Nigeria’s Creative Commodities


How creative industries hold the key to growth

It is a Sunday night in Lagos, hundreds of people are gathered in Ikeja to watch Femi Kuti playing at the New Afrika Shine. Many might have attended the GTBank Fashion Weekend in Victoria Island earlier that day to see Nigeria’s most promising and talented fashion designers and brands on show. Those who missed it will be sure to make Art X Lagos in future weeks to see the continent’s most innovative art, or perhaps they would prefer to stay at home and tuck into Chimamanda Adichie’s new novel. A similar story is played out across the continent.

Africa’s creative industries are clearly booming and there is no shortage of talent on the continent, yet it has consistently maintained a meagre presence in global markets for creative goods. This was a key topic at LSE’s Africa Conference on 22nd April where panellists discussed the potential of the creative industries and the barriers to growth facing the sector. Participants at the annual conference heard from the likes of Bolanle Austen-Peters, founder of Terra Kulture – a celebrated art, culture and educational centre in Lagos - and Tara Fela-Durotoye, Africa’s leading beauty and makeup entrepreneur. Incoherent policies, limited supply capacity, archaic IP laws which are still based on English legislation dating back to 1962, and under investment in the industry, particularly infrastructure, were highlighted as just some of the reasons why Africa is not yet profiting from some of its most precious commodities. 

While Nigeria’s government grapples with growing unemployment rates – estimated at 14.2% in the last quarter – the current administration is driving efforts to diversify away from the historic reliance on oil revenues. Whilst solid minerals, agriculture and power are regularly emphasised as priority areas in its economic recovery growth plan, the creative industries, until recently, have received less attention. Nigeria’s Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo and Minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed have been particularly vocal about the importance of industries such as design, fashion, film and music in creating avenues for jobs and gross domestic product. The Minister announced a $1 million venture fund last year for Nigeria’s creative industry to provide seed money for young and talented Nigerians to setup business and the Vice President has since pledged tax relief to investors with further incentives promised. 

It is hoped this focus will continue and that others in Nigeria, and across the continent, recognise that the creative and cultural industries have a role in the economic development of countries. When in 2016, the Nigerian economy stagnated due to the collapse in oil output – the creative industries witnessed significant growth. Jobs in these industries have proved resilient to the boom and bust cycles caused by over-reliance on raw commodities which have hurt many African economies. Let us look at Nollywood – the second largest film industry in the world. According to the US International Trade Commission, it employs more than a million people directly or indirectly and is believed to be the country’s second-biggest source of jobs after agriculture. The $5 billion industry contributes 1.4 percent to Nigeria’s GDP. Yet, this could be significantly more, with proper IP laws and added investment. Indeed, Nigeria has 200 million people, but just over a couple dozen cinemas – that’s a lot of unrealised potential.

A dynamic creative industry could contribute up to 10 per cent of a country’s GDP. The UK’s creative industries exported £46bn in goods and services last year. With its sheer size, talent and booming culture, Nigeria should aim to exceed these figures. However, products are kept undervalued due to short value chains caused by a scarcity of intermediaries between the production of creative products and retailing to consumers. 

Last year, Stella McCartney used Ankara print in her dresses during Paris Fashion Week – these dresses will set you back upwards of £1500. Meanwhile in Kano, a young entrepreneur with no access to finance or global supply chains and therefore no prospect of growth continues to sell her Ankara dresses in a local market for just N5000 (£10). With greater investment by governments and widespread acknowledgement of the power of these industries to propel economic growth – Nigeria can take ownership of national designs and begin to benefit economically from the exportation of its cultural content.

Emma Hooper, Consultant 

Chris Lee