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Loud and Clear

Open Letter to President Bio: The Creative Arts could turn around Sierra Leone’s economy if giving the right support

Dear Mr President,

In your 2019 State Opening of Parliament statement, you stated that developing the creative industry was among your Government’s priority.

In that speech, you said: “Mr Speaker, Honorable Members, we also remain committed to promoting music and performing Arts given the jobs it creates for our youth and the rebranding of our image as a nation. My Government will review and enforce policies and laws governing the sector, seek support to establish a National Arts Gallery and Theatre for Performing Arts using the Private Public Partnership model and re-establish and develop the cultural village.”

It is based on this that I decided to write this letter to remind you and encourage you to fulfil these promises.

The creative industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors for economies around the world. This sector can be a driver for a country’s economy if given the right policies and adequate investment. Unfortunately for Sierra Leone, we haven’t positioned ourselves properly to harness the immense opportunity that this sector has to offer. I’ve argued many times that we can never make a breakthrough without the right policies, capacity building, infrastructure and adequate investment.

NIGERIA

Governments across Africa are now turning to the creative industry to address the many unemployment challenges in their countries. They are not only developing their youths’ skills but are also providing investments, policies, and infrastructure to address some of these challenges. Let’s take Nigeria for instance, Africa’s most populated country. It has exploited the creative industry for the benefit of its people. The film industry alone employs over one million Nigerians with an annual profit of almost 600 million dollars, producing an average of 1,500 movies per year, making it the second-largest producer after Bollywood (India). In terms of revenues, Nollywood is the third largest film industry after Hollywood (US) and Bollywood.

A Nigerian movie Director once told me in Washington D.C during the premiere of ‘Dr Bello’, a Nollywood-Hollywood collaboration, that after crude oil, the entertainment industry is the second highest income earner for his country. The Nigerian Government took some key steps to promote the creative industry to get to that point.

In 2011, a loan scheme of about 200 million dollars was approved. The Nigerian Government further gave grants of several million dollars between 2013 and 2017. These grants were given under the “Project Act Nollywood”, an investment aiming to ensure better production, distribution network and capacity building.

The Nigerian Government further created the Creative Industry Financing Initiative (CIFI). The CIFI is part of efforts to address youth unemployment. The loan scheme has four pillars; Fashion, Music, Movies and Information technology. Movie production businesses can get a loan of up to $72,000 whilst movie distribution companies can get as much as $1 million. The repayment is flexible over 3 to 10 years, with a single-digit rate of 9% per annum. The loan scheme also comes with a minimum of 24 months moratorium.

GHANA

Learning from the Nigerian success story, Ghana’s President, Nana Akufo-Addo, last month launched a 25 million Dollar ‘Presidential Film Pitch’ to the local film industry. The initiative aims to provide jobs for 6000 Ghanaians and create opportunities to market Ghanaian films abroad. The project will engage investors, broadcasters, distributors, sponsors, and platforms worldwide for potential collaborations, sponsorship, investment, sales, and advertising opportunities.

President Akufo-Addo said that he has also given assent to the Creative Industry Act passed by Parliament. He said the Act would help create the enabling environment for the Ghanaian film sector and the creative Arts, in general, to contribute to Ghana’s growth.

A Creative Arts Agency will lead to the setting up of the Creative Arts Fund to help address the challenges of funding in the sector. The Ghanaian President said he has allocated Euro 45 million to NAFTI to retool into a world-class training institution teaching specialized courses in scriptwriting and other film business-related programs.

MAURITIUS

Mauritius is a renowned destination for movie making. The small Indian Ocean Island introduced the Film Rebate Scheme cashback incentives for audio-visual productions. The scheme gives a rebate of 30% to 40% for high-end Feature films and TV series shot in Mauritius. The scheme is to encourage A-lists films to be shot on the island. The tiny Indian Ocean Island nation has positioned itself as a FILM AND TV powerhouse in the region. Apart from having some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, forests, waterfall and national parks, it has all the post-production studio facilities to make blockbuster films. No wonder it has attracted many A-list Hollywood and Bollywood films including ‘Serenity’ starring Mathew McConaughey and ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, starring Shah Rukh Khan. Mauritius has no minerals but through tourism, the country makes millions of dollars in return, annually.

NETFLIX

Netflix, the streaming giant, is looking for African stories. Netflix Head of Africa Originals, Dorothy Ghettuba, said in a CNN interview: “We truly believe in the talents in Africa. We are speaking to writers, looking at scripts, looking at stories and finding the best stories out there.”

Nollywood and other African filmmakers are taking advantage of the ‘Netflix opportunity’. According to reports, Netflix bought the global License right for Genevieve Nnaji ‘Lion Heart’ for $3.8 million. ‘Lion Heart’ was Genevieve’s directorial debut. The streaming platform is paying millions of Dollars to African filmmakers just to broadcast their films.

A Cameroonian actor and movie producer recently had a Netflix breakthrough with ‘The Fisherman’s Diary’, a Netflix original film starring Kang Quintus, who was in Sierra Leone on a visit not too long ago. The Cameroonian film industry has had a Netflix breakthrough with several other films.  

Sierra Leone has all it takes to be a movie giant in Africa. I’ve seen better movie locations in Sierra Leone than some of the locations I saw in Mauritius and South Africa. I’ve seen far better talents than some of the actors in Nollywood. What we lack is the right infrastructures, we have failed to add value to that location. We have failed to create the right policies, we have failed to invest in this sector. Therefore Sierra Leone is losing out. ‘Blood Diamond’, a film about Sierra Leone’s conflict Diamond, which cost over $100 million to make, was shot in Mozambique and South Africa.

Mr President, the creative arts industry has the potential to transform Sierra Leone’s economy if given the required attention. Sierra Leone can do it. We could learn from the others highlighted above. 

About the author:

Murtala Mohamed Kamara is the founder and CEO of SaloneJamboree, Sierra Leone’s Arts and entertainment newspaper. He also works as a freelance reporter for German International broadcaster, Deutsche Welle.

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