Africa’s Hidden Digital Treasure Trove

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I read in a recent edition of African Leadership magazine about Mansa Musa, the 10th-century ruler of what was then the West African Kingdom. The article was a very brief sketch of his remarkable life and achievements. We should know more about this man. His life must have abounded with stories that are universal and ageless. Stories of politics, of statecraft, of economics and social change and of personality; of moments and decisions that changed the way countless thousands of people lived.

The example of Mansa Musa particularly interested me because I had recently been writing about harnessing the locked away treasures of the ancient universities of my native Scotland. Not unlike many parts of Africa, Scotland’s history got sidelined for three centuries. It’s really only in the past 50 years that the study of distinctly Scottish modern history has developed as a mainstream intellectual discipline. But, of course, history never survives long in ivory towers. It reaches out to inform and influence how peoples see themselves and their place in the world. Depending on who is writing the history, it can subjugate or liberate.

Economic development

But now I turn from the high thoughts of the pursuit of knowledge to more urgent thoughts about economic development and opportunity. The world needs stories. It is hungry for them. It needs stories because humans crave them and because the digital world’s ability to reach every corner of the globe can also make huge fortunes for those that feed its ferocious appetite for content. And keeping the beast fed is vital to digital platform owners, the device manufacturers, phone network operators and media owners.
Great and true stories of great figures and great events from history have a particular attraction to media owners. True stories have greater credibility with audiences and they come packed with characters and events. That has the added value of saving money on paying writers to invent stories. If the stories are there already the writers can be employed in creating scripts. The whole process is more viable, quicker and cheaper.

And what can you get from remarkable stories from history? Well, obviously, history textbooks, though the big money has to be in movie and TV drama, in digital games and in the print and merchandising spin-offs that they spawn. The most successful productions have produced tourism spin-offs. Millions of people have visited New Zealand because they saw the beauties of the country in the films made of J R R Tolkien’s books, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. The massive global TV hit, Game of Thrones, is mainly shot in Ireland, but also in Malta and Croatia. Game of Thrones Tours is now a daily feature of tourism in Ireland. Since the film, Popeye, was made in Malta in 1980, Popeye Village has been drawing families from across the world.

The digital world is a place of high skills and high earnings. It’s a place for writers, directors, camera operators, film and story editors, experts in sound, colour, graphics, costumes, lighting and special effects. Modern jobs for modern economies. And to that list, you can add transport and logistics companies, location catering suppliers, studio operators, specialist insurance, legal and accountancy firms, marketing, and PR consultancies. Content is very big business indeed.

By Africans for Africans

Here I must confess that not very much I’ve said here is my original thinking. Africa and Africans are way ahead of me. Let me point you to the African Public Broadcasting Foundation (APBF).

In April last year, George Twumasi, CEO of ABM Holdings, wrote an article that was published on the World Intellectual Property Organisation web site. In it, Mr Twumasi writes these inspiring words.

“Recognizing the huge creative potential of Africa’s cultural resources, the power of the media and the need to renew confidence among Africans in our creative potential, the African Public Broadcasting Foundation is supporting efforts to establish a viable African public broadcasting landscape that harnesses digital technologies and encourages the production of high quality compelling content, made by Africans for Africans.”

I support every word of that. I’d add one thing. When writers, broadcasters, film-makers and all the other content professionals make great “high-quality compelling content” – films or TV or games – the content almost always has global appeal. Great stories wonderfully told are universal. The market is global.

Africa, like Scotland, has a hidden treasure trove. Carpe diem. Seize the day, or as some scholars interpret the original Latin to mean, “Pluck the fruit.”

George Twumasi’s article can be found at