By Modou Lamin Age-Almusaf Sowe
Creative goods and services boost economies and contribute to inclusive social development, as well as dialogue and understanding between people. Investing in the Gambia’s creative industries, particularly in music, literature, film, design, and visual arts and crafts, can drive sustainable economic opportunities and improve livelihoods for local communities while expanding business opportunities for SMEs.
In recent years, the sector has witnessed growth in the number of entrepreneurial ventures in the fashion industry, photography and videography, arts and crafts, dance, and festivals. The Gambian music scene witnessed significant local growth with huge market potential internationally, specific to the Gambian diaspora and European music festivals. According to the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), the advertising and broadcasting sectors focusing on TV and radio have seen rapid growth, with a boost of four broadcasting and satellite TVs, more than ten online TVs, and 33 radio stations.
Despite the improvements in the Gambia’s trade performance, regional and international trade still need to be developed and promoted, as the country imports much more creative goods than it exports. The creative industries in The Gambia have demonstrated slow but sustained growth over the years. From 2010–11, creative industries grew in exports from $31.05 thousand to $91.72 thousand in the Gambia (YEP). The country continues to be one of the Republic of Senegal’s main export destinations for creative goods and exports, including some number of music and live arts-related services to Europe and the United States of America, with market demand from the diaspora and European events (festivals).
Unfortunately, no updated information is currently available to assess the economic performance of the creative industries as a whole, and the rest of the analysis relies on former studies until 2014. While many stakeholders in the Gambia’s creative industries believe that the Ministry of Culture should be separated from the Ministry of Tourism, I want to believe that the NCAC should even be more supported by the government to meet the present-day challenges of the creative industries. There is every reason for an increment in the government budget allocated for arts and culture. But, of course, there is also the need for capacity and innovation by the NCAC, for instance, by appointing an officer for music, an officer for literature, an officer for film, an officer for fashion and design, and so on. In that way, each sector will have a better chance of improving and developing instead of having a director for the creative industries. This is so because the creative industries are broad and need qualified and well-knowledgeable people to grow.
From my ongoing research, there are 12 major challenges affecting the Gambia’s creative industries, which include leadership problems (management and governance), financial problems (lack of financing and funding), expertise (limited experts in relevant fields), visibility (exposure, especially beyond the boundaries of the Gambia), marketing (access to markets nationally, regionally, and internationally), copyright and IP Problems (disorganized CSG and lack of copyright experts), administrative challenges (location: i.e., office space, facilities), underfunded and underdeveloped projects, the need to revise certain policies, regulations, and frameworks, data collection, capacity Building: entrepreneurship, study tour, skills, and know-how, licenses, and licensing.
However, The Gambia’s classification of the creative industries, alias “literary, performing, and fine arts,” according to the NCAC is as follows: Theatre, film, artist associations, music, dance, fashion, and beauty pageants, festivals, fine arts, literature, and publishing This means that other creative industry sectors such as advertising, architecture, art and antique markets, crafts, video, interactive games, computer service and software, printing, culinary, television and radio, and research and development have been neglected for so long since they don’t fall within the NCAC’s classification of the Gambia’s creative industries.
Optimistically, with the launch of the National Endowment Fund for Arts and Culture, we hope that the government will invest more in arts and culture. Over the years, efforts have been made to coordinate, preserve, promote, and present the best of our crafts, textiles, cuisines, traditional dance, drama, cinema, film, photography, folklore, oral traditions, literature, traditional games, and indigenous architecture, and to deploy them as tools for forging national unity and identity. Similarly, cultural manifestations that are unique and diverse were on the front burner in the quest to tap into the unique resources that abound in the Gambia’s culture industry. But if Senegal, our neighboring country, can collect up to 21 million CFA in six months for its royalties on intellectual property, the Gambia should be able to collect more or less. The Gambia Copyright Ordinance of 1911 was enacted by the colonial government mainly because, at that time, most of what was coming out of the Gambia was not considered intellectual property. The Copyright Ordinance was replaced by the Copyright Act 2004 of The Gambia, leading to the establishment of the Collecting Society of The Gambia (CSG) in 2014. The CSG was created to collect and pay royalties to Gambian artists and monitor intellectual property. Therefore, the CSG needs more empowerment and investment from the government.
According to the country’s economic profile provided by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 2014, creative goods imports reached $6 million and exports were less than $1 million. Design, new media, and publishing are the main import product categories, according to the UNCTAD report (2018). It is challenging to estimate the precise GDP and employment contribution of the creative industries in the Gambian economy. But as confirmed by the industry stakeholders, the generated revenue and economic value of the Gambia’s creative industries are not adequately measured, the sector is less formalized as some creative actors are not captured by the official registries, and there is a lack of information and statistics available.
The creative and cultural industries (CCI) across Africa generate about US$4.2 billion in revenue and have a growth rate that outpaces other sectors on the continent, according to Africa No Filter.
The 2021 International Year of the Creative Economy puts the creative economy front and center at a time when creative solutions are needed to overcome global challenges. As highlighted in the United Nations General Assembly resolution 74/198,4, the creative economy is contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in multiple ways, especially to Goals 1 (no poverty), 5 (gender equality), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure), 10 (reduced inequalities), 11 (sustainable cities), 12 (sustainable consumption and production patterns), 16 (peaceful and inclusive societies), and 17 (means of implementation and global partnerships).
The creative industries are also a driving force in economic development and job creation. My research paper demystifies the notion that economic development is hardly measured through art. Using the human factor development approach, this research debates the role of creative industries in the Gambia’s economic development. This model assumes that human beings are an important component in enhancing economic development through the creative industry, which is a more sustainable approach. Sustainability is enhanced by incorporating personal and human efforts to define standards in terms of creativity, thereby contributing to sustainable economic development. Furthermore, research argues that the employment of human factor development to enhance economic development through creative industries is of paramount importance as it allows indigenous people to take part in the developmental process of their economies. I am collecting data using a qualitative research methodology and a purposive sampling of selected art industries to establish the contribution of the Gambia’s creative industries to economic development and job creation. The CCI contributes to sustainable development goals by generating income and export earnings and by creating jobs, as outlined in the United Nations Creative Economy Report. There is also evidence that a thriving creative economy can foster related sectors such as tourism and manufacturing and encourage innovation and creativity.
The creative industries in the Gambia are shaped by the country’s rich cultural heritage and traditions, demonstrated through its people, places, and activities. Branded as the Smiling Coast of Africa, culture in The Gambia is expressed through its ethnic diversity manifested across five main languages, which are Fula, Mandinka, Jola, Serahuli, and Wolof.
The country’s authentic culture is preserved, demonstrated, and promoted through folklore and music, culture-oriented costumes, riddles, cuisine, and architecture. While local traditions and culture are embodied in artistic expressions such as dance, musical performances, handicrafts, cultural festivals, and design, history is showcased and preserved through a range of historical buildings, monuments, and archaeological sites, some of which are now listed in the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Sites (YEP).