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CAX Africa 2020: Embracing African Stories

By Dolapo Aina

The Creative Africa Exchange was held in Kigali, Rwanda in the month of January 2020. According to the Creative Africa Exchange’s official page; CAX Africa was created and designed to be the connection of Africa’s creative economy to stimulate, consolidate the African creative and cultural industry’s fragmented ecosystem into a sustainable impactful asset that contributes to the transformation of the Continent. Launched during the Intra Africa Trade Fair in Cairo in December 2018, CAX is the first exchange of its kind. The only pan-African summit for the creative ecosystem devoted to creativity in the fields of music, art, design, fashion, literature, culture, publishing, film and television.

In his opening remarks the President of Afreximbank Professor Benedict O. Oramah stated that ‘a pearl can never lose its shine no matter the turbulence. Rwanda and African personalities are breaking boundaries to make their mark. The rich poll isn’t a surprise as Africa is a rich poll of talents. The creative economy is seen as a viable sector. Culture and creative industries catalyse economic growth and create small and medium scale enterprises. But it lacks the ability to maximize the creative poll financially. African countries import more creative goods than they create. It is markets that would attract and drive the creative industry.’

During Aiteo Managing Director’s speech; Dr Ramson Owen asked the one question that must have been on the minds of some of the delegates. Why was AIteo (an oil and gas company) sponsoring CAX Africa? He went further to ask why must others speak for Africa? It should not be. It is time for the creative sector to profit from the sector. This sector has been operating in the informal sector. It is time to operate in the formal sector. So, he said.

Furthermore, Dr Ramson Owen opined that Africa elsewhere is viewed as a country. Could it be because Africans aren’t telling their stories? His advice was for those in the creative industry to work on quality and control.

During the presentation by the Rwanda’s Minister of Youth; Mrs Rosemary Mbabazi made a proud statement when she stated that the African Continent is rich in talent but how do we turn this into profits?

During the perspective from the creative industry session; Beninois-American actor Djimon Housou posited that ‘Hollywood also showed me a way back home. Amistad showed me a shocking glimpse of slavery. History is the lens that we use to see into the future. As Africans, we need to remember that we are great people, greatness is in our DNA. We must snap out of this cultural amnesia. We told our stories but did not write them down.

The veteran Rwandan actress Carole Karemera who has starred in such movies, like the Haitian born Raoul Peck’s directed ‘Sometimes in April’ stated during a panel that ‘art needs a space and in Africa; there are not enough spaces for arts. Many African artists don’t create for the youth. We need to determine those who are consuming the African arts.’

During the main panel discussion; Djimon Housou reiterated the fact that Hollywood took him back home. Whilst Zambia’s Minister for Tourism and Airts; Minister Roland Kaoma stated that Africa needs to agree that the art industry must be upgraded from soft social to economic industry. Africans cannot continue to say we have potential talents. The potentials must become commercial. The creative industry must be seen as an economic sector.

Mrs Kanayo Awani of Afreximbank revealed that movies, music, arts and crafts, building production facility can tap into the 500-million-dollar fund available to support the trade of Africa creative products and creative ventures that are bankable. And she beseeched those in the creative industry to engage Afreximbank.

During the understanding the African Creative Ecosystem panel: CNN’s Eleni Giokos asked the delegates at the Intare Conference Arena Is Africa trading amongst herself? And the replies were mixed. Also, during this session, the Beninoise- American actor Djimon Hounsou advised those in the creative industry to any project you have, you must do a nice presentation. It is your duty to pave the way for the next generation

For her part, Nigeria’s Omotola Jalade Ekeinde stated that Africa needs structure (screens, film villages, proper studios). And that the movie practitioners need to invest in structure, film schools. Whilst Nigeria’s well-known music director Clarence Peters opined that film making is the only artform that evolves around everything from wood to rubber.

On the second day of CAX Africa; sessions like access to capital; the art of production and access to market; how loud is the women’s voice in the creative industry; how digital development is driving demand for new capacity across the Continent; were covered and discussed.

And several salient issues were addressed. Chris Oshiafi, the chairman of Pan African Capital opined that creative people need patient capital. Josephine Ndao who is the Head of Enterprise and SME Development at the African Development Bank stated that the investors’ comfort lies in wanting to invest in the distribution stage. Whilst the founder and chairman of Megalectrics Mr Chris Ubosi reiterated the fact that the products are there. You need to make your talent profitable. Develop fundamental structure.

And Mrs Uche Cynthia Nwuka who is the Group Head Creative Industry of Bank of Industry advised the young creative practitioners attending the conference to understand what it takes to commercialise their business. Learn about the business of what they are doing. The government needs to understand and support the business.

In the Art of Production Session; veteran Nigerian actor Richard Mofe-Damijo stated that ‘for film making, there are trainings for different levels. There is a level to group all African creatives into one. We are competing at the global stage. We practically conduct surgeries with forks and knives in Nollywood.’ He went further to state that the world is not coming to Africa for anything but the originality. The real Game of Thrones is in African stories. People are beginning to shoot movies in shorter periods because it is possible.’

Another veteran Nigerian movie actor Rita Dominic stated that the creative industry two decades ago was not viable for financial institutions but the story is not the same today. Supporting the creative industry is a necessity. And she reiterated what her colleague Omotola Jalade Ekeinde said when she said ‘we need film schools, enabling laws, funding, lawyers that understand creative rights etc.’

During the how loud is the woman’s voice in the creative industry session; all the ladies agreed that every woman is a bankable person. And the moderator the famous Star Jones stated that there is no one who made it easy.

How digital development is driving demand session delved into some in-depth analysis on what Africa needs to tap into, which is the digital space. Konga’s CEO Nnamdi Ekeh was of the view that the movie and music industries are the next after oil but the income being generated from these sectors for Nigeria is next to nothing. Whilst the founder of Chocolate City Entertainment; Audu Maikori stated that Africa needs to understand what our people want. We need to embrace technology. In five years, Artificial Intelligence would probably write a script for Rita Dominic. And what might be missing would be human nuances and feelings.

Professor Aboubacar Sanogo, who is a film studies professor at the Canada’s Carleton University in Ottawa; delivered a speech on the importance of preserving old movies. After his speech, a movie called Soleil O by the late Med Hondo (who was a Mauritanian film director, producer, screenwriter, actor and voice actor. He emigrated to France in 1959 and began to work in film. He received critical acclaim for his 1967 directional debut Soliel O) was shown.  This movie which was entirely self-funded was only restored in 2017 by the famous Martin Scorsese through The Film Foundation. Professor Aboubacar Sanogo who has his roots from Burkina Faso knew the Nigerian Professor Pius Adesanmi; who was his colleague in the same University in Canada.

The CAX Africa summit can be summed up in the words of Zambia’s Minister for Tourism and Airts; Minister Roland Kaoma who said that Africans should embrace their stories and that modernisation is not Westernisation.

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