Arterial Network: 10 Years of Bringing Africa Closer

Interview with Mamou Daffe, Continental Chairperson of Arterial Network
Arterial Network is a dynamic Pan-African, civil-society network of artists, cultural activists, entrepreneurs, enterprises, NGOs, institutions, and donors active in Africa’s creative and cultural sectors. Established as a member-based, non-profit organisation, Arterial Network operates all across the continent in both English and French, and is led by an elected Steering Committee, which represents the five regions of the continent. Arterial Network's five core focus areas to support the arts are advocacy (through the Artwatch Africa project), capacity building, market access, knowledge management and information dissemination. Its Continental Secretariat is now based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, as of the 1st of February 2017.
Mamou Daffe, Continental Chairperson of Arterial Network (Mali) kindly answered our questions to give us a deeper insight into the inspiring work they’ve achieved across the African creative landscape, in which they have played an active role for 10 years.
Mamou speaking at 10th Anniversary celebration at La Rotonde des Arts Abidjan March 2017
Mamou speaking at 10th Anniversary celebration at La Rotonde des Arts Abidjan March 2017
Congratulations on your 10th anniversary! Since your beginnings, what notable improvement in terms of policy development and entrepreneurial development in the creative sectors have you noticed? To what extent have the aims of Arterial Network and your vision been accomplished so far?
For the purposes of this interview, I prefer to speak on behalf of the network as a whole, as it is together that we have achieved a great deal. During its 10 years of existence, Arterial Network has made many advancements in terms of developing the African creative sector in line with its vision. Its vision is of a vibrant, dynamic and sustainable African creative civil society sector, engaged in qualitative practice in the arts in their own right, as well as in a manner that contributes to development, human rights and democracy, and to the eradication of poverty across the African continent.

Looking back over its first decade, it is clear that Arterial Network has much to celebrate, such as its advocacy work conducted through its Artwatch Africa programme in defence of the rights of artists and freedom of creative expression. To date, Arterial Network has 9 directly affiliated structures, representation from 20 African countries, 189 member organisations, 574 registered professionals and 12 open source publications - including 5 training manuals available in English and French. In addition to this, 75 training courses have been held in 23 countries over the period of 2014 to 2016, 5 editions of the African Creative Economy Conference (ACEC) were organised across the continent (Nairobi 2011, Dakar 2012, Cape Town 2013, Rabat 2014, Yaoundé 2015) and in 2017, 5 African Creative Cities will be launched (Harare, Nouakchott, Pointe-Noire, Ségou, Mahé). The African Creative Cities programme aims to facilitate cooperation and partnerships between local authorities and cultural actors in a way that will contribute to the development and implementation of artistic and cultural policies, strategies and programmes in African cities.
In 2017, Arterial Network will support the growth of the African Creative Cities programme, continue Capacity Building through various training workshops (advocacy, cultural project management etc), and launch the first iteration of the African Cultural and Creative Industries Fair (FICCA) in November in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. Over the broad spectrum of its partners and its diverse work, we believe that the network has succeeded in bringing Africa closer, especially in breaking down the barriers that exist between African Anglophones and Francophones. The 7 objectives have been achieved for the most part, but we continue to adapt in order to bolster the strength of the creative sectors in the face of the many challenges that still exist across the continent.
In relation to the African context, do you consider creative industries and social entrepreneurship to be equivalent?

Creative industries and social entrepreneurship are not equivalent. However, in the African context, social entrepreneurship could be a major asset for the development of creative industries. This form of entrepreneurship that serves the general interest, covers all economic initiatives whose main purpose is cultural, social or environmental, and then reinvests the majority of their profits for the benefit of this mission.

In Ségou, for example, the Maaya entrepreneurship model is used for the Festival sur le Niger, inspired by the Malian vision of humanism. This model of social entrepreneurship invites us to explore the paths for the rebirth of an entrepreneurial spirit that bases its organisation and its dynamism on taking into account the needs of a united and enterprising community, and the most interesting thing is that the concept of Maaya-based entrepreneurship is applicable to all sectors. This model combines traditional and modern arts, and links the social, the cultural and the economic.
Group Photo - General Assembly Abidjan March 2017 - by Jean Luc Gbati Sonhaye
Group Photo - General Assembly Abidjan March 2017 - by Jean Luc Gbati Sonhaye
What do you feel is the role of creative industries in economic development and social integration across Africa, and are there any global wide challenges that the African creative industry is helping to face right now?

We think that creative industries play an important role in economic development and social integration in Africa. Their major role is to promote and participate in the safeguarding of artistic and cultural expressions and to foster the development of the arts and culture, while effectively supporting the emergence of local economies in the service of the sustainable development of the territories concerned and their populations.

According to the members of Arterial Network, which African country may be currently considered as the best at advocating and supporting creative industries? Which are most proactive in encouraging collaboration between local and international entrepreneurs? How are they making this happen? Which countries could do with some encouragement?

Given the potential and cultural richness of the continent, all countries are interesting in their own way. However, Arterial Network focuses only on countries where it has its national affiliates.

Although there are weaknesses in terms of legislation and a lack of cultural policy across many territories, we do not like to mention specific countries by name as we believe that all countries deserve to be encouraged, given the efforts that each of them is making to move the sector forward. Our role is to support each other in order to effectively defend and support the universal growth of the creative industries. What I can say is that several countries in Southern Africa and West Africa are currently encouraging innovative collaborations at the local, sub-regional and international levels.
Mamou Daffe with author Felwine Sarr at Festival sur le Niger 2017
Mamou Daffe with author Felwine Sarr at Festival sur le Niger 2017

How is the Internet/ e-commerce and digital development impacting on the evolution of the creative industries across the continent?

The digital revolution has fundamentally changed the way we produce and disseminate cultural goods and services, and how we access them. Indeed, the accelerated expansion of social networks and user-generated content (UGCs), the explosion of the amount of data created by cloud computing, and the proliferation of connected multimedia devices have had a significant impact on the cultural scene, in both northern and southern countries. We have certainly recognised the importance of the Internet for the development of the African creative sector.

However, the Internet can also have negative effects. Indeed, the increasing digitisation can cause the disappearance of many traditional channels of distribution and cultural diffusion. In the field of creativity, there is the risk that today's artists will no longer be paid properly, according to their output. Also, new distributors on the Internet have much more power than legal and taxed small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which gives them an excessive competitive advantage. Similarly, piracy undermines the economic sustainability of formal actors.

What are the current challenges that hinder entrepreneurial initiatives concerning culture and arts in Africa, and what can creative entrepreneurs do to resolve these issues?

Today, creative entrepreneurs face many challenges, namely capacity building in order to become more professional, insufficient production and dissemination space, and the problem of funding of cultural initiatives, especially when we know that our states invest very little in the arts and culture sector. We are also hindered by the ineffectiveness of the application of international conventions ratified by our states (2005 UNESCO Convention, Nairobi Action Plan for Cultural Industries in Africa, Belgrade Declaration).

To overcome these challenges, creative entrepreneurs must come together within networks like Arterial Network to create synergistic effects and work together in creative collaborations. These creative entrepreneurs have enormous potential to initiate change. They must seek further training opportunities in order to strengthen their own capacities and make their structures/ organisations more efficient, and think creatively about innovative sources of financing such as participatory financing, etc. We, as creative individuals, must encourage the sharing of best practices on the continent, and ultimately develop an economic model in order to achieve sustainability.

Overall, what is the main source of financing for the creative industries?

The main sources of funding for the arts and culture sector in Africa are Western donors. Arterial Network's long term battle is to shift this relationship to local donors and develop innovative, local sources of finance for the African creative sector.

What do you feel are the enabling factors for African creative enterprises growing internationally and how are the relations between African/ European/ American entrepreneurs working in culture and arts and Europeans?

Creative organisations in Africa need legislative frameworks and cultural policies that can create favourable conditions for the emergence of talent and effective creative industries.

Relations between African entrepreneurs are beginning to move in the right direction. Increasingly, there is a dynamic of mutual respect, sharing and collaboration, which means that there is a great deal of synergy between the actors on the continent, as well as increased collaborations with entrepreneurs and arts stakeholders from other continents.
George Camille (left) at AN Affordable Art Fair_ Kaz Zanana_ Dec 2016
George Camille (left) at AN Affordable Art Fair, Kaz Zanana, Dec 2016
9. Tell us about a couple of inspiring African entrepreneurs, among the members of Arterial Network.

Speaking about inspiring African entrepreneurs is somewhat difficult as we have several inspiring models across all of our affiliated countries, but the two significant examples that can be cited quickly are George Camille in Seychelles and the Foundation Festival sur le Niger team in Mali.

George Camille is a visual artist based on the island of Mahé, Seychelles. He is a perfect example of someone who truly lives and is nourished by his artistic passion. He has 3 to 4 galleries across the island and employs several people. He extols the fact that art is not an elitist pursuit, and uses his position to speak out about climate change and conservation. About an exhibition of affordable art pieces held at Kaz Zanana Gallery last year, George said, “Sometimes art is seen as an elitist activity, both in terms of the people who make it and those who buy it, but Arterial Network promotes collecting art as something that can enrich the lives of all.” George has exhibited at the Venice Biennale numerous times (including this year’s edition) and is known throughout the world as an artist who lives by his art.

The second example of authentic African entrepreneurship is the creative industry model of the Foundation Festival sur le Niger in Ségou (Mali), enacted through its various programmes including the Centre Culturel Kôrè and the Festival sur le Niger. This cultural organisation, through the Maaya entrepreneurship model, encourages strong involvement and ownership of local populations. It works for sustainability and creates thousands of jobs per year.

AN Seychelles Exhibition Pieces Venice 2017
AN Seychelles Exhibition Pieces Venice 2017

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