Zimbabwe’s arts and culture claim a stake in national economy

Live performance of Zimbabwean music group, Mookomba. Credit: Larshung

Can Zimbabwe’s vibrant culture and arts scene contribute to its national economy and help the country escape poverty? This is the bottom-line question addressed by an unprecedented survey recently conducted in the African country. UNESCO´s International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD) provided funding to conduct the study. Overall, the survey found that indeed “the cultural industries are contributing to employment, exports and imports,” said Mrs Chipo Muvezwa from the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe, which conducted the research.

A review undertaken for the study revealed that in 2009 exports of cultural products totalled US$16.4 million, while imports were US$8.9 million. This implies a positive trade balance of over US$7.5 million. It also shows that among the institutions selling products outside Zimbabwe, 64% have markets in the Southern African Development Community region, while 36% have markets in Europe, the United States and Canada. “These external markets, especially Europe, the United States and Canada, are critical for foreign currency inflows and the economic development of the country,” noted Mrs Muvezwa.

Another eye-opening statistic revealed that the majority of individual artists interviewed were employed fulltime. This was particularly relevant in the two leading sectors: with 65% of interviewees in the performance sector and 67% in visual arts and crafts sectors. Meanwhile, the review also showed that of the 5.4 million people employed in Zimbabwe, just over 22,000 people were working in the cultural industries, thus contributing at least 0.4 % to national employment.

The survey aimed to show policy makers and other critical players the facts and thereby encourage investment in Zimbabwe’s cultural industries. “We are using the research data to lobby and advocate,” explains Mrs Muvezwa, satisfied with how the work is resonating in the country. “Some scholars and researchers have widely cited the report in presenting statistics about the state of the cultural industries in Zimbabwe. This is an indicator of acceptance of the credibility and usefulness of the survey.”

Researchers interviewed some 734 artists and almost 100 cultural institutions involved in the most thriving sectors such as performance, visual arts and crafts, literary arts and publishing, film, audio-visual and interactive media, design and creative services. Other topics such as education, funding and access to technology were also addressed by Zimbabwe’s National Statistics Agency, which carried out the survey’s fieldwork in and around the capital, Harare. 

The results also gave insight into the obstacles hampering a more vigorous development of the sector. For example, around three-quarters (76.9%) of the artists interviewed mentioned the lack of funding as a major constraint in their businesses. Meanwhile shortages of equipment and materials was mentioned by 50% of the artists, and 48% reported the lack of adequate markets as a constraint. 

Established in 2006, the Cultural Fund of Zimbabwe works to boost the country’s cultural sector by giving financial and technical support to local artists and organisations. Following up on some of the recommendations of the study, the organisation is already embarking on a new investigation to find out the status of women in the culture sector.

Cultural Statistics Survey Report 2012 "Measuring the Economic Contribution of Zimbabwe’s Cultural Industries"

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