Gabon spearheads move towards creative economy

The Gabonese cultural scene is bubbling with creative talents striving to follow their dreams while also promoting their culture. Gabon’s creative workers are eager to play a part in the country’s economic growth and put Gabon and its creative potential on the map. It is in recognition of their unique contribution to the country’s future that the Ministry of Culture and Arts of Gabon has decided to escalate the governmental support to the cultural and creative industries (CCI). The Ministry will design its first legal framework that harnesses the social and economic opportunities offered by CCIs. Their commitment puts Gabon in the forefront of Central Africa’s move towards formal creative economy, as promoted by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).

Recognizing and promoting national talents

On 3 March 2020, the Ministry of Culture and Arts of Gabon and UNESCO launched an EU-funded project aimed at strengthening the country’s CCIs. Mr Michel Menga M’Essone, Minister of Culture, highlighted the need to magnify Gabonese culture through local talents and content. He shared his excitement for the peer-to-peer learning component of this project which will facilitate exchanges of best cultural governance practices with fellow governments. Mr Vincenzo Fazzino, UNESCO Representative in Libreville, called for the need to think out of the box in order to diversify the country’s economy. Ms Rosário Bento Pais, Ambassador of the EU to Gabon, recalled the central role of culture in the EU’s foreign policy for its societal benefits in the fight against extremism as well as its economic potentials.     

This project is coordinated by Ms Colette Moudhouma, Secretary General at the Ministry of Culture and Arts of Gabon, and supported by two experts: Ms Tojo Yharimanana Rakotomalala, a Malagasy socio-economist, and Mr Jean-Pierre Moudjalou, a national expert. Policymakers, with the experts’ inputs, will be designing a strategy that will pave the way for a law that strengthens the country’s CCIs. The emphasis will be on the digital environment, job creation, entrepreneurship, the growth of micro, small and medium enterprises, and the empowerment of women and girls in CCIs.

“It is time to strategically address these issues, in a way that will benefit the country, in particular by protecting cultural works and actors”, highlighted Ms Rakotomalala during the project’s launch in Libreville.  

Promoting dialogue beyond the cultural sector

A national team has been formed to assist the Ministry of Culture and Arts during the project. It will act as a consultation body that gathers and shares perspectives and needs from a wide range of stakeholders from cultural actors to various ministries. During a national team meeting, participants expressed their hopes and high expectations while noting that an implementation strategy must be produced to accompany the new legal framework. In other words, the project should go beyond merely adopting a new text – it must result in concrete actions on the ground.

“CCIs have the potential to create jobs and help women be independent and autonomous. Many people have dreams” said Vanessa Idiata, a stylist and a treasurer at Iboga Think Thank, a cultural incubator in Libreville created as a result of a training organized by the EU and the Institut français, “Yet because of a lack of means and support, these dreams are abandoned. Through our creative work, it is our country that we represent: there consequently needs to be public engagement in protecting and supporting cultural actors.”

Consultations highlighted a number of pressing issues that the project needs to address. “There is still little awareness about the importance of creative sectors. Many people still see culture as a cost instead of recognizing the economic opportunities it offers”, said one participant. “Awareness can be raised through cultural and artistic education, starting from a young age”.

Discussions particularly focused on the need for formal training in arts, notably by investing in the Ecole Nationale d'Arts et Manufacture, the only school of this kind in the sub-region, currently facing a lack of resources and support. Participants also highlighted the importance of involving and supporting CCI actors outside of the capital city in order to ensure that the nation as a whole benefits from this project.

Paving the way for sustainability

“We are working today so your noble profession does not fade away. We need to think about the upcoming generations” – Ms Moudhouma addressed cultural actors. “Our wish is to birth a strong plan in favor of CCIs, in order to initiate actions that will be pursued by those that will succeed us. We will create the necessary legal frameworks and mobilize the necessary resources to accomplish this project, notably though public-private partnerships.”

The project paves the way for increased public recognition of the importance and opportunities offered by CCIs through provision of expertise and facilitation of exchanges. Public officials from different countries will work together to create international South-South networks for creativity through peer-to-peer learning support. The EU/UNESCO project will complete by June 2021.