Once a strong symbol of unity and identity in Africa, the sports, music and entertainment industry awaits huge revival under new continental agreement

In the precolonial era, music was a strong symbol of unity between men, women and children. African customs are littered with plenty of diverse, indigenous entertainment which expanded past their communal boundaries as most of the continent bar Ethiopia and Liberia came under imperial rule.

They provided relief, united, and motivated freedom fighters alike from trade unions protesting in the streets in Ghana to untrained youthful soldiers fighting a grueling war of independence in the mountains of Kenya and the deserts of Algeria.

But those hey days weren’t to last so long.

Immediately after independence, many musicians, sportsmen and artists struggled to cut a niche in the cut throat neo-liberal world, finding themselves competing with foreign products for a share of their very own market. With the influence of the adopted foreign languages, and a lingering post-colonial inferiority complex, many within the continent chose to primarily look to the West for their entertainment, music and sports products.

Unlike their peers in literature, African artists struggled for relevance and recognition where it mattered – invitation to gigs, payment of their fair share of royalties by government authorities, and advertising roles.

That led to a decline that experts say may be permanently reversed with the coming into force of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

In ratifying the agreement, 34 African countries have created the largest free trade zone in the world by country participation. Policymakers praised the deal at the launch ceremony in Niger’s capital, Niamey, in 2019, saying that it will create a modern African economy. “An African economy that will allow free movement of labor and goods within member states and foster intra-African trade, industrialization, and self-reliance.

Economic co-dependency or cooperation between sovereign States is not a new economic strategy. Europe has sought to achieve this at the regional or supranational level through the establishment of the European Union.  

Africa has also championed regional economic integration, but never at the level or scale of the AfCFTA and, indeed, not as successfully as in other world regions. African economic communities like ECOWAS, SADC, EAC and others, have failed to substantially integrate their disparate national economies which would have served to protect the region from exploitation by its neighbors to the east and the west.

Blessed by a huge demographic dividend and a combined consumer and business spending projection of $6.7 trillion by 2030, Africans stand on the verge of reaping big from the trade deal.

Snapshot of the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement in Niamey, Niger. Courtesy: DW

With much of the focus on policymakers’ mind fixated on trade, many in the sports, music and entertainment industry believe this deal will also help them.

Frydon Amwoka, a Kenyan artist who goes by the name “Frenzy The Poet” praised the deal saying, “It will give us artists a platform to meet with other artists, share ideas, make collabos with other artists from across Africa.”

“We will also have the chance to perform in other countries, sell our music there.”

Africa still lags behind in the global streaming industry and this untapped potential has spurred major investments from Disney and Netflix. Netflix even appointed Zimbabwean billionaire Strive Masiyiwa to its board in 2020, looking to tap into his vast exploits in the continent’s telecommunications sector to increase its African viewership numbers which stands at 2%.

Masiyiwa himself has long been an advocate of developing local industrialization, production and distribution infrastructures for the consumption of sports, media and entertainment. That may be crucial to unlock the success of AfCFTA in these industries.

Some in the industry also call for what seems to be a brazen yet intriguing idea. To go the China route in these industries. However, such moves evoke painful memories of the many infrastructure projects built by Chinese loans that have never broken into profitability mode and left the nations involved with vast amounts of debt.

The China route would involve blocking all foreign content through high taxation or indecency reasons, but that itself if not coupled with state funding in the industries would mean nothing. It may also create a locked in society where state agendas and propaganda is filled in the minds of citizens who don’t have other sources of info and whose artists are under duress to satisfy demands of the regime for their survival.

Eritrea, a nation which human rights organisations have unanimously described as the most repressive regime in the world alongside North Korea, stands an example of what may happen when countries take such routes.

In the sports arena, the end goal of the AfCFTA will be to have the best talents playing within the continent. Some nations like South Africa and Egypt show that can happen, with their rugby, football and cricket leagues filled with most of their top talent. But that has been as a result of huge investments by both governments in this sector.

Every year, Africans hope for a better tomorrow. While the African Continental Free Trade Area may ultimately provide that, it will require huge investments by governments and a drastic change in mentality by African consumers to ensure that sports, music and entertainment industries once again become the strong symbols of culture and unity they not so long ago were.

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