Regional take

Truthful Consumerism in Africa

You’ve heard the news: post-truth is a thing. But what does all this mean for African consumers – and the brands who want to serve them? Our take: in a world characterized by polarization and populist anger, the continent must lean on its long experience of dealing with these issues and shape its own destiny. Do that, and Africa can shine a light on how governments and brands in the rest of the world must respond to the realities of post-truth.


How can it be done? The future is built by innovation! And in Africa two truths – empowerment and tolerance – provide powerful opportunities for ambitious innovators to ride. But first, some context…

Africa: The Great Spectator?

To some extent Africa remains a spectator continent amid the international turmoil, as leaders, brands and consumers on the ground are anxiously trying to decipher what growing pockets of anti-globalism and populism mean for ‘us’?

Theories abound on the ripple effects that these seismic global shifts could have on Africa and her populace. The only indisputable fact? Nobody truly knows. Here’s what we do know:

Africa isn’t post-truth, it’s pre-truth!

Yes, in the western world this might feel like a new moment. For Africa, there’s nothing really that new about it. Take the increasing influence of South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighter party, or the resurgence of the Biafran movement in Nigeria: just two glimpses of the fact that not only has Africa been dealing with populism, polarization and dishonest debates for decades, but the continent is yet to overcome these issues the first time around.

No wonder when accurate data is available on public trust in governments in Africa, it’s often found to be woefully low. Globally, the South African government is least trusted by its people, with trust levels at only 15%, compared to the global average of 41%.

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Post-truth Africa style is everywhere. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, recently expressed his own alternative facts, when he stated that ‘Nigeria just achieved the record of the second largest producer of rice in the world. The rice revolution just started a year ago!’. The statement was widely questioned; indeed Nigeria does not feature on the United States Agriculture Department’s list of the 17 top rice-producing nations.

Trump is the most ‘African’ US President ever!

The West has long attempted to stand as the moral benchmark for how Africans must conduct governance and leadership. Today, the chasm between the populists of the US, France, the Netherlands and the stereotypical African leaders is narrowing. Now, some Africans have begun to latch on to this new global moment in order to validate their own outdated, self-serving agendas.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has praised Trump, saying that he is mirroring Trump’s isolationist position: ‘America for Americans – on that we agree. And Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans.’ (ZBC-TV via CNN, February 2017)

Turns out post-truth and pre-truth can look pretty similar!

In 2017 discontent will be waged on two fronts: digitally and in the streets.

Much has been written about young and frustrated citizens’ recent fights for political and economic change. Especially their use of social media to fight economic woes – think spiraling youth unemployment, weaker currencies, increasing corruption, unsustainable price hikes and more. However, don’t think that today’s disgruntled Africans are giving up on more direct action. They’ll still take their causes to the streets, resulting in detainment, incarceration and even deaths.

A few recent, if unwelcome, signals of this only-too-real polarization: Green Nigeria, a coalition of young Nigerian professionals cutting across ethnic, religious and political party lines, has called on Nigerian youths to participate more actively in politics and governance. The doctor’s strike in Kenya went on for 100 days, resulting in the arrest, jailing and death of some doctors. Five people were killed in Guinea’s capital of Conakry in protests sparked by a teacher’s strike. Where does all this leave the continent – and, crucially, its consumers – today?

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This moment in African consumerism

Citizens and consumers want to take control of the ‘Africa rising’ narrative. The task for innovators and brands? Facilitate this.

The continent’s trajectory towards progress hasn’t been a straight line. Now, there is rising awareness of globalization’s adverse impacts on Africa. Unprecedented financial investment from the East, for example, has led many to question whether Asia represents Africa’s ‘neo-colonial masters’, who exploit the continent for its riches while providing little value to local communities.

Rising numbers today are highly motivated to ensure globalization works for the continent. And there have been examples of great successes created by the African global community. One example? The Ethiopian Diaspora Community across the world raised over USD 2 million to back the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in 2017 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ethiopia, February 2017).

Now, consumers and innovators across the continent are taking power into their own hands. This is all driven by the digital age, newly-formed regulations and business partnerships, a renewed consumer confidence, citizen activism and homegrown entrepreneurship.

No wonder that despite all the current difficulties the numbers show that many Africans still believe that the future is bright.

Around seven-in-ten South Africans and Nigerians say their economies are in bad shape. Meanwhile, in Kenya, just over half say the same. Yet, majorities all three countries believe their economies will improve in the next 12 months. And roughly three-in-four Nigerians, Kenyans and South Africans believe that young people today who want to live a good life should stay in their countries rather than move abroad (Pew, November 2016)

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Time to get Truthful…

Globalization is reshaping Africa and no one has definitive answers or a perfect path. But one thing is clear: the turmoil occurring in the West has rendered Africa’s future firmly in the hands of Africa herself!

In a time of global uncertainty, ‘going with the flow’ and ‘business as usual’ will no longer cut it. Africans must cleave to their own journey, encouraging citizens – well equipped and agile enough to adjust to challenging times – to step up and create truly positive African innovations!

To aid this mission, brands can harness two fundamental truths – empowerment and tolerance – which transcend turbulent times. If these truths are adhered to, this pre-truthful continent can break from its past and shine a light on how governments, institutions and businesses worldwide must meet the needs of people in a post-truthful world.

Just one example? Kenya’s Ushahidi launched a service to monitor the US Presidential election in November 2016. Via the real-time digital reporting tool, anyone could report issues of intimidation, voter suppression or violence. Expect to see more ‘reverse innovations’ like this coming soon. From you? ;)

The Future Is Still Tolerance

Remnants of tribalism, apartheid, carelessly-drawn borders post-colonial hangovers still loom over the continent and remain among the most pressing issues for Africa to confront. Making tolerance – and indeed, a truth that in the context of Africa, mainly speaks to unifying broken communities, consumers and citizens-at-large – a hugely powerful one for innovators to address.

(Reading time: 6 mins)

The Future Is Still Empowerment

Confidence and change are sweeping across the continent: fueled by a new global consciousness and activism. The truth is that now is the time to empower the new African consumer!

(Reading time: 4 mins)

About The Author:

Lola Pedro

Lola Pedro is Africa Regional Director at TrendWatching. Based in Lagos, Nigeria she oversees all sub-Sahara Africa regional content and speaking engagements. She holds an BSc in Multimedia Technology and Management Systems and a MSc in Technology Entrepreneurship from University College London.

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IT TAKES A TEAM:

Celebrating the power of our African community and soul, this piece was completed with contributions from tw:in, TrendWatching Insight Network. Thank you to the African Spotters who shared their precious time and invaluable insights: Chris Gantenbein, Malik Balagun, Chioma Ejide, Emeka Obia & David Paul Mavia. Thank you!

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