After taking stock of what we have achieved in the past year as Brandhill Africa (Pty) Ltd – particularly entrenching ourselves as a pan-African competitive identity and public diplomacy agency, the US-based World CEO Rankings Board nominating me for the “World CEO of the Year” award, the World Branding Council decorating us on 15 July 2021 with the Best Brand Award at its Brand Leadership Awards 2021in recognition of our work in managing the brand reputation of Africa as a viable destination for tourism and foreign direct investment (FDI) while at the same time helping to open foreign market access opportunities for “Made in Africa” service and product brands, we have decided these next twelve months should be about regularising our presence across the continent. One of the first steps we’ve already taken was to be accepted as a member of the African Tourism Board (ATB) – a continental mother body to national tourism agencies and invested tourism stakeholders such as ourselves.

This recognition from the premier pan African tourism authority of the work we did since 1 July 2020 is quite motivating. And it starts with the humbling contribution we have been making through this platform, Jambo Africa Online. Launched last year in September as a monthly digital publication, it has – through your support as readers and partners – evolved into a weekly news portal from May this year. What a rollercoaster journey it has been for us. This was the first major project we launched after all of us have taken the plunge to join the company on full time basis from 1 July 2020. Yes, right in the middle of the economic lockdowns intended to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We launched it as a platform to respond to the worrying findings of the annual Brand Africa Survey that found that while during their launch year in 2010, 34% of the “Top 100 Most Admired Brands in Africa” were the continent’s indigenous brands, this paltry percentage has been consistently dwindling down to reaching 13% in 2020. The work was cut out for us to ensure that we helped build reputations of “Made in Africa” service and product brands so that the 1.3 billion consumers in the continent could embrace and uptake them. We knew the integration of Africa into a common market with a combined GDP of $3.6 trillion wouldn’t benefit these brands as long as foreign ones were to continue dominating in the marketplace. 

The launch in September was also symbolic as the 8th is dubbed the International Literacy Day. While naysayers proclaimed there was dearth of a reading culture primarily among our people because of the advent and prevalence of multimedia products, we believed the written word remained cardinal and decided multimedia platforms were delivery channels for it. I did previously indicate we were inspired by the Mozambican revolutionary leader, Jorge Rebelo, when he mused in his 1978 iconic poem: “Forge simple words/ which even the children can understand/ words which will enter/ every house/ like the wind/ and fall like red hot embers/ on our people’s souls…/ In our land/ Bullets are beginning to flower.”

We also knew along the way we were to transform this publication into a fully-fledged online publication with all the elements of multimedia content delivery to access all customer touch points – primarily through riveting text narratives supported by podcasts and audiovisual materials. As I alluded to earlier, indeed we met this target in May – four months earlier than we had anticipated.  

Jambo Africa Online has emerged as a premier pan-African multimedia tool aimed at those committed to making valuable contributions to the growth, renewal and transformation of our continent’s economic landscape and for deriving maximum value out of the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

We were privileged when solid professionals from several African countries volunteered to serve in our Editorial Advisory Board. These distinguished professionals are Dr Thami Mazwai (a Commissioner in the National Planning Commission of the Republic of South Africa, who serves as the Chairperson); Prof Tshimpaka Yanga (attached to the University of Lumumbashi in the DRC); Angela Asante Akua (a celebrated television personality in Ghana); Francois Fouche (Director of Growth Diagnostics at the North-West University Business School); Namatirai Zinyohwera (an ICT business development specialist in Zimbabwe/RSA); Lebohang Ramotete (an accomplished journalist in Lesotho); Mlungisi Mpofu (Executive Director of the Trans Kalahari Corridor Secretariat based in Namibia); Dr Bamidele Adeoye, DBA, (a Nigerian business consultant based in the USA); yours truly; and our Editor, Andile Msindwana, providing Secretariat Services.

Though we value all our subscribers, we’re happy to say that one of our earlier subscribers was the Office of President Donald Trump who went a step further to give us a list of their heads of missions in Africa – particularly at the African Union (AU). In their own words, Jambo Africa Online was “a valuable resource”.

A sister project to Jambo Africa Online we launched is the Biashara Services and Products Africa (BiSPA) Conference and Exhibition. The word “Biashara” is a kiSwahili word that means “the activity of providing goods and services involving financial and commercial transactions.” 

This annual conference was inaugurated on 9 December 2020. Looking at the calibre of speakers we attracted; the excellent quality of their presentations; the breadth and depth of the themes covered: feed Africa; power Africa; industrialise Africa; and, integrate Africa; and the broad spectrum of virtual audiences from across Africa and other continents such as the Americas, Europe and Asia, it indeed exceeded our expectations. Participating companies included Proudly South African, CSIR, Walvis Bay Corridor Group (WBCG), Trans Kalahari Corridor Secretariat and many others. The keynote address was given by Dr Mohan Guruswamy, Chief Knowledge Officer of the World FZO; and speakers included yours truly as the Convenor of the conference and Group Chairman and CEO: Brandhill Africa (Pty) Ltd (“De/constructing the African Renaissance: NEPAD, Agenda 2063 and AfCFTA”); Dr Eustace Mashimbye, the CEO of Proudly SA; Leslie Mpofu, Executive Director: TKCS (“Unlocking trade relations between South Africa, Botswana and Namibia); Irvaan Maharaj, Country Manager: WBCG (“Unlocking trade through unique public-private-partnerships”); Francois Fouche, Director: Growth Diagnostics (“Africa’s Readiness: Towards the operationalisation of the AfCFTA”); Ruan Fourie, Energy Economist: CSIR plus Secretary: South African Association for Energy Economists (“Exploring pathways to just economy transition in South Africa”); Ipeleng Kwadi, MD: Motshotelo Farming Enterprises (“Women in agriculture: A historical perspective”); and many other distinguished speakers.

Inspired by its success as it attracted delegates from all over the world with interest in Africa, we then made a commitment to host quarterly virtual seminars as build up to the annual December jamboree. 

We held our first quarterly virtual seminar on 3 March 2021 evaluating the opportunities and threats emerging as teething problems immediately after the start of the operationslisation of the AfCFTA on 1 January 2021. Francois Fouche presented a keynote address: “AfCFTA: Opportunities and threats”. There were riveting debates from the delegates engaging with the presentation. It was even more humbling when our delegates requested that we set up a WhatsApp group so that the conversations could continue in-between the quarterly webinars. This has resulted into the formation of two groups with active members who daily share valuable information on business opportunities in Africa. 

This was followed by the second webinar on 31 May 2021. As this was the ultimate event celebrating the Africa Month, we partnered with the African Diplomatic and Consular Corps resident in South Africa, as led by the Dean of Diplomatic Corps and head of the DRC Diplomatic Mission, H.E. Amb Ben Mpoko. The speakers were Amb Mpoko; Piet du Toit, President of the Pretoria Chamber of Commerce; Vusi Mabena, CEO: Mbhuduma Business Solutions; and Francois Fouche gave the keynote address: “Harnessing AfCFTA as one of the key building blocks of post-COVID-19 recovery”. We were privileged to bring onboard Made by Coco, an emerging cosmetics company to promote its products.

Then the third webinar focused on the film sector, and we were privileged to host Hollywood-based two-time Academy Award winner, Pietro Scalia. This took place during on 1 September (see a feature on him in the September 3 edition). One of the two Oscars Scalia won was for editing “Black Hawk Down”, a seminal movie that was based on the humiliating defeat America suffered at the hands of the rebel leader, Mohammed Farah Aidid, in Somalia. 

Pickybagging on these illustratious achievements, we will now formalise these webinars by launching them into a forum of structured engagements between the CEOs of economic development agencies, business chambers and heads of diplomatic missions resident in Africa’s four economic capitals – Johannesburg (for southern Africa), Lagos (west Africa), Nairobi (east Africa) and Cairo (north Africa). While the economic development agencies are the nerve centres of every country’s economic growth, diplomatic missions are at the coalface of trade and investment promotion, and business chambers are the actual drivers and implementation agencies of the opportunities presented. So this tri-partite marriage is crucial for every African country to develop economically.

So we’re provisionally referring to these engagements as the Rubik Initiative until we secure an anchor partner. This will be a sister initiative to the Biashara Services and Products Africa (BiSPA) Conference and Exhibition that I mentioned earlier. It is born out of insatiable desire  to enhance this news portal plus our webinars as premier platforms for promoting all the trade and investment opportunities accruing from the operationalisation of the AfCFTA. I’m glad to say I have already begun engaging twenty countries and as you may remember, last week we started by profiling the CEO of the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) and have been virtually engaging other CEOs. This is not about a cult of personality because we use the profiling of CEOs as anchors in highlighting opportunities in their countries.

This initiative will serve as a networking and collaboration platform for the CEOs of Investment Promotion Agencies (IPAs) in African countries to share information on trade and investment opportunities; advocate for the development of investor-friendly policies, laws and regulations which should benefit businesses expanding into each other’s countries; and, forge a common vision among IPAs in the targeted African countries.

These platforms will grant our partners unlimited access to top decision makers in African countries; make them aware of trade and investment opportunities thus identifying potential client acquisition and possible opportunities for partnerships; and help to enhance their brand equities among all the consumers across the continent.

Such co-branding partnerships could form part of their brand enhancement efforts through this stakeholder engagement and corporate social investment (CSI) initiative – including brand positioning them as responsible corporate citizens. Such positioning as conscientious brands that care and do good for society is essentially what consumers want to be associated with. Here are some more key benefits:

  • Enhanced brand reputation and corporate image that gives a company more credibility.
  • By becoming a good corporate citizen, one can improve their organisation’s competitive edge in terms of attracting and retaining investors, clients and employees. This same competitive edge will attract customers and investors to invest in a company’s offering over their competitors.  
  • CSI demonstrates the ‘heart’ and soul of every company and that gives a brand authenticity and a purpose that is far greater than selling a product or service.
  • Creating a sense of employee satisfaction and loyalty by getting everyone involved in doing good thus creating a desirable company culture and creating a happy staff environment, which means dedicated staff that are willing to go the extra mile.
  • It really does pay to be real. When people buy a product or service, it’s not just about what the product itself will do for them. It’s also about what it will say about them, which again ties into a company’s competitive advantage.

The event will be differentiated from others already in the market as it primarily forges structured collaboration between the economic development agencies, the private sector and the diplomatic corps; being given a specific identity; forging strategic partnerships with multilateral institutions such as the AfCFTA Secretariat, Regional Economic Commissions such as SADC, African Development Bank (ADB), African Export-Import Bank, World Bank’s IFC, UN’s Economic Commission on Africa; and most significantly, participation will be free of charge. The last point is the key differentiator as CEOs are often charged exorbitant membership fees by other private sector-led initiatives to belong to the so-called exclusive clubs.

Why anchored from the Gauteng City Region?

Contributing over 35% to South Africa’s GDP, Gauteng City Region is Africa’s economic capital – this makes it the 8th biggest economy on the continent. Its contribution is 5% higher than the combined GDP contributions of the second and third largest contributors – the Western Cape at 16% and KZN at 14%. This is one reason why the GCR was invited into the membership of the World Regions Forum – an umbrella body of the world’s richest city regions such as the State of New York, Italy’s Lombardy region and China’s Shanghai. I do have a cordial relationship with Lombardy having been based in this region on a diplomatic posting. 

Although this initiative is non-party political aligned, it’s worth mentioning that the three metropolitan municipalities in the GCR – namely, Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni – are administered by multiparty coalitions and research indicates this may continue after the 1 November elections. 

Granted, we will still offer associate membership to the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition’s Trade and Investment South Africa (TISA), InvestSA and TradeAfrica – though the three are not autonomous juristic entities outside of the DTIC. So full membership will be granted to the CEOs of the DFIs – IDC, NEF and SEFA. The same benefits will be extended to the other eight provincial IPAs in South Africa.

Economic Development Agencies – The nerve centres of trade and investment activities

The economic development agencies are the nerve centres of investment and trade flows in every country. They are the first port of call for every potential investor. Each country’s diplomatic missions – which are the coalface of trade and investment promotion in their foreign countries – refer potential investors and importers to them back in their home countries. So, governments establish them as their core economic development vehicles.

The Rubik metaphor

Why adopt the Rubik cube symbolism? Literature is awash with evidence of filmmakers using the Rubik Cube as a symbol of an idea, concept or derived meaning. They also use it as part of the set dressing or prop on stage. They derive various meanings from this metaphor which include intelligence, mystery, complexities and difficulties of life, finesse, elegance and capacity to resolve problems.

Documented research has also shown that there are five reasons why many people dedicate time to playing with the Rubik’s Cube. These include that it “improves memory, reflexes, problem-solving, patience, concentration and configuration”.

The above are the kind of qualities required by the stakeholders driving economic development – including entrepreneurs running successful businesses in Africa. We have adopted this triangular shaped Rubik cube (see the logo we developed at the bottom of this commentary) as we draw inspiration from Africa’s unique architectural mysteries as represented by the pyramids – Egypt has 138 (built from roughly 2550 BC and 2490 BC) and Sudan has between 200 and 250 of them (built by the Nubian kings 1 000 years after the Egyptian first in El Kurru in 751 BC). The Egyptian pyramids are the ones who inspired Pythagorean theorem which was developed by the Greek mathematician, Pythagoras of Samos (circa 582 – circa 507 BC). Pythagoras was taught by Thales of Miletus (c. 624 BC – c. 546 BC) who brought mathematics to the Greeks from ancient Egypt – he then advised his student to visit Egypt which he did when he was 22 years old. The Pythagoreans believe numbers define the universe. 

So, the triangular-shaped Rubik cube is the most appropriate metaphor to pay homage to Africa as a cradle of civilisation. For us, it’s symbolic of the innovative and resilient qualities needed for successful trade and investment promotion and management on this continent.

In terms of the roll-out, Brandhill Africa (Pty) Ltd undertakes to invite and establish a project team comprised of representatives of each of the country’s IPA; facilitating bilateral meetings/consultations (tête-à-tête) per month between the anchor partner, the individual CEO of Economic Development Agency, the business chamber and the head of a diplomatic mission; organise a virtual seminar before mid-December for all the stakeholders. 

Furthermore, key civil society institutions such as universities and think-tanks from these targeted African countries have to participate. Match-making sessions will also be arranged between the stakeholders prior to the event.

Project delivery platform

In line with COVID-19 safety protocols, cost efficiency and adoption of digitisation, the project will be delivered virtually and as such digital marketing services will be fully deployed. Digital marketing platforms are highly effective and it is worth noting that contrary to popular belief, research I shared in one of the previous editions has shown that internet penetration in Africa is relatively impressive.

Some of the benefits of digital marketing include cost effectiveness; virtual audience interaction and enhanced brand loyalty.

As I reported previously on this platform, the latest research has indicated that in the past ten years the readership on mobile platforms has increased by 460% (from 45 minutes to 4 hours 12 minutes) and on desktop by 26%; while the losers were TV which decreased by 24%, radio by 19% and magazines by 50%.

Since these statistics tell us traditional television is losing out, we therefore have to explore an option of a streaming television programming straight into our customers’ mobile gadgets – smartphones and tablets. Ours will aptly be named boardroomAfrica. There is no single  authentically pan-African business news television station owned and managed by Africans. I wrote about this in Jambo Africa Online a few weeks ago (https://www.jamboafrica.online/publishers-comment-building-resilient-and-successful-media-brands-post-covid-19-environment/). Africa continues to be communicated through the foreign lenses of CNN, BBC, Africanews., CCTV, Russia Today and a few other media outlets. This has to change.

Our live-streaming programming will transform us into a truly multimedia company with direct access to our targeted audiences who are captains of the industry. The crux of the content is evidenced by the body of work which we have been publishing through Jambo Africa Online (https://www.jamboafrica.online/category/news/) since 1 September. In the next week, we’ll be launching an e-Business Card which will be a tool to promote our services and also house a reliable database.

We are determined to disrupt the market. And we draw inspiration from all of you as stakeholders who have been supporting us. Be part of this groundbreaking initiative.

Before signing off, let me wish our Jewish readers a blessed Yom Kippur.

Enjoy your weekend.

Saul Molobi

Publisher

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