Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nollywood, and exceprts from William Easterly's book

Ever wondered which movie industry is the most vibrant after Bollywood and Hollywood? It’s Nollywood apparently, and here’s the story:
In 1992, Nigerian moviemaker Ken Nnebue released a film called Living in Bondage, a melodrama about a man who joins a secret sect that promises him great wealth if he sacrifices his wife. The film’s dialogue is in Igbo, with subtitles in English. Rather than showing the movie in theaters, which many Nigerians could not have afforded, Nnebue released the film directly to video. This was born the Nigerian movie industry called Nollywood, sometimes called the third most vibrant movie industry in the world after Hollywood and Bollywood. Shooting with a very low budget and a tight schedule, Nigerian moviemakers churn out thousands of titles affordable to poor Africans. The industry reaches the African mass market by emphasizing local cultures and themes most relevant to Africans. People in Nigeria video stores often pass up the latest Hollywood release in favor of one of them from Nollywood.
That’s from William Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s efforts to aid the Rest have done so much ill and so little good. Easterly is a development economist at the New York University. His point in the book is that transformations in poor countries will happen through the efforts, small and large, of homegrown entrepreneurs – Ken Nnebue of Nollywood is one example – and not through the ineffective aid efforts of institutions such as the G8 or the World Bank. Easterly is also critical of Jeffrey Sachs, whose argument is the exact opposite: that West has not been providing enough aid. Easterly is particularly miffed at the grand-sounding title of Sachs’ latest book The End of Poverty: The Economic Possibilities of Our Time.

But to return now to another excerpt. In this - one of my favorites in the book - Easterly illustrates how a local entrepreneur's perseverance despite immense adversities has helped increase access to cell phones (their usage has grown spectacularly in Africa) and hence improve businesses:
Entrepreneur Alieu Conteh started building a cellular network in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) when it was still in the midst of its civil war in the 1990s. He couldn’t get foreign manufacturers to ship cellular towers into the country with rebel soldiers around, so he got local men to weld scrap metal into a makeshift tower. Demand exploded for Conteh’s phones, and in 2001 he formed a joint venture with the South African firm Vodacom. One illiterate fisherwoman who lives in the Congo without electricity relies on her cell phone to sell her fish. She can’t put the fish in a freezer, so she keeps them alive on a line in the river until customers call to place an order. Vodacom Congo now has 1.1 million subscribers and is adding more than a thousand a day.


Kartik said...

This woman with the cell-phone and the fish - I've heard this story multiple time, memory fails where.

I feel its a good point: only homegrown enterprise can lift a populace in general.

Hari said...

I wouldn't be surprised - it is the sort of story that immediately attracts attention: the clever use technology and making the most of it when other, more basic amenities are missing.

I agree with Easterly too. Recently, a Ugandan journalist made the same point. I don't know the exact words but it went something like: "Which country ever became rich by extending the begging bowl?"