There are things that nations are well-known for — things that mark or identify them. The marketers will wax lyrical about branding and perhaps the term branding has become something of a cliché. But it matters not in the end what you pretend to be. It is what one actually is in terms of character that weighs more heavily in a reckoning.
By Admire Kudita
Legendary Zambian hospitality
Zambia is historically the place to which our peoples in Southern Africa flocked to as we began to resist colonial rule. By virtue of its former president Kenneth Kaunda’s pan-African and visionary leadership, liberation movements such as South Africa’s ANC, Namibia’s Swapo, Zimbabwe’s Zapu and Zanu, found refuge on Zambian soil. It was, of course, at great cost to the Zambian people who had to bear the brunt of Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa’s retribution.
“The arc of the universe tends toward justice.” Allow me to borrow these words of the American television producer of famous dramas such as How to Get Away With Murder and ER, Shonda Rhimes, in her occasional tweets about events that take her fancy as reported in the media.
You may have wondered why I chose to write about Zambia. Well, there are two reasons. One of them is really my deep conviction that we as beneficiaries of Zambia’s hosting of our freedom fighters may not have thanked our brothers enough. Secondly, the fact that Multichoice Africa, for whatever reason, chose the country as a host nation for the regional Mutlichoice Talent Factory academy is in my view poetry in motion. Millions of dollars are being expended on the training of young African creatives over the space of three years on full board. The fortunate students will not have to pay a single penny for their stay and education. Their lives will forever be changed by the opportunity. Most importantly for me, it makes a lot of sense for Zambia to have the honour of once again hosting the region. This time it does not have to pick up the tab or at least a significant portion of it.
Young and creative Africa
Berry Lwando, Lusaka academy director, told the gathering that the 20 students would be provided with skills to make use of their talent, and would be connected with industry professionals. Many profound statements were made on the night of the launch and, as I sat through the glittering affair, I marvelled at how it is possible for our peoples within the region to be woven together by art.
As we sat at a table with colleagues from within the region, the symbolism of it all was not lost on me. We really are members of one family as African nations. Different but the same. Here I was from Zimbabwe, sitting with Botswana, Angola, Mozambique (another dear brother country), Namibia and South Africa at the same table.
Each country has a story to tell and a way of doing it that is unique. As we chatted happily throughout the proceedings, my mind kept drifting to the students and how it must for them to be part of history. Marcus Garvey would have been proud to see it.
Shifting African narrative
I spoke to Lwando, the regional director of the Talent Factory academy in Zambia to which two young Zimbabwean students are enrolled, about the film-making school.
“First of all the African initiative is about telling our own stories because one of the things that we do have we have is an abundance of stories. We have grown up being told stories, stories about everything. If you grew up like me my grandmother told me stories mostly about witchcraft, but Harry Potter is also about witchcraft. Who is perfect? But the point about it is that the stories that we can tell are many and they are varied. “This is an opportunity to tell our own stories. When you look at storytelling and you combine it with the cinematic tradition which we do not have; and that is what this intervention is all about. It’s about the development of the cinematic tradition. Absolutely, it’s about ‘dynamising the human capital’, telling our own stories, it’s about reigniting the creative juices, telling our own stories — which is a huge shift from where we get somebody to tell stories about us, in their eyes . . . the stereotypes come in . . . different things come in.”
Funding: Matter of priorities
The creative sector is an area that needs not only “tilling of fallow ground”, but “seeding” as well. The seeding is funding. In the words of Zambia’s minister of information and broadcasting Dora Siliya, “the fact that MultiChoice can take a chance with the young people of the region calls for a special applause”.
She further said, “we (as a continent) can only tell our stories if the private sector in our countries in the region takes a chance on these young people”.
It was a bittersweet moment for me as a student of African history because, on one hand, it was not political leadership per se that made the academy happen. It was a corporate entity that put its money where its mouth is. Government needs to come to the party in terms of its priorities.
There is no reason for governments not to prioritise investment in the creative sector, considering the existential threat posed by imports of cheap Asian goods to Africa’s economy. To date, no other country can really produce goods as competitively as China in input cost terms, for example. Now, the creative sector is perhaps one of the few areas of African competitive advantage aside from tourism.
According to a June 2016 article by Steve Omanufeme on the International Monetary Fund’s website, Nigeria’s Nollywood currently accounts for 853,9 billion naira (US$7,2 billion), or 1,42% of Nigeria’s GDP. It employs a million people directly or indirectly and is lauded as the country’s second-biggest source of jobs after agriculture. It is also considered “one of the major planks on which to diversify the Nigerian economy”.