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    Changing "Brand Africa"

     

     
     
    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2007

    © ITC/S.SOK New blueprint for trade - ITC's Executive Director with the Minister of Women's Affairs and the Minister of Commerce and Industry in Liberia.

    Ask anyone about Africa and the first response you get is a negative picture of conflict, hunger, HIV/AIDS and other health issues. But question a bit more and it's clear that Africa is becoming a promising place for business. Africa has been described as the "The Last Big Emerging Market" with great opportunity and potential. The success of the market is essential if we wish to address the biggest challenge of our times: reducing poverty.

    Indeed "Brand Africa" needs repositioning, to showcase its champions of successful development and inspire others to realise their potential.

    This issue of Trade Forum showcases companies like the publicly listed South African company Johnnic Communications, an African media giant that is a powerful example of the changing "Brand Africa". The story of a small company like Muya Ethopia, exporting quality home soft furnishing and led by a woman entrepreneur, while not listed on any stock exchange, is the same: strong leadership, contemporary products to match the global market and commitment to local development. This is the new "can do" Africa.

    African leaders are on the world stage, investing in new partnerships. In Rwanda, the recent global meeting of women parliamentarians attracted international leaders and showed how African women are leading the charge for responsible governance.

    The continent is witnessing the highest growth and investment levels in a long time. Macroeconomic indicators are quite stable, reserves are going up and remittances are the highest ever. Africa is rich in young human resources and entrepreneurial talent. Women entrepreneurs are becoming recognized as a powerful business development force, agents of change in their communities and families.

    This is not to underplay the challenges of being home to only 13% of the world's population, but 30% of its poor. AIDS has had devastating consequences, with the heaviest toll on people of working age. Low literacy is a continuing challenge. Linked to this is the high rate of youth unemployment and low productivity.

    Market access barriers are the best-known trade constraints. Some 10 million farmers, the majority of whom are women, are affected by trade distortions in global markets.

    Of the world's poorest 50 countries, 34 are in Africa. Many are land-locked with poor infrastructure like roads, railways, sea and airports, all inhibiting their ability to export competitively. The economies are small, with limited regional cooperation and trade. This is a real barrier to using trade to reduce poverty.

    While business taxes in North Africa and the Middle East are the lowest in the world, those in sub-Saharan Africa are the highest. High taxes in the formal sector are one reason why the large informal sector in Africa is not in the mainstream of trade development.

    Historically tied to the production of commodities sold to the colonial fathers, there is very limited value addition to both goods and services to meet international standards or market requirements. Trade support institutions generally lack the capacity to help small firms grow and sell across borders.

    Today's "Brand Africa" might be better depicted as a mosaic of contrasts. In that mosaic we find a handful of strong economies, least developed countries - many of them landlocked, some nations at war and some post-conflict countries. Each has its own special circumstances. The strategy to change "Brand Africa" needs to reflect these different realities.

    Work with agents of change

    September marks the halfway point to achieve the Millennium Development Goals' targets of reducing poverty and bringing prosperity to the African people. Credible partnerships can bring about lasting change. We must look for change agents to effect the transformation necessary to sustain strong African business while ensuring thriving communities and long-term development.

    Critical to this change are financial, regional, academic and research institutions as well as business support institutions and civil society.

    Financial institutions: because the best business ideas go nowhere without the right financing.

    Regional institutions: because we need critical mass to help business compete.

    Academic and research institutions: because they analyse local development challenges and build up a base of skilled professionals.

    Business support institutions and civil society: because a strong private sector and civil society are needed for balanced development.

    ITC supports African business

    From organic cosmetics made in South Africa's Eastern Cape, to luxury handbags made by Ethiopian cooperatives, to wooden jewellery made from sustainable Mozambican forests, ITC is partnering with Africans to sell quality "Made in Africa" products around the world.

    Our programmes focus on private sector development, regional integration and poverty alleviation. We've stepped up initiatives to encourage African businesswomen, bring the voice of business to trade negotiators, facilitate trade between neighbouring countries, develop the potential of trade in services and link poor, rural communities to global markets. In the process, we are reaching out to new players who influence trade and business development in civil society.

    Finally, it is essential to work with African institutions to support entrepreneurs. This is part of good governance and of creating a better business environment. ITC works with a range of trade support institutions in Africa to identify winning sectors and improve their services to exporters.

    Towards a new "Brand Africa"

    If we want to change the future of Africa, it is to homegrown champions that we must look more often. Business developments by Africans, for Africans are immensely powerful. They demonstrate that success is possible and give hope and inspiration to African entrepreneurs who want to follow in their steps. Equally important, these images put more of the challenge of development in the hands of business.

    We can be inspired by the business world and put branding front and centre in our thinking. Focusing on a new "Brand Africa" can encourage investment, growth and ensure that it is not "business as usual".

    Inspiring are the words of Benjamin Mkapa, former President of Tanzania… "This is a decisive moment for Africa to commit itself to a strategy of self-dependent path to reducing poverty by scaling up our own efforts through maximizing efficient and effective use of resources. This particularly calls for integrating the African diaspora into resource mobilization plans and in new links with the south nations."

    Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia was also sounding the call for self-reliance when he said at the opening of the recent Economic Commission for Africa summit, "All we need do is believe a little bit more in our capacity to be the authors of our own fate, our own destiny and a little bit less in the possibility of deliverance from outside." We at ITC stand ready to work with Africa in this exciting process of change.