The Sunday News
In March 2018, 52 out of 55 African countries signed the historic African Continental Free Trade Agreement. Recently, Africa’s Tech and Creative Industry leaders and forward-thinking ecosystem builders gathered for a two-day conference in Kigali, Rwanda to explore the opportunities that will emerge with the signing of the trade agreement for the creative economy on the continent.
The Kigali event took place in August. According to the organisers, it saw a group of African technology and creative sector players, as well as forward-thinking ecosystem builders, in collaborative sessions recommend the governance structure and definitive guide on the goals and objectives of the group in relation to the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). The meeting tackled the role of technological innovation in unlocking value for the creative sector. The sessions were led by the Africa Technology and Creative Group (ATCG), which is a coalition of technology and creative professionals. The group is working to forge catalytic frameworks and reference points for the success of the free trade area.
“The purpose was to deconstruct the AfCFTA, which was put together by the Africa Union. The creative and cultural industries wanted to see how they could leverage on the agreement to advance the pan African creative economy,” said Josh Nyapimbi, executive director of Nhimbe Trust, and Co-chair, Global CSO Co-ordination, 2005 UNESCO Convention and Co-pan-African Rep, Global CSO Co-ordination and member African Technology and Creative Group. Nyapimbi attended the Rwanda meeting and has sat on a number of international platforms representing the African creative and cultural industries civil society.
The African Union’s vision and policy framework to stimulate socio-economic development, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), stresses the urgency for the continent to “find ways to diversify their economies, namely by boosting non-traditional sectors; expanding their range of products and exports; and engaging with new economic and development partners.” While the continent is mineral rich, and countries such as Botswana having an over reliance on diamond revenue for instance, the need for exploring other areas of the economy is a matter of economic prudence. The place of the creative and cultural industries in terms of potential contribution to national GDPs and job creation can hardly be overestimated.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s Creative Economy Report 2008 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.” According to UNCTAD, the creative economy revolves around the following nine 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, digitalised creative content, Creative services — architectural, advertising, creative R & D, cultural and recreational.
The various sectors have been identified as key drivers of foreign exchange earnings and employment creation. Arguably, tourism and related leisure activities overlap with the creative and cultural sector and can be included in the reckoning of the sector. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has in the last 20 years forced an expansion of the list of sectors that form the creative and cultural sector.
According to the 2018 report of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting more than 750 operators with almost 400 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and internet companies, as well as organisations in adjacent industry sectors, the mobile phone subscriber base in the sub Saharan African region totalled 444 million at the end of 2017, equivalent to around 9 percent of subscribers globally. Market penetration stood at 44 percent of the African population, still well below the global average of 66 percent. The mobile industry contributes US$144 billion to the continental GDP representing about 8,6 percent. Mobile internet users stand at 239 million (23 percent of the population) while smartphones are 39 percent of all mobile phone connections. The figure is projected to rise to US$185 billion by 2023.
The Mobile Ecosystem Forum cites statistics in an All Africa report that “indicate that 62 percent of mobile users consume online video content in Africa and video will account for 70 percent of all mobile traffic by 2021.” The Forum notes that “the continued growth of data consumption — fuelled in part by the demand for online video content — is creating robust revenue growth for operators.” Additionally, the website cites a report by Ovum which “estimates that mobile data in Africa will grow from US$6,40bn in 2015 to more than US$27bn in 2021.”
Given this background, the role of technology in the creative and cultural industries growth matrix is critical when one considers the intersection between creation and distribution of creative “goods” (film, television shows, music etecetera) to the global market. It is nearly impossible to think of consumption of cultural products without considering the role which ICTs play.
The digital economy is content and data driven and those business entities that are able to offer their services at competitive prices will be at an advantage. Therefore, companies such as U.S. giant Netflix have joined the fray in accessing the African market using the World Wide Web platform. Netflix is fighting for the space that has been dominated by MultiChoice Africa as the leading distributor of creative content on the continent. The business model of MultiChoice Africa relies heavily on technology (digital satellite infrastructure) to monetise its operations across the continent and the value proposition of being the “home of African storytelling”. Indeed, there has been a surge in interest in African narratives or content based on an African context and this trend has best been exemplified by the global success of Black Panther and The Lion King, which have grossed over US$2 billion between them. While this alone does not fully illustrate the point being made, African producers such as South Africa’s Kagiso Lediga, have received commissions from Netflix to produce content (Queen Sono) which will be accessible to subscribers on Netflix’s online platform.
According to Fortune magazine report, in 2014, the Nigerian government released data for the first time indicating that Nollywood is a US$3,3 billion sector, with 1 844 movies produced in 2013 alone. The report states that “many observers believe that the global reach of African films could take off, led by video on demand (VOD) platforms and productions of Nigeria — the continent’s largest economy and most populous nation.”
African creative and policy makers may also take a cue from the freakish success of South Korean musician PSY. Around 2012, PSY, the South Korean born Park Jae-Sang, shot to global fame on the back of “Gangnam Style”, a satirical song. The video generated massive global attention with 3,362,306,376 billion views on YouTube to date. The South Korean singer and rapper has a net worth of US$60 million.
On average, YouTube pays content creators who own copyright material on its platform, between US$600 and US$7 000. The company calculates these figures via a system called CPM or cost per 1 000 views. Other factors are considered such as demographic segmentation of viewers (age, gender, location), views by geographic location, type of content (viral, informational, news, comedy), frequency of video uploads, duration of views, subscriber count and engagement.
The overarching aim of the ATCG is to galvanise grassroots actions in the technology and creative industry to make AfCFTA work for Africans as well as to relay the message of the opportunities for new market linkages, intra-trade and intellectual property and laws. Investment is poised to be inspired by an awareness of the opportunities brought by the creation of a huge marketplace, scalability of operations and harmonised cross border trade regulations and movement. The integrative power of ICTs and namely the Internet is undoubtedly vast but the major challenge with technology is the cost of data for users. This fact alone emphasises the interrelatedness of ICTs and the creative sector viz à vis content distribution and scalability for businesses within the sector.
For example, in 2018, Liquid Telecom and Telecom Egypt inked a deal that has to date enabled the completion of a 60 000-km terrestrial data network, known as “The One Africa,” that runs from Cairo to Cape Town. This network not only represents a remarkable engineering achievement that has overcome some of the most challenging distances and terrains on the continent, but it is also supporting the rise of Africa’s digital economies. Therefore, “One Africa” will provide an alternative to the multiple sub-sea cables that connect Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa and in turn improving the connectivity of Africa and enhancing the prospect that business services such as cloud computing and storage will become more affordable.” —Nhimbe Trust.