It was the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), who mused: “A promise made must be a promise kept.” This for me, is the essence of what a definition of a brand should be: a promise made and a promise kept.
Closer to home, this should be the cardinal principle especially considering the caution expressed by our award-winning Afrikaans bard, Zan-Mari Vosges, when she poeticised in “Beloftes maak skuld” (“promises make debt”): “Onthou net beloftes maak skuld/ Moenie alles glo wat jy hoor nie (Just remember promises make debt/ Do not believe everything you hear).”
Indeed many didn’t believe me when three months ago I wrote on these pages that we held a successful meeting with H.E. Wamkele Mene, the Secretary-General of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The truth is: I didn’t believe it myself too as it has been a dream I’ve been harbouring since 1 July 2020 when I joined Brandhill Africa on a full time basis (do remember I did previously mention I registered the holding company in May 2016 when I was preparing to return home after completing my four year and a quarter tour of duty as South Africa’s Consul-General to Milan, Italy).
How did I think this dream will materialise? If you follow the Twitter feeds by the AfCFTA Secretariat Official, you’ll realise H.E. Mene’s diary is about meeting with Heads of State and Government on the continent and abroad; Ministers of Trade and Industry; multilateral bodies such as the United Nations, African Union and regional economic blocs such as European Union; pan-African business federations such as the African Business Council and the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry; and national business chambers. Yes, even during this visit to South Africa, he held a meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa. So how crazy am I to have thought although my core business was about to promote brand Africa and within that framework trade and investment opportunities accruing from the AfCFTA, a young brand like Brandhill Africa would be given an opportunity to host Amb Mene? Who would, in their senses, take me serious if I have shared this dream with them? Yes, I didn’t because normally some would even thought I had literally lost some marbles.
I use the adjective “literally” deliberately because from day one I did indicate in all my public appearances that Brandhill Africa was inspired by Steve Jobs when he spoke about paying tribute to the “crazy ones… who move the human race forward”; Thomas Sankara paying homage to “the madmen of yesterday as they made it possible for us (as a continent) to be where we are today”; Nawal El Saadawi advising that “creativity starts with disobedience”; and Harvard Business Review (HBR) formally declaring these crazy, mad and disobedient ones are “the rebel talent” that drives innovation in institutions and society.
People continued to doubt me even when I shared with them the letter I received from the AfCFTA Secretariat last week confirming that the SG would be available to give the keynote address. One company that I approached to partner with us sent one demand after another – including assurances that there won’t be any cancellations – as conditions for their participation. My disappointment in them was that they mentor young entrepreneurs so I expected them to understand that the world we live in as entrepreneurs isn’t ideal – it doesn’t give any guarantees. Realising that I wasn’t going to say anything for them to believe in my capacity to deliver on my promise, I decided to walk away on Monday early evening, leaving me with only three days to pull this event off.
The fact that I have successfully launched and hosted the annual Biashara Services and Products Africa (BiSPA) Conference and Exhibition twice in December 2020 and 2021. These conferences were interspersed with three quarterly webinars in 2021: one celebrating the Africa Day in collaboration with the African diplomatic corps resident in Pretoria and the other hosting a highly decorated Hollywood filmmaker, Pietro Scalia – who won two Oscars for editing “JFK” and “Black Hawk Down” – and this February hosting a UN-EU sponsored three day virtual workshop with UNISA Enterprises, the company executives still couldn’t be convinced. So I had to take that decision and to ensure I kept the promise I made to my stakeholders: having the SG giving a keynote address.
Yes, I did reach out to other local potential partners to come onboard. I guess many still thought I had lost my marbles. I was humbled when Morocco’s Ambassador to South Africa, H.E. Mr Youssef AMRANI, offered to be one of the respondents to the SG’s keynote address. This was opportune for me because Morocco has just been the 43rd Africa Union member state, out of 55, to ratify the AfCFTA. This means the progress in integrating the continent is reassuring as 54 have signed and only one, Eritrea, hasn’t signed yet. Also to come onboard was Mr Ben Leyka, CEO: DRC Invest (Democratic Republic of the Congo); and Mr John Karegwa, CEO: Invest in Africa Conference (Netherlands). Then even more humbling was when a pan African engineering firm, Zutari, came onboard as a sponsor. As part of their benefit, Mr José Miranda, their Grow Africa Director based in Angola, was to be a respondent too.
I was happy with the demographics. Morocco is in the northern regional bloc of the AU and it’s an Arabic African country; the DRC, which has just joined the East African Community (EAC) and it’s also part of Francophone Africa; though Angola is a SADC member state, it is a major Lusophone African country and José also represented a corporate entity; John is part of the African Diaspora, which has just been declared the Sixth Regional Bloc of the AU.
Then throw into the demographics mix the world-renowned poet, JahRose Japhta – as a voice she represents the youth; and the co-convenors, Sisa Njikelana and yours truly as people with disabilities in addition to the sassy television personality, Masingita Masunga (who gave vote of thanks) – three ardent advocates for mainstreaming issues affecting people with disabilities. A duo of programme directors reflected a gender balance with seasoned broadcasters, Dr Nimrod Mbele and Thabiso Sikwane. Then finally Lee Timol volunteered her design genius skills by coming onboard as a Creative Director. The special thing about her is that she’s an all round communicator who doesn’t just take responsibility for the look and feel, but she also edits and proofreads what I’ve written.
In giving welcome remarks, Sisa gave a context and the journey we traveled to get us to today’s webinar. And I gave a reflection on the three platforms that Brandhill Africa embarks upon – this weekly news portal; BiSPA Conference and Exhibition; and the main focus of this talk was on the Africa IPA CEO Forum, a GGDA-endorsed structured mechanism for engagement of the CEOs of investment promotion agencies in Africa as a platform for promoting trade and investment opportunities in their countries, sharing economic intelligence and advocating for an enabling regulatory environment in their countries.
The success of the event, despite the challenges of organising it as I watched it happening, forced me to share with the audience how I felt – likening the feeling to probably how the legendary American boxing promoter, Don King, felt when he announced the historic fight which was later dubbed “Rumble in the jungle”. In my recent Publisher’s Comment, I spoke about my embarrassing ignorance about, or disinterest in, soccer. Perhaps I was too shy to tell the whole truth: I’m not really a sport fan. But I was right about my interest in inspirational news from the sporting world such as Maradona’s “hand of God” goal that I alluded to. So King’s was the greatest ever boxing match to be hosted in the history of the sport and was held in 1974 between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali – two legendary boxers of all time.
Legend says Don approached the rising bubbly star, Ali, and said to him George claimed he was just, to quote William Shakespeare, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. As Ali protested, King asked if he could fight him in a championship worth $10 million. As he agreed, he made him sign an agreement. Then the tactician went to the boxing champ and told him Ali was prepared to humiliate him by taking the championship from him. Naturally, the champ took exception to what the ultimate boxing media darling had said. Don then said to the champ to agree to his match.
After the champ had signed, Don convened a press conference with both boxing legends. It was a media spectacle with Ali demonstrating how he was to “fly like a butterfly (while) stinging like a bee” to George’s anguish. Then the real moment came: Don announced it was going to be a $10 million championship and he needed the sponsors as he didn’t have the money. Who was ready to come onboard?
As this was a hefty price tag, no one in the US did. Then a call came from the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) in which Mobutu Sese Seko offered to sponsor the fight but it had to be hosted in his country. This is how “Rumble in the Jungle” came to be in 1974.
The fight became legendary. News articles were written; videos archived; music created; books published; and movies were made to canonise this world’s greatest boxing match. Don King, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman became legends.
This week I felt like Don. The SG’s opening salvo was worth more than a trillion dollars: “I am delighted to join you today and to be among such distinguished participants and friends.
“Let me start by thanking the organisers, Brandhill Africa Group, for the invitation to address this Seminar.
“Let me also recognise the good work you have been doing, in advocating for investor-friendly regulatory environment; and opening market access opportunities for ‘Made in Africa’ service and product brands.”
Another worthy feedback came from a veteran arts and culture journalist and cultural worker who, in response to my webinar poster, wrote the following in the WhatsApp group of the National Writers Association of South Africa (NWASA): “Brandhill Africa is at the forefront of curating a new Africa of our imagination. The company has an Afrocentric agenda that moves away from the skewed Africa, that is positioned as a brand, to poverty, underdevelopment, corruption, doom, pestilence and several other inauspicious features which have seen investors flee. The arduous task though is to wrestle with the political agenda so that it is aligned to the new promise of a Africa that is not antiquated, arrested in time, fossilised in time like a museum piece.
“Surely country to country leaders are waking up to the realisation that good governance and political stability is key. But it is the story of trailblazers, ordinary people doing good and socially conscious companies in various countries that will help shore support for the kind of work that Brandhill Africa is preoccupied with. The task cannot be left to political leaders independently and exclusively. I thought I would take this time and appreciate the head honcho of Brandhill, Bra Saul. We see you. We appreciate you. Under your watch, Africa will awaken and claim her rightful place in the families of nations.”
This is the kind of priceless feedback that just engulfs me with emotions.
With no financial resources to mount a full scale advertising campaign in the mainstream media, we resorted to social media platforms as our primary vehicles for our poster campaign. Though still building connections, I already have over 30 300 followers on LinkedIn, and the company and I have strong presence on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (please do follow us). We used numerous WhatsApp groups – the three Jambo Africa Online groups and many other pan African groups in which I’m active. We’re grateful filmmaker and popular actor, Thato Molamu for having promoted our poster on social media. This goes to many others – too many to mention including Zutari.
We don’t underestimate the generosity of Louis Yaw Afful, Executive Director of the Ghana-headquartered pan African membership-based think tank, AfCFTA Policy Network, and his company for having advertised our poster in their newsletter, APN TradeNews, for free despite them dependent on tight budgets.
On the public relations front, our efforts were augmented by Tshepo Matseba, of Reputation First, who shared our media statement with his networks.
Brandhill Africa made a promise three months ago, and it had kept that promise because we agree with poet Zan-Mari that a promise is a debt. For me, the challenges I have encountered since sacrificing my well-paying job end June 2020 and my tenacity to survive are best captured by Ben Okri when he says about Africans: “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.”
I’ll always be grateful to the media support that Chai FM (click here to listen to the podcast of the one-hour Dr Nimrod Mbele’s interview with me and co-Convenor, Sisa Njikelan), SAFM and Kaya FM have given us. Then Africa 24 – the sixth biggest television channel in Africa and the number one biggest African-owned channel – has offered to adapt the video and broadcast various snippets from it. Here follows the full two-hour video recording of the webinar:
In conclusion, I have – since I embarked on this entrepreneurial journey berserk with potholes; speed humps; causeways; beltways; sharp turns, zigzags and meanders; steep hills; descent and dirt roads – taken solace and drew inspiration from our reservoir in the personality of our global icon, the symbol of resilience, tenacity and eternal hope, Nelson Mandela, when he mused: “It looks impossible until it’s done…” And Madiba’s prophetic words are possible because, as per Hosea 14:3, “Our God… In you the orphan finds mercy.”
Enjoy your weekend and happy ”Mother’s Day” to all the women – as women in Africa are mothers irrespective of whether they’ve given birth to a baby or not.
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– a pan African competitive identity and public diplomacy agency decorated with the “Best Brand Award” at the World Brand Congress’ “Brand Leadership Awards 2021” –
A Strategic Partner to UNISA Enterprises (Pty) Ltd
A Strategic Partner to Enterprises UP (University of Pretoria)
A Strategic Partner to Proudly South African (Proudly SA)
A Supporting Partner to the African Agri Council (AAC)
A member of the World Free Zones Organisation (World FZO)
A member of the African Tourism Board (ATB) and World Tourism Network (WTN)