By Ayo Oyoze Baje
“This meeting provides an excellent opportunity to discuss ways and means to promote intra-Africa travels and tourism, leveraging on our vast and unique resources and our number for mutual benefits of our member states.”
–Alhaji Lai Mohammed( Minister of Information and Culture at the UNWTO Conference, at the National Theatre, Lagos)
Whatever event might have ignited the singing prowess of the affable Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President of Nigeria into an ovation-evoking ace crooner, rendering the globally-acclaimed hit song, ‘Buga’ by our own iconic Kizz Daniel with an abiding passion, must be one worth its time, energy and resources invested by the organizers. What more, he did it so effortlessly while reeling out outstanding entertainment records recently set by Grammy-Award-winning Nigerian-born Burna Boy, Davido and Asake.
In fact, whatever occasion turned our own Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed into an encyclopedia of the fascinating factors that have metamorphosed into the noble nexus connecting tourism, culture and the creative industries, while still cracking not a few ribs, must have been worth its salt. But jokes apart, the recent event with the thematic focus of: ‘UNWTO Global Conference on Linking Tourism, Culture and Creative Industries: Pathways to Recovery and inclusive Development’ lived up to its expectations. And it has charted a new course, not only for Nigeria and Africa but the world at large. It took place at the National Theatre, Iganmu, between 14th and 16th November, and culminated with the highly engaging interactive session with top thespians of Nollywood at the Civic Centre, V.I., Lagos. To shed light into the objectives of the Conference one has to fully understand the priority areas of the UNWTO Agenda for Africa 2030 –‘Tourism for inclusive Growth’, as spearheaded by the UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili who has been at the helm of affairs of the organization since 2018. Furthermore, the conference unfolded with some significant objectives: These included bringing together top-notch panelists, industry players, practitioners, government officials and policy makers and stakeholders to discuss linkages and opportunities between cultural tourism and the creative industries. The brain-storming sessions was also used to identify investment avenues and mobilization of human and financial resources to boost recovery.
On the negative impact of COVID-19 pandemic that led to the loss of millions of jobs, the minister had this to say: “According to the latest UNWTO World Barometer, international tourism got back to 60% pre-pandemic levels between January and July 2022. It said international tourism arrivals almost tripled to from January to June 2022 compared to the safe period of 2021 which means the sector recovered almost 60% of pre-pandemic level,” he said. But good enough, 86 countries have removed COVID-19 restrictions as of September, 2022.
Highlighting the increasing significance of the tourism sector, Osinbajo noted that it has remained one of the top job creators across the globe, involving over 1.4 billion people. Indeed, opportunities and jobs are inclusive, providing interaction between and amongst people who can speak others’ languages. Tourism is not only a unifier of all economic activities but promotes the synergy of ideas and functions, respect for human beings, as it brings out whatever we love to do best as it connects with our common humanity. In retrospect, he recalled how FESTAC ’77, which remains the metaphor between culture, tourism and the creative arts attracted over 70,000 guests from the Diaspora into Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria. So, the arts, music, dance steps cut across communities and countries. Interestingly, you do not have to understand the language to appreciate music. That brought up the hit song, ‘Buga’, by Kizz Daniel and before you know it, most of those present at the conference, from Algeria and America, India and Indonesia, Egypt and South Africa started to jig to the sweet song! Osinbajo mentioned how Burna Boy packed out New York City’s Madison Square with over 20,000 in attendance, becoming the first African artist to sell out the Garden. He added how Nigeria’s Afrobeat superstar, Davido set the record when the 2017 hit record “Fall” was certified gold in the USA making it the first afrobeat record to do so. Not done, he sang Ashake’s hit song, ‘Organise’ which has become one of the most-favoured tracks off his hit album.
With regards to start-ups, Lai Mohammed and several discussants identified its huge potentials to create more jobs in Africa as the driver of business on the continent. For instance, during one of the sessions on start-ups, Akin Braithwaite, the Co-Founder of Haasookoo explained how he discovered that 8 out of 10 people, especially here in Nigeria buy counterfeit drugs. That gave him the idea to come up with the Unique Pharmaceutical Code that should have date of production, verification of its authenticity as well as the expiring date. This assists in communication, remote working and should be the new normal to engage customers wherever they are.
To strengthen the concept, his company has to work with government bodies as well as manufacturers to ensure that by 2024 every pharmaceutical product has the serialized number. As rich people rush to India for medical tourism, he wants a situation whereby sometime soon Nigeria will attain similar status. This code offers tourists a sense of safety because the question that arises is on how strong the health system of the country one is visiting really is, as it is obtainable especially in the UK,US, EU countries. To succeed, internet access is key and government has to intervene in that, using its embassies, tourism visa and by letting such features go digital. For instance, Rwanda has done that and its income in tourism has grown 30 times between 2019 and now! On his part, Luther Lawoyin, the Co-founder of Pricepally.com explained that his company started in November 2019, with the aim to take away the middle men from the food network. It began working directly with the Lagos State government.
As a new food system, it is available to guarantee both food security and its safety because food is critical to human development. It uses technology to provide and deliver cheaper and fresher food directly from the farmers. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic the farmers lost out as they could not sell their products but he was able to identify some of them to connect directly with the consumers. To succeed, funding is fundamental from within the country because external investors will want to recoup their investments on food items they import. It means that Nigerians have to be taught to do the right thing with their business ideas but they should be adequately funded. On his part, Tosin Adelowo, the Co-founder of CHECKIT explained the importance of the government coming in to strengthen the regulations. In fact, there no regulations for the ubiquitous local herbal concoctions sold around the city streets. But there is need for data collection using the Customs and Immigration services, with regards to items leaving the country and those being imported Going forward, the meeting point of most of the discussants hinge on the need to invest in infrastructure; invest in safety and security as well as invest in people to give light to their business ideas.
To do this well we need more international partnerships, be more friendly so that in the next 5-10 years we shall begin to reap from the exchange and interchange of ideas to promote goods across the African continent. As Vice President Osinbajo rightly noted these linkages as brought to the public sphere by the Conference will boost human interaction, find answers to existing challenges, as this marks only the beginning of a new era.
Baje writes from Lagos