Jambo Africa Online’s Publisher, SAUL MOLOBI, locates the Festival of Nigeria (FON) within the context of brand Nigeria management effort…

In a world that is increasingly interconnected and interdependent, managing a nation’s reputation is of paramount importance. For Nigeria, a country with a rich cultural heritage and diverse population, fostering strong diplomatic ties and promoting a positive image abroad is a continuous effort. One exceptional initiative that is set to make waves in South Africa’s bustling city of Johannesburg is the Festival of Nigeria – affectionately known as #FON – scheduled to take place on 14 October at the picturesque Marks Park Sports Club in Emmarentia. This festival is not just an ordinary event; it’s a dynamic celebration of Nigerian culture, art, music and lifestyle; designed to bring people closer; and solidify the bonds of friendship between Nigeria and South Africa.

The negative perception of Nigeria in South Africa, like in many other parts of the world, has often been influenced by a combination of factors – including media portrayals, anecdotal experiences and misconceptions. Some South Africans may hold stereotypes or biases about Nigeria – such as concerns about crimes such fraud, drugs, human trafficking or prostitution – which can contribute to a skewed perception. Additionally, isolated incidents involving Nigerian nationals may have garnered media attention, leading to a broader generalisation. However, it’s essential to recognise that such negative perceptions do not represent the entirety of Nigeria or its people. Nigeria is a diverse country with a rich cultural heritage, and efforts like the Festival of Nigeria (FON) aim to challenge these stereotypes and foster a more accurate and positive understanding of the nation and its contributions to the global community.

Two weeks ago on this platform, I wrote that many of my generation and I got our politicisation from the Heinemann African Writers Series (AWS) which was a premier pan African literary series which was undoubtedly dominated by Nigerian authors such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. In my books (excuse the pun), the foremost literary outputs on the dialectical struggle between colonialism and anti-colonialism forces are Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” and “The River Between” by Kenya’s literary luminary, Ngugi wa Thiongo. Yes, we grew up listening to the revolutionary sounds of the indomitable Fela Kuti.

To contemporary South Africa, many may remember Prof Kole Omotoso as the Vodacom’s brand ambassador in their “Yebo gogo” advertising campaign. So, managing brand Nigeria in South Africa should be built on this strong foundation. Yes, it should involve a multifaceted approach that focuses on highlighting the country’s strengths, fostering cultural exchange and addressing misconceptions. To create a more positive perception, it’s crucial to showcase Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage, vibrant arts scene and dynamic economy. Engaging in cultural exchanges, such as the Festival of Nigeria, can serve as a powerful platform for demonstrating the warmth, diversity and creativity of the nation. 

Additionally, leveraging diplomatic channels and media campaigns to promote Nigeria’s achievements, innovations and contributions on both the African and global stages can help dispel negative stereotypes. Building people-to-people connections and partnerships, as exemplified by events like #FON, can forge lasting friendships and demonstrate the unity between Nigeria and South Africa. By consistently emphasising the shared values and aspirations of these two nations, we can foster a more accurate and positive perception of brand Nigeria in South Africa and beyond.

Stephanie Micheal, the passionate and sassy young organiser of the Festival of Nigeria, shared her inspiration for launching this groundbreaking event: “As someone who was born in Nigeria but grew up and studied at the University of Pretoria, I have always been a bridge between these two incredible nations. I’ve witnessed the beauty and richness of Nigerian culture firsthand, and I’ve also seen the misunderstandings and misperceptions that can arise when people don’t have the chance to experience it up close. The Festival of Nigeria is my way of breaking down those barriers and changing South Africa’s perception of Nigeria. It’s about showcasing the warmth, diversity, and creativity of Nigeria and creating a space for people from all walks of life to come together, celebrate, and build lasting connections. Through this festival, I hope to foster a deeper appreciation for the incredible culture and people of Nigeria and promote unity and friendship between our two nations.”

Stephanie, the visionary behind the Festival of Nigeria, also emphasised the importance of cultural exchange and unity in her mission: “This festival is not just about changing perceptions; it’s about celebrating our shared humanity. It’s about recognising that, beneath the surface, we all have the same desires for connection, joy, and understanding. Nigeria and South Africa are like two pieces of a beautiful puzzle, and by bringing them together at this festival, we can create a more complete picture of the rich tapestry of African culture. Through art, music, food, and personal connections, we can bridge divides, build lasting friendships, and show the world the true essence of our nations. This is a festival of unity, a celebration of Africa, and a testament to what can be achieved when we come together with open hearts and open minds.”

For me as brand Africa advocate, I believe forging a Pan-African identity between Africa’s biggest and third biggest economies, Nigeria and South Africa respectively, is not just about economic prowess; it’s about embracing a shared destiny and celebrating the cultural and historical bonds that tie these nations together. By recognising their common challenges and aspirations, these two economic giants can lead the way in fostering unity and cooperation on the continent. Together, they can champion African solutions to African problems, promote trade and investment within the continent, and project a unified voice on the global stage. In doing so, Nigeria and South Africa can inspire the entire African continent to rise above divisions and create a harmonious pan-African identity built on mutual respect, collaboration and a commitment to a brighter, more prosperous future for all Africans.

Without creating the perception of arrogance, I’m privileged to have been nominated by General Ishola Williams (Rtd.) – a highly respected Nigerian thought leader – to serve in the Board of Directors of the Lagos-headquartered Pan Africana Strategy and Policy Research Group (PANAFSTRAG) which is “a group of willing Africana people coming together voluntarily to deliver original thinking through in-depth study, research and analyses that benefit Africana people worldwide”.

The essence of the Festival of Nigeria

The Festival of Nigeria promises a day filled with fun and cultural exchange. Attendees will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the vibrant spirit of Nigeria through an array of exciting activities. From music festivals to a kiddie’s play area, showcasing Nigerian cuisine, fashion, art, and lifestyle, #FON has something for everyone. But what truly sets this festival apart is its dedication to promoting people-to-people contact, a key principle of the African Union’s free movement of people. The “love booth” for adults interested in striking a blind date symbolises this commitment to fostering connections.

Special attractions for kids

#FON understands that the future lies with our children, and thus, it has curated a special treat for the littlest guests at the festival. The kid’s section, in partnership with Motlae Dynamix, promises to be jam-packed with excitement. Children can strike a pose at the Barbie Photobooth, enjoy thrilling rides, try out electric bikes and cars, and dive into the virtual world with PS5 and VR games. Exciting party packs and toys await them, making it a day of joy and laughter.

Food, fun and friendship

While attendees won’t be able to bring their own food and drinks into the event, the festival more than compensates for this restriction. A wide array of traditional and contemporary Nigerian cuisines will be showcased at stalls, offering a delightful culinary experience. From mouthwatering jollof rice to egusi soup, skewers, attendees can savour the diverse flavours of Nigeria. And to quench their thirst and satisfy their sweet tooth, delicious treats like ice cream, cupcakes, doughnuts, slush, and popcorn will be readily available.

But the festival offers more than just delicious food; it provides an opportunity to engage with the chefs and cooks who prepare these delectable dishes. They are not just culinary experts but storytellers, sharing the history and traditions that are woven into each meal. It’s a chance to experience Nigeria’s culture and heritage through your taste buds.

Bringing your comfort

In line with common practice, to ensure that attendees have a comfortable and enjoyable experience, they are allowed to bring empty cooler boxes, camp chairs, towels and umbrellas. This thoughtful provision allows everyone to relax and fully engage in the festivities.

Sponsorship and co-branding partnerships:

#FON would not have been possible without the generous support of its sponsors. Mama Money and BON CHI have stepped forward to make this event a reality, highlighting the importance of corporate involvement in promoting cultural exchange and fostering international goodwill.

Those interested in partnering with the organisers should feel free to reach out to Stephanie on +27 78 260 9974 or email her on info@bonchi.co.za or check her website on https://bonchi.co.za/services/. This is ideal for South African companies that are invested in Nigeria and vice-versa. As Brandhill Africa ™  – publishers of this pan African business news portal, Jambo Africa Online – we are privileged to have partnered with Festival of Nigeria.

Exploring the cultural extravaganza

As you wander through the Festival of Nigeria, you’ll find yourself immersed in a colourful tapestry of cultural richness. The music festival, for instance, showcases a diverse range of Nigerian musical styles, from traditional rhythms to contemporary Afrobeat. Expect to groove to infectious beats that will have you dancing to the sounds of Nigeria’s thriving music scene.

Fashionistas won’t be disappointed either. Nigerian fashion, known for its bold and innovative designs, will take centre stage at #FON. Attendees can explore and purchase traditional Nigerian attire, vibrant textiles and contemporary fashion pieces. It’s an opportunity to not just witness the evolution of Nigerian fashion but to also embrace it as a part of your own style.

A platform for building human relationships

The “love booth” at #FON is a unique feature, and it’s not just about romance. It symbolises the festival’s commitment to fostering genuine connections and relationships. In an age where digital interactions often dominate, the physical presence and human touch that #FON offers are invaluable. Whether you’re seeking a romantic partner or simply looking to meet new friends and expand your social circle, the festival encourages and facilitates meaningful connections.

An international celebration

#FON is more than just a festival; it’s a celebration of the rich tapestry of cultures that make up our global community. It’s a reminder that, despite our differences, we can come together to appreciate each other’s traditions, art, music, and cuisine. As we look forward to the Festival of Nigeria on 14 October in Johannesburg, let’s embrace this opportunity to strengthen the bonds of friendship between Nigeria and South Africa, and by extension, between all African nations. It’s a testament to the enduring spirit of unity, cultural exchange, and shared experiences that make our world a more vibrant and interconnected place.

The Festival of Nigeria is not just a celebration of culture; it’s a bridge that connects Nigeria and South Africa on a deeper level. Through music, art, cuisine, and the simple joy of coming together, this event reinforces the values of unity, friendship, and shared experiences. As we eagerly anticipate October 14th, let’s join hands in celebrating the Festival of Nigeria and strengthening the bonds between these two great nations. #FON promises not just a fun-filled day but a brighter, more connected future for Nigeria and South Africa.

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Saul Molobi is a former South Africa’s Consul-General: Milan, Italy (2012-2016) and currently serves as the founding Group CEO and Chairman of Brandhill Africa – a global pan African competitive identity and economic diplomacy group with offices in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Abuja, Nigeria. His latest book is titled “De/constructing brand Africa: A Practitioner’s Perspective”. He’s on +27 83 635 7773 and  www.brandhillafrica.com