Festivals in Africa and their impact

Festival in Africa


Festivals in Africa and their impact.

These days, African cultural events and festivals enjoy a level of success beyond the continent’s borders, resonating with an increasingly international audience. Above and beyond this observation and the richness of the cultural heritage of its 54 nations, we wanted to learn more about the kind of people who attend these festivals. As well as this, we tried to understand the real impact on contemporary African output at a time when goods and services are moving online, and the health crisis has shown us that there is a different way to consume culture. Lastly, we had questions to ask about support from government bodies. Faisal KIWEWA, founder of the Bayimba International Festival in Uganda, Yusuf Mahmoud founder of the Sauti za Busara Festival in Tanzania, Aristide Tarnagda, Director of the Récréâtrales festival in Burkina Faso and Luc Mayitoukou, cultural engineering expert and Director of Zhu Culture, an organisation specialising in artistic management based in Dakar, shared their views and experience on the ground with us.

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Crédits : Link Reuben

A festival is often inextricably linked to with its audience. Its visitors make up its identity, as well as defining its programme. What kind of audiences are attracted to African festivals ? In Uganda, for example, the Bayimba International festival identifies its audience as follows : “Our audience comes from every kind of social background. There are tourists, townies, and local communities, including fishermen, cyclists and boda boda drivers (motorbike taxis). 75% are from Uganda, and 25% come from other countries. 24% of this audience is between 18 and 25 years old. 36% of festivalgoers are between 30 and 45, and 16% are over 50”. On the archipelago in the Indian Ocean, the Sauti za Busara festival welcomes 4,000 visitors a day, 63.5% of whom are Tanzanians, while the rest come from other African countries, Europe, Japan and the USA. Its organiser describes it as a Pan-African festival, to the extent that locals talk to other festival-goers in Swahili, which is the local language, as well as being a lingua franca in a large part of Africa.

So can it be said that festivals are still crucial for African output and artists, given the diversity of the audiences ? On this point, opinions are unanimous regarding the benefits of these festivals. Indeed, digitalisation has taken on a significant role in the cultural landscape, offering artists the chance to appear and make a name for themselves before a large audience with a small budget, or even at no cost at all thanks to a decent internet connection, festivals still provide a stage on which artists can create an authentic experience in terms of “putting on a show”, as well as meeting their audience, who might have very different expectations in comparison with digital content, Luc Mayitoukou assures us. Yusuf Mahmoud, who founded the Sauti za Busara festival, is committed to putting on artists from minority groups and showcasing cultural identities that are often not on the radar of the mainstream media. A festival is also a creative laboratory where ideas and best practices can be shared. With this in mind, it takes on the role of a source of ideas for new creative output, observes Aristide Tarnagda from the Récréatrâles festival in Ouagadougou. Lastly, festivals such as Visa for music in Marocco in Rabat that introduce artists and professionals to each other are a real springboard for making yourself known to those in charge of putting programmes together and other professionals in the industry.

The African continent is facing significant demand in the cultural and creative industries (CCI), which are enjoying steady growth. Two factors are driving the growth in demand for creative content : the rise in the middle classes and the fact that 60% of the population is under the age of 25. There is a rise in the number of businesses in the cultural and creative sector specialising in one of the links in the value chain, which includes creation, production, distribution and broadcasting, the main goal of which is to generate wealth (profit) using cultural products. Some countries are more dynamic than others, and not all the different components create a profit similarly due to the number of consumers. Demand for African output also goes beyond the traditional European and American markets, with growing popularity in Asia, mainly from China.(1) When it comes to festivals, they help generate a profit for the local economy, where the influx of festivalgoers boosts the consumption of local products and creates indirect jobs. Furthermore, teams are trained, and their skills are developed in the employment market. A report published by Africa Synergy in 2015 revealed that a total income of 7.2 million dollars per year could be directly attributed to the Sauti za Busara festival in Tanzania. Festivals have also become platforms for dialogue in more inclusive societies, thus helping to respond to the significant challenges contemporary African societies face.

Despite the real added value generated by encouraging and promoting tourism in these countries, private African festivals struggle to win over public authorities when it comes to securing financial help and support with their organisation on the grounds that other sectors come higher in the list of priorities. This leaves them in a vulnerable financial situation, where if a backer or a sponsor decides to jump ship, that ship is rocked and could end up sinking. What about the private sector ? The private sector is only interested in big festivals because they have a higher profile. When partnerships happen to be established, they are often ad hoc, so festivals don’t have a sustainable partner they can rely on, which they need in order to be organised. But the situation isn’t as bleak as it may seem. Indeed, Morocco is the poster child for the sector because the public authorities support its festivals, mainly thanks to the ministry for tourism and the national company Royal Air Maroc. They have direct partnerships with some festivals. In Senegal, the Dakar Biennale, a huge contemporary art event for West Africa, is directly funded by the government, which awards it a specific budget. Fespaco (African film and television festival of Ouagadougou) in Burkina Faso enjoys the same benefit. It is worth remembering that the support and development of the cultural and creative industries via public authorities is one of the recommendations of UNESCO’s 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions,(2) which was ratified by a large proportion of African countries. For Luc Mayitoukou, financial support in the very early days of a festival is a real advantage when it comes to developing a network outside of state subsidies and having any hope of growing.

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Crédits : Robin Batista

Organising a festival is packed with obstacles, and mobility is at the back of the queue. The price of plane tickets is still very high due to the lack of direct flights between African countries. Entry visa requirements also involve a lot of long-winded bureaucracy. And when the artists arrive safe and sound, their work turns up late. Indeed, the phenomenon of works of art stuck in customs delays is all too common because organisers don’t take out insurance due to the exorbitant cost or the lack of understanding of the sector among brokers refusing to insure works of art. Tax on admission and other authorisation requirements do nothing to ensure a financial balance. Lastly, for two years now, Covid-19 has been added to the list of things for organisers to deal with, thus increasing already very high costs.

In conclusion, while there are plenty of obstacles and challenges for the organisers of African festivals to tackle, there is plenty to look forward to, and they are bound to become more and more popular among an increasingly international audience as they become better established. It is still essential for African artists to perform and be seen at festivals if they want to build up the experience of being on stage and meet the people who put the programmes together and other professionals in the industry. The contribution of the CCI to socioeconomic development is undeniable, given the more intense economic activity during festivals, particularly the creation of direct and indirect jobs.

Norbert Nzarubara


(1) Afrique Créative, Investir dans les industries culturelles et créatives africaines, [en ligne], 2021, P10. Disponible via :https://afriquecreative.fr/investir-dans-les-industries-culturelles-et-creatives-africaines/
(2)UNESCO, Bibliothèque Numérique,Convention de protection et promotion de la diversité des expressions culturelles de L’UNESCO,[en ligne], 2017. Disponible via : https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000260710_fre.page=13