Kenya: COVID-19 Heat Can Melt Down Oil Prices but Not Creative Economy, Says Don

Graphic illustrating the economic impact of COVID-19 (file photo).

"Creativity and imagination does not go down when oil prices go down. Our creativity will always be there. Agriculture can be affected by climate change but our creativity will always be there so long as we are alive," says Prof Kimani Njogu.

And these words could not have come at a better time when the economy is facing one of its worst threats due to coronavirus pandemic.

Prof Njogu is the chairperson of the national creative economy working group whose mandate is to push the Kenyan government, regional governments and Africa to create space for creative sector.


Prof Njogu's words came to pass on Monday when the oil prices dived to 22- year lows at just $11 (about Sh1,166) after crashing almost 40 per cent in a market flooded with crude and slammed by diminishing demand in the face of coronavirus pandemic.

While production is stable, the world is using less and less oil, presenting storage challenges. But in the creative arts industry, there are no barriers in processing creative ideas fast enough to cushion the affected people and soothe their minds and reduce stress levels.

Artists are creating songs to promote awareness about coronavirus and are inspiring their listeners with music and dance to beat the virus and stop its spread.

There are also plenty of supply of ideas and while the world economy is slumping due to lockdowns and travel restrictions.

People are turning to fun, catchy songs and advertisements to promote practices like social distancing and proper hand-washing

"Artists are finding a ready market by creating songs with many consumers embracing the ideas while at home," says Prof Njogu who is a Kiswahili and cultural scholar based at Twaweza Communications.

Prof Njogu says the opportunity created by digital media should be used by local artists as they have bigger audiences, markets and more opportunities in terms of online distribution.

"Our artists need not be poor. They should be able to pay rents and survive even during this difficult time and we must come up with systems that allow our creative industry to be able to make money," he added.


The don argued that contrary to belief by economic planners, the creative industry contributes more than five per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as many young people have turned it into a source of employment.

"The diversity of the creative sector in this country is a multibillion industry and contributes more than five per cent to our GDP," said Prof Njogu.

He said the creative sector is in manufacturing, agriculture and health.

"Creative industry is driven by entrepreneurs, artists, including software engineers, designers and architects who develop and design gaming applications daily," he said.

Prof Njogu says to assume creative industry is a small sector is a big misconception. The sector is capable of creating millions of jobs.

However, for the creative economy to thrive, the country requires facilitative policies, legal instruments and strong innovative institutions set up by the government.

The national culture policy which is supposed to streamline the institutions dealing with artists has not been endorsed and is at Cabinet level.

Government is also developing a national creative economy framework which cuts across ministries of Trade, Tourism and Finance among others.


The national Intellectual Property policy is at an advanced stage. The task force has compiled a report which it has handed over to the relevant ministry.

"With strong institutions, artists will be able to penetrate new creative industry economies outside our borders," he added.

He cited the push of Kiswahili across the continent by Chama cha Kiswahili cha Taifa (Chakita) which has turned Kiswahili into a Pan African language.

"Kiswahili is now taught in South Africa and plans are underway to spread it to Namibia, Gambia and Senegal many of our local artists would go to these greener pastures and perform plays, spoken word and earn good money," explained Prof Njogu.

He rooted for revised policies and legal frameworks to advance the sector.

"We don't want our Deejays to be harassed. They should not be asked about the environment licenses from National Environment Management Authority. The owner of the premises should handle such matters. A deejay's job is to entertain patrons and earn his daily bread. Noise pollution should be handled by someone else not a Deejay," he said.

Artists, he argued, should not be confined to composing songs or spoken word because this is likely to limit their imagination.

"Article 33 of the Constitution protects the artistic expressions and the only time an artist's creativity can be limited is when their work promotes propaganda, war, inciting people to violence and hate speech," he explained.

During a recent sensitisation workshop for stakeholders on Unesco International Fund for Cultural Diversity held in Nakuru, Prof Njogu said for the creative economy to thrive, banks must invest in the industry by giving artists loans without demanding collaterals.


"Banks can take a certain percentage of royalties and advance artists' startup capital. In Nigeria, banks have desks for the creative sector and that is why their movie industry is thriving," said Prof Njogu.

He said film industry in Nigeria has overtaken the oil sector and Nollywood is one of the main revenue earners for the country.

During the workshop, artists criticised the high charges incurred when shooting films.

"Filmmakers are charged Sh1,000 per shoot. If I shoot for 365 days in a year that translate to more than Sh300,000 which most artists cannot afford as they are poorly remunerated. If our system wants to support film industry, it should open the space for us. We don't need licenses to shoot in public places," said Mr Nash Nderitu.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has directed the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage to set aside Sh100 million to cushion local artists from the Covid-19 outbreak.

Prof Njogu said that Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) can ensure artists are not exploited by broadcasters as they can monitor how many times the music is played in various stations.


"Since CA issues licences to broadcasters, it can make sure artists are not exploited by," he added.

Prof Njogu called on artists to familiarise themselves with Kenya Copy Right Board operations to protect their intellectual property from piracy.

"We should not be used as flowers girls who entertain people and go home empty handed. Our talents must be well compensated," said Prof Njogu.

He urged artists to work closely with county governments and zone their areas to enable visitors who love art and entertainment locate them easily.

Nakuru has taken the challenge a notch higher by reviving the players' theatre.

"At national level, we require one large cultural product per year to anchor creativity to help the sector thrive," said Prof Njogu.

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