Author and physician, Edward Bono once said, “there is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.” When UNESCO created the Creative Cities network years ago, it was a way to identify exceptional urban centers harnessing the power of creativity. Today, there are over 250 cities in this network, with 15 of those cities from Africa. Some of these cities are under the travel radar, so you may never have heard of them. Each city is recognized in one of seven categories: gastronomy, literature, crafts and folk art, film, music, media arts, and design. These cities envisage everything from historical artworks to riveting literature, to colorful sounds and folklore, harnessing the power of African culture for cultural expression, diversity, and economic development. From the musical rhythm of the Congolese rumba to the techniques of lost wax bronze casting in Ouagadougou, here are the creative cities in Africa you should know about.

Dakar, Senegal

Dakar is a cosmopolitan city whose identity is centred on being a melting pot of people. The city houses 25% of Senegal’s population and 80% of its economic activity. So, you can say Dakar is Senegal’s engine room. But best of all is the dynamism of Dakar’s artistic scene and its vibrant and diverse community. The city hosts big cultural events like the World festival of black arts and the Biennial of contemporary African art. It is also home to a large number of cultural infrastructures including the Théodore Monod Museum of African art, the Arts Village, the National Gallery of Art, the Daniel Sorano National Theatre, and the Grand National Theatre. Culture, creativity, and innovation are the driving forces of its local development.

Sokode, Togo

Sokodé is renowned for the art of weaving, a highly regarded activity among craftsmen and women. Although intended to produce the day-to-day clothing of the city’s inhabitants, the woven wrappers are also used to make the tunics and large embroidered boubous that Tem knights (the rulers of the Tem people, an ethnic group found in Togo, Ghana and Benin) wear on festival days. Weaving accounts for over 35% of all activity among the many guilds within the craft sector of Sokodé. The strength and dynamism of the craft sector are major drivers of the local economy and contribute significantly to the income of both the city and the country. Sokodé hosts major events that contributes in promoting the crafts and folk-art sector, including the Togo Sokodé International Fair, the Togo craft fair, and the Gadao-Adossa festival. 

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

Kinshasa bears witness to a rich music history. It houses great cultural diversity and is considered the mother of Congolese rumba, a popular genre of dance music shaped by many international influences. It is also home to multiple recording studios like Olympia, Ngoma, and Loningisa, where pioneer musicians and bands such as African Jazz and Ok Jazz made their debut as part of Congolese rumba’s second-wave movement. Every year, the city hosts various music festivals such as the international stars festival, the jazz kif festival, and the pan African music festival, which is done in cooperation with the Brazzaville creative city of music. Kinshasa is the only Central African city to host an internationally renowned institution of higher arts education, providing training to performance artists and musicians. 

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is endowed with abundant creative talent, a diverse and vibrant population, and a rich and complex history. Cape Town’s growing reputation in the area of design is supported by nine major annual design-related events and a spectrum of smaller, more focused design events held throughout the year. The open design festival links design to innovation, education, and community. Since 2013, this 12-day festival attracts around 8,000 people each year. Cape Town is home to the world-acclaimed Design Indaba Festival. Cape Town’s creative industry contributes about 2.2% of the city’s formal employment. 

Praia, Cabo Verde

Praia, the capital of Cabo Verde, is the country’s largest economic centre, generating 43.2% of the GDP. Following the country’s independence in 1975, Praia implemented a promotion process for its musical genres, such as tabanka, batuque, and funaná and subsequently, morna and coladeira. This revitalized the local creative economy, which currently accounts for 15% of jobs, 31% of which are attributed to the music industry. Praia is currently the country’s musical centre, supported by the Atlantic Music Expo, the largest music trade fair in the Atlantic region dedicated to promoting creole culture, the Kriol Jazz Festival, and the Gamboa Music Festival. 

Nakuru, Kenya

The city of Nakuru takes pride in a range of cultural assets that instil culture and creativity. It is identified as a city of bountiful crafts and folk art, with venues, annual cultural events, cultural landmarks, and icons that constitute the city’s main cultural assets. Nakuru’s crafts and folk-art sector has birthed innovative artists who express an authentic cultural identity, in the fields of sculpture, visual arts, beadwork, fabric making and design, metalwork, pottery, storytelling, and folklore, among others. They are the heart of Nakuru’s creative economy, bringing together thirteen creative sub-sectors that use culture and creativity as strategic tools for economic prosperity. 

Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo

Lubumbashi is situated along the mining region of the Copperbelt. And the copper and malachite industries have long been the backbones of the local economy. The city is famous for using creativity to highlight its industrial legacy, with more than 50 workshops dedicated to malachite carving. Workers from the copper mines have anchored many artistic expressions in the city’s cultural identity, from street performances to popular theatre and music including tarantula and brekkie. This creativity led to the creation of the copper eaters festival, which celebrates artisan work. The city hosts the Picha Encounters also referred to as the Lubumbashi Biennale for Visual Arts, which is known as one of the most innovative and experimental cultural events in Africa for showcasing urban-related works of art. 

Bohicon, Benin Republic

Bohicon’s creativity is linked to its tangible and intangible heritage, the most famous of which remains the underground village of Agongointo. Bohicon is famous for its cultural offerings, especially its gastronomy. The city is home to a multicity of local dishes from Afitin, a condiment made of sumbala seeds, the basic seasoning of local sauces, to well-known Houawélio, a special fermented corn paste, which has been passed on from generation to generation. 

Bohicon’s creativity is around its local culinary specialities, notably Bômiho. The city has organized a series of events to provide a platform for the exhibition of Bohicon’s traditional gastronomic heritage. Hotels, cafes, restaurants, and bars are means for gastronomy to be a source of the city’s income. 

Bida, Nigeria

Located in the middle belt of Nigeria, Bida is renowned as a city of quality craft manufacturing since the 11th century. Today the local creative industry includes the art of glass production, metallurgy, wood carving as well as fabric and raffia weaving. Bida’s artisans still make their handmade products using traditional furnaces and locally made hand tools, as well as traditional methods that date back millennia. Bida’s crafts and folk art industry provides direct economic benefits to the city’s creative communities, through the creation of employment opportunities, attracting investments from both local and international stakeholders, generating revenues, and stimulating the local economy through tourism and trade. The city’s urban vision is to make Bida a creative city that maintains traditions. 

Porto- Novo, Benin republic

Porto-Novo is the capital of Benin and one of the oldest cities in the country. Artisanship in the city of Porto-Novo is highly diverse and organized, with 42 craft guilds. Families have specialized in specific crafts such as blacksmithing, pottery, wickerwork, and the manufacturing of musical instruments. They help anchor cultural values, togetherness, and cohesion in urban development projects. The city organizes the International Festival of Arts and Culture of Porto-Novo. It also hosts cultural events such as the festival-Ateliers Éclosions Urbaines (Urban Outbreak Festival-Workshops) and the Porto-Novo West-African Urban Planning Workshops Event.

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Bronze-working originated in Niongsin, to three major families who specialized in the lost wax casting of copper and bronze. Over time, other groups developed an interest in the craft, which has become the chief source of income for many families in Ouagadougou. The sector has a considerable impact on the local economy, with service-based craftsmanship employing 13% of workers in the informal sector. Various training centres promote artisanship, like the Centre national d’artisanat et d’art (National Centre for Arts and Crafts), the Village Artisanal de Ouagadougou (Craft Village) the Vitrine du Bronze (Bronze Display), and the Lukaré Centre. The city hosts two major two-yearly cultural events: the Ouagadougou International craft fair, and the Ouagadougou pan-African cinema and television festival.

Durban, South Africa

Home to Luthuli – the first African Nobel laureate –, Bessie Head, Mandela, and Gandhi, the city was built on the pillars of learning and literacy despite the years of apartheid. In books and literature, Durban finds the possibility of dialogue, reconciliation, and reconstruction. The city hosts the University of KwaZula-Natal, one of the country’s highest-ranked and one of the few to offer a Ph.D. in creative writing. The city also holds a strong independent publishing network, which offers a key platform for emerging literary voices. Various fairs, festivals, and conferences on literature are held locally, most notably the major Time of the writer literary festival which has featured Nobel laureates for literature and writers from every African nation. Durban recognizes the crucial role literature, culture, and creativity, have in forging national identity, fostering social cohesion, and delivering socio-economic development. It’s KZN Provincial Language Policy promotes the equitable use of the city’s official languages – English, Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans – within educational programs.

Brazzaville, Congo

The capital of Congo, Brazzaville, is a great cultural hub where artistic activity and intellectual activity thrive. Brazzaville witnessed the beginning of Congolese rumba, a musical rhythm, and theme initiated by Paul Kamba of the bantous de la capitale orchestra. For many years, Africa danced to the Congolese rhythm. And even to this day, Brazzaville, which houses the African music council, the regional branch of the international council of music, continues to hear its music everywhere in the world. Every two years, Africa gathers in Brazzaville. For a few days, the city becomes the African capital of music thanks to the world-renowned Pan-African Music Festival. Besides this great polymorphic festival, the city boasts other major events such as the Feux de Brazza festival. 

Overstrand Hermanus, South Africa

Overstrand Hermanus is known for its exceptional whale-watching opportunities and the most scenic drive in the world. But this beautiful town is a top player in the wine industry, with the Hermanus Wine Route renowned for being the Pinot Noir haven of Hemel en Aarde Valley. Each year, the city hosts Pinot Noir week, an international celebration of wine that attracts experts from all over the world to taste, rate, and enjoy local products. Along with celebrating regional wine, the city organizes the ten-day annual FynArts Festival, of which a sizeable portion of the program is devoted to promoting gastronomic arts. Overstrand Hermanus uses its wine and food tourism industry as economic drivers by inspiring people to engage with the local gastronomic sector and ingredients. 

Port Louis, Mauritius

The creative industries of Port Louis are deeply interwoven with the city’s culture and traditions, particularly its musical heritage. The city boasts 92 National Heritage sites and 40 sites of heritage significance, including Fort Adelaide. It is also home to the Nelson Mandela Centre for African culture where the richness of African and Creole music, arts, and culture are displayed. Then there is the Islamic cultural center for the preservation of Islamic music and culture. Port Louis displays a rich international cultural scene with communities like Chinatown. The streets of Port Louis are a frequent stage for artists and performers, like the Jardin de la compagnie, a cultural musical platform for vulnerable groups and individuals. 

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