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Foreign investors are flocking to Nigeria’s film industry

US giant Netflix, France’s Canal+ and China’s StarTimes are among those making moves

Kathleen Ndongmo



Nigeria’s film industry, dubbed Nollywood, has long kept viewers entertained with tales of romance and riches, and now foreign investors are increasingly looking for a part of the action. 

US giant Netflix, France’s Canal+ and China’s StarTimes are among those making moves in the globe’s second most-prolific film industry, which churns out more than 2,500 films each year and is topped only by India’s Bollywood. 

At an event in Nigeria’s economic capital Lagos this week potential investors from France mingled with local directors and politicians as they heard about the possibilities on offer. 

A customer stands in front of a shelf full of Nollywood movies in a shop at Idumota market in Lagos. – The French Canal +, the US Netflix, but also the Chinese StarTimes, are eyed by the Nigerian cinema, the second largest film industry in the world, behind Bollywood with more than 2,500 films produced per year. (Photo by CRISTINA ALDEHUELA / AFP)

“The revenues from the box office rose by 36 percent between 2017 and 2018 from $17.3 million to $23.6 million,” Chijioke Uwaegbute, an expert on the industry at PwC Nigeria, told those gathered.  

“Nowhere in the world will you see this kind of opportunities and growth.”

Traditionally, Nollywood films have been low-budget productions, often shot in just a couple of days at a cost of several thousand dollars and marred, sometimes, by poor sound and image quality.  

Rampant piracy and the widespread circulation of unlicensed copies has eaten into profits and put off investors from increasing funding. 

But higher quality Nigerian-made films have in recent years been having far more impact at the box office in a nation with a potential market of almost 200 million people.

The Wedding Party and its sequel Wedding Party 2 released by director Kemi Adetiba in 2016 and 2017 generated over $2 million, beating out US blockbusters for the first time. 

Nigerian director Kemi Adetiba, who directed “The Wedding Party”, speaks about the film in Lagos on February 4, 2017. – Nollywood film “The Wedding Party” has shown Nigerian cinema at the top of its game, with its success at the box office taking it to new audiences across Africa and the world. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

Following up on that success, the comedy Chief Daddy by Niyi Akinmolayan brought in some $600,000 last year. 

The figures remain miniscule compared to the vast sums grossed by Hollywood hits, and the Oscars are a distant dream, but increasingly, upper and middle class Nigerians who can afford the tickets seem willing to pay to go see local productions.

And it is these films with higher production value that are attracting the investors from overseas.

‘Real appetite’

Canal Olympia, a subsidiary of French media giant Vivendi, runs cinemas and entertainment venues across the continent and includes at least one Nollywood film in its programming each week. 

The group will next year open two cinemas in Nigeria, a country with only one screen per million people where power shortages and high land-costs have made such ventures complicated. 

Related: How piracy created and maintained Nollywood’s success

“It is very important for us to be close to Nollywood,” Simon Minkowski, development director at Canal Olympia, says. 

“But beyond just distribution, there is a real appetite to produce the content made by Africans in Africa.”

Laurent Sicouri, head of acquisitions at Canal+, said he was in Lagos to “evaluate the production” of Nigerian cinema. 

French president Emmanuel Macron takes a selfie with Nollywood artists during a live show in the AfriKa Shrine in Lagos on July 3, 2018. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP)

The chain has already upped its interest in films from the country and offers Nollywood TV to its subscribers in Francophone Africa.

While there is interest from Europe, most of the attention for directors and producers in Nigeria is focused on trying to attract Netflix. 

The online entertainment provider has already acquired the rights to a string of Nollywood productions and in January released the first Netflix Nigerian original film, Lionheart by actor-director Genevieve Nnaji.

Those involved in the industry are hoping that the influx of foreign interest will help push their output to a new level. 

But Serge Noukoue, founder of the Paris-based Nollywood Week film festival, warned that the industry needs to wise up to take full advantage.

“Now that Nollywood is attracting investors, the Nigerians have to learn to better protect their interests so that there is not just a pure exploitation of their content,” he said. 

“At the moment, they sell to Netflix and that is the end of the story.” 



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Culture & Tourism

Contents of two ancient pyramids unveiled in Egypt

A team of archaeologists had uncovered sarcophagi and the remains of an ancient wall dating back some 4,000 years ago.



A man brushes off dust from a sarcophagus, part of a new discovery carried out almost 300 meters south of King Amenemhat II’s pyramid at Dahshur necropolis, exposed near the Bent Pyramid, about 40km (25 miles) south of the Egyptian capital Cairo, during an inaugural ceremony of the pyramid and its satellites, on July 13, 2019. (Photo by Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP)

Egypt on Saturday opened two ancient pyramids south of the capital Cairo and unveiled a collection of newly found sarcophagi, some containing well-preserved mummies. 

Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani told reporters the Bent Pyramid of King Sneferu, the first pharaoh of Egypt’s 4th dynasty, and a nearby pyramid would be reopened to visitors for the first time since 1965.

Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany speaks in front of the Bent Pyramid of Sneferu (Photo by Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP)

He also said a team of archaeologists had uncovered sarcophagi and the remains of an ancient wall dating back to the Middle Kingdom some 4,000 years ago.  

The finds were made during excavation work in the royal necropolis of Dahshur on the west bank of the Nile River, in an area home to some of Egypt’s oldest pyramids.

“Several stone, clay and wooden sarcophagi were found and some contain mummies in good condition,” the antiquities ministry said in a statement. 

The ancient wall stretches some 60 metres and is situated south of the pyramid of 12th dynasty pharaoh King Amenemhat II, also in the Dahshur necropolis. 

The finds also included funerary masks as well as tools dating back to the Late Period — which spanned almost 300 years up to Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt in 332 BC — used for cutting stones, the ministry said.

Egypt has in recent years sought to promote archaeological discoveries across the country in a bid to revive tourism, which took a hit from the turmoil that followed its 2011 uprising.



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eSwatini bans “weird” witchcraft competition

The proposed competition of witchcraft and magic spells was unheard of and regarded as an anomaly in the country



eSwatini bans "weird" witchcraft competition
(File photo)

A competition pitting witchdoctors against each other in a battle of skills this weekend in eSwatini — formerly known as Swaziland — has been banned, according to a government statement.

Organisers had planned to hold the competition in Manzini, the second city of eSwatini, a country in southern Africa ruled by King Mswati III, one of the world’s last absolute monarchs.

“The proposed competition of witchcraft and magic spells was unheard of in the country and it was regarded as an anomaly in the lives of the people of eSwatini,” government spokesman Percy Simelane said in a statement.

“Government will not sanction any competition of that nature. Anyone who will persist with any activity related to witchcraft will face the full might of the law.”

The statement, released on Tuesday, said the Witchcraft Act of 1889 defines witchcraft, sorcery or the practice of voodoo as a punishable offence.

“Government cannot sit back and watch while the lives of the citizens of this country are exposed to illegal and weird practices that have the potential to poison the minds of (Swazi people), especially children,” Simelane added.

“Government will not allow the voodoo competition — period!”

eSwatini has a population of 1.3 million people, with many following Christianity and indigenous beliefs.

The Times of Swaziland on Wednesday quoted “Africa Gama”, the organiser of the event, as saying the competition would have pit witchdoctors against traditional healers as under the previous king Sobhuza II, who died in 1982.

“The King was concerned about unnecessary competition among healers so he called them to one place so that they could demonstrate their powers,” he said.

“I was competing with traditional healers, doctors, and prophets from across the world.”



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How Malawi’s busker is fighting myths about albinism

Chigwandali is not your usual street musician. He is an albinism musician and has featured in a Madonna-produced documentary



How Malawi's busker is fighting myths about albinism | News Central TV
Malawi's musician with albinism Lazarus Chigwandali performs in Lilongwe's Area 3 Market. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

Like scores of other buskers, Lazarus Chigwandali plies the streets of Malawi’s capital Lilongwe hoping for a few coins from appreciative passers-by.

But Chigwandali is not your usual street musician. He is an albino, releasing a professional album, and the star of a documentary produced by Madonna.

Albinos are often targeted in brutal attacks in Malawi and other southern African countries because they have white skin due to a hereditary condition that causes lack of pigmentation.

Killings, abductions and gruesome dismembering of body parts for witchcraft and rituals are all real dangers.

Despite the risks, Chigwandali, 39, has been out in front of the public for years playing his upbeat tunes on a homemade banjo and a drum that he hits with a pedal operated by his right foot.

His big break came just last year when a tourist took a video of him on a cellphone and the footage was seen by Swedish producer Johan Hugo, who asked him to record an album.

Chigwandali, who sings in the local Chichewa language, draws on his tough upbringing for his music, telling of constant harassment, suspicion and the threat of physical attack.

“Growing up, people didn’t want us being close to them because of our skin,” he told reporters.

“People would leave when I went to watch a football match with my younger brother (also an albino), others would jostle us.”

“The album talks about the plight of persons with albinism. How people should not stigmatise others.”

‘Blows you away’ –

Chigwandali’s music stands out on its own — energetic with sharp vocals that catch everyone’s attention as they walk by.

Hugo, the Swedish producer, was so impressed by the video clip that he tracked down the Malawian busker and offered to record his music.

How Malawi's busker is fighting myths about albinism | News Central TV
Malawi’s musician with albinism, Lazarus Chigwandali, poses with his managers Siphiwe Zulu (L) and Esau Mwamwaya before leaving his home at Likuni to go and perform at Area 3 Market in the capital Lilongwe. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

“A few golden times in life something blows you away in such an amazing way you just cry and laugh and shake your head,” Hugo said later on social media.

“(It was) one of the coolest and most emotional moments of my life.”

Chigwandali still busks occasionally to provide for his wife and three sons — two of them albinos — though he hopes the blossoming projects he is involved with will soon bring in a regular income.

He wears a wide-brimmed hat to keep off the sunlight that causes painful damage to his sensitive, heavily-freckled skin, and a traditional handmade shirt with a matching pair of trousers.

Ikponswa Ero, the UN’s chief expert on albinism, told reporters that Chigwandali was playing a unique role in tackling prejudice against albinos.

“He is using the arts for advocacy, which is a powerful tool because it touches people’s hearts, so he is really doing something important here,” she said.

“People like Lazarus complement people like myself who report and help build policy.”

And Malawi has experienced a surge in violent attacks on people with albinism.

In a report last year, Amnesty International said that since November 2014 there had been 148 crimes reported against people with albinism, with at least 21 deaths.

For Chigwandali, he says his “recent status as a famous musician has made it difficult for me to be a target because I am more prominent. So, now I go to the village without the fear of being abducted.”

‘Give voice to albinos’ –

Originally from the town of Dedza in central Malawi, Chigwandali moved to Lilongwe after his much-loved younger brother died of skin cancer in 2006.

Superstar singer, Madonna met him during a visit to Malawi last year, and took an executive producer credit in the documentary, simply titled “Lazarus”, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in April.

How Malawi's busker is fighting myths about albinism | News Central TV
Malawi’s musician with albinism Lazarus Chigwandali performs in Lilongwe’s Area 3 Market. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

“A powerful voice of a new generation in Malawi,” Madonna wrote beneath a picture of the pair on social media when they performed together in Malawi.

As well as Madonna, Chigwandali hopes to emulate Salif Keita, the Malian afro-pop star singer who also has albinism.

Now preparing for his album launch, he has released a promotional track “Ndife Alendo”  (“We are strangers”) which has been played on several BBC radio stations.

“My message is reaching the whole world now,” he said. “But there’s also been really amazing support from Malawi radio and TV — I want people in my home country to hear this music and appreciate it.

“This has all been a rollercoaster ride for me, these things don’t happen in real life normally. I don’t know what to expect. But I trust that people want the best for me. 

“I hope my music gives a voice to people with albinism, so they understand they’re as worthy as any other human being.”



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