Angola: Unlocking the potential of creative industries

13 September 2023

The country’s nascent creative industries hold vast potential to help diversify its oil-dependent economy. To do so, greater investment and policy support are indispensable.

An African businesswoman sells traditional costume fabrics on a beach in Luanda, Angola.
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© Shutterstock/Big blue | An African businesswoman sells traditional costume fabrics on a beach in Luanda, Angola.

Female street vendors, locally known as “zungueiras”, are a defining characteristic in many Angolan cities.

These informal traders – often carrying a large plastic bowl of goods on their heads, and a baby strapped to their backs – represent the resilience and perseverance of Angolans, who have navigated economic and political uncertainties since the country’s independence in 1975.

Drawing on this reality comes “Zungueira Run”, one of Angola’s top video games with more than 50,000 downloads so far.

Created by a group of young Angolan developers, the game’s success offers a glimpse of a more innovative economic future, says a new UNCTAD study released on 13 September, examining the country’s cultural and creative industries (CCIs).

The study is a key component of the EU-UNCTAD Joint Programme for Angola: Train for Trade II funded by the European Union. It helps Angola diversify its economy and exports towards green and creative sectors and link to regional and global value chains through multisectoral assistance.

The study is also part of UNCTAD’s ongoing support to developing countries to map their creative economies and identify areas for improvement.

“A greater policy focus on innovation and creativity is critical for economic diversification, and hence for sustainable and inclusive growth in developing countries,” says Miho Shirotori, acting director of UNCTAD's division of international trade and commodities.

Economic diversification gains fresh impetus in Angola

Angola boasts a rich cultural history of film, theatre, publishing and literature.

It also enjoys a bedrock of creative talent, start-ups and emerging innovation ecosystems hungry for opportunity in the CCIs – the most prominent areas being advertising, architecture and computer programming, according to the UNCTAD study.

But at the same time, Angola overly depends on crude oil, which represents 93% of its exports. Low productivity and meagre opportunities in other economic sectors have left a third of the population below the poverty line.

As Angola strives to exit the UN category of least developed countries, there’s a renewed sense of urgency to diversify its economy.

And a key route to this goal is leveraging the creative and cultural industries to help mitigate economic fluctuations attached to oil prices, employ more people in the formal economy, while tackling several structural constraints.

“We aim to promote vibrant CCIs in Angola, provide greater opportunities for entrepreneurs and creators, build on the rich and diverse cultural heritage of our country and strengthen trade relationships with more countries,” says Filipe Silva de Pina Zau, minister of culture and tourism in Angola.

Traditionally, China, the European Union and the United States are Angola’s main trading partners. With the creative economy on the rise, the country hopes to boost economic ties with other economies.

Gaps to bridge

Take gaming again for example. The UNCTAD study shows that on average, between 50 and 60 video games are developed in Angola each year.

But few are registered with Angola’s Institute of Intellectual Property, making it even harder to enforce copyrights and combat a culture of piracy.

Other concerns are related to high production costs, a shortage of skills, internet access quality and affordability, as well as hurdles in making and receiving international digital payments.

Additionally, the study flags the absence of a framework to effectively define and measure these industries, resulting in scattered and incomparable data. Such lack of data on job creation, GDP contribution and gross value-added limits the government’s ability to design effective policies and interventions.

To address this, the study emphasizes the need for improved data collection, measurement, and statistics to unlock the promise of the CCIs.

Ways to unleash the full potential

The study presents a roadmap for Angola to harness the CCIs’ economic power primarily through comprehensive policies, improved data collection and increased investment.

Noting that Angola’s cultural policy is currently fragmented across different ministries, UNCTAD calls for greater collaboration across the government – anchored by the culture and tourism ministry – and more inclusive policymaking.

“Angola needs a more cohesive and coordinated governance structure and classification system for the CCIs,” says Marisa Henderson, head of UNCTAD’s creative economy programme and lead author of the study.

“State intervention along with participation of the private sector and civil society will help Angola unlock the economic potential of the sector.”

Pointing to the CCIs’ struggle to access even microfinance, UNCTAD encourages efforts to offer creative workers access to loans while helping them build creditworthiness.

In addition to traditional private financing, other forms of support, such as tax incentives, social schemes and public funding are essential.

UNCTAD also calls for the empowerment of creative workers and artists through infrastructure development, training and education, as well as promotional campaigns to foster “a strong, saleable brand” nationally and globally for Angola’s cultural and creative industries.

Holistic approach

The EU-UNCTAD joint programme supports Angola to diversify its economy and exports by building productive capacities, operating across seven different economic policy areas simultaneously. 

The programme was selected in 2022 as a global success story for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) good practices implementation.

UNCTAD’s holistic approach to development, first piloted in Angola, will feature as one of the 12 High Impact Initiatives on 17 September as part of the UN’s SDG Action Weekend, ahead of the SDG Summit and the high-level segment of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly.

UNCTAD’s initiative dubbed “Transforming4Trade” will provide political guidance for holistic, multisectoral and multi-year programmes to foster productive capacities and structural economic transformation.