For Africa’s creative economy to thrive, it must be self-sustaining


The announcement by Busara Promotions that they will not be holding the Sauti za Busara music festival in Zanzibar next year is a stark reminder that lack of local financial support is a major impediment to the growth of Africa’s creative economy.

“Due to a shortage of funding, Busara Promotions has reluctantly announced their decision to cancel the 2016 edition of Sauti za Busara. This will be the first time in 13 years Zanzibar will not be enjoying an international music festival in February,” the company announced in a press statement on August 20, 2015.

The company’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Yusuf Mahmoud, noted that while they always announce festival dates in advance, “ after closing the books on another highly successful festival in February 2015, once again we were back to square one, with no funds to start working on the next edition. We set ourselves a target to raise $200,000 (Sh20.4m) before July, when we hoped to announce the dates for Sauti za Busara 2016. After many meetings with stakeholders, we extended our fundraising deadline to midnight of August 19. The total amount of cash or “in-kind” support we were able to raise presently stands at $42,000 (Sh4.3 million) so there is still a long way to go.”

The event, which has been held every February in Zanzibar’s Stone Town for the past 11 years, brings the historical town to life during the four-day extravaganza that draws some 5,000 people in a lively celebration of the richness of African music. It is also a huge boon to the island’s business community.

Although 70 per cent of the audience comes from East Africa, it draws many from other parts of the world.

Besides live music shows, the festival includes other activities such as movie screenings, fashion shows and networking events for those in the entertainment industry.

This year’s event, the 12th since the festival was launched, had the theme, “Together as One, Amani Ndio Mpango Mzima!” It ran from February 12 to 15.

According to Unesco, festivals showcase communities’ cultures and creativity, and are the cornerstone of economic development strategies to attract tourists, although governments often lack the necessary tools to measure the full impact of such multi-faceted events.


These views are echoed by Mr Mahmoud who asserts: “Festivals invigorate young people’s interest in local culture, give opportunities for artists and music professionals to meet and learn from each other, keep traditions alive, create employment for local

people and promote models for responsible tourism that honour and respect local culture.

However, since 2004, we had zero financial support from the government of Zanzibar, the United Republic of Tanzania and the East African Community. Despite tireless efforts, support from donors, embassies and commercial sponsors has reached an all-time low.”

The organisers usually pay a modest performance fee and cover expenses in Zanzibar, including local travel, visa, accommodation, food and incidentals for artists performing at the festival.

To get make up for the shortfall, some people have suggested that Busara try crowd funding. However, Mr Mahmoud says, “To truly be more sustainable before the 2017 edition, our priority will be to develop long-term partnerships with donors and sponsors who share our vision.”

Mr Ogova Ondego, the managing trustee of the Lola Kenya Screen annual audiovisual media festival, agrees that local support is lacking.

“African governments do not seem to care about the arts. Most do not have legal frameworks and polices geared towards the cultural industry, or votes to support the arts in the national budgets.

Therefore, African governments do not recognise the creative industries, as happens in the developed world,” Mr Ondego told media.

Meanwhile, the founder and director of the Dance Week Uganda Festival in Kampala, Julius Lugaaya lamented:

“The failure not to hold Sauti za Busara next year is not only sad for music lovers, but also for artistic creators in general because we create jobs with our various programmes.

It is unfortunate that we can’t have a festival that employs a number of people. In the end there is unemployment; the government loses earnings from tourism, performance, television rights, space,

radio, sound production and voice.”


In its Creative Economy Report 2013, Unesco singles out financing as the major challenge in the developing world.

“This is particularly so because cultural enterprise operates de facto in a hybrid of not-for-profit and commercial activity.

Sustained subsidies are indispensable in some cases, while calculated investment will be appropriate in others. It is essential to strike the right balance.

This challenge is by no means being fully met in developed countries; the task is even more delicate in developing- country settings.”

Mr Stephen Rwangyezi, the Executive Director of the Kampala-based Ndere Troupe, says dependency on donor funding is self-defeating:

“If someone is funding our cultural development, he will edit out those aspects that conflict with his own interests. And that will definitely kill our unique identity. He will promote only what is

compatible and conforms with his own interest, and that leads to the danger of international cultural uniformity.”

Mr James Isabirye, a lecturer in the Department of Performing Arts at Kyambogo University in Kampala agrees: “Donor money is not sustainable and it comes with strings attached.

They will put their interests first before looking at what your need is.”


According to the Unesco report, “Financial institutions are rarely at ease with the sector’s innovation-driven character, notably when its copyright content is high.

Venture capitalists, if they exist, are not interested in providing small loans and have a tendency to control rights so that remuneration to producers is lower.

The business sector still provides only limited support and in any case prefers larger organisations. Governmental financing is also limited and its grant-based models often lead to unsustainable, subsidy-dependent development”

In its Creative Economy Report 2008 UNCTAD observed that businesses in the creative sector face capital rationing at all stages.

Start-up financing is often difficult to access because of the uncertain prospects in markets for creative products; forecasting demand for creative goods such as films is generally more difficult than

for more standardised products so public and private investors often look upon projects in these areas as too high risk.

Prof Martin Mhando, the festival’s director and Chief Executive Officer of the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), suggests that for cultural festivals to survive in Africa, the organisers should rely more on local funds and less on donor funds.

Prof Mhando, a leading Tanzanian filmmaker and cultural academic, notes that sponsors and donors do not wish to consider funding for at least three years, which would help manage programmes

and assure quality, but always insist on single-year funding, followed by three months of post-festival evaluation, and another six months of discussions for the next festival’s funding.

He says ZIFF is now concentrating on enlarging its local sponsorship base because it recognises that that is what will guarantee its sustainability. “From the days of 100 per cent dependence on

foreign donor support, ZIFF is now only 25 per cent dependent on foreign funds. However, donors do not seem to like this, because they do not praise us for that but continue to fund other

organisations that have not shown our social and commercial acumen,” he said.

Similarly Sauti za Busara is aiming to be more sustainable, with funding from international donors accounting for 35 per cent, commercial sponsors 40 per cent and locally-generated revenue 25 per cent.

For the past 12 years, the festival has attracted thousands of visitors to Zanzibar, during what it usually low season. Even conservative estimates suggest that since 2004, it has generated $70 million (Sh7.1 billion) in revenue for the island.

“We believe it’s time for hotels, airlines, banks, phone companies and other stakeholders operating in Zanzibar to come on board to help keep Sauti za Busara alive and moving forward,” Mahmoud says.


“The Busara board and management will be working hard to ensure the festival resumes stronger than ever, in 2017. This could mean changing location or making it a biennial event. But our priority will be to keep the event accessible to the local population while seeking to build longer-term partnerships with the public and private sectors,” he added.

While the festival takes a break, Busara Promotions has promised to continue with its regular activities to promote African music, strengthen local know-how and build livelihoods in the regional music sector. Throughout the year, Busara ensures that East African artists are invited to other international events and facilitates skill-building for local artists and festival crews.

Figures published by UNCTAD in May 2013 showed that world trade in creative goods and services totalled a record $624 billion in 2011, and that it more than doubled from 2002 to 2011; the average annual growth rate during that period was 8.8 per cent.

The organisation’s 2008 report indicated that, while creative industries are among the most dynamic emerging sectors in world trade, developed countries still dominate the global market for creative products. Still, many developing-country products are already benefiting from the creative industry boom.

Unfortunately, most developing countries cannot harness their creative capacities for development, it added.

It is against this backdrop that East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) passed the East African Community (EAC) Culture and Creative Industries Bill, 2015, which is seeks to regulate the establishment and management of creative industries in the community.


How the Bill will help artistes in the region

The general principles of the East African Community Culture and Creative Industries Bill, which was passed by the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) in Kampala, Uganda, on August 25, 2015, are based on the need to foster the development of cultural and creative industries in the community.

The objectives of the Bill are to promote the development of creative and cultural industries in the member states and also appreciate and enhance the popularity of cultural art in order to comply with both the regional and international trends.

The Bill will establish a council, known as the East African Community Creative and Cultural Industries Council, which will provide direction for creating an environment for sustainable growth of creative industries to help them achieve their full economic potential.

It will also develop greater awareness and understanding of the creative industry and its contribution to the EAC economy and formulate strategies on how the government, business and private sectors can work together.

Every creative and cultural industry in the community will be required to register with the council, which will issue a Certificate of Authority to entitle that industry to the benefits provided for under this law.

The Bill will also establish a fund to finance creative and cultural projects and programmes, as well as provide cash to support creative and cultural projects, on condition that the money will be repaid from future business revenues, among others.

The Bill provides incentives for audio-visual production by exempting imports of the materials and equipment used in such production from taxes.

Similarly, it offers concessions on imports used for heritage building and conservation. EALA’s senior public relations officer, Mr Bobi Odiko, says the Bill is undergoing amendments. “As soon as the amendments are completed and it is assented to by the heads of state, it will become a legal Act.

Artistes in the region have welcomed the passing of Bill, which seeks to regulate the establishment and management of creative industries in the community, and to provide for other related matters.

However, while praising the move, Joel Sebunjo, one of Uganda’s most recognised folk musicians, expressed reservations.

“My worry is that, although EALA has passed this Bill, the reality on the ground in the individual countries is that there are no definitive cultural structures to support this regional endeavour. Culture is very passive compared to sports and that is why the latter receives more funding from our respective governments,” he told media.

Meanwhile, John Katana the leader of the renowned Kenyan band, Them Mushrooms, said: “It shows that the creative industry has gained recognition from our respective governments and region. This piece of legislation opens several other avenues for East African cultural practitioners to exploit regional projects and collaborations.”

“With the free movement of the cultural practitioners it will be much easier to access the wider regional market. These partnerships will also expose the cultural practitioners to what is happening in the different countries,” Mr Katana added.