Why is African show business more ‘show’ than ‘business’ – Toni Kan

The creative industry is affectionately referred to as the showbiz (show business) industry and for good reason mostly on account of the overwhelming image of glamour and stardom.

With Nigerian music and movies cornering large swathes of the global market (Nollywood, the local variant, is considered the 3rd globally, ranked just next to Hollywood and Bollywood and Nigerian Afrobeats is staking a major claim on the backs of artistes like Burna Boy, Wizkid and Davido) major stakeholders and businesses are beginning to take notice of not just Nigeria but the African creative industry.

But a careful consideration will show that the show business industry in Nigeria and most of Africa is more show and sadly not so much of a business. Why is this so? Why is African showbiz more show than business?

Doctors say diagnosis is often the first step to a cure. If we agree that the African creative industry is full of artistes who produce good music and movie makers who churn out gripping stories why is the industry not as robust as its counterparts in Hollywood and Bollywood?

Granted Hollywood and Bollywood were not built in a day but many will agree that Nollywood and others have dwelt for too long in the valley of potential. The time to consolidate on the business side of things has come.

These were some of the issues that agitated the minds of the keynote speaker and Plenum at the Africa Soft Power Series fire side chat event which held virtually on Thursday, February 23, 2021 and which proceeded under the theme – “The New Face of African collaboration”.

There was a key note by Benedict Oramah, President Afrexim Bank followed by a very interactive and insightful panel with Chinelo Anohu, Senior Director Africa Investment Forum, Dean Garfield, VP Public Policy at Netflix and His Excellency, Wamkele Mene, Secretary General African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat with Omar Ben Yedder, Group Publisher and MD at IC Publications moderating.

The insights shared and experience-led submissions that followed pointed to the clear and present need for the African creative sector practitioner to become fluent in the language of business and finance as a means of accessing much needed funding that will help them scale. Other considerations included providing capacity building and infrastructure which will enable the sector grow and develop to its true potential.

To understand the potential market size of the African creative industries let us consider a few developments. The Nigerian government’s projection captured in its forecast for the 2020 Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, projected export revenues of $1 billion from the creative industries alone. That was before Covid-19 struck.

Last week, Nigeria’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo announced that the federal government through the Bank of Industry (BOI) has set up a “N300 million loan package for the creative sector, the package provides the funds to the sector at single-digit interest rates with a tenor of four to five years.”

In January 2020 the African Export Import Bank (Afreximbank) announced a $500-Million Creative Industry Support Fund “dedicated to promoting exchange within the creative and cultural industry.” Making the announcement in Kigali during the Creative Africa Exchange Weekend (CAX WKND), Prof. Benedict Oramah, President Afreximbank said the fund “would be accessible as lines of credit to banks, direct financing to operators and as guarantees.”

Speaking on the imperative he noted that “creative industries can be potent vehicles for more equitable, sustainable and inclusive growth strategies for African economies.”

He however lamented the sad state of affairs where despite Africa’s deep pool of local talent, the continent still lacked the infrastructure and capacity to scale by commercializing its creative output in order to reap the huge dividends accruable.

That sentiment was echoed by speaker after speaker at the Africa Soft Power Series event. The overwhelming concern was how to monetize intellectual property, access finance and achieve scale.

Professor Oramah was clear that the African creative industry must move from the stage of potential to achievement. And this sentiment assumes specific gravity when considered in the context of the fact that Netflix has invested $3bn in the EU and employed over 18,000 people in the space of eight short years according to Dean Garfield of Netflix who, in speaking to their African aspirations, noted that “our mission is to entertain the world and we can’t achieve that mission without Africa. Africa has 1.2bn people with the youngest population in any region in the world and a strong story telling tradition.”

So, if the market is there and the pool of talent is not lacking, what is keeping Africa from taking over? The answer lies in collaboration, capacity building and an enabling creative infrastructure.

The message of collaboration was emphasized by Dean Garfield who further stated: “One of my key action items coming out of this conversation is to make sure that I follow up with AIF and figure out how we can learn more and partner with you because there seems to be a lot of alignment in our mission, and ways for us to enable each other’s success.”

The point was brought home by Ms. Anohu, Senior Director at Africa Investment Forum who noted that the idea behind setting up the AIF was to facilitate collaboration which has seen to the creation of over 15,000 jobs in Mozambique as well as the exchange of ideas at the AIF’s Marketplace.

As she put it “I think the very ethos of the AIF is a collaborative effort. Even though it’s an initiative of President Adesina of AFDB, he still sought out partners from all over and so far we have seen that collaboration works.”

Ms. Anohu also made the point that the AIF will collaborate with Netflix because of her belief that the African creative sector is a pot of gold hiding in plain sight. According to her “the creative sector is so vast and one of the biggest markets the African continents has and so to ignore it is to do a disservice to the continent. The kind of strides recorded without institutional support shows that giving them support will galvanise the sector.”

That institutional support will enable African creatives to access finance, obtain financial advisory, and with the AfCFTA now on stream, enable them better access to a continental wide as well as global market which will help them achieve economies of scale.

But the end game is one in which a well-funded creative sector enables practitioners produce better quality works which would in turn help change the existing state of affairs captured succinctly by Professor Benedict Oramah who noted that owing to “underinvestment in the creative and cultural industries, Africa is largely absent in the global market of ideas, values and aesthetics as conveyed through music, theatre, literature, film and television. African countries import overwhelmingly more creative goods than they export or trade amongst themselves.”

To achieve that, African Creatives and those in the financial services sector as well as streaming companies and content buyers like Netflix must collaborate in order to fully explore that nexus linking the show to the business side of the creative economy.

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