“When you play the flute in Zanzibar all Africa dances,” goes a Zanzibari saying. If we can “play the flute” in Africa, by exploiting our cultural and artistic wealth in ways that contribute to inclusive growth and social progress across the continent, we could get the world to “dance” with us. But this will work only if Africa projects its own culture by exploring ways in which instruments like intellectual property can advance creative output.
As a high school student in Uganda, I often heard disparaging comments about culture. Music, dance and drama majors at Makerere University, a place once considered the Harvard of Africa, were considered “musiru dala dala,” or very, very, stupid. With my interests stretching from African chants to Bach cantatas, I refused to believe this. But there were, and still are, plenty of people who do. So across Africa, the arts are not included in economic development policies. There are various ways to address this failing — I discuss some of them in “An untapped economy: Africa’s Creative Sector”— but here’s some thoughts on intellectual property, a complex issue.
Strong measures to protect intellectual rights can limit the spread of ideas, leading to far-reaching consequences for immature economies. Enforcement is costly as well. “In developing countries, where human and financial resources are scarce, and legal systems not well developed, the opportunity costs of operating the system effectively are high,” observes a 2002 report by a British commission on intellectual property rights. These expenses include “the costs of scrutinizing the validity of claims to [rights] and adjudicating upon actions for infringement.”
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