Exploiting Creative Economies for Youth Employment in Kenya

Exploiting Creative Economies for Youth Employment in Kenya

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” Maya Angelou

Globally, the creative economy is considered a cornerstone to economic growth. Creative economies emphasize on creativity, originality and the abilities of the creatives. It presents an opportunity for the youth to positively contribute to the economy. The roots of Kenya’s creative economy can be traced to the country’s rich culture. This has over the years slowly metamorphosed with the introduction of an alternative communication medium; electronic media and now social media. Kenya’s cultural diversity is further evidenced by the growth of vernacular television and radio stations. Creative economies spread across different industries such as culture and heritage, design, arts and crafts, literature, music, gaming, radio, television, performing arts, visual arts, architecture, interior design and museums, fashion and technology.


Following a comprehensive study on cultural and creative industry, it was established that in the year 2013, the global creative economy generated close to US$ 2,250 billion in revenue, which is equivalent to 3% of the global GDP. It also provided jobs to more than 29.3 million people in the same year, out of which television and visual arts accounted for about 39% of the revenues and 35% of total employment. Books and performing arts contributed 12% to total revenue and 24% of jobs whereas music and movies accounted for 6.3% of the revenues and 22% of employment. In the same year 2013, Asia pacific emerged as the world’s largest market of creative industry products, taking approximately 33% of the global revenues and 43% of jobs. It was followed by Europe with 32% contribution to the revenue and 26% contribution to the jobs market. North America came in third with 28% contribution to the revenue and 16% of the total jobs. The cultural and creative industry in Africa and the Middle East accounts for only 3% of the revenue and 8% of the total jobs, an indication of a less developed industry due to emphasis on traditional sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and tourism.

Kenya has put in place policy and institutional initiatives that can propel the creative economy; this includes laws that protect intellectual property rights, Kenya’s national policy on culture and heritage, a liberalized information and communication sector which has witnessed the growth of broadcasters including vernacular stations, high internet penetration (estimated at 100.2% as at end of June 2017) and high mobile phone penetration (88.7%). In addition, access to technology, requirements for television broadcasters to provide 40% local content with the aim of increasing to 60% as provided by the country’s Programming Code, and the promotion of performing arts amongst youth through Kenya National Music Festivals and Kenya National Drama Festivals organized by the Ministry of Education provide opportunities for students to showcase their talent nationally.

Despite these regulatory and institutional developments, the creative economy is not fully exploited. The culture and heritage policy, for instance, promotes the production and use of National Attire and adornment aimed at contributing to economic development of communities. The policy also calls for the teaching of visual arts at all levels of the education system, both of which have not been effectively implemented. The policy also calls for the establishment of an advisory National Council of Culture and Heritage and Community Culture Centers which are yet to be actualized. Further, despite the annual Kenya National Music and Drama festivals, it is rare to see the talent being nurtured effectively.

With Kenya currently experiencing a youthful demography, it is critical to nurture the creative economy to benefit the youth. In Kenya, 60% of the population is made of the youth. They are energetic, creative and socially connected through social media, mobile telephony and the internet. As per the Communications Authority of Kenya, there are about 40.2 million mobile subscribers and 29.6 million internet subscribers. According to the 2009 Population Census, the greater population of the Kenyan youth who are not full time students are either inactive, unemployed or employed in low quality jobs. It is estimated that 12% of the population is unemployed, 70% of which are the youth. Worse still, about 800,000 of them graduating from training institutions are entering the job market annually. Therefore, as a matter of urgency, there is need to involve them in income generating activities for self-sustainability and economic growth. Rightly harnessed, the creative economy can be used to fill this youth unemployment gap.

Focusing on specific segments of creative economies in Kenya, the film industry is budding and is being emphasized by the government as a frontier in youth employment. Growth in technological innovation has enabled the industry to thrive. As at 2012, it was estimated to value about US$ 30 million and provided employment to about 5,000 persons. One of the films, “Nairobi Half-Life” won two awards and four nominations. However, the industry suffers from deficient regulations on protecting the digital content and combating piracy. The government is, however, stepping up its effort as established in the Copyright Amendment Act (2017) which obligates internet service providers to take down content that is reported to be infringing a person’s copyright.

Despite the potential of the Kenyan entertainment and media segment, its performance is still below par, with revenues of about US$ 3.6 billion and employment level of about 8,500 people as at 2013. Music is still underperforming, with revenue largely generated from ring backs and ringtones. In 2016, it managed about US$ 20 million with a 5.8% growth rate. Television, publishing and radio depend on advertising to generate their revenue, otherwise their mainstream mandate remains untapped. This segment is slowed down by issues concerning royalty collection and onward payment to artists with governance challenges within collection management agencies. Piracy is another challenge which curtails the growth of the creative industry. The creative industry is also challenged with low wages and poor recognition. Well known entertainment personalities have over the years “died poor”.

The Kenyan fashion industry has deteriorated from a bright past with about 200,000 farmers dealing in cotton farming, 20 ginneries and about 70 mills. In around 1980s, the sector contributed about 30% of total manufacturing employment in Kenya. Unfortunately, the introduction of imported second hand (mitumba) clothing killed the industry. Imports are of better quality and cheaper than locally produced clothing. As at 2014, the fashion industry contributed about 0.6% GDP, 6% to the manufacturing sector and about 7% of export earnings. The industry prides of more than 200 medium and big companies and more than 75,000 small and micro enterprises.

Kenya is blessed with rich cultural diversity which has influence in several different social and economic sectors. Article 11 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 appreciates the significance of culture and heritage and gives the state a duty of promoting cultural expression through art, literature and traditional celebrations. With more than 42 ethnic groupings with diverse cultural practices, some ethnic groups such as the Maasai derive a living from cultural activities such as traditional dances and cultural artifacts, particularly beadwork. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, museums, historical sites and amusement activities employ about 7,000 people with a potential to expand. Traditional medicine has been part and parcel of different cultures across the country but not medically recognized. This has, however, changed more recently as the government enacted the Health Act (No. 12 of 2017) which promotes the use of traditional medicine, calls for the establishment of a regulatory body to regulate the practice of traditional medicines, and mandates the Cabinet Secretary to develop regulations for the documentation of traditional medicines and database of herbalists.

That notwithstanding, the creative economy is riddled with challenges such as inability to access adequate financing. Funding of small businesses is a major challenge not only in Kenya but also in most developing nations. The creative industry in Kenya is largely composed of small enterprises, hence the challenge of accessing credit for expansion. Lending institutions consider small businesses risky due to lack of collateral and proper records of account, thus fear the possibility of repayment default. With respect to creative industry, lack of “assets” to utilize as collateral is an additional challenge.

Copyrights infer upon the owners a right to produce, reproduce, sell, communicate, hire and distribute artistic works. However, piracy is threatening the industry. For instance, the music industry suffers a 98% piracy rate and the film industry 95%, according to the Kenya Copyright Board. The Kenya Publishers’ Association estimates that the Kenya book publishing industry loses about US$ 2 million on a yearly basis. It is alleged that sometimes pirates hit the market even before the original copy hits the market, hence demotivating local artists.

This therefore calls for a deliberate interventions to lift industries within the circles of the creative economy into achieving their potential. Key among them is to deter piracy. The war on copyright infringement should be taken a notch higher with heighted awareness and improved implementation of the laws relating to copyright infringement. Currently, the Copyright Act imposes a maximum penalty of a fine not exceeding Ksh 800,000 or an imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or both, which is clearly not an effective deterrent. Enforcement challenges further impede copyright protection. The consumer can play an important role in providing to the Copyright Board and Kenya Police relevant information. The Kenya Copyright Board should therefore partner with other stakeholders to increase surveillance on copyrighted materials and apprehend those responsible with piracy.

To address the challenges of inadequate access to finance for expansion, there is need for financial institutions to design mechanisms specifically for supporting small enterprises. This is especially critical given intellectual property rights are as an established collateral that can be considered for credit facilities by the Movable Property Security Rights Act (2017). Alternative financing avenues such as peer to peer financing and factoring may also be adopted by the industry.

At the national level, efforts should be made to promote talent using existing platforms such as the National Music and Drama Festivals. Students can for instance be facilitated to have a theatrical production which is open to the public. This would expose the creative youth to the possibilities of earning a living from performing arts. This would call for promotion and infrastructural support from the National and County governments, including the development of county theatres and cultural centers. To further nurture the creative economy, there is need to empower the youth with skills and attitudes to enable them to contribute socially or economically or both.

County cultural festivals further offer an opportunity for showcasing culture and creativity at the community level and should also be nurtured. To this extent, communities, the government and other stakeholders are called upon to collaborate in developing platforms to show case Kenya’s robust cultural heritage that can attract tourists as well as establish market opportunities for cultural products.

For these products to access local, regional and international markets, however, it is important that local cultural artists endeavor to better the quality of their creative products and services to compete effectively. In addition, due to their density in networking and interacting people, cities need to be positioned as hubs for creativity and innovation.


Authors: Eric Mokwaro Bosire, Young Professional (KIPPRA) and Anne Gitonga Policy Analyst (KIPPRA)

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