When will Malawi export films, plays?


Policies are, ideally, a light along the road to development.

But it seems that some policy goals are so confusing in their application that they may as well be equated to passing through a badly-lit road.

Take, for instance, government’s policy goal of turning Malawi into “a predominantly importing and consuming nation from a predominantly producing and exporting nation”, as declared by former president, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, and reiterated by President Peter Mutharika.


While some sectors of national development, including the private sector, have started living the talk— as evidenced by the launch of ‘Best Buy Malawian’ campaign this year— others, most notably the expressive arts, are just getting reports through the grapevine. It is as if the arts are steeped in their own order, separated from the rest of the sectors.

This is the impression one gets from filmmakers who, instead of being included in efforts aimed at meeting the export goal, seem to have been thrown out of the ‘exports’ boat. Not even the ‘Best Buy Malawian’ campaign itself talks about a Malawian film as an exportable product.

Film Association of Malawi president, Ezaius Mkandawire, observes that the arts sector does not get as much financial backing as other sectors in the country.


“Certainly, if you look at that level of investment as evidenced by the amount of money allocated to specific sectors of the economy, we will conclude that the arts in general are not part of what the country wants to export,” Mkandawire observes.

But, then, drawing conclusions depends on what part of the coin one focuses on. If the focus is on the arts as a stand-alone sector, it is clear that funding has been minimal or outright absent.

At the same time, if the arts are encompassed in other sectors such as tourism goals, it becomes clear that there has been too much rhetoric with little funding to back the rhetoric.

Mkandawire observes: “However, if you look at the arts as part of culture, it, then, follows that it is part of the tourism industry which we understand was a priority in the Economic Recovery Plan, as well as the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy. [Still, the] reality on the ground is that funding to the sector says something different.”

Half steps

However, filmmakers and some theatre groups seem to have taken it upon themselves to ensure that they sail with the [predominant export nation] wind. They have, in this vein, initiated efforts aimed at positioning the arts as a viable alternative when it comes to exporting aspects of Malawi’s diverse cultures.

Solomonic Peacocks director, MacArthur Matukuta, says his grouping has carried out a number of initiatives in a bid to promote the conception that the expressive arts can serve as a form of entrepreneurship.

“For example, we introduced the Easter Theatre Festival as one way of promoting entrepreneurship in Malawi and the festival will be back from April 14 to 17 next year [2017] because we still want to promote the spirit of entrepreneurship. We believe that we can use theatre as an export product and generate income for the country,” Matukuta says, adding:

“In fact, as one way of selling the country through theatre, I will be travelling to Scotland [United Kingdom] in August this year and I will use theatre to advertise Malawi to the outside world through the Edinburg Festival, which is one of the world’s biggest festivals. All these efforts serve to confirm the fact that, although theatre is overlooked as an export product, it has the potential [to become one of the country’s export products].”

On his part, Mkandawire says filmmakers have also done their part to become part of the export agenda.

“The Film Association of Malawi certainly did capitalise on that policy. I presented a concept paper. We lobbied the Ministry of Finance for funds last year [and] the Government of Malawi did set money amounting to K150 million aside. That money is being used to implement a project called Integrated Arts Development,” Mkandawire says.

The programme Mkandawire is referring to has components of a credit cooperative, production and marketing cooperative, a school for the arts as well as the holding of consultation meetings on the National Arts Heritage Council bill.

It is premised on the idea of ensuring that the creative sector has access to money— through the cooperative— and opportunities to produce quality products through the production and marketing cooperative.

“So, we are slowly getting there,” Mkandawire observes.

Malawi must surely get there.

The arts cannot be taken for granted as a product for export. The country is consuming vast amounts of foreign films and other arts products from Nigeria, Europe and from America. Their products have actually become so popular that Malawi’s arts sector has to play catch up in many respects. In those countries, arts are worth billions of dollars. They are a key part of the economy.

For instance, the US media and entertainment industry, considered the largest in the world, was expected to reach about $546 billion mark in 2014, according to SelectUSA which highlights US business environment.

In 2013, the US film industry alone posted $31 billion in revenue, it says, and that both film and music represent America’s diverse culture.

Article of tourism

In the case of Malawi, the development of the arts seems to be riding on the back of tourism, an industry which needs development itself.

In the Malawi Investment Projects compendium which President Peter Mutharika launched last year, government invites investors into 20 tourism projects. That should offer space for the development of arts which also serve as articles of tourism.

But there is also need to invest in the arts specifically if the sector has to grow to the levels it can make the list for Malawi’s export, if Malawi is to become an exporter of films, for instance.

Stumbling blocks

But filmmaker Villant Ndasowa observes that it may be a long way before Malawians can dream of exporting local films.

“The first thing we need to do [to reach that level] is to change our mindset. The knowledge of filmmaking must be in sync among the people involved in all stages of production and post-production,” Ndasowa says.

And then, of course, there would be need for a marketing strategy that would have to think of involving multinational corporations, major global studios, among other players, as is characteristic of well developed markets like the US’.

Tough work?

It looks like.

Yet, with good policies, nothing is unachievable.

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