Adam Valavanis is a volunteer intern in the Africa program at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC.
On November 5, the New York Times ran on the first page of its business section a long piece on the emergence of luxury lifestyle publications in Nigeria. Four full-color images cover the page, each of the creators and editors of influential culture and fashion magazines based in Lagos. In the article, author Adenike Olanrewaju describes the emergence of publications Genevieve Magazine, Exquisite Magazine, Today’s Woman, and Glam Africa. With an increasingly cosmopolitan elite, Olanrewaju writes, “luxury brands are eager to establish firmer footholds there.” Although all of these magazines discuss the latest fashion trends, some also choose to take on taboo issues such as drug abuse and domestic violence.
The fact that the Times chose to profile the heads of Nigeria’s lifestyle magazines on the front page of its business section is even more notable, as it illustrates the growth of Nigeria’s international cultural influence. While Nigeria has always been politically and culturally influential on the African continent thanks to its large population and enormous oil wealth, the Times coverage is the latest example of growing Western interest in Nigerian culture.
This attention comes after increased international consumption of Nigeria’s hugely popular film industry, Nollywood, which is already well-established across the African continent. Nollywood movies are beginning to reach audiences in Europe and the United States, with cities such as Frankfurt, Los Angeles, and Toronto now hosting Nollywood film festivals. In addition, Nigeria is home to an influential music scene, notably Afrobeat, which combines West African music styles with American funk and jazz. The pioneer of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti, became internationally famous in the 1970s and 1980s and has inspired generations of Western artists, such as Talking Heads and Beyoncé. In literature, Chinua Achebe, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, and, more recently, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have significant readership in the United States. Nigerian literature and its emerging figures were themselves the subject of a Times piece in November 2017.
Nigeria’s culture rooted in fashion, film, music, and literature translates into enhanced international prestige. At the time of independence, many hoped that as a huge, democratic country, Nigeria would provide Africa with a “seat at the table” among the traditional international powers. Perhaps that is happening first with respect to art and culture, rather than by the more conventional political and security means.