July 19, 2023

African countries need more investment in arts, culture — Tope Akintayo

African countries need more investment in arts, culture — Tope Akintayo

By Rita Okoye

Nigerian anthologist and editor, Tope Akintayo has averred that African countries need more investment in arts and culture. Akintayo made this know during a  speech presented to members of the Literature Students Association of the University of Nairobi.

During his presentation, Akintayo spoke about the inner workings of the African literary scene, especially on how Nigeria has dominated the African literary scene for a while.

Tope Akintayo is the founder of Witsprouts Global, an organisation dedicated to fostering a deeper engagement in African arts and culture. He curates Witsprouts Anthologies, one of the organisation’s impact channels, and serves as editor of Moveee, a media platform documenting and showcasing the ongoing renaissance of African cultural output.

While he attributed Nigeria’s visibility to factors such as the legacy of literary giants like Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, the diversity and richness of Nigerian cultures and languages, the political and social relevance of Nigerian stories, and the support and recognition of local and international publishers and awards, he noted that these factors are not necessarily exclusive to Nigeria.

“We can argue that the legacy of figures like Achebe and Soyinka might have skyrocketed Nigeria’s literary scene,” he explained, “but we’ve also had literary legends from other countries, like Ngugi wa Thiong’o from Kenya, and Ama Ata Aidoo from Ghana.”

He then addressed the challenges and barriers that African literature faces in reaching a wider audience and markets, such as the lack of adequate funding, infrastructure, distribution, and promotion; the dominance of Western standards and expectations; the marginalization and stereotyping of African voices and perspectives; and the competition and rivalry among African countries and regions.

“Of special concern is not really the fact that we do not have varieties of platforms,” he argued, “of course, we need more, but it’s more baffling that we are yet to fully admit that our own platforms are worthy enough. We still look forward earnestly to Oyinbo platforms for approval.” He said the Oyinbo, which is a common Nigerian term for a white man, with a light giggle.

Akintayo argued that every African country has the potential to thrive in the literary and wider cultural scene, but African nations need to invest in more platforms to showcase their growing cultural outputs so they can earn larger shares of the art and cultural attention. Furthermore, the nations also need to learn to place importance on and improve all of the platforms they currently have.

“We don’t have Penguin Random House or HarperCollins, but we have Cassava Republic and Farafina Books. We don’t have the Nobel Prize for Literature, but we currently have the Nigerian Prize for Literature, which has been reported to be one of the richest literary prizes in the world. These might not be the best comparisons, but these arguments are not out of place. I think that African counties need to invest more in its arts and culture sector, starting with investment in the expansion of the current platforms.”

With a focus on the literary sphere as a case study of the wider cultural ecosystem, Akintayo suggested some strategies and solutions to overcome some of the challenges of the ecosystem, such as fostering collaboration and solidarity among African writers, publishers, and institutions; creating more spaces and opportunities for emerging and diverse talents; promoting more translations and adaptations of African works.

“For example, I still believe that more works of talented writers like Nnedi Okorafor need to be adapted into films.”

He also suggested that major stakeholders in the industry should engage more with local, global readers and critics, and celebrate and preserve the uniqueness and diversity of African cultures and expressions.