How can the art of creation be a vector of social impact and innovation on the African continent?

A Moroccan Man by Omar Victor Diop

The aim of this analysis is to explore how the act of creating can turn into a source of hope and money that enables the development of African countries from a social and innovative standpoint. Before delving into the topic, we will define some key terms to delimit the parameters of the subject.

Firstly, what do we mean by creation? For the purpose of this feature, we will concentrate mostly on the artistic renderings and the creation of novel, useful and original products and services that highlight Africa’s creative capacity and spurs on local growth as excitement towards the continent grows.

This growing visibility of Africa due to the new visuals that artists and creators promulgate abroad incites a desire to create entrepreneurship opportunities on the continent – with motives to not only create profit, but to instigate a real social change in how some countries run and distribute their resources. This desire to instal an entrepreneurship mindset on the continent thus has a direct impact on the continent’s young people, who are now set to be the dominant segment of the workforce, through the creation of new jobs.

Chofor Che – analyst of African Liberty – condemns international organisations such as the UN and the African Development Bank for spending time and money on conducting meetings that end in hallow verbal and written declarations that are ultimately wasted, as it never ends up being executed on a practical level by political leaders. He highlights that stimulating markets and SMBs are how Africa will be able to reach the next level of economic growth that will enable upward social mobility for the population.

Africa’s human capital, especially the youth, need to be redirected towards the production of resources and wealth rather than remain simple consumers of Western products. This calls for greater entrepreneurial directives within the South-South region and commercial partnerships between the young on the continent and in its diaspora.

Increasingly, creative African entities are taking the initiative to change the image of its continent by promoting their countries’ ‘savoir-faire’, and therefore building visibility for various projects that in turn attract others to view Africa as a serious international economic contributor. We will see concrete examples of this in the next several paragraphs.

In 2012, Business of Fashionclaimed that Africa is the next ‘frontier for fashion retailing’, as its apparel and footwear market was valued at 31 billion dollars. Many in Africa and in its diaspora have carved their niche in ready-to-wear design, and these creative change-makers are charging ahead with powerful storytelling abilities, which propel forward thinking activities on the continent.

Nelly Wandji, founder of MoonLook, created in 2014 the first international platform dedicated to the exclusive promotion of African creatives. By deliberately selecting artisans in decorative arts and clothing, Nelly aims to professionalize the sector’s value chain. This offers a commercial outlet and great exposure for African creators and fashion designers, who could have otherwise been invisible to an international public. To cement this afropolitan ambition in a luxurious tone, Nelly has a physical space in the prestigious rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré to change passerby’s perception on African creativity.

But one obvious success story that comes to mind is Youssouf Fofana’s Maison Château Rouge label. At first the idea is to commercialise the Senegalese hibiscus juice, but he realizes that many local businesses’ problems stem from the lack of added value to which raw materials are exported from Africa. He therefore decided that increasing people’s awareness of the African lifestyle abroad was key to bringing his social project to life, and the ideal vessel for this was through fashion. By building an attractive universe in which one can delve into African culture, he manages to create a buzz that directly translates into supporting his social entrepreneurship mission to develop Africa on a local level.

In 2018, Kenyan brand Sandstorm is put on the forefront by Maison Chateau Rouge to demonstrate the modernity and dynamism of East Africa. Producing bags made out of canvas and leather from Nairobi, Sandstorm also aims to bridge gaps in the labor market and infrastructure and values working with raw materials. This dovetails with MCR’s philosophy of wanting to work with local businesses to transform raw materials and to then distribute them across the world, as this ensures that Africa creates enough wealth and sources of employment on its own soil.

As the rest of the world’s population continues to age, Africa will remain one of the few continents with a young dynamic workforce, which can be a major economic asset if only enough jobs were created to employ them all.

It’s in this light that Youssouf Fofana went on to create his social project Les Oiseaux Migrateurs,in partnership with his brother and friends, to spur on development of African SMBs by addressing their main challenges. For a long time African nations have benefited from development aid to cover primary needs, but this hasn’t developed into a sustainable economic growth model. Now the times have shifted, people don’t just want humanitarian talk anymore. It is therefore crucial to reduce the culture of dependency that has developed due to the ‘humanitarian’ mindset and inculcate a culture of collaboration that promotes local African entrepreneurship.

To support this new mindset, we have numbers that back Africa’s potential: Africa’s growth rate in 2018 is recorded at 4.1%, an uptake from 3.6% in 2017, 44% of the population is under 15 years old, which holds the key to future growth; and there’s been a significant increase in education access at all levels. Access to mobile phones is now more commonplace than access to electricity, and generates a new layer of growth as individuals are connected to the outside world and to new methods of financing such as mobile money accounts.

Africa also benefits from its diaspora, which also acts an agent of change, as this new generation of educated immigrant children are all the more sensitive to the continent’s growth due to their dual cultures.

We therefore see that it’s in the creative process of transforming raw materials into something of more value, devising new ways of payments and financing, or honing the creative branding surrounding the final product that all have a tangible impact on the perception of African goods. The increase in demand for these goods will then go on to incite economic growth. Without the transformation of raw materials, the final exported product will wane in value and the producer is thus chained to the stock market’ s fluctuations, taking away his or her control over the profitability of the business.

One way of countering this problem is to make the final product “ready-to-consume” within the same country before exporting it, by ensuring that the added value of the manufacturing steps are locally-based. This is what Youssouf Fofana’ s Les Oiseaux Migrateurs did with the bissap juice Bana-Bana as the picking of the hibiscus flowers, processing of the juice and bottling were all done within the same community in Senegal, therefore giving complete autonomy to producers and increasing their competitiveness locally and internationally.

Another goal of this social project is to provide access to digital tools that facilitate the financing of projects – i.e. crowdfunding platforms, and to have a thorough follow-up with the producer to discern this impact. This can enable an Ivorian cocoa grower the ability to purchase a grinding mill and roaster, costing over $4000, to crush, roast and grind the beans harvested and create his or her own chocolate products for sale locally or abroad.

Moreover, an additional issue to be tackled is the packaging, that can often lack in presentability and quality, and thus damages the perception of the final good. To tackle this, an economic interest grouping (GIE) created to minimise the cost of buying packaging, can allow producers needing a similar packaging to pool in their resources and make single orders from the same supplier to cut through needless intermediaries.

The fashion e-commerce industry is still very much underserved in Africa, even though there’s a rise in internet users each year. But Honey Ogundeyi, founder of Nigeria’s Fashpa (Fashion Parade), is aiming to bridge this gap by providing an online one-stop shop for fashion that delivers throughout the continent. Having worked as a management consultant at McKinsey, Google and Ericsons in the UK, Honey came back to Nigeria and was frustrated by the lack of quick access to quality fashion in the country. She thus started Fashpa as a marketplace retailer that carried foreign brands like Zara, Topshop etc. but realized that the company’s unique selling point was to be vertically integrated by producing their own garment lines that were tailored and fitted to the measurements of their consumers. Big data analysis allows the company to personalize their entire offering to suit the tastes of their customers that want high quality fitted clothes that follow local and international trends. However, this journey is not without challenges – Nigeria has a poor angel investor ecosystem and investing in Nigeria’s tech scene is not a high enough priority for venture capitalists, but this does not deter the founder from her goal of revolutionizing retail through the power of technology to solve social and economic problems within the community.

Tailoring is a major economic activity in Africa, as local artisans have a large impact on clothing production, trends and preserving the traditional ‘savoir faire’ of the trade. Honey wanted to fully integrate this into her business model by providing jobs and training to local craftsmen and artisans to counter unemployment within the country. She also desires to strengthen the women and youth within the apparel manufacturing teams at Fashpa to ensure their employability and craft beyond company walls.

Towards the end of 2018, Ford South Africa promoted its range of Ford Everest cars with an advertising campaign that highlights various African artists and entrepreneurs that have an impact on their industry and add to the perception of African ‘savoir faire’. The campaign is directed by Thabang Moleya, whose story is also shared as part of Ford’s ‘Journey Extraordinary’. Thabang Moleya found success in the TV and film industry in South Africa at a really young age, despite his humble background. With everything that he films he aims to share stories of the human truth, and in this campaign he wants to celebrate men and women who spurred on local growth through the executions of their ideas.

Tresor is a music producer inspired by traditional African sounds, who has managed to create a modern twist out of it and won South Africa’s Pop album of the year. He is able to appropriate Ford’s slogan of ‘Go further’, as he has hitchhiked from his native Democratic Republic of Congo to Durban, SA for economic opportunities. This has taught him to enjoy the journey and to push himself to go further even when presented with obstacles, as he wants to ignite a sense of hope for his people back home and refugees around Africa. Reviving the glory of African music is what keeps him going even when it gets tough.

Finally, the third installment of the campaign stars Nontwenhle Mchunu who knew from a young age that she wanted to be an entrepreneur as she grew up in a family with that streak. When she was 21 she started her own chocolate business once she finished a pastry course in Durban. She relays that her journey was a challenge as the cocoa and chocolate industries are very protected and male-dominated, but being able to overcome this has been her proudest victory, as she’s gone on to employ 8 other people in Cape Town. Ezulwini Chocolat is not only changing an industry in Africa, it’s also putting the continent on the map as a premium chocolate producer.

The film industry is an additional creative field that bring about employment opportunities for the youth and can spur on local economic growth. Multichoice Africa, a video entertainment company, is calling all aspiring film directors, DOPs, sound engineers and scriptwriting to be part of the MultiChoice Talent Factory (MTF) established in May 2018. They’re recruiting 60 students from 13 African countries to get the chance to hone their film and television production skills in cinematography, film editing, audio production and storytelling. This one year funded program will enable students to create quality local content in the academic centres in Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia, which will be broadcasted on Multichoice’s local M-Net channels. Graduates will get to showcase their portfolio on the MTF database portal, which also has access to job and networking opportunities across the continent.

MultiChoice Africa’s social investment initiative is aimed at igniting Africa’s creative industries into big economic powerhouses, as it sees the power of entertainment as a mean to enrich lives alongside long-term partnerships with government, stakeholders and creative organisations. Impacting the technical and professional value chain in the film and television industry, cements the company’s commitment to develop the art of inspired local storytelling and story-making, whilst simultaneously growing local content on their DStv and GOtv platforms (Digital Satellite TV) and showcasing African talent on their local channels that include SuperSport, M-Net, Africa Magic, Maisha Magic East, Maisha Magic Bongo and Zambezi Magic. This shows that the creative skills needed to power the African entertainment industry can go on to create more jobs for the youth and raise socio-economic standards.

Finally, one of the biggest artists of all times – Beyoncé, was at the forefront of the Global Citizen Festival in Johannesburg South Africa, which has drawn in 7.1 billion dollars for the funds against extreme poverty.

The World Bank, Vodacom, Cisco, Aids Relief and the government have all pledged to follow the UN’s ‘2030 Program’ of ending extreme poverty. To celebrate Nelson’s Mandela’s 100th birthday, Jay-Z, Femi Kuti, Usher, Coldplay, and local artists all performed on the stages of the First National Bank Stadium. To acquire tickets, fans had to quantify their acts of civic engagements such as signing petitions or contacting their local representatives asking for better sanitation, better gender equality, and more support for people living with HIV and AIDs, which is one of the biggest cause of death in South Africa.

With over 5.6 million actions recorded calling for better education, healthcare, sanitation, and women’s rights, this festival goes to show that creative and musical events have the power to directly impact the continent.

Examples like these show that the powerful trait of creativity and thinking outside the boxcan culminate in viable solutions for various social and economic issues that plague the African continent.

By promoting a highly charged image of African lifestyle, art or fashion – artists, designers and entrepreneurs are flipping the tired script on Africa’s misery and instead praising the continent as a buoyant land of opportunities. This in turn should be capitalized by government officials, so that they can steer their respective countries towards a brighter future by reducing barriers to business creation locally, and thus raising living standards in the long run.

This article was written by Christine, a Franco-Cameroonian 23 year old who lived 15 years in the USA and 4 years in the UK to study at the London School of Economics and to intern for various roles in fashion. Now, she is currently back in her native land to carry out her masters at l’Institut Français de la Mode.

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