Africa, the continent that others thought would be wiped out like flies by the coronavirus because we are supposedly the poorest, yet here we are, still standing, trading, and living life, as resilient as we have always been.
Why, you may ask, have I started with this opening? I do so because this is the story that has been told of Africa by the world since time immemorial. The picture painted by the outside world perhaps changed from a child with a bowl in hand and flies buzzing around to a “better” one of a bigger family eating burgers and smiling.
The picture may have changed but the story that continues to be told is the same, with subconscious subtleness. It is up to Africa to build a bridge with every child of the African soil, and with the rest of the world, in order to change the narrative.
Have you ever heard anyone else refer to their continent as the motherland? I haven’t in all my 49 years round the sun except for us in Africa. Africans refer to Africa as the motherland because every human being on the planet is a descendant of Africa. After all, history and science have proven that Africa is the cradle of mankind! This right here is perfect branding for the continent.
It has become more evident now with African nations targeting Africans in the diaspora to return home and invest here. And this has worked out quite well, as noted in the success of the Ghana Year of Return programme, which was initiated two years ago to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first recorded enslaved Africans in the State of Virginia in the United States.
The time has come for Africa to tell its own stories, stories that birth transformation. Stories of young Afrillenials who are taking the world by storm with African-born startup ventures in the fintech, cleantech, and healthcare spaces, from Nigeria to Kenya, Rwanda to Ethiopia, with $2.4 billion deployed in 2020 alone, according to a Briter Bridges report. This is a leap from $638 million in 2016.
Stories that explain why everyone is queueing to play a part and be present in Africa with the dawn of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the excitement of reaching 1.35 billion human beings with a collective GDP of $5.3 trillion in the next four years, and the youngest and fastest urbanising population on the planet must be owned!
While the external story tellers branding Africa are focused on what is not happening instead of what is going on, Africans are continuing to present proof of clarity in momentum and action through diligence, resilience, and skill, resolute to change the narrative about their continent.
The pandemic got Africa to fast-track to the future, righting the errors of the past, connecting with one another on the continent, creating solutions, and building generational wealth. We do not have to look far afield; just look at Konza City in Kenya and the mind-blowing possibilities that this initiative has been able to showcase.
Home of food
Africa, the home of food, cocoa, gas, diamonds, cotton, gold, cobalt, arable land, sun, and the resource of people should not be poor. A continent whose borders were never created by its own people cannot be confined and dictated to by the creators of those boundaries. This is why the AfCFTA was born. We cannot blame any outsider should it fail as its success is in our hands. And this can only happen through collaboration, collective vision, hunger for better, things and supporting one another, both those living on the continent and outside.
Many African leaders are beginning to speak with passion about taking charge of our own future. Words and actions, though, are two different things. Some are actioning their words while others continue to be oblivious as they lack clarity on what the future holds.
As my brother, Pastor Olakunle Soriyan from Nigeria, says, “The future is sure because the future is today. You don’t greet it with fear, you greet it with action. Anything different from this is like taking poison and hoping someone else will die!” Leadership is going to be key in telling the story of Africa and branding the continent as well as its products and services. Representation matters a lot and what our leaders say and do matters.
I once read an African analogy that said the coalition of trees in the forest always supported the axe because it had a wooden handle, in essence qualifying it to be one of them. The trees never realised that the axe was a tool designed to destroy them even though it shared their background. We will find that this is a powerful analogy if we delve into its meaning. We must create a coalition that offers solutions and is focused on the future
Our resilience to the pandemic shows that our stories are not about how far we have come but how well we have risen. National and individual brands will play a pivotal role in creating stories that share the connections we have with one another and our values; how being one another’s keeper has continued to be the common thread that unites us, not how we are supposedly divided.
When we market or brand ourselves, we must keep in mind the history, culture, and pride the 1.35 billion Africans bring to the table. Consumerism on the continent is undeniable, breeding an unsatiable need for homegrown offerings. Brands that intend to touch any one of us must ask what legacy they are building.
My journey in marketing and branding has taught me that great brands turn adversity, weaknesses, and pain into a positive force. And they can only do this by keeping their ear open to the voices of the consumers and defining both the human and brand truth. Such examples are Dettol and Listerine. Dettol takes advantage of the pain one feels to drive performance.
Listerine uses the taste you hate twice a day. In the same way, we must find great ways to flip the narrative of our pains and challenges by finding the truth that keeps us hustling, smiling, and being the “hotbed” of international businesses and investments.
Considering that majority of our people are transacting between the middle tier and the bottom of the pyramid, it means with the effects of the pandemic on incomes, cost of production, and the need to transcend borders with the AfCFTA in view, we will need to create brands that play in this space of quality and convenience at affordable pricing.
The dumping of brands into the continent because it is perceived that Africans don’t care about quality must cease. Likewise, we must stop short-changing ourselves by selling and marketing sub-standard and poor quality brands at home, but ensuring classy packaging and branding of the same products when exporting them to the First World.
Finally, no one can and will build our continent for us; nation building is our collective responsibility, so we can tell the story we want. AfriCAN and AfriWILL. The time has never been better than now. Covid has only shown us what localisation truly means, and it is up to us to build the Africa we want!
Fatima Alimohamed is the CEO of African Brand Warrior. E-mail: [email protected]