By Akpor Otebele
Published March 16, 2014
In 2013, the United Nations stated that there were 200 million people aged15-24 years living in Africa. With this figure, Africa is now known to have the youngest population in the world.
Kingsley Ighobor, in an article on African Youth in Africa Renewal of May 2013, states that “this could be an opportunity to mobilize this reservoir of human capacity towards the economic revival of the continent. Alternatively, it could be a source of instability if Africa’s leaders do not address the concerns of its young people.”
Though Africa’s youth contend with a myriad issues, the most nagging ones are related to basic health care, and education and employment opportunities. Underemployment and unemployment are catalysts for youth restiveness on the continent today.
According to the World Bank, youth account for 60% of unemployed Africans. In 2013, the African Development Bank (AfDB) found that in most countries in Africa, women find it tougher to get jobs than men, even if they have equivalent skills and experience.
When we reflect on what happened during the Arab Spring in Egypt and other parts of North Africa, youth restiveness in Africa is indeed a ticking time bomb.
African leaders appear to be concerned about this malaise. In 2009 when they first met in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, they declared 2009-2018 ‘Africa Youth Decade’ and resolved to mobilise resources, both from the public and private sector for youth development. In 2011, they met again in Equatorial Guinea, and this time promised to create safe, competitive and decent employment opportunities for Africa’s youth.
Africa’s youth need to be engaged. We in the entertainment and creative industries in the East African region need to engage our youth in every way possible. Digital filmmaking is growing feverishly in East Africa. The youth are eager to be involved in filmmaking much more than in some other professions. Unfortunately, there are not enough professional production houses to take them in. Even when they get production jobs, their incomes are minimal. Added to this predicament is the fact that not many of them are trained in the various facets of film production. They are therefore not very marketable. A great many of them want to act, to be in front of the camera yet they do not know how to act for film or the camera. For the production houses and enthusiasts, lack of training, inadequate film financing, a dearth of good production equipment and unavailable robust distribution outlets are a bane to their progress; consequently, the quality of their films leaves much to be desired.
How do we address the lack of training for would-be filmmakers and practitioners? How do we deal with the lack of film financing and unavailability of good digital equipment in the region? How do filmmakers distribute their works without recourse to dealing with cut-throat monopolistic distributors? How do we organize and create functional associations and infrastructures for the advancement of filmmakers and film festivals in the region? How we engage the regional state apparati and the EAC to continue to support and work with us? How do we engage ourselves in lieu of support from the public and private sectors?
These and many more questions need answers. One thing is certain; the business of digital filmmaking in Africa is here to stay. We just have to figure out how to go about making the money and how to stay collectively on course in framing the growth of local film industries in the region.
The Nollywood Model
Without being immodest, I will argue that Nigeria’s Nollywood video-filmmaking model could serve as a point of reference as to how filmmakers in the region can individually and collectively yet ingeniously harness their talent and skills in growing East Africa film industries and the local economies without overly relying on state support.
In 2009, according to Nollywood @ 20 programme, UNESCO described Nollywood as being the second-biggest film industry in the world after Bollywood in terms of output and called for greater support for the industry which is the second-largest employer in Nigeria (after agriculture); more than a million people, especially the youth, are in employment in the film industry, and the number continue to rise.
Nigerian movies are valuable even in the most remote areas of the continent. The last few years have seen the growing popularity of Nigerian films among the people of African Diaspora in Europe, North America and the Caribbean, according to Nollywood @ 20 programme.
It is estimated that US$590 million-US$600 million is the annual revenue of the Nigerian film industry. It produces an average of 50 films a week (the number is even higher when indigenous language films are included). On the average it costs about US$25,000-US $70,000 to make a Nollywood film. It must be noted that movies are being produced for far less that the average cost mentioned here.
In Nollywood, films are shot in a span of 1 to 2 weeks, and released in 2 to 3 weeks. Technically, films are produced and released within a month, and are profitable within 2 to 3 weeks. The Nollywood formula is a direct to DVD drive (from VHS to VCD and now, DVD).
“Most DVD movies easily sell more than 20,000 units, while the most successful ones sell over 200,000,” African Renewal reports.
It is important to note that from 1992 to 2012, Nollywood practitioners received absolutely no support from the government. Only a negligible support came from the private sector. It has been basically individual and collective efforts, and still very much the case.
A few years ago, the World Bank recognising the employee status of the Nigerian film industry, and the potential to employ a million more people offered to help the industry as well as other growing sectors of the economy. The Nigerian government through the support of the World Bank initiated US$200 million Creative and Entertainment Industry Intervention Fund to support Nollywood practitioners through loan subsidies. Unfortunately, the processes of accessing the loan are a cut-throat affair. The collateral required of practitioners is out of this world, little wonder only one loan have been given out in the sum of US$250,000 for Dr Bello (a Nigeria-US collaboration).
Simply put, Nollywood filmmakers are still going at filmmaking by themselves amidst all manner of trials and tribulations. It must be said that despite over two decades of in business, Nollywood is still fraught with challenges common to other film industries in the region. These include challenges of financing, distribution, piracy, mediocrity, poor enforcement of rules and regulations, unstable power supply, and poor organizational structures. However, it is still a model to copy from, adapt and upgrade to suit local and regional film industries.
East Africa Film Industries
There are filmmaking activities all over the region. The local film industries are growing but not as robustly as they should be. They are hamstrung by monopolies of distribution, recycling of same clique of actors in movies, mediocrity, indiscipline on production set, and poor content.
To forge ahead, filmmakers in the region need to be more proactive. We know that funds are hard to come by for filmmaking but we should endeavour to make low-budget or no-budget films as much as we can. Someday soon, just like in this gathering today, state policy-makers will notice our plight and come to our aid but we must not wait for them. We must creatively engage our friends, relatives, family members, conduct localised crowd-funding drives and think outside-the-box to produce our films. We should break the bounds of the monopoly in film distribution in the region and distribute our films ourselves. It really is no rocket science.
This is an edited version of a paper presented by Akpor Otebele, Founder and Director of Arusha African Film Festival, during the First Preparatory Film Festivals/Filmmakers Forum convened in Arusha, Tanzania by EAC Secretariat and German Development Cooperation, GIZ, on behalf of the 5 EAC Partner States, March 12-14, 2014.