Happy 2023 and beyond.

Africa has its targets set on increased levels of regional integration. In fact, if prosperity, social cohesion, and human development are the objective, then regional integration is the best vehicle, and indeed the only way forward.

The objectives of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) aim to create a single continental market for goods and services and to allow for the liberal movement of business, persons and investments across borders within Africa. Additionally, it seeks to pave the way for the eventual establishment of an African customs union (an ambitious long term objective) and to expand intra-African trade through a greater harmonisation and coordination of trade liberalisation. It will create better trade facilitation regimes and instruments across Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and across Africa in general, and resolve the challenges of multiple and overlapping REC memberships and promote the regional and continental integration processes. Finally, it is expected to enhance competitiveness at, both, industry and enterprise level via opportunities for greater economy of scale, continental market access and an optimization in the utilisation and allocation of resources.

The goal of the new trade agreement is to make it easier to do business across the continent, but it should be seen as the commencement of a process and not just a single event. Naturally, we can expect it will take some time before its full implementation.

The AfCFTA is part and parcel of a gradual harmonisation of African trade and investment policies to facilitate much greater levels of intra-African trade and investment. The idea is to create one of the world’s largest FTA, particularly if we consider the number of countries participating. The potential market size is in excess of 1.27 billion people with a combined GDP of more than $3,6 trillion. These figures represent a significant worldwide imprint and impact.

It is seen as a decision that has the potential to create business opportunities and jobs all across Africa, while reducing the cost of many goods in shops and markets.

It is firstly there to broaden Africa’s economic and market share, but other priorities include addressing the existing supply constraints, weak productive capacities and infrastructural bottlenecks.

However, it is more than just a Free Trade Area (FTA). It is also seen as a platform which can facilitate a process of inclusive structural transformation, which can contribute to Africa’s Agenda 2063 vision and to assist in progressing Africa towards implementing the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Currently, 44 out of the 55 AU member states have ratified the AfCFTA; 54 have signed it; and only one is outstanding. This is a mammoth achievement worth celebrating. This means we are taking a much shorter period of realising our dream of continental integration which is much better than the 72 years that took Europe to establish the European Union to what it is today. This is a milestone.

According to the insight report, “AfCFTA: A New Era for Global Business and Investment in Africa”, co-published by the AfCFTA Secretariat and the World Economic Forum and launched last week in Davos, Switzerland, the following are tangible projects that the Secretariat has already launched:

  • Guided Trade Initiative which has seen eight African countries already trading 96 products under the AfCFTA regime;
  • The Rules of Origin and e-Tariff Book launched 
  • Pan African Payment Settlement and System (PAPSS);
  • AfCFTA Adjustment Facility Fund which is a combination of base fund plus general and credit fund assisting governments and the private sector in addressing short term market disruptions.

The report emphasised the AfCFTA’s strategic thrust of reducing cross border trade barriers while also facilitating flows in Africa across its five pillars of trade in goods; services and investment; digital trade; inclusive trade; and facilitating environmentally sustainable trade. 

The architecture of multilateral CEO forums 

Our initiative, though not a juristic entity, is named The Rubik Initiative, which will be a structured engagement mechanism convened between the CEOs of economic development agencies and the private sector. There are several reasons for this. The primary one is that in terms of the multilateral architecture system, this initiative has been positioned in such a way that it is not misconceived as a competition to organs established by multilateral bodies (with country representations by national government departments and institutions) such as the African Union (AU) and the United Nations. We have been partnering and promoting the AU-initiated African Business Council (AfBC) in our news portal and conference series.

So countries end up partnering with private sector-led initiatives to “depoliticise” their participation in these mechanisms – that is, to help them escape the dictates of the bureaucracy of protocol and etiquette embedded in diplomacy – which help to deepen their participation in the dominant sphere of international relations, which is now economic diplomacy. Economic is at the centre of the advent of globalisation.

We’re managing this initiative from the Gauteng City Region which is the economic hub of the continent although our strategic pursuit is to establish regional hubs such as Nairobi, in Kenya; Cairo, Egypt; Lagos, Nigeria; and Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR).

This forum serves as a networking and collaboration platform for the CEOs of Economic Development Agencies (EDAs) in targeted African countries to identify trade and investment opportunities; advocate for the development of investor-friendly policies, laws and regulations; and, forge a common vision among them. 

These will then be shared with the private sector as they are the delivery channels for economic development. This platform will grant our private sector 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 initiative is differentiated from others already in the market by primary participation being afforded to only the CEOs; strategic partnership forged with multilateral institutions such as BRICS Business Council, SADC Secretariat, World Bank’s IFC, UN’s Economic Commission on Africa; and associate membership offered to targeted the African Business Council and the Pan African Chambers of Commerce and Industry and All African Chambers of Mines and Other Mining Associations in Africa – a federation of national chambers of mine across the continent. And most significantly, participation will be free of charge. The last point is the key differentiator as CEOs and companies are charged exorbitant fees by all the private sector-led initiatives alluded to above. This is what has enticed the CEOs of IPAs that Brandhill Africa™ has been engaging with.

Why 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.

The above are the kind of qualities required in the state driving economic development and entrepreneurs running successful businesses in Africa. We have adopted this triangular shaped Rubik cube as we draw inspiration from Africa’s unique architectural structures 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 – the teacher then advised his student 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.

Project activity outline

Our imitative will be implemented through a series of monthly masterclasses on brand management and economic diplomacy (tourism, trade and investment) which then develops into a hybrid seminar, Biashara Services and Products Africa (BiSPA) Conference and Exhibition – which is a series of annual conferences interspersed with quarterly seminars. Intended to empower the SME sector to appropriately brand themselves to be able to tap into the local and continental market opened up by the operationalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) – which is currently receiving minimum coverage in the mainstream media – these will help open market opportunities for this sector – which does not have huge budgets for advertising. 

In terms of the roll-out, Brandhill Africa™ undertakes to invite and establish a project team comprised of representatives of each of the country’s economic development agencies; facilitating bilateral (tête-à-tête) meetings/consultations per month between the individual CEO of an Economic Development Agency, the business chamber and the head of a diplomatic mission; organise a virtual seminars every month which escalate into a quarterly hybrid seminar on economic diplomacy.

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.

This programme will also solicit participation of business support services and development finance institutions such as the Small Business Development Agency (SEDA), Small Enterprise Funding Agency (SEFA); Incentive Development and Administration Division of the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition; provincial economic development agencies such as the Limpopo Economic Development Agency (LEDA) and Mpumalanga Economic Growth Agency (MEGA); and tourism agencies.

The monthly seminar will be organized in three parts, namely plenary session, breakaway session and plenary session. During plenary session, the keynote address will be delivered by a notable business leader and/or public official by a minister/premier/MEC The keynote will be followed by theme presentations by the identified experts. Based on discussions and presentations by experts, set of questions will be developed for purpose of engagement during breakaway sessions. We envisaged a maximum of three breakaways sessions moderated by thought leaders. Discussions during breakaway sessions and resolutions will be presented by each of the rapporteur from each of the sessions at plenary session. All inputs will be consolidated into a report that will be shared with government and non-governmental actors.  

The critical access conditions of the programme hinge on the following:

  • Carefully thought through themes 
  • Identification of appropriately qualified and experienced moderators, and speakers 
  • Engagement with the market based on value proposition which is largely determined by those who drive the conference (i.e. speakers and company with equity in the market) 
  • Marketing of the conference through different media platforms 
  • Suitable and accessible venue.

Research has shown the youth and women constitute the majority of the SME sector in every economy, so this programme we are proposing will benefit them more. At the core of this intervention is the strategic intent to strengthen South African and African companies – particularly the SME sector – to access market opportunities across the continent. Broadly speaking, it also seeks to deepen international trade relations between South Africa and other African countries to boost intra-African trade in line with the objectives of the AfCFTA. As South Africa and various stakeholders embark on economic diplomacy and international business as they often host international business delegations and undertake outward trade and investment missions, it is significant that they are capacitated to understand both theoretical and operational modalities of economic diplomacy. 

I’m proud to say the African Business Council (AfBC), and the African Tourism Board (ATB) have committeed to become Brandhill Africa™‘s strategic partners when they came onboard during our 3rd annual BiSPA Conference and Exhibition in 14 December 2022. As such, Dr Amany Asfour, President of the AfBC, who’s based in Egypt, and Cuthbert Ncube, the Executive Chairman of the ATB, were keynote speakers. The AfBC is the apex body on the promotion and lobbying of the Pan-African business interests. It serves as a key pillar within the architecture of the AfCFTA by ensuring there is organized interaction between the Pan-African Private Sector and African Policymakers. The ATB’s brand positioning vision is “where Africa becomes ONE tourism destination in the WORLD”. They are both continental federations whose members are national and provincial chambers or agencies.

This annual seminar series – which is interspersed with quarterly webinars – was first launched in December 2020 as an annual event with three quarterly webinars in between as build up to the annual. Based on its success since 2020, we have decided to upscale it in 2023. Media coverage for our previous events was in our weekly pan African business portal, www.jamboafrica.online; SAFM, Chai FM, Radio Bop SA, New Central TV (Nigeria), and Africa 24 – the six biggest television channel in Africa after CNN, BBC World Service; CNBC Africa; Aljazeera; and French 24.

This conference series is a sister project to our weekly news portal, Jambo Africa Online (www.jamboafrica.online) – which is part of our elaborate market disrupting publishing list – which include my latest book, “De/constructing brand Africa: A Practitioner’s Perspective”. This initiative was sponsored by the Gauteng Growth and Development Agency (GGDA) for six months in 2022. All our three platforms have emerged as the premier pan-African multichannel tools aimed at bringing SMEs Into the mainstream of the economy to make valuable contribution to the growth, renewal and transformation of our continent’s economic landscape and for deriving maximum value out of the implementation of the AfCFTA. 

Previously participating companies included African Continental Free Trade Agreement Secretariat (represented by H.E. Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General as the keynote speaker); Proudly South African (its CEO, Eustace Mashimbye); CSIR (represented by Ruan Fourie, its Energy Economist plus Secretary: South African Association for Energy Economists); Walvis Bay Corridor Group (its CEO gave a speech); Trans Kalahari Corridor Secretariat (Leslie Mpofu, Executive Director spoke); the Dubai-headquartered World Free Zones Organisation (represented by Dr Mohan Guruswamy, its Chief Knowledge Officer, who gave the keynote speech); my speech was titled “De/constructing the African Renaissance: NEPAD, Agenda 2063 and AfCFTA”); Growth Diagnostics (Francois Fouche, Director of this collaboration with the University of the North West Business School, Francois Fouche spoke on “Africa’s Readiness: Towards the operationalisation of the AfCFTA”); Ipeleng Kwadi, MD: Motshotelo Farming Enterprises (“Women in agriculture: A historical perspective”); and many other distinguished speakers.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted us into adopting digital communications platforms. These are highly effective and it is worth noting that contrary to popular belief, internet penetration in Africa is relatively impressive compared.

These are some of the benefits of digital marketing:

• Cost effective marketing: With a relatively low budget, you can use social media marketing to expose your audience to your brand even when they’re not thinking about it. 

• Audience interaction: About 45% of the world’s population uses social media, and most of them use it about three hours per day. 

 • Improved brand loyalty: Research indicates that 71% of people who have a positive experience with a brand on social media are likely to recommend that brand to friends and family.

Who are we?

We believe we’re the best qualified to undertake this initiative. We were privileged when in November 2022 the World Confederation of Business bestowed upon us a “Business Excellence Award”. This came after  the World Brand Congress bestowed upon Brandhill Africa™ the “Best Brand Award” at its “Brand Leadership Awards 2021” on 15 July 2021 in recognition of our work in managing the brand reputation of Africa as a viable destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) while at the same time to help open foreign market access opportunities for “Made in Africa” service and product brands.  The video profile of Brandhill Africa™ is here

We’re not just endowed with theoretical knowledge but have practical experience in economic diplomacy. This is another element of our differentiation. As an example, I am former South Africa’s Consul-Général to Milan (March 2012 – June 2016) where I drove economic diplomacy and brand management programmes in all the regions of in northern Italy – economic hubs of the country – that brand positioned South Africa and Africa, by extension, as a viable destination investment and tourism and also helped open market access opportunities for  “Made in Africa” service and product brands. This weekly news portal, Jambo Africa Online, was established in September 2020. 

This programme will be delivered through the Biashara Services and Products Africa (BiSPA) Conference and Exhibition supported by our other platforms as promotional tools. Some of these platforms and networks include economic development agencies and business chambers which will invite private sector companies to attend the seminars and the sponsor/partner will also be allowed to invite their targeted stakeholders, promote the event extensively (with acknowledgement to the sponsor/partner), invite high profile speakers to give opening remarks, and generally ensure the sponsor/partner derives maximum benefit out of their participation. One of our presentations on economic diplomacy was on 28 June 2022 for South Africa’s diplomats posted across the world – this was commissioned by the diplomatic academy at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).

As the project champion, I was nominated and subsequently ranked number 16 out of 620 nominees from all over the world – and 2nd in Africa after Winifred Kamuya, CEO of International Renaissance Centre, who is based in Kenya – by the World CEO Rankings Board as “The World CEO of the Year” – this was a second nomination after the 2020 first one. 

I am hosted on weekly basis on Thobela FM as an international relations expert in addition to numerous other media outlets such as SAFM, Chai FM and Nigeria’s Central News television channel. I am currently also serving as a jazz music presenter on Chai FM every Sunday evening. I’m also glad to say Radio Bop SA, a radio station in which I present a daily slot, “Around the Continent with Saul Molobi”, will also come onboard as a media partner.

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact me on the contact details listed below. 

Kindest regards,

Saul Molobi (FCIM)

Group Chairman and CEO

Brandhill Africa™

Tel: +27 11 759 4297 

Mobile: +27 83 635 7773


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