BOOKS: The role of arts in economic growth

Saturday June 15 2019

The Creative Wealth of Nations Book by Patrick Kabanda.

The Creative Wealth of Nations Book by Patrick Kabanda. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI 

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In his book The Creative Wealth of Nations, Ugandan musician Patrick Kabanda argues that arts and culture are not luxuries but essential to development since they improve people’s lives.

Kabanda is an organist who trained at New York’s Juilliard School.

“If nations can fully engage their creative wealth, they are likely to reap major monetary and non-monetary benefits,” Kabanda writes in his book subtitled Can the Arts Advance Development? published by Cambridge University Press.

He argues that culture contributes to development in many ways. He writes: “Here are just three: First, by generating direct economic activity through performances and trade in cultural goods and services. Second, through the arts’ ability to emancipate or foster human imagination. Third, by cultivating community solidarity, inclusion, and collaboration. The arts have a compelling role, both directly and indirectly.”.

He also argues that the arts can be transformational, are therapeutic, as they help us get in touch with our inner selves and can help societies evolve.



He discusses both the monetary and non-monetary contributions of the arts to a country's development by drawing on examples from around the world, by linking it with arts education, environmental stewardship, intellectual property, nation branding, digital technology, tourism, gender equality, mental health, social healing, urban renewal, and creative data collection.

Kabanda believes that the arts can lead to creativity that induces innovation in other areas, often with unanticipated pay-offs. “Despite their promise, that the arts are often overlooked in serious development debates is in part because few economists bother to understand what they have to offer.”

Patrick Kabanda, the author of The Creative
Patrick Kabanda, the author of The Creative Wealth of Nations. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI

The book takes a broader perspective, by dealing with the performing arts as an exemplar of the wider contribution of the arts to human welfare.

“After all, from architecture to dance, painting to poetry, the arts tend to feed off each other. The importance of the arts is undervalued. As someone whose life has been enriched by music, I must join those challenging this undervaluation, building a case for a strategy that captures the diverse contributions of culture to human welfare. Such creative wealth can unleash all sorts of possibilities — that harmonise with what meaningful development is all about.” he writes.

According to Kabanda, in the cost-benefit analyses, politicians forget that sometimes culture is not just about money, although that is of course important. Culture is also about people’s identity and dignity, which they have reason to value. Having full-fledged representation of those values in the government is one assurance that leaders care about the heritage of their peoples.


He observes that many developing countries and their development partners pay little attention to how culture can stimulate ideas for growth. “The modus operandi for the most part is to exploit land and extractives.

No wonder that, until recently, accounting practices in Nigeria and elsewhere were less concerned with considering the intangible creative aspects of the economy.”

Kabanda advocates meaningful development that goes beyond GDP growth and demonstrates the diverse impact of applying the arts in promoting meaningful economic and social progress.

The author insists, every nation, big or small, has immense cultural wealth. “But if creativity is ripe even in the poorest of nations, why are these services not well harvested? There are plenty of political and policy issues at play. Nevertheless, one common challenge is their intangibility…” he writes.

Kabanda trained as an organist at the Juilliard School in the Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts in New York City.

He is also a graduate of the School of International Affairs at the Fletcher School Tufts University, Massachusetts, US. He has taught at Phillips Academy, consulted for the World Bank, and contributed to the World Development Report 2016. He was awarded the 2013 Presidential Award for Citizenship and Public Service from Tufts University, Massachusetts, US.

The book is available on Amazon for $29.9.