A “To Do List” for Uganda’s Creative Cultural Sector

Opinion piece by Faisal Kiwewa

The current state of Uganda’s creative cultural sector is far more vibrant and visible than what generations in the past have ever seen.

It is today that we see the youth coming together to realize their creative ideas and express themselves through different art forms; we see individuals passionately embracing talent with a pure mind that art is not a joke, rather a profession. A piece of this momentum is in new arts organisations that are forging alternative means to sustain and justify their existence. At the same time, there is an older generation that is keeping appearance, creating and showcasing products that stimulate and reviving our creative cultural memories. This kind of visibility keeps our towns and cities liveable.

Sitting at the vantage point of Bayimba’s Director is a privileged place. With this voice I want to use this article to send a signature message to those practitioners and policy makers that our creative cultural sector is viable and has the potential to contribute to the social and economic development of our country.

This vibrancy however does not cover the entire creative cultural sector, it is obvious that a lot of work still needs to be done. Starting with the urgent necessity for infrastructure and systems development that would offer a suitable working environment, adequate space to showcase productions and creative ideas that would cultivate support and audience development.

Industry Critique

The mistakes made for several years at the sector’s macro level have been (not to mention all) the lack of leadership and strategic direction towards the development. This lead to a lack of recognition and furthermore a barrier to financial support. The choice for these failures cannot be pointed to any one individual or institution, rather to the sector as a whole. There has not been much effort within the sector to jointly identify its failures, hence the lack of plans to overcome them.

I do recognize some attempts to build a stronger and collaborative sector, at both individual and organizational level. Some of the initiatives still exist whereas others vanished due to the challenges we all face, like transparency and accountability, poor management, not understanding local needs and the role of civil society; individuals also continuously stood in the way by putting their own interests before sector development.

We have to be honest to our passion and avoid the same failed ambitions, strategies and programmes that have hindered progress. How do we contribute ideas that would change the status-quo? Uganda’s creative industry in the year 2014 should avoid making the same mistakes.

There are steps to the opportunities available that I would like to suggest as a “To Do List” to further the creative cultural sector.

Developing local capacities – especially when it comes to planning and programming, within a local context that will strengthen the sector and guarantee a lasting impact.

Directing investment for the future – focusing on arts education and skills training of culture and creative expression amongst and for the youth will create opportunities and address the youth population issue.

Investing in arts infrastructure development – aiming at creating more permanent spaces and venues for performance, exhibition and training would offer more options and expand the sector workforce opportunities. Support to such investments cannot come to a country without direct interest and ideas, therefore the sector leadership has to think and avail options for investment.

Developing policy and regulatory frameworks – for our creative cultural sector to thrive, we must have an enabling environment for “doing creative business”. This will come about by removing obstacles to free expressions and ensuring protection of intellectual property. This requires the work of civil society in partnership with government and relevant authorities. We need to emphasis and initiate these dialogues to offer suggestions for consideration.

Investing in building network among players and beyond – as a way to bring about change and complete the sector development puzzle, we need a joint civil society investment in network building, with a guiding strategy to effectively lobby government and private sector for change and necessary investment. As a sector with numerous challenges and few resources, we need to get others on board to assist us in achieving a shared vision.

These are the essential steps if carefully implemented that would build our sector to a meaningful level of recognition. Let us not rely on government support, but rally local donors as a collective. We can tap into our respective resources and start a process by jointly working together to analyze the needs and challenges of the sector as a whole. This will move the sector beyond the same tired debates and to engage with making solutions to the root causes of our shared problems.

This requires us to follow a process that will involve:

1) An adequate mapping of actors within the sector to know who is doing what.

2) carry out a proper and participatory assessment of the needs and challenges faced with and by the sector, to form a sector SWOT analysis.

3) carefully identify stakeholder initiatives and encourage new ones aimed at achieving long term goals that would lead to a lasting impact.

4) Carefully identify interested investment partners to intervene and finance these processes.

If the sector agrees to this ‘to do list’, in a long term, we will achieve a lasting impact that would include relevant platforms to showcase and expose talent, a wider audience that enjoys a variety of creative cultural programmes, expressions and country-wide development. We could also register a significant contribution to our nation’s social and economic development. If we continue to neglect these fundamental issues and fail to come up with and implement a process, we will keep wasting the small investments we struggle to acquire year after year. The sector will stay under-utilized and the profile and position of the creative cultural sector as a whole will never be raised.

Let us join hands and bring about change.

Faisal Kiwewa is the Director of the Bayimba Cultural Foundation.