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Africa's Economical Potential
The Creative Industry Needs a Village

The production of local films is increasing enormously in Namibia. Like Joel Kaudife Haikali's latest film “Invisibles. Kauna.Pawa” (2019), which made it into the shortlist for the Oscars. The film accompanies two stranded teenagers through the outback of Namibia in search of their place in the landscape of a post-apartheid nation, which is also reflected in their psyche.
The production of local films is increasing enormously in Namibia. Like Joel Kaudife Haikali's latest film “Invisibles. Kauna.Pawa” (2019), which made it into the shortlist for the Oscars. The film accompanies two stranded teenagers through the outback of Namibia in search of their place in the landscape of a post-apartheid nation, which is also reflected in their psyche. | Photo (detail): © Joe Vision (Production Company), Karl Terblanche (Still Photographer)

What is the economical potential of the African creative industries? Namibian filmmaker and creative entrepreneur Joel Kaudife Haikali speaks about his own experience on the Namibian market and his co-created Creative Industry Guide, which aims to bring African creatives and investors together on pan-African collaborations.

By Joel Kaudife Haikali

In Africa, it's a common saying: “It takes a village to raise a child.” In doing so, the culture acknowledges the roles and responsibilities required by multiple people to nurture a child in being dignified and decent. The same euphemism is true for the creative industry, “it takes a village to make the creative industry a success”. As a creative entrepreneur in Namibia, the creative economy has enabled my company to get into the business of film, including both foreign and local films as well as co-creating the Creative Industry Guide (CIG). These actions have been significant in shaping the creative landscape because the vision is to make the creative industry a success story on the African continent as a whole starting where we are, in Namibia. 

Namibia saw a slow but steady shift in thinking and the approach over the last ten years inspired by many private initiatives and mostly led by the film industry raised awareness about the economic potential of creative industries. In fact, the positive impact of the creative industry has been felt with or without the right framework as the nature of the industry is resilient. The creative industry is also the spiritual and meaning-making centre of society. The latter part which is more abstract, for the longest time relegated the arts into a discipline that was not considered to be or make any business sense in many developing countries.

Over the years Namibia has welcomed a plethora of feature films, television series, documentaries, photo shoots as well as local and international television commercials. As small as it is, Namibia continues to demonstrate a formidable capacity to host enormous high profile blockbuster films such as:  Mad Max Fury Road (2012), 10.000 B.C. (2008), Flight of the Phoenix (2004), The Cell (2000) and The Mummy (2017), among others. These productions collectively grossed over N$900 million (roughly 50 million Euros), which contributed to the local economy and employed thousands of Namibians. It is without question that the Namibian film industry is at the peak of its untapped potential. However, international productions do not automatically stimulate the growth of a local industry without the necessary structures in place and without the necessary infrastructure that local industry does not benefit appropriately. 

While the Namibian film industry is relatively small, there has been a dramatic increase in the production of local films since parliament mandated the establishment of the Namibian Film Commission (NFC) in 2001. The NFC’s mandate is to support the development of the local film industry and to promote Namibia as a filming destination. Private players such as film producers have organised themselves since 2001 as one voice under the umbrella of the Filmmakers Association of Namibia (FAN).

So far Namibia has managed to produce more than 65 locally funded films to the combined value of over N$160 million (about ten million Euros), which went towards the making of the renowned and award winning feature film from 2007 Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation. Hailed as the first truly pan-African film project, this film brought together skills from all across Africa and the diaspora, and paved the way for more Namibian films that were internationally and locally successful. Even with small budgets, Namibian filmmakers have managed to gain international recognition in winning awards with their films such as: the Oscar nominated The White Line (2019), Kapana (2020) and Land of The Brave (2019); Oscars shortlisted Invisibles Kaunapawa (2019), Baxu and The Giant (2018), Katutura (2016), Paths to Freedom (2014), TRY (2012), Taste of Rain (2012) and My Father’s Son (2010).

Creative Industry Guide

Collaboration is the key for the creative industry as many production companies experience fragmentation of information and services, which takes up a lot of production time and becomes ultimately expensive. Addressing these challenges through the provision of timely and accurate information propels the industry.

In 2018 the first Namibian Creative Industry Guide (CIG) was launched to provide contextualised information about the economic potential of the entire creative sector from film to tech to visual arts as well as a comprehensive listing of creative professionals. The launch of the Creative Industry Guide Namibia was done in partnership with the National Art Council Namibia (NACN), The Namibia Film Commission, Joe Vision Production and many creative entrepreneurs.

After the first edition of the Creative Industry Guide (CIG) in 2018 the conversation shifted from art industry to creative, which has more of an economic imperative. Namibia is leading the conversation about creative entrepreneurship and the economic potential of the sector and the CIG is one of the only resources available on the continent to inform businesses and other important stakeholders. 
  • Launch pics TAPZ Photo (detail): © Willem Vrey Photography
    Launch pics TAPZ
  • BTS A place in the Sun - Film Set by Joel Haikali Photo (detail): © Joel Haikali
    BTS A place in the Sun - Film Set by Joel Haikali
  • BTS A place in the Sun - Film Set by Joel Haikali Photo (detail): © Joel Haikali
    BTS A place in the Sun - Film Set by Joel Haikali
  • “Komesho Gathering“ Photo (detail): © Goethe-Institut Namibia
    “Komesho Gathering“
  • “Komesho Gathering“ Photo (detail): © Goethe-Institut Namibia
    “Komesho Gathering“

And then COVID-19 happened

When we went into lockdown in Namibia, CIG was able to easily engage with creative entrepreneurs to get an overview about how the creative industries were affected by COVID-19. This was possible because CIG had data, contact lists and a network of creative entrepreneurs that could easily carry out an online survey. The results were invaluable and were used by the NACN, who had always been a strategic ally for our initiative, to build a strong case and succeed in getting a COVID-19 relief fund for the creative cultural sector in 2020.

The majority of the 200 respondents from different creative disciplines said that they would have been able to sell online if they had the necessary infrastructure. That would include but is not limited to reliable and affordable internet, appropriate payment gateways, appropriate apps and others. Therefore, the Creative Industry Guide needs to upgrade from its website to a platform to help creative entrepreneurs who want to expand their market by reducing face time and increasing reach and accessibility to their services and products. Creative entrepreneurs in Namibia are not necessarily online and as such are not “findable”. There is hardly enough data online as to how and where creative businesses operate and what product and services they offer. It is very hard to check their track record and get an idea about what they have done and on what level. And we have a database to begin with. At the same time, we have all become more willing to engage online even for first contacts and across countries.

The future is connecting Africa

There are natural synergies and challenges creatives in different countries deal with which also bear great potential for collaborations and through them leveraging the strength of different African countries and mitigating the challenges better. Africa imports creative products mostly from the global North even though the continent is full of talents and products that have been operating in isolation struggling to expand. Therefore, meaningful synergies still need a push from time to time. A great example was the Komesho Gathering in 2021, organised by the Goethe-Institut Namibia which brought together highly successful creative entrepreneurs from all over Southern Africa which eventually led to cross-border collaborations and initiatives with potentially lasting impact.

CIG has partners and interested parties in different African countries such as in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania. Me and my colleagues are ready to assist local partners to roll out their initiatives throughout the continent. These partnerships will fast track our goal to actualise intra-continental trade, collaboration between African creatives and investment in the creative sector in different African countries.

As Africans, we are starting to see the true value of creativity, the true worth of preserving and taking ownership of our cultures, creativity, and the potential for wealth generation and job
creation. Whether it is from informal trading in curios or from commercial campaigns. That is why for instance through an African Union initiative the African Audio-Visual and
Cinema Commission (AACC) was set up with the goal to increase the continent's film industry from five billion US dollars to 20 billion US dollars.

The Creative Industry Guide plays an important role at the interface between culture and commerce. And not only for the African Union and governments that have started to recognise the potential of the creative industry. For instance, in Nigeria the Creative Industry Financing Initiative was launched by the Bankers Committee of the Central Bank with an intervention fund of N 21.9 billion (46 million Euros) for the duration of a maximum of ten years or the Afreximbank who has earmarked 500 million US Dollars towards the African creative industries. The goal is to create jobs, reduce poverty and create more inclusive growth. CIG would benefit such initiatives greatly by centralising the information on activities and products of creative entrepreneurs, while also helping to discern the contribution and trajectory of the creative industry.

We are driven by the desire to see ourselves as Africans producing what we consume and consuming what we produce, and also sharing that with the world. For this to happen we need to look at the entire ecosystem and value chain of creativity to make sure that the village is successful. 

This article was published first in the journal Politik und Kultur no. 03/2022