Africa is hot

The rise in demand for African news content is another sign that Africa is on the rise and there’s no better way to understand a continent than through its culture, says Msafiri’s business columnist Nkem Ifejika 

LupitaAfrica is hot right now. Yes, we’ve known this for a while. African coal, African oil, African cocoa have all burned bright for a decade. But at the moment, news content about Africa itself is king. Businesses are being built and expanded on the premise that people around the world are curious about the continent on a scale not seen since the Berlin Conference. And Africans are also desperate to see themselves reflected in the content they consume.

In the past few months I’ve had a few people come up to me to ask whether I’d seen the new offering from the video-on-demand service Netflix. The company, which is a market leader, is known for its in-house productions such as House of Cards and other television and movie blockbusters. All available to be streamed at the click of a mouse. However, if you log on to Netflix, they now offer Nollywood films. Yes, Omosexy stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Julia Roberts.

Netflix is by no means the first contender in this arena – Nigeria-based iROKOtv has been in the Nollywood game since 2011. They’ve raised millions of dollars in venture capital funding and have recently tied up a partnership with StarTimes, the pan African cable company. iROKOtv exists because there is a desire for Nollywood and African content. The same rationale exists for Netflix. The main markets for these products at the moment are in the diaspora, because of limited broadband Internet access in Africa. But this will change in the coming years, and those who stay the course and build their audiences over time will prosper in the future.

Television is also another area of growth. Remember, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o first made her name starring in Shuga, the Kenya hit TV show about young people, sex, and relationships, with HIV/AIDS a running theme. It was the sort of reflection of the modern African experience which had been previously missing from television screens on the continent. It’s now entering into its fourth season.

If one argues that Nollywood and TV shows such as Shuga are for Africans, with outsiders sometimes peering in, the same cannot necessarily be said of the many new media types who’re interested in the continent. Quartz magazine, an imprint of Atlantic Media, Listicle kings Buzzfeed and Vice have been following events on the continent closely. In fact Buzzfeed has recently recruited reporters to be based in Africa, and Quartz is building a team for Quartz Africa.

Sometimes it takes a stranger to tell you that what you have is valuable. As China and India opened up to the world, the interest in them increased in tandem. Beyond raw economics, there’s no better way to understand a people than through their culture, be it food or film. And the same curiosity will apply to Africa as it becomes the next economic frontier. But unlike in the past when the continent hasn’t quite recognised its own potential, I’m confident this time things will be different.