The creative industry is something that is given less attention to, in Ethiopia. The value and benefit it can bring is often overlooked, but many individuals are working to change that.
“I was actively involved in the Ethiopian and African diaspora in London within the creative sector; and I got a taste of the creativity realm by bridging cultures and realizing its economic value,” attests Mahlet Mairegu, a creator of Bruh Club, discussing her journey with The Reporter. In the UK, she found out that every year over 6.8 billion pounds is generated just from the creative sector.
After coming back to Ethiopia, she wanted to understand the creative industry and build a network in Ethiopia. Mahlet had previously managed known programs such as the British council’s Creative Futures and East Africa Arts.
She told The Reporter, “These two programs tangibly showed me that UK’s financial success can be replicated here as well. In order to achieve that there is a certain support that we can give to the creative sector. Both Creative Features and East Africa Arts were trying to achieve that, but only scratched the surface.” Lack of adequate information is surely one of the shortcomings hindering the progress of the sector, she notes.
If there is not enough information how can the creative industry do anything? Mahlet asks, adding that it is one of the prime reasons why she started Bruh Club. “I thought this is an opportunity for an indigenous Ethiopian organization, to be at the forefront in leading and making sure information is given to the right and relevant individuals. Like our traditional ways of asking for recommendations, we can also do the brokering, connecting and networking”.
This service that Bruh Club provides is free of charge for both parties because ultimately that person will grow and can reinvest in the sector. Every week, Bruh puts forward a newsletter, where it highlights what opportunities there are for members of the creative industry, in Ethiopia, Africa or even the broader world. They also showcase, as some do not have a website or a social media page to display their work. So, they create a platform that can help artists get inspired or know what is being done by others and can also lead to collaboration.
Mahlet says that over a year and half, she has worked with several artists in the area of website and logo design with Collab Systems and with other digital artists. It is about creating opportunities and connecting them. So, there have been 71 successes and all activities are tracked. For instance, a short animation film was showcased in South Africa, three other films were also showcased in Kenya and one awarded in Kenya, a fashion was showcased in Togo and 3 poets published on an English e-magazine in Uganda and many others.
Another thing she noted is that creative practitioners could be joining different platforms like politics or arts and make positive contributions. According to her, currently, it is dominantly foreigners who are speaking about Ethiopia and Africa in the west, be it on news or the art. One of the reasons is that we are not making ourselves visible, Mahlet says. They are representation of their own society. This is what inspires Mahlet to do this hard work on her own. “Our voice has to be heard. Whereas Europe and USA are looking to the mainstream media and news to learn about places like Africa, we at the creative industry have a unique voice and can offer new imagery or representation of our continent,” she underscores. Besides making Ethiopian visible in the international market, there are also local benefit, social value and also economic advantages accruing from the creative industry. It can serve as a source of income that benefits the country.
She outlined that the creative sector is one of the highest employers for women and the youth, globally. Africa has 60% youth population. “As a nation, we should support them, and this is where I am at. What I am doing is making sure that their work is visible and they can actually take part in competitions, residencies, and festivals where they can represent themselves,” Mahelt explains.
My hope is not only to see Ethiopians talking about Ethiopia, she continues to argue, but also contribute to the global issues. “We are part of the world and we should be at the table when we are discussing different issues,” she says. She added that creating equal access and opportunities could curb the issue of Ethiopians migrating to other countries.
Mahlet shares her plans for the future with The Reporter. Going forward, she wants to create a coworking place for the creative; a platform where these creative practitioners can meet and collaborate. So, brokering the creative sector with the private sector is very important, they can share information and income. Bruh’s Newsletter is literally what is missing in Ethiopia’s creative industry and this is where a bundle of information can be found for creative practitioners.
Another youth working in the creative sector to improve societies in Africa is Dagmawi Bedilu, a software engineer at Addis Ababa University. He recently spoke to The Reporter as part of the team that created an African game about kingdoms in pursuit of virtues in a time of trade, industry and cultural revolutions called Busara, meaning wisdom and understanding in Swahili.
Enter Africa is a creative African network and organization, represented in 15 African countries initiated by 15-Goethe institute. The main vision is to enhance the living conditions of African people by creating a gaming ecosystem that represents African culture and re-images African futures. Dagmawi, who is also a project manager at Enter Africa, is the project coordinator.
The aim of the project was to get the communities to come together and explore their cities and futures. For instance, there is a team in Addis Ababa, which focuses on what the future of Addis in 10 or 20 years would look like. The whole idea emanated from the question in the upcoming 30 years, 10 mega cities will emerge from Africa. “And, if we don’t start planning and envisioning starting from now it is going to chaotic. Africa is a continent that is somehow trapped by its own past. We are always talking about the past like Adwa and all the amazing things that happened but few attentions is actually given to the future, so somehow we are prisoners of the past but we are not aware of it,” Dagmawi lamented. He added that it is good to be inspired by the past, but we need to interpolate to the future. The 15 teams each created a fictional futuristic city that was made into a mobile application. So, those 15 games and ideas of the future tried to explore the future of Africa as a whole and what it means to be African or from Africa. These teams combined their ideas and created a game that took 2 years to develop by 250 people from 15 African countries. This game is truly an African game made by Africans for Africans that includes African-ness in the game. The idea of the game was to depict the image of Africa. For instance, Europe has chess, and Asia has Go, but what does Africa have?
What makes games special is that they hold the essence of the society. If you see chess, you see hierarchy, like queen, king, nights etc, which is a western structure. Dagmawi told The Reporter, “Whenever you are looking into a game you are looking into the creators mind or society and culture”.
He also added that, this game creates, represents, reimages and enhances Africa. Dagemawi claims if you play the game then you will understand what it feels to be African and understand Africa’s challenge and opportunities. The Busara game is a cooperative, competitive, strategic and evolving game. The game cannot be played by two people; you need to be three or four which is an African essence in itself, as it is a communal society. Therefore, no such thing as a border in the game which is an idea emanated from the team. This borderless Africa is part of the true essence of Africa. We were also inspired by past African games. Like Gebeta, which is played in Ethiopia, Mankana in Kenya and Aware from West Africa.
Games have existed long before, but they were not created for entertainment. For instance, chess was invented for strategy and others for counting. In Ethiopia we are so adapted to physical sports that no one thinks about cognitive sports, which is what Dagmawi and his team also wanted to bypass.
Ed.’s Note: Sesina Hailou is on an internship at The Reporter.
Contributed by Sesina Hailou