Come to Kenya, the film industry hasn’t really crossed borders. Some quarters have christened the industry as Riverwood.
By now you have watched Nigerian movies on your local TV station christened “Afrosinema.” ‘Naija’ movies are popular in Kenya and that is a testament to the movies’ success in the African continent. Do they watch our locally produced movies and TV series religiously as we do? No.
That answer brings us to the reality of the sharp differences between Nigeria’s and Kenya’s film industry despite both being set in Africa which has lagged behind in film production and distribution.
Nollywood, a term coined by New York Times journalist Norimitsu Onishi, is what the Nigerian film scene is always referred to. The name is a corruption of America’s film industry, Hollywood, and India’s Bollywood. Thesuccess of the industries based in three distinct worlds is notable. Nollywood is regarded as the second-biggest film industry after India in terms of production according to UNESCO. The industry provides jobs with many Nigerians and Ghanaians being employed in the sector. In 2014, data released by the government showed that Nollywood was a $3.3 billion sector.
Come to Kenya, the film industry hasn’t really crossed borders. Some quarters have christened the industry as Riverwood,the lingo acquired from River Road, a street in Nairobi, popular for selling music and video cassettes. According to the Kenya Film and Classification Board, the industry earnings hit 200 billion shillings in 2016. This is far much less compared to Nigeria’s $3.3 billion. Lack of capital for movie productions is a major challenge in Kenya. This has affected the output which is lower than Nigeria’s annual production output.
In a sentence, we can’t name all Nigerian movies yet in Kenya, only a few such as ‘Nairobi Half Life’, ‘The First Grader’, ‘The Constant Gardener’ among others can be mentioned. At the peak of new technology with the popularity of videos, Nigeria was releasing approximately 200 video films in a month. Kenya was nowhere close to this.
The movie watching culture is poor in Kenya with cinemas found only in major towns yet in Nigeria, cinemas were the motivation behind the production of movies and TV series. Cinemas and movie halls are found in villages. When citizens don’t embrace movies then film producers have low morale to produce movies. In India, Bollywood’slocation, watching movies is a favorite past time with cinemas sprawled over villages.
Corporate investments in Kenya’s film sector are yet to be seen. Film production is an expensive affair, without adequate funding from the government and organizations, not a single movie can be produced. Most organizations are not willing to take the risk of funding production projects because they fear the sales of films may not be high hence losses to them. The government has been supporting the industry but the investments are not enough to thrust the scene into the international limelight.
In Nigeria, the government is a huge supporter of the industry. It recognized the contribution of the creative sector to its economy. The Nigerian government has collaborated with investors to establish a film.Plateau Film City is an example of the government’s efforts to see its creative economy grow.
Marketing is not a gimmick. The Nigerian local film scene invests heavily in marketing. That solves the mystery behind the narrative of Kenyan TV stations playing ‘Naija’ movies multiple times yet the local content is not given much airtime. Nigerian films have dominated Africa trumping other African-produced films. In Kenya to counter this, the government ordered that TV stations must play 40% of local content. The success of this directive remains to be seen because many foreign movies and series, especially Nigerian-made are still consuming a precious amount of airtime on TV stations.
Nigeria has embraced technology; a major recipe of films’ success in this age of increasing internet usage. iROKO, a subscription-based video on demand site received financial backing from Tiger Global to stream Nollywood content to global subscribers. Netflix made a $12 million rights purchase of Nigerian novel ‘Beast of No Nation’. The media platform has Nollywood related titles which are streamed to international audiences.
In Kenya, The Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) opposed the entry of Netflix in Kenya terming it a threat to moral values. These regulations are hurting film producers as other African competitors are jumping on new media content platforms to share their content with the world.
Years ago, Nollywood and Riverwood were on the same path as upcoming film’s industries in the continent but Nigeria’s scene has surpassed Kenya to become Africa’s film torch. Kenya is a victim of its own habit, Kenyans are devout fans of ‘Naija’ movies yet they don’t devour Kenyan film content in equal measure. Partly to blame are Kenyan filmmakers who don’t produce enough compelling content to satisfy the market. To compete with Nigeria’s goldmine, filmmakersand industry stakeholders must cue lessons from the West-African country which is an African film giant.
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