Promoting the rights of artists in Senegal

This publication is part of a series of articles highlighting the key themes of the upcoming 2018 edition of UNESCO’s Global Report “Re|Shaping Cultural Policies to be launched on December 14 next at UNESCO Headquarters.

Measures to support economic and social rights of artists are increasingly emerging in national legislations across Africa. Senegal is amongst those countries embarking to prepare new measures on the status of the artist.

As highlighted in the upcoming 2018 edition of UNESCO’s Global Report “Re|Shaping Cultural Policies”, many new regulations and laws on the status of artists have been adopted in Africa over the last few years: for example,  in Benin (2011), Madagascar (2011), Burkina Faso (2013), Morocco (2016), Mali (2016), Togo (2016), Côte d’Ivoire (2017) and Mauritania (2017). New laws are also in preparation in Djibouti, Gabon and Mauritius.

Senegal is a case in point, and is currently working on the design of a new law that would address often-precarious conditions facing artists and other cultural professionals. The Global Report puts forth that artists facing irregular incomes and long periods of unemployment can often result in lower tax contributions that lead to lower access to social security, pensions and other welfare provisions. The 1980 Recommendation on the Status of Artists and the International Covenant on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights underline the importance of protecting the economic and social rights of artists, including the right to adequate social security protection and the right to work as a professional artist.

Pushing the process forward

To examine a draft text proposal developed between 2011 and 2012, Senegal established in 2013 a pilot inter-ministerial committee on the status of the artist gathering representatives from the Ministry of Culture and Communication, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Social Security Fund as well as other government bodies.

The latest progress on the design of a new law on the status of the artist comes in the aftermath of UNESCO’s project, Enhancing Fundamental Freedoms through the Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2015-2017), funded by the Swedish Government. The programme initiated a multistakeholder policy review process that led to the submission in 2016 of Senegal’s first periodic report on the implementation of the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. It also gave the opportunity to further discuss and enhance the implementation of policies to support creativity as illustrated through the recently adopted “Sectoral Policy Document” for the development of culture and communication (2017−2021).

In its current shape, the new law on the status of the artist and cultural professionals envisions supporting a set of ambitious and innovative measures. These include the regulation of working conditions for artists and the establishment of a minimum wage, the creation of fiscal benefits and tax break, and the establishment, for the first time in 2016, of a health insurance mechanism for artists and other cultural actors.

These issues are at the heart of the public debate. The Senegalese singer Youssou Ndour, who is one of the five winners of the 2017 edition of the "Praemium Imperiale", named after this prestigious Japanese distinction considered as the Nobel of the arts, decided to offer in October this reward, estimated at 75 million CFA francs, to the mutual health of cultural actors.

Reaffirming artistic freedom

While primarily seeking to professionalize the status of artists and define their economic and social working conditions, these laws also serve to reaffirm core principles of freedom of expression for artists.

As noted by Abdoulaye Koundoul, Director of Arts at the Ministry of Cultureof Senegal, “We have the tendency to believe in Senegal that the status of the artist refers only to social protection, but the recognition of artists’ works and their freedom of expression is also part of what we call the status of the artist.”

Social security and fiscal policies that address the financial insecurities of arts workers have the potential to support and reaffirm artistic freedom, in line with the core objective of the UNESCO 2005 Convention to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms.