The Power of Culture in Mali's Economic Development

Music industry is a small but significant driver of economic development

Published on 19 July 2012

Author(s): Capacity4Development.EU/Voices & Views

Type:  Opinion

In Mali, the music industry is a small but significant driver of economic development bringing in much needed revenue and creating valuable jobs. With stronger political will from national governments and increased donor support, other African countries could follow Mali’s lead and harness the power of culture for economic development.

Malian music has a strong international following thanks to a myriad of remarkable singers such as Oumou Sangare, Ali Farka Toure, Salif Keita, Amadou and Mariam, Boubacar Traore or Yaya Diallo, to name only a few.
 
"The music industry in Mali generates more income than other sectors that are heavily supported by the State," Cheick Oumar Sissoko, former Minister of Culture of Mali and a major figure in African cinema told capacity4dev.eu. "It shows that culture is an excellent factor in economic development because it offers opportunities to develop cultural industries and create jobs."
 
Mr Sissoko mentioned a study released in 2000 by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) stating that the music industry in Mali accounted at the time for between two and four percent of Mali's gross national product. It is however worth highlighting that these statistics are already 11 years old and cannot give an accurate picture of the importance of the music industry in Mali today.

Present day Mali was once part of three major West African empires – The Ghana Empire, the Songhai Empire and the Mali Empire, from which the country takes its name. Such a history has provided Mali with deep rooted traditions in music and story telling.

With Mr Sissoko at the helm in the Ministry of Culture between 2002 and 2004, the Government of Mali was one of the first African countries to include culture in its development priorities and sought international donor support, especially from the European Union.

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These days, EU is maintaining cultural programmes across the African, Caribbean and Pacific region. "I can assure you, as former Minister of Culture, that [in Mali such programmes] had a huge impact on the development of cultural industries and the setting up of festivals," Mr Sissoko said.
 
According to Mr Sissoko, more remains to be done, especially in supporting the professionalisation of the cultural sector in Mali but also on the rest of the African continent. "Support to culture will lead to the professionalisation of the sector. It means the setting up of cultural industries, the training of cultural actors, the production of professional goods and services. This will help expand markets which are too small," he added. "As long as there are no professional services, it is illusory to think that culture can contribute to economic development."
 
While financial support to culture is vital, Sissoko admits, a strong political will from national government is also key. However, in the past this has been lacking as many African governments have been wary of vocal criticism.
 
"One has to admit that our own political leaders don't take support to culture enough into account in their country's development because they are often scared that artists' freedom will lead them to talk about the social situation, cases of bad governance and other curses that are part of our daily life", Mr Sissoko said. "Fortunately, things start to change."

For Mr Sissoko, a thriving cultural sector not only offers an enormous potential for economic growth, but can also plays an important role in promoting peace and stability. "There can't be development without peace and stability," Mr Sissoko explains. "In Mali for instance, many cultural festivals created the space for a dialogue between conflicting communities."
 
Visit the EuropeAid's portal for more information on the EU's support to culture in developing countries.

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