Economic revolution & building the citizen brand

The catalytic role of brand and the citizen for economic emancipation, rather than political revolt, could be an interesting new focus for 2018. While the two cannot easily be separated, economics can change our game — perhaps the very reason that Americans voted for the otherwise questionable Donald Trump.

After nearly 20 years of travel in Nigeria, I never cease to marvel at the immense energy, belief and optimism of the people we mostly engage with. Admittedly, this is the business elite and the more-privileged segments of the economy but, surprisingly, the disenfranchised youth and many highly marginalised folks from all walks of life, too Perhaps it’s the sheer pressure of survival and necessity that demand this but you somehow sense that there’s simply a spirit and ethos that believes things can and will be made better.

Power to the youth

On my most recent visit, in which I facilitated some working sessions with various industry sectors and youth groups, in particular, regarding Brand Nigeria, I was again astounded by the enterprising approach, energy and passion to work hard on restoring the Nigerian economy and focusing it away from its dependency on the oil sector. The examples presented of entrepreneurial efforts in fashion, entertainment and manufacturing were very encouraging and these efforts extend beyond the Nigerian market in several cases, promoting regional and international exports and with an impressive brand orientation in certain instances.

Private and public partnerships

Frustratingly, many of these initiatives could be accelerated, funded and supported by government sector initiative and collaboration but this is sadly mostly defunct in so many African countries, Nigeria included. With a history of siphoning off natural resource wealth and extreme corruption, there are scant examples of where the public sector is likely to come to the aid of the entrepreneur or start-up organisation. Much like South Africa in so many ways, where the entrepreneur is largely expected to make it happen while the public sector becomes increasingly bloated, inefficient, corrupt and dependent on regular bailouts. I sensed from the Nigerians present at this two-day workshop that they will not allow this inertia to restrain them, and will find innovative and creative ways to break the blockages that they are dealing with.

Move over, Robert

As this article, influenced by Nigeria, was taking shape, our good friend to the north of us was suddenly displaced to much delight, jubilation and some trepidation on what comes next. At the risk of over-simplification, given the many complexities under Robert Mugage’s 37-year rule, economic destruction must feature as one of the central tenets of his demise, notwithstanding the probable 20 other good reasons for his dethroning. We have marvelled for a long time at the lack of resistance to this and the silent voice of many entrepreneurs, students, job seekers and business people who simply tolerated this. The intention of this column and in keeping with my commitment of last year, is to avoid the political space, so, to put it bluntly in a purely economic sense, enough was clearly enough.

Economic revolution

With the burgeoning youth population forecasts to 2050 and the massive urbanisation thrust that is expected in Africa, it is very evident that we need a different kind of pan-African revolution: an economic one — one that can drive employment and job creation, small business progress, innovation and export capability for the continent. Sadly, this necessitates private-public sector partnerships in many economies but entrepreneurs and business people simply cannot depend on government to enable many of these initiatives. The enterprising, energetic and driven pursuit of innovative and disruptive economic solutions is a necessity for our continent. My column last year, on the stimulating read from Senor and Singer, titled Start-up Nation, relating the incredible story of Israel and the entrepreneurial successes of their people, should clearly be inspiration to all.

Reimagining a different future

Borrowing from the tagline of a prominent Johannesburg university, we truly do need to reconsider and reimagine a different future. While its proposition talks to knowledge development and learning, brand and business need to extend this into commercial reality and prosperity, reducing the citizen dependency on state-owned or governmental initiatives and displacing this with courageous entrepreneurship and solutions to a more-prosperous continent. Brand has a critical role to play and the importance of the national brand cannot be underestimated in improving country-of-origin capability, enabling export opportunities, driving foreign direct investment and developing badly needed infrastructure.

This article was originally posted on Marklives.com

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