In recent years, Africa’s creative sector has grown significantly, with African music and movies reaching a more global audience. For experts who spoke at a panel session on the creative economy at the second Africa Social Impact Summit, the continent has only scratched the surface.
Depending on who you ask, the global creative economy is a billion-dollar industry. Yet, Africa’s share of the pie remains significantly low. Compared to their global counterparts who are raking in millions of dollars annually by monetising their craft, African creators don’t earn much from their craft, accounting for only around 2.9% of global creative goods exports.
The reason isn’t far-fetched. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Africa’s creative sector is faced with challenges such as inadequate infrastructure, limited access to funding and markets, intellectual property issues, and a dearth of enabling regulations. In truth, a number of home-grown solutions are addressing the monetisation problem. Selar, for instance, paid over $4.5 million to African creators last year, and over 70,000 creators across the continent have used the platform.
But there is little that individual platforms can do. Industry players argue that fundamental problems—infrastructure, funding, and regulations—must be addressed. This is a major takeaway from the panel session on the creative economy at the second edition of the Africa Social Impact Summit hosted by the Sterling One Foundation and the United Nations Nigeria. The panellists were Sam Onyemelukwe, senior vice president of Global Business Development at Trace; Obi Asika, convener, Omniverse; Brenda Fashugba, lead, creative economy, sub-Saharan Africa, British Council; and Victor Okhai, national president, Directors Guild of Nigeria and vice chairman, Federation of Heads of Nollywood Guilds and Associations.
Streaming as the next frontier
Thanks to the influx of streaming platforms in Africa, creators—musicians, filmmakers, and the like—can reach a more global audience and make more money from their craft. In recent years, movie streaming giants—Netflix, Prime Video, and Showmax—have made inroads into the continent. The direct-to-streaming route has put even more money in the pockets of filmmakers: Netflix, for instance, pays Nigerian filmmakers between $10,000 and $90,000 for streaming rights per film, on average. Home-grown platforms like Wi-flix are also looking to capitalise on their ability to serve the African market amid the intense competition. On the music side, streaming has been a game-changer too. Nigerian musicians made over ₦11 billion from Spotify in 2022, a pointer to the growth of Afrobeats in the global music market.
“The scope is massive. On the flip side, I think for creators and content owners, there is a faster and easier route to market distribution. It is forcing them to increase the quality of what they are doing to be able to compete on a global stage,” Trace’s Onyemelukwe said, saying there is a chance to develop a truly African streaming business.
For Asika, Big Tech dominates the streaming market on the continent because of its large budgets and algorithms which the indigenous platforms don’t necessarily have. He added that for Nollywood to break more barriers and reach more countries, for instance, attention must be paid to domestic television in Nigeria. “What everyone is looking for is more access, more platforms, more distribution. That’s still something that could happen in terms of curation and AI. Algorithms and attention make people understand that this is a serious business. A lot of time in Africa, we looked at this thing like it’s vocational and sidelined conversation. It’s the main conversation,” he said.
Grow from home
Lack of investments is a more pressing challenge to building up Africa’s creative sector. And yet, Africa’s potential as a creative powerhouse is huge. Enter the need for significant and sustainable investments in the sector. To address the myth that Africa’s creative landscape is impenetrable, Brenda argues that investors must invest in research and build strategic relationships with stakeholders to understand the realities. She said, “Quite a number of investors don’t do due diligence and as a result, they end up in partnerships that are weird and funny. If you aren’t invested in the local ecosystem, how would you know the problems?”
Asika shares a similar view, pointing out that the creative industry in Nigeria has disconnected markets. “The biggest opportunity whilst we’re going worldwide remains the domestic opportunity in Nigeria. Let’s put pressure on the funders to go do some work and bring out the money to fund the sector,” he noted. For Okhai, there is a need for a change in the perception of the creative sector, citing the age-long myth that Nollywood actors are jesters. “If we are talking about changing the narratives and creating impact locally and globally, I think that there is a need to look at this particular industry. The creative sector is the second largest employer after agriculture. Until we become intentional, then we will be missing out on the gold that is sitting before us,” he said.