By Andrew Mulenga
Artistic rights, freedom of expression and the creative sector’s contribution to social and economic development are among the key issues on the agenda of this year’s annual African Creative Economy Conference scheduled for Rabat, in the Kingdom of Morocco from 13 to 15 November.
A press release, from the organisers Arterial Network (AN), a pan-African network of artists, cultural activists, NGOs and institutions states the conference which is in its 4th year is expected to: “build on theoretical expositions of preceding conferences, particularly the need to map the different sectors of the African creative economies. Leading cultural operators will share their success stories with the intention to address the need for pragmatic solutions in their fields. Acknowledging the value of freedom of creative expression, an additional thematic focus of the 2014 edition will further define the link between arts, culture and democracy.”
AN Chairperson, Aadel Essaadani of the host nation affirms that conference will be held “With a thematic approach that will focus on the “How” of the creative industries, looking into their operational implementation: how do we organize ourselves and work together more succinctly for the wellbeing of Africa and its people? Where African creativity located is and what economic advances is it generating for its inhabitants? What are the success stories from the continent, what failures and what strategies for the future…?”
“Many of these questions will lead our conference this year, and Arterial Network is putting forth a programme that will help us debate and formulate the responses and strategies, for members of the network, cultural and economic actors, private and public institutions, both African and international.”
He states AN is strongly lobbying to make sure that Culture will be inscribed as an essential instrument in the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals.
Conference speakers include two African Ministers of Culture, Mohammed Amine also of the host country and his counterpart Ama Tutu Muna from the Republic of Cameroon. A few more of this year’s high level presenters are Pitika Ntuli, Professor Extraordinaire at Tshwane University of Technology, a South African sculptor, poet and writer who spent 32 years in exile, Touria el Glaoui the Moroccan founder of the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair that is annually staged in London and Timbuktu born, fashion designer Alphadi nicknamed “ the Desert Magician ”, Director of the African Federation of Fashion Designers and founding member of the International Festival of African Fashion initiated in 1998.
Rapidly becoming one of the largest meetings of the creative sector in Africa, the wide range of delegates from the continent and beyond will be looking at issues such as “Strengthening Synergies between Government and Civil Society, unpacking the UNDP/UNESCO Creative Economy Report and Challenges of the Post- 2015 Development Agenda for Africa”.
Additionally, entrepreneurship in the creative sector, regional strategies and public-private partnerships insights as well as success stories from leaders representing the art disciplines will all be part of this year’s attention.
As much as these are thematic discussions set for the event, there is no telling where they will twist or turn and what debates and observations may spring forth as was the case during last year’s session in Cape Town where for instance the Sino-African relations aroused some apparent deep seated aversions among the delegates.
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 his conference paper in which 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. The paper speculated an imbalance in the partnership that was negatively predisposed towards Africa. However, at the same event Dr Marina Guo, Vice-Director, John Howkins Research Centre on Creative Economy, Shanghai presented a paper that convincingly contested those notions in an 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.
Last year’s conference also saw artistes from across the continent share their inspirational success stories of projects that have been fruitful -- with very little or no support from private or public funding -- among these were Nigerian, Omoyemi Akerele, Creative and Managing Director, Lagos Fashion and Design Week. Also the founder of Style House, a fashion development agency that focuses on “giving everyone in the creative chain” an opportunity to benefit from the lucrative aspect of fashion. Suzanna Owiyo, an award-winning Kenyan singer-songwriter and musician who fuses western style pop with traditional African instruments shared how she is providing up-coming artistes with recording space at her studio in her native Kisumu.