Leveraging Malawi’s creative talent


Malawi’s Lake of Stars Music Festival, inspired by events such as Womad and Glastonbury, gives a hint of the dynamism of Malawi’s cultural scene and its economic potential. In 2015, the festival attracted 79 Malawian acts and generated nearly $1.5 million.

Recognising its huge potential, the Government of Malawi is galvanising efforts to support the growth of the country’s creative sector. And with good reason.

A 2013 Wipo study estimated that Malawi’s creative sector contributes around 3.4 percent to the country’s GDP, highlighting its importance and significant growth potential. On the strength of these findings, national decision-makers are actively supporting efforts to build the nation’s creative ecosystem.


Fostering the conditions for Malawi’s creators— visual artists, musicians, authors, filmmakers, among others— to thrive will, they believe, support their drive to improve the country’s economic outlook.

“The creative sector is an important asset for countries, such as Malawi, that face low commodity prices in global markets and a host of technical barriers to trade in export markets,” says Ambassador Robert Salama, Permanent Representative of Malawi to the United Nations in Geneva.

“Development of this sector is important for employment creation and for generating the much-needed foreign exchange. It has the potential to generate thousands of jobs for young people and millions of dollars in revenue,” he says, pointing to the experiences of Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.


Kenya’s creative sector, for example, accounts for 5.3 percent of GDP, twice the figure for agriculture. Similarly in Nigeria, Nollywood, the world’s fastest-growing film industry, is responsible for creating more than a million jobs and has annual sales of some USD 5 billion.

“In Malawi, we have a wonderful creative sector which is playing a significant role in the creation of employment and generation of foreign exchange,” Salama says.

“We believe strongly in the opportunity which the creative industries can deliver to our people, not only for economic growth and employment, but also for the promotion of our language and the preservation of our cultural heritage.”

A copyright law fit for the digital age

In 2016, Malawi’s Government ramped up its drive to translate the promise of Malawi’s creative wealth into concrete economic outcomes. In July 2016, Parliament passed a new copyright law which sets the scene for Malawi’s creative sector to take full advantage of the opportunities of the digital age, bringing the country’s copyright law in line with current international intellectual property (IP) standards.

“Malawi’s new law makes it possible for us to better promote the economic rights of creators and to crack down on piracy,” says Dora Makwinja-Salamba, Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) Executive Director.

The law introduces new provisions on online licensing to ensure that artists are paid for the expanding use of their creative works, including, for example, in ringtones and online platforms.

It also ensures easier access to copyright-protected works by people who are blind or visually impaired.

“Malawi has a community of more than 10,000 people who are blind or visually impaired; so, this new feature of our law means that these people, especially young people, will have a better chance to get an education, secure employment and live full and independent lives.

“In the longer term it will also make it easier for them to access works in the formats they require from other countries,” Makwinja- Salamba says.

Further, in a move to ensure that researchers, teachers and students have access to the materials they need for educational and research purposes, the new law introduces a number of exceptions, specifically for schools and libraries.

“These flexibilities mean that school children in Malawi will get the learning materials they need,” Makwinja-Salamba adds.

In response to calls from Malawi’s community of authors, the law also introduces a public lending right which will ensure authors receive a modest payment each time their works are loaned by libraries.

“It is self-evident that books borrowed from a library will diminish the sales of an author’s book, but paying the author for their expertise and time in writing the book is both morally and economically essential. We want to encourage our authors to write their next book,” Salama says.

Recognising the need to safeguard the budgets of libraries and their ability to continue their valuable work in promoting literacy, lawmakers foresee that the payments associated with the public lending right will be covered by government funding.

“We have consulted extensively, when drafting the law, with authors and libraries and have made every effort to ensure that it supports authors’ interests without undermining those of our public libraries,” Makwinja notes.

Cosoma: driving change

Established in 1992, Cosoma is responsible for copyright matters in Malawi. It also serves as the country’s collective management organisation and, as such, manages a wide range of rights to ensure creators and other rights holders are fairly remunerated for the use of their works.

“We believe that collective management is an important tool to ensure creators receive a fair reward for the use of their works so they can continue to create year after year,” Makwinja says.

Cosoma is at the forefront of efforts to develop Malawi’s creative sector. It also actively shares its copyright expertise with other countries in the region through its training programmes.

“We train policymakers from quite a number of African countries, but we want to do more. Our aim is to become a centre of excellence for copyright in the region,” Makwinja- Salamba says.

Tackling piracy

As in many countries, piracy remains a major challenge and continues to hamper the significant growth potential of Malawi’s creative sector.

“The creative sector is important to the future of our country. Our artists produce quality works but these are often sold through parallel markets. This means artists do not receive any of the revenue from the sale of their works,” Makwinja- Salamba explains.

For Salama, piracy is “the creative sector’s public enemy number one”. Malawi’s new copyright law takes a tough stance on it.

With the new copyright law, fines have gone up significantly. They now range from $3, 000 to $15, 000 depending on the gravity of the offence, with prison terms of up to four years – up from $2 to $20 with a prison term of just one year under the 1989 copyright law.

“Malawi has good creative people but the sector’s development is hampered by piracy. These tougher measures mean that pirates will no longer undertake their operations openly. If one pirate is arrested, it will send a strong message to others,” Makwinja notes.

But low levels of general copyright awareness mean that effective application of the measures also requires a focus on building awareness among policymakers, law enforcement authorities and the general public about why it is important to protect the rights of creators. To this end, Cosoma is working closely with customs, the police and the Judiciary.

“Beneficiaries of the new system are very happy, but those who have to pay, of course, are not. With all new systems, we expect that some people will react negatively, but these measures are an important step in the righ

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