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The African creative industry is an often-overlooked component of the continent’s changing economic landscape. From humble beginnings and geographically localised art forms, the sector has grown to become a global industry, earning an average of US$4.2 billion annually and employing half a million people in its cultural goods market alone.

African film, music, art and fashion have made great strides in commercialising their brands and connecting with global audiences thanks to improving telecommunications infrastructure and ever-increasing investment from foreign entertainment giants. This close contact with international networks has allowed local creative content to grow the industry in line with global quality benchmarks and secure its place as an important contributor to the global arts.

Going forward, African governments who demonstrate the ability to safeguard the industry through structured legislative protection in providing its artists with the freedom needed to thrive, will ensure that their economies are strengthened by a dynamic and growing sector.

1.1 Strong regional growth stimulates industry expansion


Africa has, thanks to growing income and a large youth demographic, transformed into one of the world’s last remaining growth markets for the creative sector. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the ever-popular film and music industries. Nigeria’s Nollywood for one has grown from a cottage industry to the biggest centre of film production in the world after the United States and India. Further development in film have been spearheaded by the launch and expansion of African film festivals with no less than 12 new events added to the annual calendar over the last two decades.  More established events like the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) and the Marrakech International Film Festival have become well-known international events on the annual calendar. Last year’s DIFF drew in panellists from as far afield as Canada, Germany and the United States, and provided screenings for both European and South American movies.

African music has made similar strides in growth and overall acclaim. Similar to film, its most successful artists and labelled distributors have tended to come primarily out of west Africa, with southern and north Africa following suit. In South Africa alone the local music market is expected to account for US$1.7 billion by 2023, with Nigeria and Kenya expected to rake in US$33 and US$30 million respectively by the same period.  The rise of African music has also closely followed the rollout of digital communications across the continent and allowed for mass content distribution to a growing continental audience. Local musicians have also found eager audiences abroad, as demonstrated by the growing popularity of African music festivals across the western hemisphere, with 20 annual festivals in Europe alone including the Afropop Festival in London, UK and the African Beats Festival in Warsaw, Poland.

African visual art too has become more established since the start of the new millennium, earning itself a well-heeled niche with global connoisseurs. As with film and music this sub-sector owes much of its success to organised exhibitions, which have provided a commercial inlet for an increasing number of visual artists across the continent. Examples include 1-54 which host exhibits in New York, Marrakech, and London, and Art X based out of Lagos, with the latter serving as a pertinent example of how the visual art market has found success among African audiences and buyers as well. Sotheby’s, one of the world’s premiere art sellers, also generated US$3 million in April 2019 with its African art exhibition, the majority of which was thanks to local buyers.

An M-Pesa agent in East Africa. Mobile money agents have been a key driver in the strategy to bring digital finance to Africa’s informal traders and unbanked populations. Image courtesy: Hansueli Krapf/WikiCommons

1.2 Digital revolution opens global avenues to African creatives


The growth of digitalisation across the world has transformed the African creative industry, bypassing geographical barriers and allowing access to creative products like film and music across the world.  Customer growth in Video-On-Demand services alone is expected to rise from 1.56 million in 2017 to 10 million by 2025. Streaming services have begun to expand to meet this demand, and African creative output is expected to make up a significant share of future entertainment offerings. In March of this year, Netflix released its first exclusively African script to screen production in the shape of Queen Sono, a crime drama series. Showmax, a South African based streaming service provider, owned by Naspers, has expanded its reach across the continent, making considerable use of local material in its bouquet offering.

Africa’s music is similarly positioned to take advantage of the growth in streaming services, having fostered a pre-existing culture of digital distribution via mobile phones. The continent’s music streaming market emerged more prominently in 2013 when Finnish streamer Spinlet was purchased by two Nigerian investors and had its first local launch. Since then the service has drawn in 3.6 million users, mirroring the meteoric rise of the sub industry at large which is expected to grow at a 12% rate annually to reach US$822 million in revenue by 2024. Afro-beats, a primarily west African music genre which combines traditional west African music with American-style jazz and hip hop, has proven particularly adept at winning over global audiences, something which digital distribution has played a key role in facilitating. The continued rollout of internet services on the continent also means that new local streaming platform start-ups like Boomplay, Udux, Smubu and Mdundo, will continue to benefit from this growth. In some cases, certain platforms have gone as far as providing a full suite of solutions to a variety of creative industries. Bozza, a pan African mobile and digital plug and play solution for African musicians, poets, photographers and filmmakers, is one example of a digital platform built with the purpose of promoting and selling digital creative products.

1.3 Foreign investment to provide springboard for development


Local creative growth, particularly in the digital era, has done much to advertise the continent as a suitable destination for foreign direct investment in this space. Distribution deals with local creatives have expanded dramatically as already noted, however this foreign interest in local creative outputs extends well beyond digital distribution. Large entertainment conglomerates across the globe have picked up on the revenue potential not merely in creative sales, but across the value chain. Since 2010 an increasing number of foreign investments have poured into the Nollywood ecosystem with Netflix being by far the largest stakeholder with some US$8 billion invested in the industry. It’s not the only one however with Chinese conglomerate Star Times also investing over US$220 million, while France’s Canal+ has acquired IrokoTV in a US$45 million venture-capital deal which has seen it gain a foothold throughout the Nollywood supply chain in services ranging from pre-production and production, to marketing, distribution and sales. Morocco too has experienced pronounced growth in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) thanks to its generous subsidies scheme and  status as an easily accessible filming destinations in the MENA region – the country hosted filming of international blockbusters like HBO’s Game of Thrones series and John Wick Chapter 3 among others. These relationships have been mutually beneficial, not only providing African productions with more financial legroom to manoeuvre, but also serving as an avenue for cross pollination of skills and expertise in areas such as graphic design, sound, videography and other sub-industries surrounding film, music and creative outputs.

Source: Musically, 2019; ArtTactic, 2019; Statista, 2018-2020
*Boomplay has been excluded due to the number of customers, totalling 77 million.
^Music event revenue estimate factor in the impact of Covid-19.

2.1 Digitisation forges opportunities in new creative sub sectors


The increasing interconnection between the African creative sector and the internet provides new and alternative models for creative production, financing and growth. Before digitisation was more prevalent in processes, creative projects had to be part of well-established networks of financing and patronage, however the accessibility of the internet now allows for more broad-based models of participation and financing within the industry, driven largely by local initiatives. Digitisation in the entertainment space has created a crossover between technology and the creative sectors, and is opening new employment opportunities for individuals with skills in visual and audio editing, design, and production amongst others. Digital devices have also allowed individuals to freely participate in the global creative economy, honing their skill sets to international standards and helping grow local digital creative industries. Budding art communities have already taken note of this trend and sought to integrate this new generation of art into the fold as demonstrated by, a space for digital creatives to collate and collaborate on digital art projects.

2.2 Crowdfunding increases grassroots participation in cinema

The internet has further allowed for a more decentralised approach to financing initiatives and new endeavours in the creative space. Crowdfunding is a well-established mechanism for funding projects across the developed world and has become increasingly popular in developing countries as well. As early as 2015 there were 57 listed crowdfunding platforms on the continent spread across regions, though they are primarily clustered in existing creative hubs such as South Africa, North African states like Morocco, and West African countries such as Ghana and Nigeria. Some prominent examples of microfinance platforms across Africa’s major economies include ThundaFund based out of South Africa, StartCrunch in Nigeria, and M-Changa in Kenya. One particularly popular method is equity crowdfunding which allows crowdfunders to become stakeholders in the projects they support, a strategy adopted by South African-based crowdfunder Uprise Africa. This method of raising funding is an ideal fit for creative projects on the continent as it allows the flow of ideas and facilitates the vetting of initiatives by their potential audiences before they are released, preventing a mismatch between product offerings and consumer tastes.

American movie producer Raj Rahhi (second from left), whose repertoire includes collaboration with firms such as Sony Pictures, Lions Gate, Time Warner-Pictures House, HBO, poses with African filmmakers at the 2014 Cannes film Festival.
Source: RahhiStudio/WikiCommons

2.3 Innovation hubs to unlock the creative potential of human capital

A number of countries across the continent have made extensive use of institutionally supported innovation hubs to boost the future prospects of their tech industry. As technology and the creative industries continue to overlap ever more, a similar approach could be taken to enhance the quality of local creative outputs. Angola’s Fábrica de Sabão acts as a model for what form this approach could take across the continent. Situated in one of the country’s largest slums its initiatives also offer youth the opportunity to gain skills in radio production and other media. Another more expansive example is that of the South African Creatives Industries Incubator located in Eersterust, Pretoria, which offers mentorship for practitioners of design, film, music, art, crafts, fashion and the performing arts. The establishment of such turnkey centres across the continent would grant both the local economies and international investors access to premiere local talent capable of handling both the creative and business elements of the industry pipeline. Other ventures such as the planned Innovation City in Rwanda have the full backing of their respective governments. South Africa in particular has led the way in this regard, rolling out the South African Audio-Visual Transformation Charter (SAAVTC) which will facilitate the establishment of a creative innovation hub and an Innovation/Digital Fund geared towards offering support to the local animation industry.

2.4 International partnerships stimulate growth in ancillary industries

The expansion of the African creatives industry is not only centred around enticing more young Africans to utilise their creative talents or providing creative entrepreneurs with more financing avenues, but is also about providing the right conditions for creative projects to succeed. This ultimately means devising ways in which foreign investors can be hedged against the inherent risks of investing in local creative start-ups. One such method is to take a venture capital approach and invest in a “slate” or a portfolio of projects, where reliable yields can be maintained even if some of the projects fail. Netflix, with its regional diversification strategy can be thought to embody this trend. Another option is the so-called “completion bond” where creators can be held liable to pay investors should their creative products be delayed or go over budget. Such methods are yet to be deployed on a large scale but have been suggested by various observers including the South African cultural observatory back in a July 2018 article it published in collaboration with the South African Department of Arts and Culture. The provision of such financial services could become an important avenue for investment in and of itself, helping to grow the industry at large.

Sources: PwC, 2017; Statista, 2019; Various

3.1 Creative Protection And Enforcement Is Lacking


Piracy of creative products remains one of the biggest obstacles to the industry’s commercial success, particularly when looking at the local film sector. The majority of Africa’s legal copyright laws still lack depth and structure and have not yet been properly brought in line with the realities of the digital era. West Africa, as Africa’s premier film and music hub, illustrates the problems posed by local content piracy with the World Bank estimating that as many as 9/10 Nollywood movies in distribution being effectively pirated, while practically all physical copies exported internationally are counterfeit. Streaming services have helped to address the problem to a degree, however the lack of digital copyright laws means that here too artists frequently find their revenues undercut with little means of redress. Governments have responded by issuing ever harsher penalties for existing offences, but these have frequently led to clampdowns on legitimate informal distribution networks, doing more harm than good for the industry.

3.2 Censorship Obstacles Can Pose A Challenge


Another legislative hurdle the local creative sector grapples with is Africa’s long history of media censorship. The exact nature may vary from case to case but can include restrictions on creative works which criticise corruption and state power, as was the case in Equatorial Guinea which saw its first movie with an anti-state theme shot in the country this year, or give air to certain social causes in regions where they are culturally controversial, such as movies dealing with LGBT issues in Uganda, where same sex marriage and relationships are illegal. Instances such as these have occurred even in comparatively liberal countries like South Africa, where the film and publications board has in the past wielded its power to stop certain movies from being screened including Good Report (2013) and Inxeba (2018), which both critically deal with issues of sexuality and abuse. If Africa’s creative enterprises are to succeed, they will need to do so hand in hand with local governments who need to have the political will to support emerging creative entrepreneurs.

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