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How Covid-19 has impacted the African creative industries

Musician King Saha entertains fans during his ‘Biri Biri’ concert at Kyadondo Rugby Grounds in Kampala in 2019. The Covid-19-induced ban on such events has left many artistes in a poor economic situation. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI.

Research shows the most affected sub-sector is the performing arts such as live music shows, dance, theatre and events due to the ban on gatherings.

The health crisis resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic has left a profound impact on the cultural and creative industries (CCIs) and its workers around the world.

Cultural professionals are often excluded from conventional social or economic safety nets due to the often-informal nature of their employment.

Key findings from the First Africa-wide Survey of the Economic Impact of Covid-19 on Cultural Industries by Ribio Nzeza Bunketi Buse indicate that financial losses (turnover) in the CCIs in Africa during the second quarter of 2020 vary significantly from one country to another.

The losses range between $134,360 (Shs475m) for Uganda and $1.49 billion (Shs5.2 trillion) for South Africa.

The combined turnover during the lockdown period of the six countries in which the online surveys were done comes to a total of $1.5b (Shs5.3 trillion).

The countries surveyed were DR Congo, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, and Senegal.

The survey also shows the most affected sub-sector within the cultural industry in Africa was the performing arts – such as live music, dance, theatre and events. This is explained by the ban on gatherings in these countries due to the pandemic.

The content sub-sector – audio-visuals, cinema, and visual arts – came second.

The studies by Buse, who is an associate professor of Cultural and Creative Industries Management at the Catholic University of Congo and of Social Media at the University of Kinshasa (DR Congo) also, shed light on the most profitable subsectors during this period.

Digital media, online gaming, music and audio-visual content were able to be resilient.

Their value chains – from creation to consumption – do not require a high level of mandatory face-to-face interaction and effective use of online tools can be made.

Vulnerability

Buse says his study reveals that the vulnerability of African creative and cultural industries resulted mainly from five factors: the predominance of the informal sector (53.3 per cent in Senegal, 51.7 per cent in Namibia, 80 per cent in Kenya, 35 per cent in South Africa); the significant number of freelancers whose resources cannot withstand shocks (68 per cent in Kenya). In Uganda, nearly 700 artistes are affected out of 3,000 cancelled events.

The survey shows that the very small size of companies (47 per cent of companies in DR Congo have between one and five employees; 80 per cent have between one and 10 in Kenya).

“This is a further handicap because bigger companies are likely more resilient due to better access to financial, human and technological resources.”

The African survey also indicates that vulnerability results from the prevalence of part-time jobs and short-term contracts (58 per cent of companies in Kenya have part-time jobs); the mode of production and distribution requires a high level of human interaction, especially for the visual arts (such as painting and photography).

Tanzania

As to the effect in Tanzania, Rachel Kessi, the co-director of Muda Africa, says: “We had a three-month lockdown in 2020, where public gatherings and any kind of performance were banned. At Muda Africa, we had exchanges and performances with Uganda, Rwanda, Switzerland, USA and Germany that were cancelled, resulting in a loss of more than €43,000 (Shs180m) worth of grants. Our annual festival had to be transformed into an online event. Even though the ban was lifted in September last year, performances are still few and recovery is really slow.”

Muda Africa is a non-profit organisation which gives professional training in the fields of music and dance to Tanzanian youth

Kenya

“The grim reality is that the Covid-19 pandemic in Kenya, as in most places, has caught all public sectors, including the creative industry flat-footed and amplified the wide disparity in incomes between the rich and the poor,” Tabu Osusa, the founding director of Ketebul Music based in Nairobi, observes.

Relief

Some governments have approved tax, economic aid and relief programmes for the CCIs that have taken a hit from the unexpected pandemic.

Unesco and African cultural institutions have also come up with grants to support the creative economy and for the survival of the workers.

During its annual meeting held online from February 1 to 6, the Intergovernmental Committee of Unesco’s 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions approved funding for initiatives that will boost the cultural and creative industries in developing countries around the world.

This committee meeting occurred as Covid-19 has caused a crisis in culture that is both profound and unprecedented. The pandemic has revealed fundamental challenges, particularly the precariousness of artistes, and the risk of standardisation of cultural products if cultural diversity is not promoted.

Each project will receive more than $70,000 (Shs248m) from the International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD). With this year’s attribution, the IFCD will have supported 120 projects in 60 developing countries with more than $8.7m (Shs31b) since 2010.

Among the projects is ‘Strengthening the Contemporary Dance Scene in East Africa,’ proposed by Tanzania’s Muda Africa, which will benefit 45 dance artistes, particularly women, in Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania through the creation of a network and web portal, which will provide choreographic capacity building and undertake policy advocacy.

“East Africa boasts of many high quality professional dance artistes, who are not well-known to each other and even less known in international dance markets around the world. One of the main reasons is that they have poor presence online. Many festival promoters do not know how and where to find East African dance artistes. The first outcome of this project is to create a web portal to feature the best of East African dance artistes. The selected artistes will receive marketing training so they will learn how to present a professional portfolio online,” Kessi says.

“They will also receive teacher training skills as most platforms not only invite dancers to perform but give masterclasses as well. Therefore, having good teaching skills enhances their chances of being selected. The web portal will also feature dance markets (festivals, residencies, among others) which are open to East African dance artistes. Hence the web will connect artistes to each other and to world markets,” Kessi adds.

According to Kessi, the second outcome is to build the confidence of women dance artistes through choreographic training.

“A choreographer has a position of power in dance and more women need to access these positions. Therefore, there will be choreographic training sessions just for women dance artistes. The web portal will ensure to feature a minimum of 40 per cent women dance artistes as well. There will also be an online conference to discuss policies on women in dance and try and influence festival policies in East Africa to implement better measures to promote more women on their platforms.”

Kessi says this first project will take place in Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda.

“We hope to expand to other countries of the East African region in the future. This project is implemented by AMDA (Africa Mashariki Dance), which is an association of performance platforms in Rwanda (Amizero), Tanzania (Muda Africa) and Uganda (Batalo East).”

Asked what impact this project will have in East Africa, Ian Mwaisunga, a co-director of Muda Africa, replies: “This project will strengthen the marketing and choreographic skills of East African artistes, as well as bring the world’s attention to their talents by featuring them on a one-stop web portal, where they can easily be found and connected to. This will result in more opportunities for East African dance artistes and for dance platforms to become more diverse.”

Muda Africa believes contemporary dance cultivates the individual and collective spirit of creativity, trust, cooperation, discipline and openness to change. It believes these are fundamental values and skills that will help the youth of Tanzania become agents of positive change in the society.

Honduras and Tanzania will also benefit from the support of IFCD for the first time this year. Selected from 1,027 applications from 102 countries, the projects will enhance the development of evidence-based cultural policies and measures, boost cultural entrepreneurship in indigenous communities, widen the engagement of civil society, women and youth in cultural policy-making processes, and support the mobility of artistes. The projects are intended to strengthen the resilience of the cultural and creative industries, which have been severely hit by Covid-19, and to make culture more accessible to all.

Kenya and Senegal released about $1m (Shs3.5b) and more than $5m (Shs18b) to sustain their respective CCIs during the lockdowns.

A drama group acts out a scene from Joshua Mmali’s play The Betrothal at the Uganda National Cultural Centre (National Theatre) in Kampala on August 3, 2018. Such events were banned as one of the measures to stop the spread of Covid-19, leaving many artists financially vulnerable. Photo/Rachel Mabala.

South Africa

The South African government called on sectors in its CCIs, which were negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, to apply for relief funding.

This relief was a once off payment to successful applicants. There was a maximum threshold of R15,000 ($1,067 or Shs3.8m) to successful individual applicants, and R30, 000 ($2,135 or Shs7.5m) to formations such as small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), organisation or cooperatives.

The South African Department of Small Business Development, and the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture, contributed an equal amount of money to set up a fund worth R2.2 million (more than $1.5m or Shs5.3b).

As to whether African governments have responded adequately to support their respective CCIs, Charles Batambuze, the executive director of the Uganda Reproduction Rights Organisation (URRO), says: “African governments are struggling given the reductions in tax collections from sectors such as tourism, which were some of the leading revenue generators. That notwithstanding, however, attempts are being made to support cultural and creative industries in different ways.

“For example, in Uganda, music promoters have been assisted to recover losses incurred because of cancelled concerts due to the lockdown; associations of creatives are being assisted to strengthen their capacity to support their members; the Uganda National Cultural Centre is being assisted to develop digital platforms and invest in key units that improve the quality of productions. The hope, though, is that individual artistes and writers will be provided with funding support to invest in producing new works, to buy inputs and use technology at any stage of the value chain and training,” Batambuze adds.

“The pandemic has greatly exposed the remarkable ineptitude of most African leaders and their lack of having in place medical and economic structures for disaster management,” Osusa observes.

As to how fast the African CCIs will recover from this pandemic, Mwaisunga, says:

“The pandemic is still ongoing, with rules and regulations changing all the time. Travel is more expensive now with the high costs of Covid-19 tests. A lot of the available grants are now insisting on proposals with digital solutions. A lot of our exchanges and performances outside of Tanzania will take place in late 2022, so I don’t expect a recovery before then.”

“We are not certain of when this could be. What we are sure of is that African creatives are finding ways to survive with their craft in the new normal. For example, crews are enforcing strict standard operating procedures (SOPs) during production processes to create new works. There are new online distribution platforms for works such as in the case of Uganda, MTN YoTv; UgaTunes, among others, to assist artistes reach new markets and open up new income streams, which are more sustainable and very different from public concerts,” Batambuze says.

“Equally, the demand for royalties from collective management organisations is currently over the roof, which has ignited a campaign to reform Uganda’s copyright law to provide for a private copy levy to be imposed on devices used in the theft of copyrights. A lot of creative works are currently being consumed via devices such as mobile phones without compensating or remunerating creators. It is this usage that the private copy levy is to cover,” Batambuze adds.

Picking up in Kenya

“Generally for now in Kenya, the cultural and creative industry is still in the deep freeze, although a few venues such as the Alliance Francaises in Nairobi are beginning to open for concerts to a ‘controlled’ audience. The recovery of the African cultural and creative industries will greatly depend on how well the continent and the rest of the world will manage in controlling the pandemic,” Osusa says.

Buse notes that the pandemic has not only negatively impacted the creative sector in Africa, but it has also exposed its shortcomings.

“To boost the cultural industries’ contribution to national economies, it is important to first conduct regular field studies to map the sector for oriented and efficient public and private interventions to enable the sector to recover from the setback of Covid-19. Governments have an important role to play in this regard,” Buse suggests.

“It is worth creating safer legal and business frameworks that will enable creative industries to operate more efficiently. Sound cultural policies along with implementation plans are key towards achieving this goal,” Buse adds.

In 2021, as the world celebrates the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, and recovery plans are being negotiated around the world, Unesco called on countries not to ignore culture.

“The upcoming recovery will determine who we will be in the years to come. Culture cannot be forgotten in national plans, because there will be no economic recovery without culture. Unesco is mobilised and calls on all actors to embrace these efforts collectively,” Audrey Azoulay, the Unesco director general, says.

Situation in Uganda

As to the effect of the pandemic on CCIs in Uganda, Charles Batambuze, the executive director of the Uganda Reproduction Rights Organisation (URRO), says: “The onset of Covid-19 pandemic as a public health emergency in March 2020 disrupted all economic sectors, with the culture and creative industries as the hardest hit. Although the extent of the social and economic damage on culture and creative industries will take some time to establish, early impact studies of Covid-19 on Uganda’s culture and creative industries are turning out very gloom data. Estimates by government show that the sector lost Shs15 billion (about $4 million) within a period of one month following the lockdown in March 2020.”

“Measures to stop the spread of Covid-19, including bans on public gathering, night time curfews, social distancing measures, closure of performance theatres, cultural centres, cinema halls, discotheques, beaches, recreational and entertainment spaces, bars, galleries, museums, schools, universities, sports centres, libraries, bookshops and public spaces and restrictions on concerts, have in most cases brought social and economic life to a halt, impacting culture and creative industries’ business and productivity,” Batambuze adds.

He further says: “There is uncertainty about how long the measures or moderate forms of the above measures will remain in force. What is certain, though, is the economic impact on culture and creative industries, including income losses, increased operational expenses, high enterprise mortality and the possibility of offloading culture and creative industries celebrities and other workers on the country’s unemployment circuit. This has left many artistes and creatives vulnerable and only surviving.”

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