Chief Edem Duke, Nigeria’s tourism minister, must be a very happy man. His president’s Goodluck has rubbed off nicely on his ministry with a healthy N3billion budget, N300Million (1.9Million dollars) of which has already hit his ministry’s coffers. Nigerians are happy with their Nollywood and creative arts, and are prepared to splash out on the sector. They call their actors and actresses ambassadors because they personify the Nigerian spirit and help market brand Nigeria around the globe. Their film makers and producers are talented and very rich. They also like to splash it out, very much in keeping with many things Nigeria, even if it sometimes a necessary overkill.
Well, the money is not for Chief Duke’s personal use, unless he decides to transmogrify himself into Monty Montgomery of Brewsters Millions fame, and spend it all in a week for a prize he would soon reject. The minister is supposed to fund institutions and allied agencies that share the mandate of his tourism ministry, and make sure they contribute measurably to the development of the sector in general through training, capacity building and other initiatives. In the end, Nigerians hope to improve their tourism, invest more in Nollywood and create jobs for their millions of unemployed. That is very creative of a country that has produced a Nobel laureate in the arts.
Mrs Ofosu-Agyare is Ghana’s Creative Arts and Tourism minister. A consummate lawyer and very competent pragmatist, she is one of president Mahama’s most important appointments. Hers is a new ministry, the creative arts component being a refreshing but tasking addition to the traditional tourism portfolio. The ministry’s fortunes were buoyed by the equally strategic appointment of actress and queenmother Dzifa Abla Gomashie as deputy. ‘They are good to go’, many well-intentioned Ghanaians, especially those who love the arts, were wont to say. ‘Tourism has a lot of potential’, Mrs Ofosu-Agyare had assured at her parliamentary vetting. Those were very wise choice of words. Potential needs money to flourish. Without attempting to compare Duke’s N300million with what only remains a potential, Ghanaians may want to ask how prepared their government is in working the potential of tourism and the creative arts.
The last budget didn’t seem to have had much for the creative arts ministry. Well, it had a potential. Newspaper reports were quick to alert us of the conspicuous miss. In the midst of public expectations and the all too familiar resource problems, the ministers have been doing their job well, straightening this and polishing that, and also encouraging attitudinal change towards the arts, but the hard truth is that money answers all things.It will be unfair to rate how far the potential of tourism has been realized if we don’t invest with hard cash and quality human professionals. How do we assess our creative arts sector when we don’t know how much is at stake?
The creative arts and tourism sectors are huge but we don’t need the cedi equivalent of N3billion to do serious work. Edem Duke’s budget is for a population exceeding 170Million. Going by elementary arithmetic, Mrs Ofosu-Agyare would do with a small percentage of that amount for her 25 Million population. Her challenge now would be how to animate the potential of the sector, and take tourism and creative arts to the people. That would mean a few things. The people of Rwanda have what they call Gorilla Naming. It’s a very funny pastime that fetches them some good dollars all year round from overly anxious tourists. A bus ferries different tourist groups in turns, to go see a gorilla sitting somewhere. The tourists slap funny names on the creature and laugh away. Yes, that is how somebody gets food on their table. Tour guards, drivers and bus owners get to earn some money for this Gorilla joke.
From the Gorilla tour, we would ferry them to the new Uncle Ebo Whyte play in Techiman, to laugh their troubles away and learn a thing or two about how not to chat up pregnant women. If Ebo Whyte fails to excite them, they can hop on airplanes from Sunyani to go paddle canoes and little boats on the Korle lagoon for fun. Soon the children will be on vacation. We would fill their holidays with field trips here and there, for them to learn about the history of their country and the many cultures of their people. This would be built into their extra curricula programs and funded by parents.
Experts say that tourism is successful when those who created the tourism attractions find them attractive enough to travel within the country and pay to enjoy what foreigners would fork out heavy dollars to sample. We don’t have to wait for some bored octogenarians from other jurisdictions to come and spend money on carvings and beads products at the beaches. We should love our products enough to sell them to others. Sex tourism is another thing altogether; we would leave that for another day. In place of that, we would explore charity tourism (if there is anything like that), where we would encourage folks to donate towardsspecific projects with tourism potential. We might call it fundraising tourism if charity sounds too charitable for a misnomer.
How best can we package our creative arts? While Chief Duke has lots of private and public creative arts and tourism institutions to cater forunder the ‘Project Act Nollywood’ initiative, Mrs Ofosu-Agyare has the School of Performing Arts in Legon, NAFTI, Alure cosmetics and maybe a few others to spend her budget on. Our Ghallywood is not in the worst of shapes, but it sure needs some improvement. The actors and actresses of today have near Hollywood spending power. The Grace Norteys and Mc Jordan Amarteys have reason to regret for choosing a career in theatre arts. Not even in their movies did they dream of driving any of Jackie Appiah’s fleet of luxury cars or owning John Dumelo’s J Melo clothing line. Maybe the new creative arts ministry would have something for these veterans to do. For now, these old ones cut a poor image of the acting industry. They feel used, recycled and dumped. It was all make-belief.
By Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin, Ottawa, Canada