Like some great century plant that shall bloom
In ages hence, we watch thee; in our dream
See in thy swamps the Prospero of our stream;
Thy doors unlocked, where knowledge in her tomb
Hath lain innumerable years in gloom.
Then shalt thou, walking with that morning gleam,
Shine as thy sister lands with equal beam…”
This is an extract from Pixley ka Isaka Seme’s iconic award winning student graduation speech in 1906 at the Cambridge University that planted a seed for the “regeneration of Africa” and led to the formation of the national liberation movements in Africa – starting with the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa in 1912. For me this was the basis for the reformulation of brand Africa in response to the outcomes of the infamous 1884-5 Berlin Conference – dubbed the “scramble for Africa” that dissected our continent into countries which were then shared among the European powers that gathered there: Austria, Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Norway; and Joseph Conrad’s seminal novel, “The Heart of Darkness”, that branded Africa “a dark continent”. The national liberation movements fought bitterly against colonialism and envisioned a liberated integrated Africa.
This is Pixley ka Isaka Seme’s philosophical essence that underpins Brandhill Africa™‘s brand management principle. I’m returning to this classic as this end of June 2022 marks exactly two years of my having ended over three decades of my chequered working career as an employee of others in the public, private and civil society sectors to embark on this entrepreneurial journey from 1 July 2020. What a rollercoaster two year journey for me!
Although, my company was formally established in mid-2016, I only took the plunge after I could no longer afford to avoid the move as the entrepreneurial bug bit then while I was completing my tour of diplomatic duty in Italy. The four-and-half years I spent in Italy cut the work out for me: It was only South Africa, Senegal and Burkina Faso that had fully-fledged Consulates-General in Milan where I was based – although the area of my jurisdiction covered the entire northern Italy, the economic engine of the country. Angola had a trade office in Italy’s economic capital.
So because of the under representation of African countries in efforts driving economic diplomacy in northern Italy, I found myself answering questions on Africa fielded by potential investors in each and every event I was hosting or invited to. This saw me transforming our “SA Week” that we hosted in 2014 into “Africa Week” in which we formally solicited participation from other diplomatic missions and the diasporic African communities resident in the north. That’s the reason I then decided to continue privately in that space – though I had to take a detour by accepting a job offer back at home as a Group Executive: Trade, Investment and Regulatory Enablement at the Gauteng Growth and Development Agency (GGDA).
Yes, I quit my job in the middle of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m an eternal optimist and I’m one of those who subscribe to the view by Winston Churchill who, while working to form the United Nations after WWII, mused: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Yes, naturally, there were many setbacks, but out of this crisis I have developed as an entrepreneur building the Brandhill Africa™ brand to the kind of level unfathomable previously. I have grown as a person to appreciate the strength and the capacity I’m endowed with to deal with the challenges of life – while I’ve always been aware of the capacity of my emotional, social and intelligence quotients, the past two years has reaffirmed my strength to be resilient and to withstand adversity. Without stating the obvious, God has indeed carried me through the entrepreneurial storms of the past two years.
I took solace in Ben Okri as I recited him everyday after my daily prayers: “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…”
Despite all odds, I have succeeded in building the Brandhill Africa™ group into a global brand award winning entity. But above all else, I deepened my resolve to brand reposition Africa and her countries as viable destinations for investment (domestic and foreign) and tourism while also helping to open foreign market access for “Made in Africa” service and product brands.
Though we are artists, we’re always guided by the science of marketing in crafting our nation brand offerings on Africa. Kevin Lane Kelley’s definition of a brand as “a network of associations in the minds of individual persons and is therefore – on an aggregated level –steeped in the dynamic perceptions of different groups” reigns supreme. We’re also mindful of Gary Zenker’s assertion that “not only do the target groups contrast strongly in their perceptions, but that their needs and wants regarding a (place) can vary widely.”
Perhaps I should take this opportunity to clarify that nation branding and nation brand are two different concepts and yet interdependent. A nation has a brand image with or without nation branding. That is, the perceptions – negative or positive – that the stakeholders formulate of a nation constitute its brand image. So if the perceptions are negative, that nation may embark on a deliberate nation branding to manage their reputation.
Let me upfront declare this is an unsolicited mandate. We took it upon ourselves to embark on a campaign to re/engineer brand Africa. We even adopted our brand mantra as research, innovate and re/engineer. As I’ve just mentioned earlier, our work is based on the research work we undertake as we do have colourful academic credentials; we then propose innovative means for a client to manage their reputations; and then re/engineer brand Africa or a client’s brand. We follow strategy development process that looks at who/what we are; where we intend going; and how do we intend getting there?
Yes, despite the current challenges, we have created tangible projects as vehicles to help deliver the “Africa we want”, to borrow the African Union’s brand mantra. Besides this news portal, we have the Biashara Services and Products Africa (BiSPA) Conference and Exhibition. The highlight of this project was when we hosted H.E. Wamkele Mene, the Secretary-General (SG) of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as the keynote speaker at our Africa Month celebration webinar on 6 May 2022. By the way, the SG has formally endorsed our efforts in his address.
Since this contribution looks at our last six months, the period January-June 2022, as I gave a substantive report in my end of December 2021 Publisher’s Comment. So within this framework, we opened the year by operationalising the Africa IPA CEO Forum – which is a structured engagement mechanism for the CEOs of investment promotion agencies/economic development agencies in African countries so that they could collaborate in advancing the ideals of the AfCFTA as they are the economic engines of their countries.
Gradually, our Brandhill Africa™ brand continued to make waves. I was invited as a panellist on “the role of the media in strengthening the Africa-Europe business relations” at the annual Africa-European Union Business Summit. In February this year, in collaboration with our strategic partner, the UNISA Enterprises, we hosted a successful three day virtual climate-smart agriculture workshop on behalf of the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) to benefit emerging farmers through the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries. And just last week Thursday, I was invited by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) to do a two-hour virtual presentation on economic diplomacy for our diplomats stationed in our diplomatic missions across the world.
There’s an element of personal fulfilment in the work we do. I have finally been elected as a Fellow for the UK’s Chartered Institute of Marketing. And back in the continent, I’ve just been appointed as a member of the Board at the Nigeria-headquartered think tank, Pan Africana Strategic and Policy Research Group. I continued to inculcate thought leadership on brand management through the mainstream media. And these included regularly being hosted as a global marketing expert on “Tseba Afrika” – meaning “know Africa”, a weekly slot on the SABC’s Thobela FM; on SAFM; “Beyond governance” programme on Chai FM (those interested in listening to my recent interview in which I partnered with General Ishola Williams please click here as we looked at the factors that Africa needed to consider to attract foreign direct investment; and most humbling for me, I’ve appeared twice on Nigeria’s News Central television as a commentator in how current affairs impact on our nation brand.
My new book is in the oven and it’s due to be published end July to mark this important month in my entrepreneurial journey. Aptly titled, “De/constructing brand Africa: A Practioner’s Perspective – A collection of essays with links to podcasts and videos.” As an independent publisher, the book has to take the kind of risks that the mainstream publishers can’t. I see it as a multimedia festival of ideas on investment promotion, destination marketing and opening foreign market access for “Made in Africa” service and product brands. The e-book will be available on Amazon and hard copies will be sold too – watch this space for pre-orders.
Yes, though pop star Joe Cocker warned us not to fall in love with a dreamer, research and various case studies prove him wrong as idealists drive innovation. Borrowing from Eric Hoffer in his “The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements”, he muses on leadership: “The leader has to be practical and a realist, yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist… He kindles the vision of a breath-taking future so as to justify the sacrifice of a transitory present. He stages a world of make-believe so indispensable for the realization of self-sacrifice and united action.”
Sorry Joe Cocker, we are dreamers and are relentlessly chasing after our dream – that our local muse, Vicky Sampson, eloquently described as “my African dream”.
This dream is within reach.
Enjoy your weekend.
Saul Molobi (FCIM)
Publisher: Jambo Africa Online
Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer: Brandhill Africa™
Tel: +27 11 759 4297
Mobile: +27 83 635 7773
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Physical Address: 4th Floor, The Firs; Corner Bierman and Cradock Avenue; Rosebank; JOHANNESBURG; 2196.
RESEARCH. INNOVATE. RE/ENGINEER
– 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)