The cultural seeds of innovation:  An insight from the first African Innovation Summit

“Without culture we merely invent, we don’t innovate” – the Minister

“Nollywood is a disruptive technology” – the Journalist


At the first Africa Innovation Summit held in Cape Verde in February 2014, I was privileged to chair a session on “African culture as a source of Innovation and driver of the creative economy.”

The first statement, made by Mário Lúcio Matias de Sousa Mendes, Cape Verde’s Minister of Culture at the time and an accomplished poet, composer and musician in his own right, opened his reflections on the theme, which were both deeply philosophical and very practical in their implications. He tabled three dimensions of innovation, especially where these involve young people.

The first was access to the means and manifestations of innovation from new, creative ideas that are the raw material of innovation, to the technology that allow for their expression. The second dimension was appropriation, which I understood to signify the infusion of innovation with a local perspective and worldview. The final dimension was the response, or the nature of the engagement with the innovation.

Taken together, these dimensions fleshed out his assertion that culture is the basis of innovation. Innovation is embedded in a particular and specific context that gives it value and meaning. Otherwise, the risk is one of remaining with fascinating, but culturally sterile inventions.

The Nigerian writer and journalist on the panel, Adetokunbo Abiola, gave life to Minister Mendes’ ideas. He asserted that Nollywood – Nigeria’s incredibly vibrant, productive and popular film industry – was a disruptive technology. He argued that the industry emerged spontaneously, when access to a new platform – videotapes and recorders – became widespread. Nollywood’s pioneers disrupted the received wisdom about how films were made and distributed. Given the lack of funding, and paucity of cinema halls to screen films, they focused less on visual quality and more on the main ingredient – a captivating storyline.

In 1992, the film ‘Living in Bondage’ was shot using low-quality video cameras, directly onto videotape that was copied en masse for distribution. In so doing, they appropriated the genre – film – and engaged with it to make create and distribute products that resonated with local audiences.

The rest, as they say, is history. The industry expanded almost exponentially in short order. According to some analysts, Nollywood is now the second largest employer in Nigeria, and the most prolific producer of films in the world after India’s Bollywood.

These two statements and the insights they provide embody the richness that was the first Africa Innovation Summit (AIS), which was itself a triumph of innovation. When the AIS takes place in Kigali, Rwanda in June 2018, I look forward to being illuminated by another spark of insight.



Aidan Eyakuze, Tanzania
Aidan Eyakuze, Tanzania

Aidan Eyakuze is Executive Director of Twaweza East Africa working to enable children to learn, citizens to exercise agency and governments to be more open and responsive. Aidan is an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Fellow and is a member of the global Steering Committee of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the Board of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD).