Participants who attended the Creative Economy Strategy Forum in Naivasha, March 26-29, 2014 at The Great Rift Valley Lodge


By Margaretta wa Gacheru. Not published in Business Daily April 7, 2014 as the editor said conferences in Kenya were common-place and not ‘newsworthy’. Disappointing but at least i can share the story here.
Someone once said that any Kenyan holding a beggar bowl was a fool since he was already standing on a gold mine.
It was a line (badly paraphrased) shared last weekend at a forum filled with ‘creatives’, professionals concerned with the arts and cultural affairs—some from government, some scholars and the rest activists involved in Kenya’s growing ‘creative economy.’
The gathering, organized by the Godown Art Centre and Twaweza Communications with support from Ford Foundation, was a ‘Strategy Forum for the Kenya Creative Economy’, and the gold mine was meant to be understood as Kenya’s rich culture heritage as well as its contemporary creative economy which the speaker was suggesting has immense wealth-potential but which has yet to be tapped.
How to tap into that wealth-potential in order to grow the Kenyan economy as well as raise public awareness about the value of Kenya’s creative economy was the focus of the forum.
Its long-term goal was clear from the outset: It was to create a draft creative economy policy paper that might one day get presented to the Kenya government and then passed into law.
But in the short term, the forum was mainly about brainstorming with an impressive lot of creative Kenyans in order to begin crafting a practical policy paper with input from various sectors. They included representatives of various government ministries as well as ones from the arts, media and IT communities.
The first step in the process was defining exactly what we mean by ‘creative economy’, especially as not everyone understands that the arts, culture and creativity generally have immense value which is not just aesthetic; it’s also economic.
Then there was defining the rationale for why it was important to construct a creative economy policy that government could use. Thereafter there was listing of all the benefits that could accrue if the government came around to appreciating—and supporting–the role this sector can play in enhancing the country’s GDP.
Finally, there was an extensive discussion on the role that new media or IT can play in protecting Kenyans’ original creations through the use of copyright law and patents. In the process, what became clear is that IT is an integral part of the creative economy.
But so are a wide variety of other artistic and intellectual initiatives including everything from fashion, book publishing, music, dance and drama to architecture, food, film, sculpture and storytelling to photography, poetry, puppetry, painting and even software development.
What constitutes the creative economy is even more extensive, and countries like the UK and assorted agencies of the United Nations have begun documenting its annual material value and acknowledging that in future, the economic value of countries’ creative economy is bound to grow.
What was beautiful about the process of brainstorming during a brief two and a half day period in Naivasha was that the forum’s moderator and TC CEO, Dr Kimani Njogu got small groups working concurrently on each of those policy issues: one working on a definition, another on rationale and benefits, and the other identifying the overlap between the IT sector and the creative economy.
It was wonderfully efficient use of time; but the format had all been pre-planned by an ad hoc Creative Economy Working Group that agreed to keep the forum relatively small, but filled with dynamic creative practitioners, both governmental and non-governmental.
For instance, the Kenya Drama Festival director Sirengo Khaembe was on hand as was Dr. Donald Otoyo, head of the music department at the Technical University of Kenya, Ndua Chege from the Ministry of Culture, and Keziah Odemba from the Ministry of Tourism. The GoDown was represented by Joy Mboya, Judy Ogana and Garnette Olunya and the Ford Foundation by Rosemary Okello-Orlale. There were also filmmakers, fine artists, thespians, writers, publishers, and IT activists among the brain-stormers.
At the end of two and a half days, one felt the forum had only scratched the surface of what the creative economy means to Kenya’s development process. Nonetheless, a Creative Economy policy draft was practically put together. It will still require more refining and clarifying, which will be done during a follow-up conference to be held in September.
But everyone in attendance at the Great Rift Valley Lodge felt the group had gone a long way, not only in understanding how rich Kenya’s creative economy already is; but also how much potential it has to contribute significantly to solving many of the country’s pressing problems, such as unemployment and poverty.
The key is appreciating that creativity and the imaginative powers of the mind can work wonders for the Kenyan economy.

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