African pop culture is witnessing a surge in popularity that has never been seen before. In September 2021, the most ‘Shazamed’ song (song found using the music identifying app Shazam) in the world was the Afrobeat track ‘Love Nwantiti’ by the singer Ckay.  

Spending on African content production is also on an upward trajectory that was previously only dreamt of. According to Purely, investment by streaming services in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) was up 46.3% in 2020, reaching $2.8bn.

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The surge is not just financial, but also qualitative. African literature is attaining global recognition, with authors from Tanzania and Senegal winning some of the world's biggest literary accolades — such as the Nobel Prize and Goncourt Awards — in 2021.

These developments increase the likelihood of much-needed investment flows to the continent, which remain much lower than other regions. A 2015 EY study for Unesco estimated cultural and creative industry revenues in the MEA region account for just 3% of global totals. 

Recent success also illustrates the flaws of thinking that an incremental approach without changing existing structures will yield results. It is not seed money from creative funds, nor is it African governments better protecting intellectual property, that have brought about the stratospheric rise of global culture on the world stage. Such efforts have been ongoing for decades, yielding few results.

The real reason for the success has been systemic change to the global market. As the world’s digital economy grows, the business models of broadcasters, social media companies and publishers have changed, and it is this change that is for the first time delivering for Africa.

It is Tiktok’s model that has led to the rise of Afrobeats. It is Netflix’s model of seeking out new subscribers in frontier markets and audiences that has led to the launch of Netflix Naija, an untapped market that had been producing more films than Hollywood for years prior. Audible too appears to be doing the same for books.

Africans should not only capitalise on this global market disruption, but encourage even more. Now is the time to see how we can bring change to other global and financial markets if we want real progress for Africa beyond the cultural industries. 

Hannah Wanjie Ryder is the CEO of consultancy Development Reimagined and senior associate at the Center for Strategic International Studies Africa Program. E-mail: hannahryder@developmentreimagined.com

This article was first published in the December 2021/January 2022 edition of fDi Intelligence magazine. Read the online edition here.