Monday, 1 September 2008

“Like most scholars in the developed world I saw Africa as a charity…”

Perhaps the only good thing about a delayed overnight weekend flight converting to a day-long daytime trip is that one can sit and read, think and daydream, literally, with few distractions. There is no Tri Nations test, no kids (not yours anyway) and no household chores. The time can turn out to be perfectly enjoyable – even in cattle class. In any event, this is what happened to Afro Leo who found himself lazing in 71k for a whole day pawing through pages of The Africa Report, Africa Business and New African. Unlike European focused equivalents, these publications contain reports normally reserved for plots in action novels, such as stories of an Eton old boy getting 34 years for plotting to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea and how an eminent Brazilian banker allowed his bank to get defrauded to the tune of $291million by a Nigerian scammer posing as the Director of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Another article entitled: IP Techniques: Africa Bursting with Opportunities produced alongside an article on Ethiopia’s recent decision to premium brand its coffee - “Ethiopia blazes branding trail” by Anver Versi (see earlier Afro-IP post here) also caught Afro Leo’s eye.

The IP article sub titled Africa Bursting with Opportunities claims that the application of IP tools and branding techniques could add value to Africa’s products and services allowing the IP owners to retain the huge profits now being made by middlemen. The article cites Kenya Tea, Sudanese extra long staple cotton, Namibia’s marula oil, Togolese black soap, Sengalese yeloow fin tuna, Tanzania’s blackwood, cashews from Madagascar, mud-cloth from Mali, Ethiopian Leather and, surprisingly, television animation which is apparently worth around $50-$70 bn annually. The report is unfortunately vague as to what it means by IP techniques or the “middlemen”. However, Afro Leo suggests that the techniques are a combination of recognising that IP exists, defining and protecting it and at the same time marketing the product under a brand as a premium product to distribution networks and channels that can take the message to as many consumers across the globe as possible. In other words creating a brand and an exclusive category for the product, and taking it to market by partnering with licensees and distributors with appropriate expertise and networks. There is no doubt that these opportunities exist and that Ethiopia has been astute enough to recognise and exploit its latent IP for long term growth in demand for its coffee beans. This story is however, is unfortunately quite at odds with most of the short term thinking that is evident in the pages of the three publications, albeit that the book review on Africa Rising [Vijay Mahajan] on how Africa’s 900m consumers offer “more value than you think” is refreshingly accurate.

Mr Mahajan is quoted as saying “Like most scholars in the developed world, I saw Africa more as a charity case than as a market opportunity. I was wrong, and this book is to set the record straight”. The book is due out in the US, UK and South Africa this September.

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