Kenya should pay more attention to culture and creative industries

Wednesday March 18 2020

Kitui Teachers Training College models during the TTC’s Cultural Festival held last month. PHOTO| ANTONY NJAGI


Kenyans deserve a Ministry of Culture and Creative Industries in order to harness national talent, monetise creativity, accelerate innovation with culture as input, develop inclusive communities and entrench the celebration diversity.

This is the ministry that should be charged with delivering Article 11 of the Constitution. In the Article, culture is identified as the ‘foundation of the nation and the cumulative civilisation of the Kenyan people and nation”.

Workers in creative industries would like to see greater commitment to the promotion of culture and creative industries. Besides the performing arts, visual arts and cultural heritage, Kenyans are producing films, videos, television and radio shows, video games, music and books. There is important work being undertaken in graphic design, fashion and advertising subsectors. These creative activities need to be anchored in political and governmental commitment and concrete support.

For too long, culture and arts have been made marginal to national development due to conservative attitudes of what they entail. Limiting culture to tradition and ethnography denies the nation the opportunities provided by the imagination, technological advances, rapid urbanisation and the energies released by cultural interconnectedness.

Culture ought to be at the centre of our development agenda. It is what makes it possible for us to have bottom-up approaches to development, demand prudent use of public resources, enhance people-centred accountability systems and shift political cultures so that they are more egalitarian and inclusive. They also create wealth, minimise inequalities and enhance a sense of well-being, both of which are crucial to national stability.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta unveiled the list of nominees for appointment to position of Cabinet Secretary, many scholars and practitioners in the domains of culture and creative industries were shocked.


Whereas in the previous government, there was a Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts, the proposed ministry is named Sports and Heritage. This recent shift in naming substantially narrows the role of culture and creativity in national development which is core to the Constitution of Kenya.  When you ‘name’ something, you have ‘power over it’. The naming of the ministry defines its mandate. The proposed mandate is too narrow.

Globally, creative industries have been boosting economies and generating jobs. In the UK, they are outgrowing the rest of the economy. In 2015, they generated £87.4 billion of value for the country.

They have a Minister for Creative Industries and the Create UK strategy is designed to increase the number of UK creative exporters around the world. The arts and cultural production contributed $704.2 billion to the US economy in 2013, a 32.5 per cent increase since 1998. These countries are exporting their cultures globally and monetising them. The consumption of Bollywood and Nollywood movies globally is reshaping the economies of India and Nigeria respectively. Kenyans are heavy consumers of Nigerian movies. Because the government has not been able to research creative industries in order quantify their true value, decision making about arts and culture by leaders have been ad hoc. Instead of encouraging local creative industries by opening distribution channels and ensuring that creators get their full dues, Kenya is marketed as a ‘consuming and filming destination’ not as ‘a production destination’. Even without governmental support, creative industries have been growing and are contributing at least 7 per cent to the economy. They are expanding and creating many employment opportunities for the youth.  They are also core to the celebration of our diversity and aspirations. Why, then, would the government appear not to take culture and the arts seriously? 


Kenya’s Vision 2030 foregrounds the role of innovation as important in achieving both the economic and social pillars. The national values and principles articulated in Article 10 of the Constitution will remain a mirage without substantial input from practitioners in creative sector.

We are also bound by international conventions. The Unesco General Conference in 2005 adopted the Convention on the Promotion and Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, endorsed by the UN General Assembly. Since then, creativity, creative enterprises and cultural industries have become strategic drivers for human development.  

A Ministry of Culture and Creative Arts would be funded to support heritage products, the visual and performing arts, and functional creations such as design, creative services and digital creative content. Furthermore, for years, Kenyans have tried to have a National Culture and Arts Council. Surely, it is not expected that the Ministry of Sports and Heritage will be the council’s host ministry, is it? There are strong sentiments that progress made over the last few years will be diluted if there isn’t substantial financial, infrastructural and human investment in the creative industry. But then again, who is listening up there?


Prof Kimani Njogu is a linguist and cultural scholar based at Twaweza Communications, Nairobi. Email: [email protected]