Africa Art Development Inclusion Interview Tanzania Weekend Woman

Ayeta Wangusa: Art & creativity in the Tanzanian business ecosystem

Writer and novelist, co-founder and Executive Director of the Culture and Development East Africa (CDEA), member of the UNESCO Expert Facility for the 2005 Convention, former Advisor for Governance and Culture for the Commonwealth Civil Society Advisory Committee and also Advisor of the President of Mali for the creation of an African disruptive agenda on culture, Ayeta Wangusa surely is one of the influential experts about creative industries in Tanzania and East Africa.

Why did you feel the need of starting Culture and Development East Africa and what CDEA does?

The idea started some years ago, when I was nominated as a member of the Commonwealth Group on Culture and Development, within the Commonwealth Civil Society Advisory Committee and we came up with some priority areas for the national governments to support and promote the creative economy. We asked them to empower and strengthen cultural ministries and national heritage, cultural and arts agencies and ensure cross-sector working; to recognize and work with local and indigenous cultural resources, languages and governance processes; to promote investment in the creative industries, in cultural expression and in the safeguarding of cultural assets and the development of cultural policies.

That was the moment I thought we needed a grassroots organization to implement those recommendations on the ground for the East Africa and that’s how CDEA started.
In the beginning we were focusing on governance, so we were mostly working at policy level, but, then, after two years of operations, we realized we also needed to focus on more practical actions on the ground and we started support activities for writers and filmmakers and later launched a creative economy incubator focused on different industries: films, music, fashion and design, by providing both business and technical skills. Currently, we carry out sector research, policy analysis and advocacy, we work with the governments and international bodies on policies change and we also support actors within the different industries to upgrade their skills through our incubator.

What are the main challenges that the creative industries face in Tanzania?

The challenges are many and mainly linked to the fact that our creative industries are still located at the precursor or early stage of industrial development. The scarce financial resources (people dedicate to arts mainly for livelihood/survival), the concentration into the urban areas, the lack of promotion of arts and culture within the standard educational institutions and curricula, a very old cultural policy issued in 1997 (where, based on the concept of “ujamaa”, the emphasis was on language and cohesion, but not on the promotion of the creative industry on an economic base), unclear laws about copyrights and the lack of a strong local market. But if we think that all these industries and sectors can really contribute to the national GDP (and so to the collection of taxes), then we must become more serious on empowering them and promoting a strong policy, regulatory and fiscal system for the creative sector.

What are the greatest difficulties that artists, instead, have to face to tap into the market?

There are some challenges which are specific for some sectors. For example, organizing music festivals and events is expensive and requires a lot of work and energy. Also, there is a great challenge linked to the management and payment of the copyrights: the systems are not clear and are not working effectively. Same for the film sector: our movie industry mainly works through television, that is the main channel through which people have access local content; but the television companies are not paying royalties to the content creators, who also have to look for advertising revenue, in order for their productions to be aired on television.
That’s why I really insist on the importance of policy and regulatory systems: because only when all these structures are properly addressed by specific laws, the creative industries will start to be impactful on the market.

Then, there are other challenges which are generally applicable to all creative sectors. For example, attracting a specific market niche through innovation and uniqueness. Many of the products you find look alike, because they are traditional, but very few of them are able to add a unique element to come out of the crowd. To access to market you need to make traditional designs to evolve and modernize through your creativity and design skills.
Another common problem is the lack of a real internal market: even if you just go to “Sauti Za Busara” festival, which is supposed to attract many people from East Africa, you will find very small audience from Tanzania and neighboring countries. Great part of the public is composed by tourists and foreigners.

How can Tanzania contribute to create a local market for arts and creative industries?

Here the industries cannot do much by themselves, without a concrete support from the government to enforce and give priority to arts and culture education into schools to develop a market that appreciates the arts and institutions that support the sector. Take, for example, the music industry: some of our musicians have not had formal music education and may play a few instruments, and there are a few prolific song writers. I know people who have never been to theatre, because this lifestyle was not inculcated as they grew up. Or for example, in the literary arts, if you write a novel in English, you already know that your local market is very limited; your greatest market will be abroad, maybe in Europe. And this is also linked to problems of identity.

Same thing is for crafts: great part of the consumers is either tourists, or foreigners living in Tanzania or people leaving abroad. So the entire value chain is fractured because of the lack of arts education, form primary to tertiary level. And this is what we want to work on through our incubator. In the next future we also want to develop some sort of market place and expo areas, focused on interior and exterior design first, to then expand into fashion accessories, use of technology into animation sector and promotion of afro fusion music that is not in the mainstream. Our objective is to be part of the process of influencing Tanzanian and East African consumers to create a local demand.

Speaking of the visual arts, crafts and design, why do you think that although all the value-chain and the production is based in Tanzania, the product development (and so the creative part) is often developed by foreigners?

We go back to the market issues: if great part of these objects is meant to be exported or to be sold to foreigners within the internal market, then it’s easier for a foreigner to develop ideas and prototypes that satisfy those tastes and needs. And it is also so unfortunate to observe how, those artists who have had the opportunity to study and work abroad and to learn the functioning of the sector, then they do not come back to contribute to the development of the creative industries of their country.

Art and women: are there more challenges for them to be into the industry?

Except for crafts (that are traditionally produced by women at home) and for poetry and writing in general, for other sector, yes there are gender-related challenges: there are more men than women and these last are less paid. Women are often subject to social and family bias: some of them are obliged to stop after getting married, some of them are ridiculed if they work in sectors that are mainly managed by men (like visual arts: painting, sculpture), many of them have completely no access to some sectors, like producing and directing movies.

Photo Credits: CDEA

Lorenza Marzo is a Tanzania based freelance consultant, Founder Wana-WAKE-UP! You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram

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