March 05, 2013

Africa's rise and the progress of Africans

Africa is rising, so the saying goes. Others refer to that 'rise' as the continent’s economic boom and break through, while others see it as chance for Germany’s middle class to prosper ( With all this excitement – mostly experienced from outside Africa – I think there is need to be cautious and avoid overhyping this 'Africa is rising or Africa is coming' thing: There is a high possibility that Africa’s rise may have little, if any effect on the ‘real’ development of Africans, particularly if we focus on numbers e.g. GDP growth and/or other ‘development’ indicators without breaking them down to locate where they are coming from and how close they are to the ordinary African citizen. Perhaps we need to question whether this ‘rise’ may be a ‘rise’ of foreign enterprises/corporations in Africa afterall?

I try to address the issue of 'people and Africa's rise' in a video we prepared for the Harvard Business School-Africa Business conference 2013, which was disseminated through WBS e-learning services.

In the video, I argue based on my research findings that we need to link people to the development of Africa, because it is people who develop the continent and who stand to benefit from such development. Therefore, when we talk about Africa's rise, we need to look at how that is mirrored in the ordinary African people's lives.

I don't know how you view this, but I would be happy to get your feedback.

December 14, 2012

Brand Africa:To be or not to be

Thought I should give it a title linked to Sir William Shakespeare...

Anyway, Simon Anholt argues that “brand Africa, with its simple message of ongoing catastrophe, is promoted with skill, dedication, creativity and vast financial and media resources by aid agencies, international organisations, donor governments and, most prominently, by aid celebrities” (See p.30 in “The Anholt-GMI city brands index: How the world sees the world’s cities”, 2006, Place Branding, Vol. 2, No.1, p.18–31). This view is not without merit. Right now, a quick Google search for brand Africa retrieves an abundance of evidence in support of Anholt’s assessment. This dominant conception and monopolistic portrayal of brand Africa potentially undermines the continent’s sustainable development by scaring off segments of prospective investors and providers of resources crucial to Africa’s progress. The projected image also masks the multifaceted nature of Africa as both a place and a brand.

Do (all) potential investors and the African Diaspora perceive Africa in the way captured in Anholt’s words? So far, my research suggests otherwise. Africa has an overwhelming volume and spectrum of associations that are attached to it by diverse social actors, and which may be broadly – and bravely – categorised as forming two rival brands. On one pole there is the stereotypical and mainstream ‘negative’ brand Africa, on the other pole, there is the hidden but emerging ‘positive’ brand Africa. This emerging brand Africa is the one that for example, a recent McKinsey report describes in connection with African countries' economic potential as Lions on the move. It is also the brand that is materialising from the discourses appreciating Africa as the hopeful continent(The Economist). Also, it is a brand Africa that seems to have inspired Goldman Sachs to tell global investors that this is now Africa’s Turn.

My research seeks to elaborate how this emerging brand Africa potentially facilitates sustainable development. Merging marketing and economics perspectives, I analyse the two complex constructs 'place brand' (marketing) and 'sustainable development' (economics) within the background of social construction. My research employs a multi-method data collection approach, which integrates Netnography, and in-depth interviews with African and international leaders, as well as experts on sustainable development and nation branding. I welcome any comments, suggestions and questions relating to my research. Therefore, please feel free to contact me anytime.