Aswan's hosting of the International Symposium for Sculpture encourages its public arts institutions to 'play a role in the efforts of the local community to support sustainable development, mutual understanding and the fight against poverty and illiteracy.' Currently, the network consists of 38 member cities across the world. If African cities dedicate increased efforts towards the harnessing of their abundant cultural industries, it is without a doubt that numerous cities will soon qualify as eligible members of this ever expanding network.

Cultural Tourism

According to the 2013 World Bank Report "Tourism in Africa: Harnessing Tourism for Improved Growth and Livelihoods", tourism is the fastest growing sector of world economy. Tourism, whether in Africa or elsewhere, has the potential to greatly contribute to the economic growth of national economies, and in consequence improves livelihoods of local populations. In particular, cultural tourism emphasizes a deeper exploration of cultural, historical and natural heritage by visitors from all over the world. It stimulates cross-cultural exchanges and infiltration of values, beliefs and knowledge between individuals visiting a particular place, and local inhabitants.

It is widely known that Africa does not have a large industrial sector or a highly developed agricultural sector; however it boasts great wealth in cultural heritage. This richness is cultural diversity is perhaps arguably one of the continent's most valuable resources. The UNWTO recorded a 6% growth in arrivals to Africa in 2012, exceeding 50 million visitors for the first time ever and earning 26 billion euros. The growing influx of tourists to Africa has an impact on the development of infrastructure and stimulates local job markets, but most of all it enhances cross-cultural understanding, which in turn improves the image of visited countries. Due to tourism, countries such as the Seychelles, Kenya, Nigeria or Cape Verde not only have enjoyed accelerated economic growth during recent years, but have observed the economic and symbolic empowerment of women and minorities, such as the Masai.


Crowdfunding is a phenomenon that is revolutionizing small businesses and developing economies, where opportunities to receive funding for new business ventures are very limited. Patrick Schofield, the founder of ThundaFund which provides micro platforms for financing in Africa, claims that crowdfunding is a new form of democratization because people vote with their wallets for ideas that they appreciate and want to support. The concept of crowdfunding comes from crowdsourcing that enables a large group of people to support (source) one single project. Therefore, micro finance platforms facilitate the selling of a product, idea, service, or content to the global public via internet and social media instruments. Individuals, regardless of geographical location, can transfer an amount of money via an easy pay system to designers of a project that he or she considers to be a good idea. Crowdfunding should not be confounded with charity because an investor obtains a real or symbolic output from an entrepreneur. The micro financed projects have a strong positive social, economic and environmental impact. First of all, crowdfunded projects stimulate local job markets and guarantee micro influx of capital. Moreover, they help to develop networks and local organizations between investors and innovators that will flourish in their future business relations. Finally, African micro finance platforms such as ThundFund (ZA), StartCrunch (Nigeria) or M-Changa (Kenya) give individuals the opportunity to finance and get involved in projects they consider important. Therefore, crowdfunding has a great democratization power of the continent as it empowers citizens and promotes entrepreneurial skills.


Over the past few years the fashion industry in Africa has undergone a number of significant developments. First of all, African fabrics and fashion became popular among Western audiences and fashion designers. African designs are no longer perceived as a "traditional", ethnic or original input to new collections, but has instead evolved into a rapidly developing industry which exerts a considerable impact on global trends. Fashion blogs, magazines, on-line shops of young designers have made public recent developments in African fashion. This is an indirect but important factor of economic and social development. Fashion merchandise stimulates local economies by providing jobs to designers, producers of textiles and tailors. Moreover, numerous development programs such as The Clothing Bank or Fashion4Development (F4D) organize programs encouraging women in local communities to set up and maintain sustainable businesses. They also inspire exchange between designers based in Africa and influential individuals in fashion industry. Finally, the African Fashion Week has recently expanded. Today, the African textiles are exposed outside of the continent during special events in Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, and London. In conclusion, the increasing popularity of African fashion has simultaneous impacts on the economic situation and cultural perception of the continent.

The Film Industry

Perhaps the most prominent example of the booming African film industry is Nollywood, Nigeria's film industry, which is currently the fourth biggest economic sector in Nigeria. Nollywood films are known world-wide, showcasing Nigeria's culture and talent, and serving to challenge dominant discourse and stereotypes about the African continent. The success of Nollywood illustrates how countries can diversify their economies with the use of cultural elements, thus reducing external dependency and creating jobs, thereby contributing to overall development. While Nollywood films are certainly the most well-known of African films, cinematographic talent is widespread throughout the continent, as made evident by the numerous African film festivals held both in Africa and abroad. Prominent film festivals include the Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) and the US based Pan African Film Festival (PAFF). In addition, online platforms for the distribution of African films, such as Moloko and iROKO Partners, are emerging, enhancing the accessibility to African audio-visual talent and encouraging entrepreneurship against the backdrop of limited internet access in Africa. Such platforms are acting as important access point through which to expand the market for the consumption of African creative and cultural goods and services, such as films and music.

The Music Industry

As in the film industry, an increasing number of platforms for the distribution and sharing of African music are being established. Music in Africa (or, for instance, is a project initiated by Siemens Stiftung and the Goethe-Institut in collaboration with several local partners. The principal goals of this online music platform are to stimulate, promote and sustain a diverse music sector in Africa by providing an outlet for information and resources pertaining to this specific cultural industry. As contended by Siemens Stiftung, the orientation of content and its organization is placed in the hands of local agents, thereby strengthening local structures and contributing to both cultural and socio-economic development. To further development of the music industry, other continental efforts, such as the African Music Export Office (BEMA) are taking shape. The founding members of this network are located in Senegal, Benin, Burkina Faso and Guinea-Conakry collectively seek to enhance the production and distribution of African music through various activities such as trainings and events. Such regional networks are empowering artists across the continents, while also expanding markets beyond national boundaries.


This year, the South African city of Cape Town has been designated as the World Design Capital (WDC) 2014, making it the first ever African recipient of this esteemed status. The World Design Capital is an initiative of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design and allocates recognition to cities that have effectively employed design as mechanism through which to improve social, cultural and economic life. The appointment of the WDC coincides with the 20th anniversary of democracy in South Africa, a fact which - according to Cape Town Mayor Ms. Patricia de Lille "is a reflection of how the city has socially and physically reinvented itself." Cape Town's winning campaign, entitled 'Live Design. Transform Life' revolves around socially responsible design, sustainability and innovation. This African success story sets the stage for other cities of the continent to use the cultural element of design as a tool for progress.

Another, perhaps more small-scale instance of design acting as a vehicle for development is the establishment of the Instituto Superior de Artes e Cultura (ISArC) in Maputo, Mozambique. This higher education program in art and design was established in 2009, with the intention of cultivating local and national forms of expression through innovative design practices. In addition to contributing to artistic development, students have been awarded assignments by the state-owned railway and by various agricultural producers in the country, which has led to a stimulation of economic growth through institution-building, transfer of expertise and job creation. As such, the results of such initiatives are felt beyond the artistic realm, creating tangible benefits that are reaped by the society at large.
The above are but two of many examples of ways in which design, as a cultural industry (and therefore a component of creative economies), has served to contribute to development, illustrating the symbiotic relationship that exists between culture and economic growth.

Cultural Festivals

The success of annual Festival sur le Niger in Mali demonstrates the value of culture for development. This cultural festival, held in the city of Ségou, has attracted tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world, generating significant income for the hotel, craft, food, bars, and trade sectors and creating thousands of jobs. Goods and services are supplied by the local population and a housing system has been developed which encourages visitors to stay in private homes, further boosting income for local residents. However, the effects of the festival have been more than just economic in nature.  Culturally, it has helped to sustain the community by reviving traditional performances such as oral traditions, traditional dance and masks and puppets. Socially, it has allowed locals to interact with festival-goers, fostering mutual understanding and the formation of new friendships. On the environmental level, the festival has led to an advocacy campaign to save the river Niger. The Festival sur le Niger therefore acts as a point in case in which the cultural industry stimulates processes of sustainable development. Many such cultural festivals exist in Africa, attracting visitors from across the globe while celebrating the rich cultural heritage that characterizes the continent.   

Opportunities and Challenges

As illustrated throughout this article, the exploration of cultural industries as a driver of the creative economy holds limitless potential for not only the economic, but the socio-political development of the African continent. Creative economies, however, are still in the stages on infancy in Africa, as the continent's economies remain heavily resource dependent. These natural resources, unlike cultural and creative resources, are non-renewable; thus their exploitation carries an expiration date. Cultural industries are providing Africa, a hub of cultural heritage and diversity, with the opportunity to diversify its economy while at the same time stimulating social, cultural and political development. Furthermore, the cultivation of creative and cultural industries is imperative to satisfy the demands of a labor market dominated by an ever-increasing youth bulge.

In order for creative economies to take shape in Africa, a variety of obstacles must be overcome. With current developments of cultural industries being primarily initiated by members of civil society, it is necessary that such action is actively supported by governments through well-informed policy-development and increased investment in these sectors. Government policy has an immense role to play in the success or failure of future creative economies. A significant hurdle to the flourishing of creative economies in Africa is the lack of copyright, intellectual property rights legislation and poor enforcement, perpetuating rampant piracy. Furthermore, censorship and excessive bureaucracy are inhibiting the development of creative and cultural industries. These obstacles can only be overcome through policy reform, which necessitates political will. This on the other hand, will require a realization on the part of governments, that cultural capital is an indispensable, income-generating resource, whose cultivation will produce effects that surpass mere monetary gains.

Slowly but surely, acknowledgement of the value creative and cultural industries hold is becoming more apparent, as initiatives to integrate these industries into strategies of growth are on the rise at both the national and the pan-African levels. South Africa for example, recently launched a strategic plan, the Mzansi Golden Economy, to reposition the cultural industries in South Africa and to highlight the sector's contribution to growth, job creation and social cohesion. At the continental level, we have witnessed the emergence of various policies and mechanisms conducive to the development of creative economies. Examples include the Plan of Action for the Cultural and Creative Industries in Africa, which was signed by all African cultural ministers at the Africa Union Meeting in 2008. Thus, institutional mechanisms to support the development of creative economies across Africa are gradually being established, and such efforts must continue in close collaboration with civil society.

Numerous cultural industries, such as new media and creative services rely to a great degree on information communication technology (ICT). Despite the fact that efforts for growing connectivity throughout the continent are being strengthened, limited broadband penetration and the high costs that accompany it continue to significantly impede the development of new technology based creative industry business models. Internet activity is highly concentrated in Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa; Africa's three biggest economies, but eludes the majority of the African population. According to a study by the World Bank, only 15% of the Sub-Saharan population was active on the internet in 2012. Not only is the internet a tool for the dissemination of culture and artistic talent, but, as UN Broadband Commission co-vice chair Hamadoun Toure claimed earlier this year; "Technology combined with relevant content and services can help us bridge urgent development gaps in areas like health, education, environmental management and gender empowerment." As such, it is vital that increased investments in infrastructure enabling greater connectivity are made.

It is evident that creative economies have yet to gain a strong foothold in Africa. The cultural and creative industries in Africa require further development and support, so as to establish culture as a vehicle of sustainable and human-centered development. The common perceived separation between economy and culture must give way to the recognition that these fields are interdependent and mutually beneficial. The African continent possesses great wealth of cultural capital which must be given outlet to through the nurturing of creative economies in Africa. As claimed by prominent Senegalese poet Leopold Sedar Senghor; "Culture is at the beginning and the end of development".  It is for this reason that contemporary deliberations on the post-2015 development framework must incorporate cultural considerations in their agenda, so as to broaden the scope of development processes, thereby affording them a more inclusive and sustainable nature. The creative economy's potential for transformative development in Africa is boundless and waiting to be unlocked.