For centuries, African arts and culture have been exported to the world, often without due credit or payment of any kind. Today, the continent’s creatives – filmmakers and photographers, DJs and designers – are increasingly banding together to fight for copyright protection, fair compensation, and international recognition.
These were some of the main themes of a roundtable discussion on Thursday, June 9, hosted by the Impact Fund for African Creatives (IFFAC) and featuring U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Akunna Cook. The event at the Kempinski Hotel in Accra, moderated by Kweku Okyere-Darko, Creative Director of Nineteen57, included 50 participants from the fashion, film, music, and art sectors, as well as representatives from government agencies and banks.
As the U.S. government looks for ways to support investment in Africa, DAS Cook said she is interested in the larger role the creative sector plays in shaping the global narrative about the continent.
“Creative industries are not only able to build a sustainable economy, you’re able to change the images people have in their minds about Africa, and drive further trade and investment,” DAS Cook said. “If death, disaster, and disease are the ideas you have in your mind about Africa and Africans, then you are not likely to take the kinds of risks to take advantage of all the opportunities that we see here on the continent.”
Roberta Annan, veteran investor and founder of IFFAC, hosted the event to bring creatives together to discuss some of the major challenges facing their industries. IFFAC is Africa’s first long-term investor focused on the broader creative sector.` “There is no shortage of creativity on the continent. But many creatives lack financing, infrastructure, and the management skills to turn their ideas into a successful business. This is where IFFAC comes in, with a combination of capacity building, grants, and early-stage investment,” Annan said. “Creatives need patient capital.”
Many participants cited financing as one of the greatest challenges for creative industries and small businesses in general – in Africa. With most banks unwilling to finance creative ventures, and even development finance institutions offering interest rates over 20 percent, creative businesses have a hard time obtaining the capital needed to bring their operations to a commercial scale.
Attendees celebrated the announcement by Gyankroma Addo, head of the Ghana Creative Arts Council, that the agency plans to establish a copyright law center. They said intellectual property issues and “copy-cats” are a major challenge to creative professionals in Africa.
In addition to the copyright center, the GCAC has drafted the country’s first Creative Industries Act, which includes creative courses for primary and secondary schools, a new category of visa for artists, the Creative Industry Fund, and other initiatives. “The creative economy is the future,” Ms. Addo said.
For many creatives, that future lies in intra-African commerce, powerfully symbolized by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and its Accra-based Secretariat. Filmmakers, musicians, and fashion designers agreed: the best market for African culture is Africans.
There is no need to export to Europe or the U.S. when the continent’s growing middle class and large youth population provide a ripe market.
Large numbers of young workers also make Africa an ideal producer of textiles, a labor intensive part of the apparel value chain that is largely imported. “There is a tremendous opportunity. Right now most of the value-add for cotton is grown in West Africa is happening overseas,” said Fiona Coyne, IFFAC’s head of ESG.
Many participants called for greater creative partnerships across borders, value chains, and sectors. Creatives have more opportunities than ever to exchange ideas and support with collaborative spaces like Untamed Empire, the soon-to-be-launched Ethos Club, and long-standing instructions like Ghana’s National Film Authority.
“When you are making a film, you are really using all the creative arts. You need a makeup artist, a costume designer, a set designer, a writer, music,” said Juliet Asante, CEO of the National Film Authority. “Come down and visit us. No matter what you do, there are opportunities for collaboration.”
Having already made debt and equity investments into a number of creative and luxury brands, IFFAC seeks financial backing from development finance institutions, public sector donors, and private investors. Pipeline projects include new ventures in fashion and textiles, as well as web design and digital products, television streaming services, music, live performance, and audiobooks.
IFFAC officially launched in September 2021 at Paris Fashion Week, and in March 2022, pitched investors at a virtual Boardroom session with the African Investment Forum. An investor showcase in Accra is planned for September 2022.