ITL #530   Brands are a catalyst: reimagining the African brand narrative

1 year ago

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African brands have long been overshadowed by those from elsewhere. It’s time to move the needle. By Thebe Ikalafeng.



Chinua Achebe, the late Nigerian novelist and essayist remarked in a 1994 interview with the Paris Review that, "until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter."

 

Since the Portuguese started setting up slave trades in Elmina, Ghana in the 16th century; the convention of the Berlin Conference in the late 19th century regulating the partitioning of Africa among European countries; the ‘Scramble for Africa’ between 1885 and 1910, during which European countries were competing for control of Africa's territories; and in 1619 when a ship with 20 captives landed at Point Comfort in Virginia, ushering in the era of American slavery, the African narrative has always been shaped by its conquerors.  

 

As then exiled South African musician, Miriam Makeba, once put it, “the conqueror writes history . . . you don't expect people who came to invade us to write the truth about us." Makeba was the first African to win a Grammy and to address the United Nations General Assembly in 1963 where she pleaded with world leaders to pressure the South African government to do away with apartheid. It is an African narrative that has endured throughout the 100 years since the first  African country to gain independence with the Unilateral Declaration of Egyptian Independence on 28 February 1922 when the United Kingdom recognized Egypt as the first North African independent sovereign state, through to the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence in 1957, Ghana, and the liberation of the last colonial outpost, South Africa, in 1994. A period during which former colonial nations began shifting to influencing their economic, security and political interests, and controlling a growing humanitarian movement in the continent. 

 

A continent characterised by coups, conflict and corruption

Unsurprisingly, despite the continent being ‘returned’ to Africans, albeit it with institutions and systems that contrasted their indigenous ways, and notwithstanding the continent’s formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by the 32 African states that had achieved independence to drive an African agenda, the continent has struggled to shape, own and sustain a narrative of a desired ‘integrated, peaceful and prosperous’ agenda as affirmed as its 2063 goal at the 50th anniversary of the OAU (which was re-branded to the African Union (AU) in 2000) in 2013. 

 

The African brand has been characterised by coups, conflict and corruption” as US-based Time Magazine put it in a 1984 issue headlined ‘Africa’s woes.’ A “hopeless” continent as a UK-based Economist concluded in 2000, saying the “new millennium has brought more disaster than hope to Africa.”  Consequently, among the Top 137 most competitive countries as determined by World Economic Forum, the Top 10 are either European, American or Asian, whereas the bottom 10 are all African.

 

Africa rising?

Recognising the progress the continent was making in the 2000s with rising rates of real growth of GDP and real average incomes; declining infant mortality and rising literacy rates, The Economist (2011) would reverse its view, joined by Time Magazine (2012) with their headlines ‘Africa Rising’ and later, ‘Aspiring Africa’ (Economist, 2013), arguably inspired by the Indian-American University of Texas at Austin academic, Professor Vijay Mahajan’s best-selling and widely referenced Africa Rising book on lessons that Africa’s businesses have learned about succeeding on the continent based on his visit to a few African countries.

 

Shaping the African narrative

In all instances, typically it was not Africa reflecting on its own challenges or triumphs, but foreign narrators of its story. Not surprisingly, as a 2021 ‘How Africa covers Africa in the media’ research among African editors, editors of Pan African outlets and international correspondents and analysis of content from over 60 African news outlets in 15 countries (covering all African economic regions in Fracophone and Anglophone Africa) commissioned by Africa No Filter, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to changing narratives about Africa, established that one-third of all coverage on Africa was from non-African sources, with AFP and BBC accounting for one-quarter of all stories found in African outlets about other African countries.

 

African news agencies contributed minimally; 63% of outlets surveyed don’t have correspondents in other countries in Africa, and 81% of the stories analysed focused on “hard news”, e.g. conflicts and crises driven by events, mostly political. This led to a conclusion that stories about Africa continue to be told through a negative, stereotypical lens of poverty, disease, conflict, poor leadership and corruption. 

 

This much is undeniable – for Africa or anywhere else. “Whether we like it or not, the world forms an opinion about each continent and country every day – either through the media, interaction with other people, their own experiences or simply due to preconceived notions,” said Simon Anholt, the renowned policy advisor who coined the term, ‘nation branding’ to describe the intentional approach to shaping a nation’s reputation to drive investment, tourism and citizenship. 

 

While various institutions have been initiated, including the AU, the New African Partnership for Development (NEPAD), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and others, to shape its destiny and narrative, African has does not have the type of African-wide global media channel in the mould of American CNN, the United Kingdom’s BBC, Qatar’s Al Jazeera and French led Afrique 24, and as such the African narrative remains dominated by non-African channels.

An African renaissance

With Africa’s population forecast to reach almost 2 billion by 2050 (UN Population Division and World Bank), urbanization projected to reach 62% by 2050 (Accenture Report: The Dynamic African Consumer Market), African consumer spending projected to reach $2.1 trillion by 2025 driven by continent’s “young and growing population which make up 40% of the continent’s population (McKinsey & Co.), amid debates about where Africa stands during the turbulent 21st century defined by global instability with territorial wars, the rise and dominance of China in Africa, and rising calls for de-dollarisation, there has probably never been a more urgent time for Africa to define its destiny and narrative.

The formalization of the Africa Free Trade Continental Trade Area (AfCFTA), the world's largest by number of people and economic size, projected to host 1.7 billion people and oversee $6.7 trillion in consumer and business spending, by eliminating tariffs on intra-Africa trade, will create unprecedented opportunities for Africa, making it easier for African businesses to trade within the continent and benefit from the growing African market.

It is an advantageous opportunity for Africa which currently has on average a negative 8.79% trade balance (www.Global Economy.com); accounts for 2.9% of the world production and 2.6% of the world trade though it has a 16.3% of the world population; is home to an estimated 30% of the world's mineral reserves. 

 

Leveraging Brands to transform the African narrative

As demonstrated by many of the leading nations, brands of a nation have been proven to be a vector of the image of a nation – or continent.  For example, Germany is characterised as a nation of efficient, industrious quality characterized and represented by its Mercedes and Siemens brands; Switzerland characterized as an efficient and precise nation, as exemplified by the “Swiss Made” trusted watch industry endorsement; and the US  is the benchmark of entrepreneurship, freedom and competitiveness, and thus dominate the rankings of the most valuable, innovative and admired brands, such as Google and Apple.

 

With African brands accounting for only a 20% share of the most admired brands by Africans in Africa as established in a 10-year study of the most admired brands in Africa by Brand Africa (www.brand.africa), the continent has an opportunity to assert and leverage its economic, spending and population strengths by developing branded goods and services to serve this market, reverse the trade balance – and shape its narrative through brands.

 

Non-African brands have carved their place in African hearts and wallets through their sustained investment on brand building over decades, partnerships with record-breaking African athletes such as Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, the first athlete to achieve a sub-two-hour marathon, collaborations such as the ones with South Africa designer Poppy Karabo and Nigeria’s music sensation Wizkid on his Starboy brand – and Coke which has been in the top 5 over the decade. 

 

Asia have held their own led by their uber-brand, Samsung, a mainstay in the Top 100 brands in Africa with presence in almost all African countries.  Overall, where 98% of African brands are from three regions – North Africa (1%), West Africa, in particular Nigeria (40%), Southern Africa led by South Africa (32%) and East Africa, led by Kenya (26%) the continent has an opportunity to drive a brand-led renaissance to transform its economy, identity and narrative. 

 

Widely known pan-African brands such as Dangote (Nigeria), MTN (South Africa), Safaricom/Mpesa (Kenya) and Ethiopian Airlines (Ethiopia) have proven that Africa can create competitive brands. But Africa will have to pick up the pace and scale across many more African nations. A majority of the African brands (24%) were created and/or launched in the 1990s, post the first independence in sub-Sahara (Ghana in 1957), with the most recent launched in 2016.  Most of the leading South African brands (64%) were created before its 1990 independence, while Nigeria (81%) and Kenya (85%) created the fewest brands after their independences in 1960 and 1966. 

 

Among the Top 100 most admired brands in Africa, only five brands – Dangote (Nigeria), Glo (Nigeria), MTN (South Africa), Tiger Brands (South Africa), Tusker (Kenya) have featured in Top 100 rankings every year

Compared to their global peers, African brands are relatively young – with the oldest being Castle Lager (1886, South Africa) and the youngest, Simu TV (established in 2016, Tanzania).

In the 10-year survey, the media category continues to reflect a bias towards non-African media which represent more than 75% of most admired media in Africa, with global brands such as BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera dominating the rankings over the decade. In a fragmented African media landscape, South Africa’s DSTV, a pay channel platform rather than a news channel, is the only challenger.

There is no question that if Africa can leverage and consolidate its demographic dividend, abundant resources, changing socio-economic landscape and the opportunity presented by the AfCFTA, through made-in-Africa brands, it will own and transform a narrative of a truly independent, competitive and prosperous continent. Until then, as Achebe warned, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter – the non-African institutional and commercial brands that dominate the continent. It is Africa’s time.

 

 

 

 

 


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The Author

Thebe Ikalafeng

Thebe Ikalafeng is a global Africa authority in branding, reputation and intellectual property law; founder of The Brand Leadership Group, Brand Africa, Africa Brand Leadership Academy, Africa Intellectual Property Partners. He has been to every country in Africa and every continent in the world. He is a chartered marketer (SA) and a member of the American Marketing Association, Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa, the American Marketing Association and the International Public Relations Association.

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