Brand Africa: A few future positive truths

Africa is a continent as diverse as Europe or Asia, yet often suffers from some serious misperceptions and myths. The future of the global economy depends on Africa succeeding and supporting a more thoughtful and considered view of its people and potential.

‘Brand Africa’ needs to emerge and be leveraged to address misperceptions while building on the positive realities for the ‘invisible continent’ on the world stage. 
Africa’s economy is in growth mode. Yes, it is! For the past 10 years Africa’s economies have been the second fastest growing region in the world with a growth rate of 5.1%. A new consuming middle class has emerged thanks to greater political stability and investment creating job opportunities. A recent study in The Economist forecast that there will be over 128 million households by 2020 in Africa with consumer purchasing power at the equivalent of consumer spending of US or Western European levels, (the point where household income allows discretionary spending beyond basic shelter, food and goods).

Today, 90 million households match this description. It is this cache of people with discretionary spending power that drives economies. The average age of African workers is 21 today, and forecast to be the same by 2020 which suggests a huge labour market ready to be tapped for industry and initiative. Alongside natural resources such as minerals and precious metals, or agriculture – people make up one of the most valuable resources the continent can offer the world. People who are better educated than ever before and from a continent of 900 million people, either their first or second languages are that of 130m English, 115m French, 20m Portuguese, 10m, Spanish and 10m Arabic speakers alongside the majority of West Africans who speak a form of Hausa.

Africa is not just a continent of disease ridden, poor and undereducated peoples plagued by war, corruption and food shortages. This image among westerners is a result of the use of charity imagery that appeals to a psychology of both pity and guilt for the less fortunate. When, in actual fact – Africa is a diverse continent of cultures and economies that are sophisticated and thriving hubs of commerce and culture. Cairo, Lagos, Ibadan, and Kinshasa are all predicted to continue to be the largest cities in Africa in the near future (2020) and are growing at exponential rates. These cities need serious infrastructure investment as well as economic investments in order to provide jobs for their population. This is the most serious concern and challenge for the governments of the region. It is job creation that lifts people out of poverty, and provides the impetus for household growth and spending. The areas of agriculture, manufacturing, travel & hospitality and retail all provide areas for which African economies could develop.

Africa has enormous potential, yet economic and infrastructure issues are holding its performance back. The lack of African companies and brands which are not only affordable for Africans, but also worthy of export is noticeable. Increasingly, large-scale agriculture and textile/apparel manufacture are providing some inroads to creating jobs and attracting foreign investment. Global companies need to support this trend and consider where and how to help develop an African supply chain, and African market for goods and services. Two interesting statistics covered in the press were that it is often cheaper for Africans to buy goods made in China than made in their own countries; and that of Nigeria’s four largest cities each with populations of over 2 million people there are only six ‘shopping malls’. What these two interesting statistics point to is the reliance on small and almost informal retail trading points with no developed infrastructure, and an industrial base that does not produce or manufacture locally. In both cases, there exists opportunity for development.

In the next 10 years, expect to see Africa as the continent with the most potential for growth, and witnessing the greatest degree of change and development. Chinese overseas investment and development is rapidly shaping a new reality and balance-of-power in the region as well both politically and economically. Not only does Africa provide a mineral and rare-earth source of supply, but it also provides an unchallenged opportunity for Chinese business leaders and managers to gain skills in overseas investment, development and market management. Africa’s leaders need to further devote energy to reducing bureaucracy and regulations, encourage the rule-of-law and non-corruption in commerce and society and promote the rights of their citizens to free speech and entrepreneurship. As the FutureBrand Country Brand Index measures many of these attributes, it is interesting to see how African country brands score in this year’s survey.

FutureBrand is also heavily committed to causes such as Malaria No More and the initiatives to rid all of Africa of deaths from Malaria by 2015 – and, this goal is in sight. As basic goals such as this and others are reached creating a solid foundation for Africans to live and prosper, the world must begin to acknowledge and invest in Africa’s potential as a brand and for brands on the world stage.

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3 Responses to Brand Africa: A few future positive truths

  1. Chris Nurko chris nurko says:

    Interesting, at Davos 2013 the ‘Africa Agenda’ was addressing many of the points raised by the two comments below. The challenge as many observers noted, is that Africa and Africans need to lead the challenges, and ensure that multinationals don’t ‘exploit’ African consumers. Certainly the telecom sector is one which is seeing the greatest innovation and corporate communications. No doubt, Africa may be the proving ground for both where and how technology, branding and economic growth are the ‘case studies’ for Davos WEC in 2016! Let’s hope!

  2. Bharat Kumar says:

    Excellent article pointing out the growth potential of Africa and explaining the current difficulties.I believe that the Telecommunication sector in Africa is another mode of development and there has been increasing activity in this area with early players like Bharti Airtel investing in Africa.A Morgan Stanley study shows a ten percent annual growth and estimated industry revenue of $43 billion in 2015. The telecom sector can help in bringing new ways of branding to African cities similar to what was seen in Philippines and Seoul – Bharat Sarvepalli

  3. I would also like to add that African consumers are being courted by international brands like never before, and as such, brand loyalty is very low. The only way forward to truly connect with the growing African middle class will be through inspiration and the brands that do this in the most engaging, authentic and localised way possible will be handsomely rewarded…

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