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Monday, 28 October 2013

It’s up to Africa to catch the fast train to China

By Andrew Mulenga

As briefly highlighted in last week’s column, the discussion of Sino-African cultural and trade relations and the probe into how balanced they are, was among the prickly issues that stimulated considerable debate at the recent African Creative Economy Conference (ACEC 2013) held in Cape Town, South Africa.

In trying to give the relationship a proper background, Senegalese scholar, Dr Daouda Cisse, a research fellow at the Centre for Chinese Studies, University of Stellenbosch in South Africa highlighted the recent unprecedented increase in trade between China and Africa.

In a paper entitled China's engagement in Africa: opportunities and Challenges for Africa, Dr Cisse read out that in 1997, trade between the two was worth US$5 billion; US$11 billion in 2002; US$107 billion in 2008; US$160 billion in 2011; and US$198 billion in 2012.

He indicated that China is now Africa’s largest trading partner, and it was essential that the continent jointly develops and implements a clear strategy on how it engages with the most dominant of the eastern tigers.

He advised that among other more individual channels, it was important for the continent to take a more organised and pragmatic approach in its dealings with China, especially making use of regional institutions such as SADC, EAC, ECOWAS and COMESA – among others.

The China educated economist, who has a Ph.D. in Economics from Zhongnan University of Economics and Law argued that there was a need to develop policies to diversify Africa’s imports to China through support for the manufacturing sector and that in addition, it was important to put in place regulations covering sustainable development, labour conditions, norms and standards.

Dr. Cisse fears that while Chinese investment has been concentrated in Africa’s natural resources sector, notably oil and mining, as well as infrastructure, there has been significant diversification in recent years with the arrival of more private companies and SMEs. Hence the need for African countries to reap the benefits of this investment by developing its own key sectors, particularly manufacturing and services. The aim: to build capacity, transfer knowledge and technology – and create jobs for Africans.

He warned that the time to act is now. “China is taking active steps to sustain and grow its own economy by increasing consumption. As a result, some analysts have predicted that its trade with Africa will double by 2015 – and reach US$1.7 trillion by 2030.”

However, speaking a day later, Dr Marina Guo, Vice-Director, John Howkins Research Centre on Creative Economy, Shanghai made what could have easily been an unintentional response to Dr. Cisse’s presentation in a paper entitled When Creative Africa meets China.

Clearly avoiding intellectual rhetoric, Dr Guo skilfully offered her honest piece of guidance on breaking down the barriers to doing business in China with particular emphasis in the areas of arts, culture and the creative industry.

Dr Guo
“We all know China is one of the biggest emerging markets and despite being the second largest economic power its GDP is very low, figures show that China ranks 89 in the world,” she explained “However, there is a kind of rising creative economy in China, although there has been a slump in GDP, from 10 per cent to 8 per cent and last year 7.6 per cent. The demand for creative goods – paintings, crafts, pottery and fabric -- continues to grow rapidly because of the huge emergence of a middle class with disposable income”.

She said that professional services network Deloitte has estimated that China’s cultural industries will grow at 20% per annum over the next seven years. She clarified however that this growth cannot be possible without what she termed the “right government policies” to foster the production, consumption and management of creative products.

“In china there is a national policy which allocates 4 per cent of the total GDP of the budget to be spent in the education sector. Over the last few years maybe 8 to 10, we have more than 580 universities and colleges that launched programmes across the creative sector and cultural management to enable young talent to engage with the creative industries, so each year we have about 6 million graduates looking for jobs, it is very competitive” stated Dr. Guo who is also Head of Arts Management and Director of International Programmes at the School of Creative Studies, Shanghai Theatre Academy.

According to Dr Guo, the government and private sector have been working together to build infrastructure, and leading cities like Beijing and Shanghai realised that talent is more important than infrastructure so they have been investing more into the people as well. When the individual creativity turned into a phenomenon across the sector, the business community came in and more and more financial institutions have been engaged in the process of creative economy development.

“The film industry in china is interesting. Everyone talks about Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood, what you might not know is that china has already become the second largest movie market in the world,” she explained “The box office increases at 30 per cent in the past decade and half of the films are produced in china and the rest are imported, mainly from Hollywood, there is also an increasing wave of cinemas about 13,000 and there are about 10, new cinemas opened every year”.

She said recently Beijing invested 10 million Yuen into the cultural sector to support the businesses and help launch them on to the international market.

“We used to be called the factory of the world, but now we are making efforts to transform from ‘made in china’ to ‘created in china’”, she boasted.

Although entry into the Chinese creative market is competitive, according to Dr Guo, there are a few areas that can allow penetration.

She observed that African arts and culture do have a role to play in the cultural diversity of China. She also highlighted three branches of the creative sectors that have great potential on the Chinese market: design, contemporary visual arts and digital content with African features such as African music or African stories.

“With art you can set up a gallery or engage with dealers, but of course the challenge is the limited resources that Africa has. Recently the government put in a lot of energy, effort and money to build infrastructure as a platform to facilitate trade in the cultural and creative industry”

She said Chinese consumers are more willing to pay more for unique African experiences rather than traditional African arts and crafts while suggesting need for a united, pan-African cultural identity − as opposed to separate national identities – and that currently Egypt and South Africa are the most recognised countries in China.

She explained that a sound understanding of China’s business culture combined with strong, trust-based relationships with clients and partners are essential for business success in China. She advised African countries to be more forceful in attaining a permanent cultural presence in China through cultural exchange and trade fairs.

“There are opportunities, but it is to catch the fast train as we say in China, we should make a dream to sell the African culture to the Chinese, it’s not a mission impossible, what do we need to do? Put our hearts; mind and hands together and work in joined force and make it happen,” concluded Dr Guo.

As much as it was interesting to note Dr Guo’s suggestion that there was “need for a united, pan-African cultural identity”, and the continent should market itself as such, it brings to mind the thought that Africa is not a country, a misconception equally championed by trade and funding partners from the west.

Africa is not a country and this could not have been put in simpler terms than that of an excerpt from the Hangzhou Declaration that reads: “We recognize that one size does not fit all and that different cultural perspectives will result in different paths to development”.

The Hangzhou Declaration entitled “Placing Culture at the Heart of Sustainable Development” is the outcome document of the UNESCO International Congress, “Culture: Key to Sustainable Development” held in the city of Hangzhou, China from 15 to 17 May this year, with the support of the China government that brought together 500 participants from 82 countries.

The purpose of the congress was to spearhead the integration of culture within development policies and programmes worldwide. It proposes that culture should be included as the fourth fundamental principle of the post-2015 UN development agenda, in equal measure with human rights, equality and sustainability.

“Special support should be provided to cultural programmes that foster creativity and artistic expression…” reads the declaration in part.

Nevertheless, as the Sino-African cultural and trade relations debate is brought to the boil and the move for UNESCO to push the arts, culture and heritage to the forefront of priorities on the post-MDG agenda prevails, the Zambian creative sector remains in purgatory while the nations Arts, Culture and Heritage Bill – thought to be the sectors salvation by its architects – is yet to be tabled in parliament.

Speaking on Radio Phoenix’s Arts in Perspective programme sponsored by Yezi Arts Productions and presented by Raphael Zimba on Thursday last week, the National Arts Council (NAC) Vice-Chairman Sankwe Kambole shed some much needed light on the Bill’s formulation and its anticipated prospects.

“My experience has been subtle at times close to crying because you can see the potential that the [creative] industry has and the failure among ourselves in the industry to partner and form a cohesive force so that at least we can optimise on this potential,” he said.

He added that the fraternity had been crying for a long time for a mother ministry and not until the coming in of the Patriotic Front government has some aspects of the cultural sector seen some streamlining. According to Kambole things look very good because Zambia has a government that is focused on helping develop the sector so that it can contribute to national development.

“The Arts Culture and Heritage Bill proposes to bring together all aspects of the cultural sector from the intangible and tangible aspects of culture to the performing or live aspect of the arts. What this bill tries to do is to bring everyone under one institution which is proposed to be the National Arts and Culture Commission so that at least we optimise the visibility of the sector, the finances that are given to the sector and we reduce on the fragmentation,” he explained.

He emphasised that the fragmentation of the sector disturbs the flow of funds and implementation of projects. He observed that looking at the budgetary allocation of the sector, although funds can be sufficient these are distributed in different departments and in separate ministries, harnessing and accessing these monies becomes difficult.

“The PF government actually activated the need for us artists to come together because they saw the industry has the potential to create wealth, to create jobs and also to contribute positively to GDP. We often complain that we are not recognised; yes we are not recognised because we do not contribute to the tax net. You will be recognised if you contribute to the tax,” he added.

He explained how the bill came about citing political will and commitment by the republican president.

“It took the president of this republic, his Excellency Mr Michael Chilufya Sata to make a policy directive when he officially opened the Second Session of the 11th National Assembly and I will quote; ‘my government created the Ministry of Tourism and Arts as part of the effort to improve the policy and institution framework for our economic diversification programme and to enhance policy and wealth creation opportunities. In this regard I wish to direct the minister of tourism and arts to enhance the creative industries contribution to economic development by establishing the National Arts and Culture Commission in line with the PF manifesto…

He revealed that NAC organised a workshop that was held in Lusaka to evaluate and share information about the proposed commission in November, 2012. The workshop attracted over 70 individual participants and stakeholders such as government departments; Traditional Affairs, Department of Cultural Affairs, Heritage Commission and the Museums who made a presentation on how they perceived the commission.

“From here there was a communique among other things that thanked the government for bringing all the art forms together and they recommended that a roadmap be developed and in this roadmap a smaller technical committee be appointed by the PS responsible for the portfolio of the arts so that they spearhead the development of the arts culture and heritage bill” he said.

The committee was appointed by the PS of tourism and arts in February this year and Kambole was appointed secretary while former NAC Chairman Mumba Kapumpa was appointed chairman. Kambole said there were a number of members on the committee including a few he referred to stakeholder and it was after these appointments that the committee sat and received the draft bill from Eva Jara the legal person assigned for the task.

“The bill will create a commission and it will be headed by a director general, so we will have specialised directorates headed by directors responsible for the performing arts, literary, creative arts, heritage these will have power to run the commission,” he explained “We will be able to get the little monies that are spread all over and embark on capital projects. One of the aspects that have been recognised is to have professionals in the sector you know we do not have an institution of higher learning that gives training to professionals in the cultural sector”.

Kambole who has an MA Urban Management and Development from the University of Erasmus in the Netherlands, another MA in Water Resources Engineering from the University of Zimbabwe and a BSc honours in Hydrogeology confessed that he was from an engineering background, but what brings him and other arts administrators together is interest in the sector but they [administrators] want to have professionals and the bill recognises that. He was Nataaz chairman for four years and was very active in theatre in his school and student years, nonetheless.

“You know we don’t have the national gallery, we can’t even account for the indigenous paintings, we do not have what we call a national collection and where it is stored so all these forms of creativity once they are stolen they will be very difficult to get,” he said, probably in reference to the paintings at the Lusaka National Museum, a few of which include David Shepherd and Akwila Simpasa that are on permanent display and some of which have been lent to the Henry Tayali Gallery for the on-going Independence Week Exhibition.

Kambole imagines the sector will be professionally run and it will be easier to get resources allocated to the sector for various projects.

“You can imagine there is a cry of lack of finances, this year’s yellow book in fact not the budget had close to K26 billion (old currency) allocated to the sector but this is so fragmented that the monies are not directed where they are supposed to be this is because there is no apex institution”.

Again on administration of the arts, he said there are professionals in Zambia with high qualifications although he could only count them on one hand they will be called upon “to steer the boat”.

“We have institutions now like Zambia Open University running programmes dealing with the arts and then there was an initiative for the creation of a media university all these steps I think will culminate in producing qualified professionals that will help steer the commission to success”, he said.

He said the bill also recognises Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) realising that the private sector is an important vehicle – as earlier indicated by Dr Guo -- to drive the development of the sector.

“So the private sector will be held so dearly at the heart of the commission and basically, already we have seen what other private sectors are doing like Zambian Breweries with the music awards”, said Kambole.

He concluded by speculating that very soon the bill will be tabled in parliament because it is rare that the president will deliver a policy directive and this means it is at the heart of the presidency and at the heart of the government so he believed that with the same expediency that it was taken to cabinet it shall be delivered.

Nevertheless, one is tempted to compare Kambole’s practical concerns towards the lack of ‘educated’ arts administrators and art training institutions to the 580 universities and colleges running creative sector and cultural management programmes in China as revealed by Dr Guo. But it will be interesting to note that China is investing this education in young talent which means they have the future in mind, but one cannot be surprised if the same old Zambian arts administrators cling on to the sector on premise of experience. If so, while they do so awaiting to clock retirement age, let government through the forthcoming commission invest in fresh blood by educating new administrators, even if it means sending them to any of the 580 Chinese learning institutions or other.

But again, obviously the 70 individuals and ‘stakeholders’ – as Kombole calls them – that have worked to put the bill together did it all in their collective wisdom.
All we can do for now is exercise our delicate powers of observation and hope we do not miss the fast train to China among other things.

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