On March 7 2022, creatives made up of all the artistic disciplines including visual artists, filmmakers, photographers, musicians and dancers decided to take a courageous step to march to Parliament in Lilongwe to present a petition lobbying for the swift enactment of the National Arts and Heritage Council (Nahec) Bill, which is at the Ministry of Justice.
The artists marched peacefully from Lilongwe Community Hall to Parliament Building, where they presented a petition which was received by legislator Thoko Tembo, who happens to be an artist.
This was the second move for creatives to petition Parliament, having done so last year, when legislators Billy Kaunda, who is also a musician, and Mike Bango received the petition.
But having observed that there was no progress, creatives, led by Nahec taskforce, decided to organise an awareness march and present another petition to the august House.
Nahec Taskforce Chairperson Maxwell Chiphinga popularly known as Max DC in the theatrical circles, said the issue of Nahec Bill was long overdue, hence going full throttle with an awareness march as well as presenting a petition, adding that they were hoping for nothing but fruitful results.
“Ahead of the march, as a taskforce, we engaged our line ministry – Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife—and then we also reached out to other ministries and offices and, so, going for a march was after we exhausted all the channels,” Chiphinga said.
The creative industry has for a long time bemoaned lack of support from the government despite contributing immensely to the development of the country.
In the petition, artists have put much emphasis on the tabling and passing of the Nahec Bill during the current meeting of Parliament.
“We are requesting Parliament to consider the importance of Nahec as it is the centre point of our co-existence with other human beings in our communities, outside our communities as well as our environment,” the petition reads.
In the petition, creatives also clearly spell out the beauty of the creative sector, saying it is made up of national monuments, artifacts, museums and cultural expressions such as music, folklore, crafts, fine and traditional dances, language, literature and religion.
“Culture is crucial for poverty reduction, sustainable-economic development, increased sense of national identity and it contributes to unity among different tribes,” Chiphinga said.
The petition says that it is undisputable that Malawi has rich and diverse tangible and intangible cultural heritage which has a huge economic impact which contributes to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
“We would like to draw your attention honourable members that there are several distinct ethnic communities in Malawi and each possesses unique sets of cultural practices, beliefs and values. We would like to request Parliament to take its bold decision within the existing laws of the land to enact Nahec with structures which allow council’s establishment in Malawi,” reads the petition.
Musician and arts activist Eric Trinta said recently that, in the absence of Nahec, the country has lost a lot in developing the creative industry.
“The issue of employment, for instance, would have been solved through the creative sector because we will put up, for instance, cultural villages and these will even be key in uplifting tourism,” Trinta said.
In the petition, creatives say that the country is losing human capital in the absence of Nahec, where the country’s arts and cultural treasure is underutilised, which undermines government’s efforts for job creation.
It further says that, between 2013 and 2015, the National Statistical Office (NSO) made an extensive research, established and published that the arts and cultural heritage sector contributes around 3.7 percent to the country’s GDP which is a sign that the sector is being deprived of its potential for economic and job creation.
The petition says it is estimated that the sector is now contributing a significant high level percentage to the country’s GDP more than the time NSO conducted the research.
“It should also be noted honourable members that Malawi is one of the few countries in Southern Africa, if not the only one, which has no Arts Council. This means the sector is deprived of its development and your political will to enact Nahec will revamp and contribute significant income to the country’s GDP,” the petition reads.
In the petition, creatives have also zeroed in on the importance of arts and that human beings cannot live without arts.
The petition has drawn legislators to the national treasure, which is the national anthem, which was crafted by an artist and that it has unified people together.
Creatives have bemoaned the promises that governments have made over the years with little being done to develop the creative sector.
Recently, President Lazarus Chakwera underlined his love and support for the creative sector when he decorated legendary musician Giddes Chalamanda, having invited him to State House to celebrate his birthday.
Minister of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife Michael Usi, who is also an artist, has maintained that the Tonse government led by Chakwera has interest in developing the creative sector.
The petition appreciates the efforts made by Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife and that, despite receiving inadequate funds in the budget, they have continued to initiative projects.
In the petition, creatives have also spoken highly of lack of proper infrastructures for the creative sector revealing that the country has only one recognisable cultural centre – Blantyre Cultural Centre (BCC) currently in a pathetic state.
BCC, once a mighty entertainment mecca which has hosted high profile events and artists both local and international, was bought by the government from the French government in 2011 at K300 million before it was ransacked by thieves.
“The rehabilitation of BCC has been moving at a snail’s pace and it has been neglected for a long time. This is a clear sign of government’s lack of interest in the creative sector. This place for sure would have generated a lot for the country through performances,” Chiphinga said.
The petition has also highlighted the issue of Malawi not having enough arts schools and that arts associations have no offices, with many operating as briefcase associations.
“Heritage sites and monuments are in dilapidated state and yet if we had Nahec we would have a formalised creative industry. There is just more that needs to be done; otherwise, there is potential in the creative sector and its high time we were supported and all this begins with Nahec Bill being passed,” Chiphinga said.
Tembo, when receiving the petition on Monday, assured creatives that the concerns would be addressed.
“I will do everything I can to make sure that the petition is presented to Parliament in a timely manner,” the legislator said.
It remains to be seen as to whether Nahec Bill will be enacted soon and pave the way for the creation of Nahec.