Sunday, September 19, 2010

Catch 22: The Brand Africa dilemma By Linda Krige

The only way for Africa to change its reputation as a 'basket case' is for the continent to produce real change.

"A continent has to develop the systems, structures and strategies to enable it to project a constant, unbroken stream of dramatic evidence that it really deserves the reputation it desires." This was the message from nation brand expert Simon Anholt to about 300 pan-African decision makers and thought leaders gathered in Sandton, South Africa this week for the inaugural Brand Africa Forum.

The Forum hoped to discuss ways to improve the continent's reputation, image and competitiveness. In the words of the founder of the Brand Africa initiative, Thebe Ikalafeng, "It's about Africans proactively taking charge of their destiny to build a better Africa for investment, exports, tourism and citizenship."

What emerged from the forum, which also included global economist Dr Dambisa Moyo as keynote speaker, was a type of Catch 22. To eradicate poverty and create sustainable economic growth, Africa needs foreign investment and innovation. To attract foreign investors and increase African confidence, Africa needs to project a better image to the world and to the people living on the continent. However, to create a better image, Africa needs to eradicate poverty and create sustainable growth.

The successful hosting of the FIFA World Cup in South African in June and July this year was held up as a shining example of improving a nation's brand by defying the odds and disproving the perceptions and stereotypes of poor infrastructure and rampant crime. Dr Irvin Khoza, Chairman of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Local Organising Committee said the World Cup "helped South Africa graduate from a country with promise of progress and success, to a country that gets things done."

Unfortunately, an opportunity like the most watched sporting event on earth does not come around every day to help a region boost its image.

Despite many other success stories, much time was spent focusing on Africa's failures. Dr Dambisa Moyo, in her bestselling book Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, writes about what she calls 'the four horses of the African apocalypse': poverty, corruption, war and political instability and disease. Delegates seemed to be in agreement that these images, together with images of natural beauty, represent the key elements of the current African brand image.

One of the biggest problems with this image is that the whole continent is usually painted with the same negative brush: despite its diversity, complexity and different stages of democracy and development. This is often promulgated by aid organisations and aid celebrities who hold the reputations of African countries hostage in return for aid funding.

The forum, hosted by South Africa's International Marketing Council and the Brand Leadership Academy, was used to discuss the roles of media, business and government in combating this image of Africa.

However, Anholt stated that 'branding' a nation or continent is nearly impossible, as the brand image is seated in public opinion. Public opinion is located in the minds of billions of people: a secure, remote and fragmented location to which national messages can have no access.

"Lets us not kid ourselves that there's a magic formula called branding that can change the way the world thinks about a country," said Anholt.

The challenge for Africa is therefore not to find the right message to send out, or even the right channel to send it through. A more positive brand image of Africa can only spread if real change is taking place in terms of better governance, economic reforms, growth, innovation and development. While this is happening in many countries – examples mentioned were South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Botswana – some delegates were concerned that this is not always reflected in mainstream media.

Executive Deputy Chairman of the Mail & Guardian Media Group Trevor Ncube said the role of the media was simply to tell the story of the African people: the good, the bad and the ugly. "Our role is telling the story of triumph against adversity, the story of the people who succeed in an environment that is harsh. Putting up a mirror in front of Africa and saying, Africa, this is how we look."

Many delegates voiced the opinion that it was unethical to present the world with an image of an Africa with less disease or less corruption by putting a shiny wrapper around the problems in the name of a better brand. To quote Anholt, often "the biggest reason for a country having a crap reputation, is it being a crap country."

This, however, is not entirely true of Africa. Anver Versi, Editor of African Business and African Banker in the United Kingdom pointed out that Africa as a region was showing faster economic growth than any other region in the world, with many African companies outperforming their British counterparts. Africa is also attracting increasing attention from foreign investors.

But according to Moyo, this is not enough. While the region's economic growth is 3-4% per year, countries need to grow at 7% per year to meaningfully dent poverty. She also stated that, despite consisting of a billion consumers, Africa is responsible for less than 2% of global trade, less than Spain. This is clearly not a significant enough contribution.

Dr Moyo spoke scathingly of the open-ended aid system that was contributing towards the dysfunctionality of African governments, but not contributing to solving any of Africa's problems.

She called on Africans to stand up and take action to address the challenges on the continent. She also called on African leaders to get credit ratings to show that they are serious about transparency, and to make sure the policies of their countries are business-friendly.

Anholt's advice to African leaders was to be relevant and to be amazing. To focus on what they can contribute to the world and to show leadership in the way they manage their reputations. If this is done, good publicity must surely follow.

He said that if certain individual countries are doing remarkable things, these achievements can be used to drive a wedge into the monolithic negative image of Africa. This could create a new image of Africa driven forward by the better performing countries instead of being dragged down by the failed states.

While no concrete plans were announced or conclusions drawn on the way forward for Brand Africa, the delegates agreed that the time is ripe for change.

Where does that leave ordinary Africans? Drawing on the advice from delegates from different sectors, change can start from inside Africa if we focus on producing a culture of excellence and innovation. We need to ensure that we tell the stories of change and of improvement to encourage each other and share best practice. While global public opinion may be near impossible to sway, Africans can take responsibility for their own continent and stop waiting for the rest of the world to sustain and to define us.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Kenya's Koki Designs by Koki Pinard is thrilled to unveil KokiDesigns Page on Koki is a talented Ethiopian designer based in Kenya. She has a pleasant aura about her and has achieved a lot in less than one year in the fashion industry.

Friends, for more information, check out her profile:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Presenting Sierra Leone's Creative Maryzo Designs...

Maryzo Designs is a unique fashion house based in Freetown. They have a wide range of products which appeals to all ages. Their beautiful print coupled with excellent design choices has led to the production of stunning products.... What products does Maryzo designs have to offer Africa?

Maryzo Designs: We offer elegant and stylish African clothing and accessories at affordable prices.
Mixing modern with African fabrics, we create beautiful garments for clients of all ages and genders. Where can a potential client find your products?

Maryzo Designs: Clients in Freetown Sierra Leone (West Africa) can visit my workshop at 8i Thompson Bay Road off Wilkinson Road.
Our website is currently under construction but for the meantime clients in other parts of the world can contact me through email at, through our facebook page or group Maryzo Designs What challenges have you faced as a designer based in Sierra Leone?

Maryzo Designs: For me It has been the fact that people tend to take you as just a tailor.
They don’t appreciate your time and effort as a designer, and therefore they don’t want to pay for your services. The lack of sponsorships, and because of the way the Sierra Leonean market is, we have trouble getting access to some of the materials we need, and sometimes have to buy them overseas which can be costly. What advice would you give to upcoming African designers?

Maryzo Designs: I would say follow your dream, but keep in mind that fashion is a very tough and competitive industry.
Find yourself a mentor; It is always better to learn from someone who’s been through it. What can African governments do to support African designers?

Maryzo Designs: The fashion industry is not just about making clothes, it’s about understanding the business as well.
So for many parts of Africa we need designing schools or business related courses, which can be provided by the government. What are your future plans? Will you open branches in other African countries?

Maryzo Designs: We plan on developing and expanding the line, I am hoping the launch of a website will help us reach out to a wider clientele, both in Africa and abroad.
And yes we do plan on opening other branches in Africa, maybe in some of Sierra Leone’s neighboring countries to start with.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

An Insight into Digital Media with Benjamin Stokes of Mobile Voices

Benjamin Stokes' specialty is digital media. He is keen on how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. He can be found at his personal website, LinkedIn and twitter He also studied in Senegal at Université Gaston Berger What is the definition of digital media?

Benjamin: There is no one definition; for me, I prefer to use the term 'digital media' broadly to include everything from digital games, to digital film, digital audio, and even interactive media like social networking websites. To me, the term is primarily applied to media that can be accessed via an internet-enabled computer. What advantages does digital media have over traditional media?

Benjamin: I prefer to speak of differences more than advantages, since many of the same differences can be disadvantages in some circumstances. Some notable differences include: reduced costs of production, and much lower cost of duplication and distribution, the ability for different social interactions (such as many-to-many, whereas traditional was limited to one-to-many), and the cause-and-effect experience of interactive media. How can Non Profit Organizations in Africa effectively employ the use of digital media?

Benjamin: Since there are hundreds of digital media forms, this is not a simple question to answer. My most general recommendation is that organizations should seek out peer organizations with whom they can experiment and grow. In other words, I believe it is more valuable for organizations to take a longer-term view, and invest in building networks of collaborators, rather than to tackle a possible solution alone. This way, organizations can learn from the success of others, and share their own successes and failures. Too often we are tempted to overlook the human structures that must be developed alongside technology implementations. Shifts in management style are especially important as we move into digital realms -- and they are difficult to design without a network of trusted peers. The media itself will continue to change over time, but a good nonprofit network can bring stability to non profits across the waves of new media. Are there disadvantages of completely relying on digital media?

Benjamin: Engineers are trained to avoid "single points of failure" in critical systems -- in other words, always have a backup plan. Sometimes this means you should have analogue backups of some key media. But even when you have a backup plan, there are always tradeoffs in using digital media. For example, digital media may aggrevate generational divides, since older people are sometimes intimidated about learning new systems. Furthermore, valued digital media can be lost entirely if adequate backup copies are not made regularly and kept in isolation (ideally at a different physical location). These are just two disadvantages -- of course, there are many more. What advice would you give to non profits which are considering the use of digital media?

Benjamin: First, be proud that you're considering taking this risk. Too many organizations act as if digital media is either a guaranteed savior (and jump in too quickly) or else inapplicable (and overlook important opportunities). In fact, digital media is one of the fastest changing areas in our modern world, and so I think it should be considered regularly for both advantages and disadvantages. If you're looking for an overview of how digital media is changing the kind of skills we all need to know (not just kids!) check out this white paper by Henry Jenkins: And if you're looking for a more applied strategy guide, check out: ...but keep in mind that the African context is not the primary focus for either of these articles, and is often very different. Such differences underscore the importance of networking with other peer non profits in Africa which can help translate and directly apply these insights.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Kenya's Vivian Akinyi Achieng of Sherekea Charity Fund, Inc, New York

One of our goals as is to connect the African Diaspora with Africa, informing our brothers and sisters across the oceans of the good things going on back home. Hence it is with great enthusiasm that we had a word with Vivian Akinyi Achieng, the founder of Sherekea Charity Fund, Inc which is a New York based non-profit organization. Vivian recently won the 2010 Jamhuriwood Humanitarian & Non-profit Award

Sherekea Charity Fund, Inc. has the key goal of provide East Africans with the basic human needs of food, water and shelter, with emphasis onWomen and Children, Orphans, and HIV/AIDS victims. What are the challenges Sherekea Charity Fund has encountered so far?

Vivian: Where do i start? everyday is a challenge. We encountered many challenges in
our first clean water project, bad management, drought, flood and luck of
communications. Such things might come across and will make you even stronger
everyday. What advice do you have for Africans in the diaspora who wish to start projects back home?

Vivian: Write down a plan, follow your dream, vision and choose your partners,
friends, management and contractor wisely. And last, stay true to yourself. Has the Kenyan Government been supportive of your projects?

Vivian: We haven't ask for any help yet from Kenyan government. What are your future plans as the founder of Sherekea?

Our goal and vision is to provide Africans with the basic human needs of
water, food, sanitation and shelter, and focus on those most in need: Women and
Children, Orphans, and HIV/AIDS victims.

"Sherekea" also, creates an opportunity for small scale philanthropic giving
that promotes education, job creation, traditional culture and artistic
expression throughout East Africa What impact did winning the Jamhuriwood Award have on you?

Vivian: Nothing is more rewarding when you get a recognition from your
people/community. It's humbling, rewarding, inspiring and up lifting in every
level. Love and acknowledgments is what we all need everyday....

"To all Africans in the diaspora, lets talk the talk, walk the walk, by being
active in our communities".
If is not you? then who?

Help us save a village!

Craft Silicon Foundation.....Fighting Poverty with Passion and Technology

At the recently launched Akishika Project, We had a chance to interact with Priya, CEO and founder of Craft Silicon Foundation.

The Craft Silicon Foundation's aim is to provide free computer aid to youth and children in the slums. Priya spoke of encouraging and equipping women with the necessary tools to fight poverty. She also encouraged women to look at technology through women's eyes. She believes that if we empower women, then families will flourish, leading to stronger communities and eventually a successful nation.

Of interest is the Craft Silicon Foundation Bus which is computer-fitted and solar powered. The bus has been fitted with 12 computer monitors and is able to harness solar energy at no extra cost. There are 3 Servers each running 4 monitor screens, in total the 12 monitor screens are effectively powered. It is also fitted with education courseware, Internet connectivity, printers and scanners

The bus is used to offer mobile ICT services to the poor students in the country. The bus goes round to slums (Kibera, Kawangware, Kangemi, Mathare, Huruma, and Mukuru kwa Nyayo) everyday and teaches students about computers and the internet.

The lessons are tailored for girls aged between 9 and 13, and youth aged between 18 and 24. Classes are in three sessions – mornings, mid-morning, and evening. Each class has 36 students. A full course takes three months, and there are four intakes a year. Over 500 students have graduated in a one year period, most of whom have gained employment with others pursuing Information Technology. at The Launch of The Akishika Training Project

I recently had the honor of attending the launch of The Akishika Training Project by Akira Chix and The Shika Team.

The aim of the project is to provide IT education and skills to girls who are less privileged in terms of getting formal university/college education and training. This pilot plan is aimed at girls from the slum areas.

The students were keen and had the chance to listen to Gladys Muhunyo (Computer Aid Kenya), Robert Zdunczyk (Poland East Africa Economic Foundation), Catherine Nyambala (Stem Africa), Kaburo Kobia (Kenya ICT Board) and Priya (CEO and Founder of Craft Silicon Foundation)

This training will last 18 months, after which the girls will seek employment opportunities in IT.