In this month’s comment, I’m going to relate to the universality of Thomas Sankara’s tribute to the “madmen” and Nawal el Sadaawi’s maxim, “creativity starts with disobedience” which I have alluded to in the previous editions  by first quoting the legendary Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011), one of the co-founders of Apple, when he mused:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits, the rebels, the trouble makers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently – they are not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is to ignore them because the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do…”

Today’s buzzword is “innovation”! Apple today is the world’s most valuable brand because Steve Jobs and his team were highly innovative. I’m mentioning this company to inspire “Made in Africa” service and product brands to be innovative for them to be able to usurp opportunities that will be presented by the Africa continental Free trade agreement (AfCFTA). We have to adopt digital technologies as the most cost effective and cost-efficient marketing tools to brand position our services and products across the continent.

Scholars have written extensively about how technological resources and innovation can serve as sources of sustainable competitive advantage for companies both domestically and internationally – thus spurring a company’s entry into export engagement and subsequent export growth. Research has found that innovation is a significant driver of export development – and as such international markets represent an area in which companies that exploit their innovations could enhance their economic performance. These innovative companies enter foreign markets to increase their sales capacity and thus spread the fixed costs of innovation over a larger number of markets.

Investing in technology deepens organisational learning and knowledge capacities which are significant antecedent factors of a company’s competence in developing cost-/differentiation-based international competitive advantages that lead to foreign market penetration. This is a strategic imperative to be pursued by African countries as an incentive to access foreign markets to earn higher returns on their investment into technologies. This will ensure intra-African trade increases and benefits “Made in Africa” service and product brands.

African companies have to invest sufficient resources into research and development (R&D). technological innovations into product and process development impact positively export market penetration as they generate competitive advantages based on cost and/or differentiation.

Literature is awash with evidence that R&D intensity positively affects the depth and breadth of exported development. Similarly, this relates to both product and process innovations too. Finally, it could be deduced conclusively that the depth and breadth of export development positively impacts R&D intendity; and, product and process innovation.

The dialectical interdependence between exports and innovation cannot be over emphasised because the former induce a company to embark on increased rate of innovations which results in achieving greater returns from operating and exposure in multiple markets.

But for our services, products and corporates to succeed in not just the African market but globally too we have to invest sufficient resources into building them into brands. The logic applies to our cities, regions/counties and countries being brand positioned as competitive destinations for tourism and investments. And, perhaps I must emphasise, build them into iconic brands. “For any brand to attain iconic status,” we have to borrow from a leading branding theorist, Martin Roll, “ it has to create an identity myth… Iconicity does not happen by chance, but rather has to be carefully planned and executed…” 

Roll continued by positing that iconic brands tell stories that resonate with consumers and touch their lives in some way which could be defined by a single word such as freedom (Harley-Davidson); power (BMW); design (Apple); elegance (Dior);  imagination (Lego); beauty (Estee Lauder); or safety (Volvo). 

So how can we in Africa follow this brand development framework as developed by Roll? We have many icons, myths and legends we can borrow from. The resilient Nelson Mandela. The mystic Musi-oa-tunya(“the smoke that thunders”). The divine Lake Fundudzi. The indomitable baobab tree. The black buffalo – that symbolises “unity is strength”. The uniquely African zebra – peaceful co-existence. The majestic lion – a king of the jungle (which, like “Hakuna matata”, we have allowed Hollywood to appropriate). The list goes on from each and every African country.

We also have home-grown concepts and theories. I have alluded to the concept of ubuntu. And if you extend this concept into a theoretical framework, the best coinage that eloquently encapsulates the conceptualisation of people-centred development was developed by Julius Nyerere: ujamaa! This, for me, was the best customisation of dialectical materialism through an African idiom. For us here in South Africa, it was as if he was enunciating the ideological position was communicated by Moses Kotane in his “Cradock Letter” that grounded communists to the African material reality – that’s why for want of a better word, ujamaa was defined as African socialism. Something more sophisticated than what Karl Marx defined as primitive socialism. 

So flowing from above in response to Kroll’s canonisation, one word to define brand Africa could be ujamaaor ubuntu! This could talk to our people-centred and people-driven approach to development as we prune the benefits accruing from the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). This will redefine mis/perceptions about brand Africa which Simon Anholt, a competitive identity architect, has said they are centred on: disease, famine and terror! Jambo Africa Online’s Editorial Correspondent, Dithako Nakedi, wax lyrical in this bumper edition’s Editor’s Note about our people being at the core of the development of brand Africa’s re/engineered reputation.

In my dissertation for the MSc in Global marketing that I received from the University of Liverpool, I recommended the following in an attempt to break new ground in the trade and investment promotion paradigm:

  • Conducting extensive customer research, segmentation, targeting and positioning;
  • Economic diplomacy becoming the core of a country’s foreign policy;
  • Comprehensive stakeholder engagement through a well-defined public diplomacy strategy;
  • Embracing social media as part of the overall marketing communications strategy;
  • Administering a comprehensive customer relationship management (CRM) system.

This will catapult African countries and companies into highly competitive machinery that will stand their ground against foreign brands. This will ensure as we implement the AfCFTA next month, it will indeed benefit “Made in Africa” service and product brands.

The last six months have been a roller-coaster for Brandhill Africa (Pty) Ltd. We launched this publication in September, and this is our fourth edition. This digital publication and news portal will next month evolve out of the Brandhill Africa website into a standalone portal,

The highlight for us in this semester was the successful hosting of our flagship project, Biashara Services and Products Africa (BiSPA) Conference and Exhibition on 9 December – see copies of the conference poster and a number of speeches made at the conference.

In conclusion, perhaps we should learn from Rene Descartes who mused: “Cogito ergo sum” (which could be loosely translated as “I think, therefore I am”). This means anything we think, could materialise if we put our mind to it. Let’s get to work…

Enjoy your festive season.

Saul Molobi


Twitter: @saulmolobi

Instagram: @saulmolobi