Working Towards Pan African Brands

Published on 29th November 2006

In 1957, Kwame entered history books as the first leader of Ghana - the first African country to gain independence. “We are going to see that we create our own African personality and identity,” he said. This statement is said to have been the birth of  the Pan African movement.


Africa must first position itself strategically in the global map before successful Pan African brands can exist. A Pan African brand will be one that has gained respect and patronage in all the major regional and economic blocks of Africa, has a distinct feature of the African continent and represents the voices of its people.


China and India are good examples of how countries can build themselves into formidable global brands. Now, Vietnam, another Asian tiger, is rising. It is now “made in China,” “made in India” and the newest, “made in Vietnam.” Fortunately for Africa, we are yet to become a cheap source of labor for global manufactures. We still have a chance to make and grow our own brands.  All is not lost as a number of brands such as Celtel, MTN and DSTV – all in the technology sector, are evolving to Pan-African brands.


The Celtel Chief Commercial Officer, Tito Alai, in an interview with Sokoni magazine, once said Celtel viewed the various people of Africa as similar – “rather than geographic, their difference really lies in economic variances.” This statement can perhaps justify Celtel’s move of consolidating its vast network across Africa, starting with East Africa’s newly launched One Network service.


The question of nationality does not escape brand consumers. The M-Net brand is still known to be South African despite the fact that it has been subscribed to by many people in various parts of Africa. After South Africa, M-Net’s other biggest market is Nigeria, with 105,000 subscribers.


South Africa has succeeded in growing its brand despite its association with apartheid. The year 2004 saw South Africa stronger with their 10 year democracy celebrations, smooth elections and winning of the world cup soccer bid. Nelson Mandela has become a national brand, synonymous with South Africa. Most South African brands are now riding on the strong and passionate local identity.


Tom Sitati, Brandscape Africa Director, opines that people sometimes buy into a brand when they have no choice.  In many parts of Kenya, rural folk have had no choice but to buy a Celtel line for purposes of communication, mainly because of Celtel’s extensive coverage. “If a brand that better spoke to their souls came in, they could easily shift, so long as it provides the basic service they have been procuring from the previous vendor.”


Angela Ng’ang’a, AAR Public Relations Coordinator says that the mother country of a brand matters. She recounts how the AAR brand suffered because consumers preferred a South African brand. “Soon after Medex, a South African competitor joined us in Rwanda. AAR was overrun because the Rwandese had greater buy-in to South Africa as a brand. We had to work extra hard to catch up and retain our position.” South Africa is reaping the benefits of successfully defining and communicating its national brands consequently making its brands easier to “export” to the rest of Africa.


Ravinder Singh of Research Solutions observes that South Africa’s Nationalistic pride has played a large part in their unity and prosperity. The same is seen in Rwanda and oddly enough, Zimbabwe where Robert Mugabe’s recent moves to disenfranchise former colonial masters seems to have quite a bit of support among indigenous Zimbabweans.


“One of the challenges in building a national brand,” says Jebet Chemgorem of brand design firm, GreyOwl, “is that people tend to belong to a particular culture first.” People will resent what is imposed on them, for example, the Najivunia kuwa Mkenya and Vision 2030 projects.


Some brands such as Tusker and Safaricom in Kenya have discovered the essence of the nation and can hold the key to developing strong national brands.


“Tusker brought people together, or at least created the illusion of togetherness,” says Fatima Ali Mohamed, the immediate past Chair of the Marketing Society of Kenya, who is now based at Bidco, Uganda.


Discovering what successful African brands did right with their strategies holds the key to what African national brands are and what needs to be done to consolidate national brands hence creating  Pan African brands. That is probably the way Africa shall climb out of the pit of underdevelopment.

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