Nollywood moment: African film industries ‘could create 20m jobs’

UN study finds streaming services have increased demand for film productions from across the continent, but warns piracy and underinvestment hampering growth

Film industries in Africa could quadruple their revenue to $20bn (£15bn) and create an extra 20m jobs in creative industries, according to a UN report about cinema on the continent.

The booming film industry in Nigeria – Nollywood is the world’s second-largest film industry in terms of output – and Senegal were examples of African countries with defined business models and growing avenues for local film productions, which are increasingly sought after by television and streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+, said the report by the United Nation’s cultural body, Unesco.

Most creative industries in Africa were grossly underserved, in part due to the failure of policymakers and local authorities to protect and invest in audio-visual industries, and there was the potential to add 20m jobs to an estimated 5m across African countries, said the report.

Unesco’s director-general Audrey Azoulay said the report, which assessed the capacity and shortcomings of each country’s film and audio industries, “showcases the great potential of Africa’s audio-visual sector both in terms of creativity and growth”.

“We need to strengthen international cooperation to enable film-makers of all countries to express themselves and develop viable and competitive cultural and creative industries,” she said.

The report, published on Tuesday, was commissioned after a meeting of Africa’s culture ministers in 2019 and considered ways that largely low-income countries could boost growth in creative industries.

The findings and recommendations will be discussed at a meeting of key stakeholders in film and culture across Africa at the Pan-African Festival of Cinema and Television in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, later this month.

While countries across Africa were adopting a range of models for growing their film industries, from providing digital services to hosting festivals, most were struggling to attain sustainable growth, the report said.

Africa is by far the most underserved continent with regard to cinemas, with only one screen for every 787,402 people. In Nigeria, the number of cinemas has doubled since 2015, although locations remain scarce.

A significant concern was that much of the money generated by African film industries does not go back into local economies, the report said. Two-thirds of African countries acknowledged that more than half of proceeds were lost to illegal avenues such as piracy, said Ernesto Ottone, Unesco’s assistant director general for culture. “Creatives do not receive copyright payment in return for their work. There needs to be much stronger legislation,” he said.

But 30 of Africa’s 54 countries lacked national film commissions or recognised audio-visual institutions that can champion creatives and fair usage rules, the report said, making reforms hard to achieve.

“We are in a moment where if those countries don’t engage quickly with these challenges, they will keep losing film-makers, who flee to other countries like Nigeria and Senegal,” Ottone said.

Despite their size and low income, Mauritius and Cape Verde have seen relative success, driven by private-sector support and banks offering credit for short films and documentaries. Cape Verde’s industry had “made a very big jump” in the past five years, he said.

Only 19 African countries offer any kind of financial support to film-makers, most often in the form of small grants or subsidies. For many in Nigeria’s film industry, the stunning rise of Nollywood – a near-$1bn industry producing about 2,500 films each year – has come largely without significant support from successive governments.

In Ivory Coast and Senegal, significant investments by international television corporations such as Canal+ had boosted locally produced television productions, but in many countries investment was lacking. While the coronavirus pandemic had severely hit television advertising and cinema industries, the crisis had also spurred exciting change, the report added.

“In countries like Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Senegal, new generations of directors can now live off the income generated online by their work,” the report said, because digital cinematographic equipment had become more affordable. Platforms like YouTube, Netflix and local mobile video services offer new ways of distributing and monetising live content.

These changes, it said, had spurred “the emergence of a new economy for African content creators, who are now doing without traditional players”.


Emmanuel Akinwotu, west Africa correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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