The African Market: A Terrible Reality

Published on 20th November 2018

No Market for Boats

The African market is the total exchange of products and services where Africans are concerned.  Goods and services on offer are from African people to other Africans and the world and goods and services from outside Africa offered to African people. Unfortunately the story of Africa is the story of others supplying us with all the things we need to live in modernity. For the most part, that bothers very few of us.

You will get no outcry, like with Ryanair1, when Ethiopian airlines, the only African owned carrier, has to cut its routes due to competition, or when yet another African business closes down due to non-support. Yet you will hear Africans scream, “boycott this and that.” Never is there a similar mass movement around support. This slave mentality of reacting to things done to us as opposed to building things needed for change.

New African Owner

Can I, as an African, open up an African business selling luxury yachts exclusively to other African people? Of course not. But If I was Greek, Asian, Jewish or Arab I could. Now this is a crazy example but it needed to make a point.  We know there is no market which can exclusively target Africans because globally, African people are some of the poorest people on Earth and luxury boats are not something we are interested in. So there is no luxury yacht market for Africans. The few interested in such things are too small to create an exclusive market.

African Lego Anyone?

What about if I said African Lego, or African apparel on the level of Nike or Guess? That seems more reasonable – but still you could never find an African market to sustain a company 1/100th the size of Guess. Yet Guess or any fortune 500 company does not need any African buyers to exit and be Fortune 500 companies. What about a magazine which focuses on African issues? Sounds like we should be able to do that, but the few that exist, just look at who owns them.2

We want to portray the new image of Africa. It is up to us all to improve the image of the continent. We want to promote our culture and our civilisation, to defend the legitimate interests and rights of all Africans and to continue always our quest for more unity, freedom and democracy. How are we going to do this when we cannot even own a magazine which is supposed to represent us? 3

Black Panther film White Hunter project

It is no different from Marvel with its blockbuster Black Panther. We own nothing of the profits. We got hired and used. Indians make big international films every month for Indian people to consume globally. They own the entirety of these industries from cinemas, to some of the filming equipment to the distribution companies–without any European profit sharing. We are a continent known for stories and cannot even produce something on the level of Marvel’s Black Panther. We are proud of what others have done for us, carrying on like we made it.

African Docs

Nowhere in any African DVD store can you pick up a copy of Motherland, 500 Years Later, Sankofa, Daughters of the Dust or Black Candle. The same is true for African books by people like Molefi Asante, Karenga, even DuBois and other icons of African history. You can find all the content on Mandela written by Europeans.

It is all about what a market demands. The Italian clothing market demands authentically made Italian clothes. If it is not made by an Italian in Italy, it has no value. Italian tailors cannot outsource their tailoring to Korea as it would break the seal of authenticity. The same applies to Swiss watch manufactures. There is an inherent value with things Italian and Swiss made respectively. This protects the culture and economics of these places. This is not the case of the global African market where there is no value placed on African ownership.

Support African owned businesses globally

We have the #buyblack campaign but that is a tiny representation of the African mindset where economics are concerned, most just want the cheapest junk–and in comes China to satisfy that criteria at the expense of African ownership.


Modern African Clothes

In theory, and in theory alone if you told anyone you want to sell African clothes in Africa via a high street store you would think– no problem. After all you are in Africa and that is the best place to sell African clothes.  But the last place you will find African clothes is in any major retail store ANYWHERE in Africa (I do not know any exceptions). What does this tell you about value of things African and the African market? In South Africa, around every corner, you can find a luxury store selling traditional Indian clothes owned and staffed by Indian people. Indians have a value on their cultural products.

Where in South Africa, Uganda or Kenya can you go to a major cinema and watch an African film? Next to nowhere. Ethiopia and West Africa are exceptions. The cinemas around Durban, Dar-es-Salaam, and Nairobi have all the latest Bollywood hits 24/7. What does that tell you? Spree on of South Africa’s biggest suppliers of clothes online told Ocacia that they could not sell their clothing brand because there is no market for African clothes. Clearly there has to be but Europeans in Africa have no interest in promoting African culture in the countries they still rule over economically.


Chinese factories in Ethiopia

Africans constitute one of the major demographics of the world. Millions of Africans buy products and services each year. Companies like Marvel and Shell make millions from African people alone. China makes everything the African market needs from clothes to fabric, to toys, everything. If you can think about it — Chinese, not Africans, make it. They are even replacing items traditionally made by African people such as clothes. Despite the large demographic and potential of Africa and her Diaspora, Africans themselves have totally failed to capture their own market and sell to them. Why?  We do have some unique markets, such as African clothes, yet why can’t we capture the very few markets we have?


No market

From Nairobi to Durban, if you want to buy an African doll for your child, you have to buy a doll made by Chinese people. Most of the time that doll is white. So all the kids are playing with these White dolls. Chinese look at our market and see we do not mind giving our children white dolls so they make only white dolls and sell to us. They know we do not care about quality music, so they tailor big ugly stereos to appeal to our ego. Nowhere in Finland or Israel do you see a market for this superficial equipment which is big on the outside but tiny on the inside.


Greek Restaurant in Africa

I was out recently in Africa (and I have to stress that) and in two different cities I saw different Greek restaurants with Greek dancing and plate smashing. This is in Africa, in two different major cities. A search on Google showed that these were only some of the Greek restaurants in those cities. At the airport I saw Nandos (white owned), KFC, every culture but ours. Africa is a HUGE collection of cultures–yet not ONE was represented!

Now let us talk about clothing–apart from those silly African tourist clothes, nothing modern and African was there–and what was there was White owned.

So at OR Thambo SA, Gateway, Canal Walk, Ushaka, caters for every food culture but African. You will find everything twice over, yet nothing representing any culture found on the continent of Africa. Where is this being discussed at the ANC? In a country rife with xenophobia against foreigners (mainly other Africans) you would think that national pride of the Zulu Xhosa majority would at least have some Nguni representation. How can an entire country have zero representation of African culture and boast about being the most progressive economy in Africa? 4 SA, caters for every culture but African.


China says Thanks

This is destroying the African market and African culture. One top embroidery artist left embroidery to drive taxis in New York. No market means no need for embroidery artists. Chinese use cheap print or computer embroidery. Again they are number 1 because they are supported. So the problem is not with China. Too many economists focus on China as being the culprit, but China is only supplying the demand of Africans. Africans want fake, so China supplies fake. So, even someone wanting anything African eventually has only Aliexpress and other Asian sites to pick from. The few Africans sites were forced to close because of non-support. 5


When a Chinese print is passed off as African, is anyone discussing these kinds of topics in any central way? Well how could an issue so serious not be at the head of most of our African discussions? I attended one of the ECOWAS and AU meeting and it was not on the agenda of concerns. That is because the default mentality of Africans is NOT to own our own world, but to better live in someone else’s world.

When we speak of the African market, what we are discussing is the availability of African-made products and services on a commercial platform. Not what you buy in the street from a hawker, but what is available in major retail, and commercial outlets including those online.

In theory, if you told anyone you want to sell African clothes in Africa at a high street store, you would think– No problem. You are in Africa that is the best place to sell African clothes. But the last place you will find African clothes is in any major retail store anywhere in Africa (I do not know any exceptions). Esp in places like South Africa. Not one single thing. What does this tell you about value and the African market? Where in South Africa can you go to a major cinema and watch an African film? Next to nowhere. Yet the cinemas in every major city have all the latest Bollywood hits 24/7. In retail stores and music shops Indian music is blasting all over the airwaves. At the airport they play the best of Ah-Ha and nothing of local or international African artists. Again what does that tell you?


Made in Africa

The solution is not an instant fix since African markets have been neglected for decades, if not centuries. It is appalling now as globalization crushes African markets even more. But there is only one solution. And it is not to “Kick Chinese”out of Africa, that would just mean we starve faster. It is we start to value our own industries and support and create them.

Cabral said we should mask no challenges and speak to the reality of our situation if we ever plan to solve it. Now someone said we as a race do not have money to buy beautiful handmade African clothes or support documentary films, and that is interesting because come Black Friday, all that Black money will be spent on European and Asian businesses. So we need to drop the excuses and get serious. We have no money for books yet everyone is in the latest jeans by Levi or the coolest shoes seen on the feet of Drake and cohorts.

By understanding the points raised in this article we can start to see with African eyes the world as it is, and take active steps where possible to recover our ownership of the world we live in.



2. Statement from New African owner is contradictory, owned by Arabs hiring people like Baffour Ankomah yet speaking about a New Africa:We want to portray the new image of Africa. It is up to us all, each and every one of us to improve the image of the continent. We want to promote our culture and our civilisation, to defend the legitimate interests and rights of all Africans and to continue always our quest for more unity, freedom and democracy:Question how are we going to do this when we cannot even own a magazine which is suppose to represent us?


4. Many Blacks in SA complain about Ethiopian and Nigerian dominance in small markets yet almost never are as concerned with European and Asian dominance in big markets. They attack small Ethiopian stores while leaving the multinationals alone.

5. Read article on non-support to see all sides of this problem including how African ownership have a ridiculous burden on their shoulders to prove that they are African, yet the very same people demanding this proof require no such thing when purchasing European and Asian products with most of their money

By Alik Shahadah

'Alik Shahadah is a master of the Documentary format and progressive African scholar. Shahadah uses film for social revolution. A multi-award winning recipient including the rare UNESCO award for his critically acclaimed film on slavery 500 Years Later.. He is best known for authoring works, which deal with African history, social justice, environmental issues, education and world peace. He states his primary motivation for making these films was being frustrated with "Tarzan's voice" as the central narrator in African stories. He noted that while scholarship challenges these issues, the common knowledge of the majority is generally unaltered, writing alone is not enough, the ultimate tool for re-education on a mass level is film.

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