East Africa Must Celebrate its Culture
As East Africans, we celebrate and acknowledge the great importance of our cultural identity while appreciating the significance of coming together to interact and share experiences meant to foster social cohesion and unity among our people.
It is a fact that our region is endowed with a diverse cultural heritage with a multiplicity of cultural expression in form of art. These form a vital part of the common cultural identity of the people of East Africa. In cultural expressions such as music, dance, drama, art and crafts, people share cultural values and are able to feel oneness as well as the cohesion that exists among them as one people with a common destiny.
Given that culture forms a basis of unity and upholds the moral fiber of any community through social and economic development, the use of culture as a cornerstone in the political, social and economic activities of our Community cannot be overlooked.
Indeed, culture is not how we do things and it is not just about the economic value of our creative industries. It is what defines us as a civilization. It helps us understand the world around us, explain it, and sometimes escape from it.
Culture and creative industries today is one of the most dynamic sectors in the world trade. This is a positive sum–game especially for us in the developing countries. From the available statistics, in both the developed and developing countries export of creative goods and services amounted to USD 592 billion in 2008 compared to USD 267 billion in 2002 which meant an annual growth rate of 14% over a period of six years. The South to South trade on creative goods reached almost US$60bn in 2008.
There is no doubt that within the EAC Partner States, there is an abundance of creative talents and rich cultural assets with a huge economic potential for culture and creative industries to promote economic growth, job creation, social inclusion, and export earnings.
World trade in culture and creative industries has shown an unprecedented growth as compared to other sectors in recent years. As this growth is likely to continue in the coming years, EAC Partner States will have even more ways to benefit from this trade opportunity to realize development gains while fostering, protecting and promoting their creative economy.
Much as EAC Partner States are still big net importers of cultural products, we need to seize the available opportunities to improve the status quo. The rise of the digital economy and the increasing commercialization of the arts and culture globally create a window of opportunity for the region. These industries also offer more sustainable development options than traditional exports because the sector draws on the creativity of local artists and entrepreneurs, generating higher levels of local value-addition.
There are many East Africans artists outside there who aspire to be on top. They are highly talented and on a daily basis they do everything in their power, often with limited resources and no recognition or reward, to show-case their creative skills. They look forward to a day when their talent could be recognized, appreciated and rewarded not only in region but also in the whole world. They look up to icons in the industry and believe that they too will also make a decent living from their talents.
It is for this reason that I would like to urge all the Partner States through the Council of Ministers to nurture Arts and Culture in the region. This will stimulate and enhance music, visual and performing arts, handicraft, film, design, publishing and other creative sectors over the years. In this way, it will transform local talent into a catalyst for dynamic creative industries that can foster economic growth, employment, and trade expansion while promoting the linkages between culture, trade and development.
I also urge the Council of Ministers to be passionate about our Sports and Cultural sector by allocating enough resources for championing those activities that bring our common citizens together. Equally important is the need for the Council of Ministers to embark on initiatives aimed at repositioning the arts, culture and heritage sector in this region.
We need to strengthen the sector’s contribution to the economy; by creating much needed work opportunities and building of sustainable livelihoods for our artists. We need to strengthen the exports of our creative products as well as establishing regional centres of excellence to develop and strengthen skills for these artists. Such centres will not replace the existing national training initiatives but rather should be able to coordinate and complement them, ensuring that more of our artists have access to training so as to perfect their skills and become the best in what they do.
In conclusion, I would like to reassure the East Africans that their governments are committed to developing and strengthening arts and culture. We shall support the initiatives that will be put forward by the Council of Ministers.
By Hon. Protais Mitali
Minister for Sports and Culture of the Republic of Rwanda.
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