The last two decades have seen growing recognition of the social and economic potential of cultural and creative industries (CCIs). This far-reaching field spans the physical, digital, and immaterial, as much as the past and the present. Museums, archives, libraries, fine art and photography, archaeology, oral traditions, festivals, rituals, natural conservation – as well as industries that rely on creative practice, including advertising, big data, AI and Robotics – all reside in the CCI landscape.
The sector has experienced substantial economic growth since the turn of the millennium. According to a 2018 United Nations report, the global market size for cultural and creative goods more than doubled its size between 2002 and 2015, from $ 208 billion to $ 509 billion.
A Growth Sector in a Fast-Growing Region
With this expansive reach, and relative resilience to economic downturn, CCIs now have a firm place in the development agenda. Viewed primarily as a means to build entrepreneurial capacity and generate both formal and informal employment, they are also considered avenues towards mutual and intercultural understanding, and collaboration between civil societies, the private sector, and government agencies.
With a current population of approximately 1.8 billion inhabitants, a swelling middle class, rapid urbanisation, and widespread internet connectivity, the Sub-Saharan region represents significant opportunities for CCI growth and socio-economic impact – as well as a breadth of both traditional and innovative cultural practice.
The African Union was one of the first continental institutions to discuss the development potential of CCIs, establishing sector support mechanisms in both the 1992 Dakar Plan of Action and the 2005 Nairobi Plan of Action for Cultural Industries, as well as the 2006 Charter for the African Cultural Renaissance. A decade later, the link between culture and development was further enshrined in the UN's 2030 Agenda.
In line with this growing emphasis and awareness, EU development funding – whether through EU formal bodies, such as the European Development Fund (DEVCO), or through member state institutions which have a regular presence in the region – have also oriented towards CCI-supporting programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia, South Africa and the DRC.
To-date, these programmes have supported in particular the film, music, performing arts, and fashion sectors, with an emphasis on the accrual of business skills, financial grants, freedom of expression and human rights support, professionalisation such as networking, conferences, literacy, audience development, as well as content creation, mobility and artistic residence.
Improving Access and Ownership
Across the region, CCIs face significant obstacles and constraints, from the informal nature of businesses and inadequate protection of intellectual property rights to challenges with mobility, as well as digital and physical infrastructure. Insufficient policy and legislation further hinder CCI development.
These issues can all benefit from targeted funding. In particular, enhanced support for cross-border and regional policy and improved synergies among ministries, departments, and agencies would help build regional cohesion in the CCI sector, especially on matters of mobility and trade. Likewise, funding bodies could prioritise the ratification and protection of intellectual property rights within the region. Currently, if a CCI cooperation results in innovation, rights are usually registered outside SSA, in Europe.
Despite some thematic emphasis on the re-signification of colonial infrastructure, this Eurocentric skew is also manifest in other structural and organisational facets of many CCI-supporting programmes. Due to former colonial influences funding is broadly biased towards countries that have a Francophone, English-speaking or Portuguese-speaking population. Most institutions and bodies distribute grants based on a formal, written application, submitted in the donor language and in a standardised, European format. Calls for proposals are typically posted online, also in the donor language. Even among those who clear these linguistic, educational, and digital barriers, many applicants give up on the process due to the scope and complexity of conditions and criteria.
Proper democratisation and decolonisation of this process would include multilingual application avenues, acceptance of video applications to overcome literacy obstacles, enhanced work with rural-based communities, and structures that empower sub-granting and administration among local organisations. Improved opportunities for co-creation and co-curation can ensure that programme accessibility, design, and implementation is as tailored to the local agenda and needs as possible.
Programme and Planetary Sustainability
While CCI funding is necessarily limited in time and budget, there is also great opportunity to improve the durability of program content and impact. In particular, targeted support on content distribution, including online distribution, and the creation of an exit strategy and grant can allow programme participants to sustain initiatives after the funding ends, and to make output and benefits extend beyond the standard timeframe of two to four years.
Many programmes could also optimise environmental sustainability in both their messaging and practice. While CCIs are clearly integrated into the sustainable development agenda, few EU-funded initiatives respond to environmental challenges as a core goal. There is significant scope for more funding in green CCIs – including fashion, design, and festivals – and for programmes that address ecological sustainability as the core component, from production to distribution.
In programme design and communication, many CCI initiatives would benefit from a strategic use of SDG language to signpost contributions in terms of both targets and goals. Adapting this language to the arts and culture sector would help make the CCI / sustainability link more explicit and relatable, and galvanise further foregrounding of sustainable practice.
Growing in breadth, economic share, and innovation, the Cultural and Creative Industries have great potential to accelerate socio-economic change across Sub-Saharan Africa. Success, however, relies not only on raw funding, but on democratisation of access and administration, equitable structures for content ownership and distribution, a prioritisation of environmental sustainability, and genuine co-creation models that acknowledge local needs and agendas.