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Recently, the Creative Economy Working Group (CEWG) successfully held the first Kenya National Creative Economy Conference aimed at demonstrating the current and prospective place of the arts, creativity and culture in Kenya’s economic and national life by presenting the opportunities and challenges facing the creative economy as a potentially significant contributor to national development.

CEWG was established in June 2013 with the support of the Ford Foundation. Its objectives include to showcase how Kenya can harness the creative economy to create jobs and boost the entire economy, to re-position the creative economy as a viable economic sector in Kenya and to influence legislation relevant to the creative economy sector.

According to CEWG, the creative sector in Kenya has long been marginalised. In particular, it is noted that:

“Successive Kenyan governments have been guilty of neglecting and lacking commitment towards the creative sector’s growth and development.(…) Kenya’s National Policy on Culture and Heritage has had no significant effect on the lives of creative economy practitioners.”

In this regard, CEWG moots for a creative economy policy and legislation. In particular, it is proposed as follows:

“The Kenya government assets that it has provided an enabling environment for the creative industry through policy. How should this environment be improved? Policies that answer this question and are relevant to both present and future generations need to be enacted.

The creative economy needs to be defragmented and coherence brought to all its domains. There is a need for a coordinating body that will ensure that the creative sector presents a unified front and is self-regulating. This body would also work towards rebuilding political goodwill, procuring government funding for the sector’s development and implementing government and international policies and conventions. A National Arts Council or a Creative Economy Council of Kenya is proposed here.

Another of the mandates of this body would be to manage a seed fund (such as an Endowment Fund) for young, up-and-coming practitioners in the arts and culture industry. The seed fund would be made possible by a National Cultural Endowment Policy.”

This blogger submits that the opportune moment for CEWG has presented itself in the form of #CultureBillKE, a consultative and stakeholder-led process initiated by the Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts to formulate an overarching legal framework for culture as mandated by Article 11 of the Constitution.

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The two key note speakers at the conference: David Ndii and Bitange Ndemo shared several important insights on the creative economy in Kenya.

Ndii begun his remarks by stating that Apple’s market capitalization is $700 billion. Using the case of Apple, Ndii argued that Apple’s leading products: the iPhone, iPad, Mac, iPod and others are merely devices for accessing content therefore the key to Apple’s success has been helping its customers access the thriving creative economy made up of limitless content created, consumed and shared worldwide. During his remarks, Ndii reckoned that Kenya’s success as an economic leader is hinged on her ability to infuse creative and cultural features to all its products destined for both local and foreign markets. In the context of international trade, Ndii argues that infusing creative and cultural aspects to our products would act an invisible trade barrier that gives Kenya a comparative advantage over factory made plain sweatshop products produced in mass by other developing economies. Ndii re-emphasised the importance of promoting local creative and cultural industries in strategic and meaningful ways. One such example he gave was a government directive that public officers must wear local fashions at work as opposed to import Western clothing.

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Ndemo focussed his remarks on the unprecedented opportunities presented by digital migration. According to Ndemo, digital migration supports the country’s social development and economic agenda through the creation of jobs especially in the area of content development, distribution of digital receiving equipment as well as rollout and maintenance of the digital signal distribution infrastructure. As a result, Ndemo stated that Digital migration would also generate foreign exchange and attract direct foreign investment in form of content service providers and infrastructure providers. Therefore Ndemo argued that the challenge for content players within the creative economy is to create high quality content will take advantage of the good picture quality and abundant broadcasting space associated with digital television broadcasting.

Interestingly, Ndemo explained that the frequencies that will be saved as a result of transitioning to digital broadcasting, otherwise known as digital dividend shall be used to roll out broadband and mobile services thereby supporting universal access to communication services throughout the country as well as creating wealth for Kenyans. In Ndemo’s words: “Soon, Safaricom will be the largest broadcaster in Kenya!”