Design Indaba 2016
4 Trends To Know In Sub-Saharan Africa

There’s a lot of confusion, misinformation and stereotypes about Africa. The best way to dispel them? Take a look at #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, read below and keep an eye out for the full version of this report in two weeks.

I can’t claim to be an expert on Africa. I spent several months in sub-Saharan Africa last year to establish Ogilvy & Mather’s social media capabilities in the region. The observations I noticed have been reinforced with research, discussions, examples, and data to ensure these are trends worth noting.

So… here they are:

1. Africa is not one market. 

When I worked in Asia, we used to tell clients that it’s very difficult to create one strategy for an entire region. You need to take into account local cultures, languages, behaviors, and best practices. The same applies in Africa.

According to the PEW Institute, Africa is the most culturally diverse continent in the world. To illustrate the complexity of working across a massive region, consider an advertising example: a campaign for Barclays might work in Johannesburg but will often not work effectively in Nairobi, let alone Lagos. Why? The people in adverts are not relatable; language, even if English, has a different expression and pronunciation (local slang in Nairobi is Sheng: a mix between Kiswahili and English); conservative cultural and religious norms need to be adhered to in Nairobi more than in Jo’berg; and user behaviors around saving money are vastly different (in Kenya they save in peer groups called Chamas and often don’t have bank accounts). Not to mention the different media channels available, currencies used, industry regulation, and competitive environment.

What does it mean?

  • Don’t let the complexity diversity scare you off. Sub-Saharan Africa is rife with opportunity; just do your research before diving in.
  • Avoid an ‘Africa strategy’. Customize your approach per market or audience segment.

2. Scarcity is sub-Saharan Africa’s secret weapon.
Research shows scarcity drives creativity. Why? According to a recent Oxford Journal paper and FastCo author Charlie Sorrell,

“People are more creative when they are forced to make the best of a situation, or to come up with alternative uses for objects with specific uses (this last is called functional fixedness, and is “defined as a cognitive bias that limits a person to using an object only in the way it is traditionally used.”).”

To illustrate making the best of a situation, we can be inspired by the inmates of Malawi’s maximum-prison, Zomba. Ian Brennan, a music producer, discovered the inmates “would do these amazing tribal songs to lift their spirits for the hours they were allowed outside”.

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Scarcity doesn’t stop Ghanians

Brennan gave them an opportunity to record some tracks and the resultant album has been nominated for the “Best World Music Album” category in the 2016 Grammy Awards, a first for a record out of Malawi.

In terms of functional fixedness, if consumers are unable to purchase a new product to meet every need, then they resort to creating solutions from existing products or materials. Think Coca Cola bottles used as light bulbs made famous through a campaign by Ogilvy Asia in 2014 or check out this inventive Nigerian and these hilarious western examples

Necessity has led to invention and creativity across sub-Saharan Africa. Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center, explains that everyday life in Africa requires innovative responses to unexpected challenges, “You have to be able to think on your feet and develop creative workarounds to get things done.”Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 8.40.06 AM

Global Population Under Age 15, according to Population Reference Bureau 2014 and mapped by Kaiser Family Foundation

 A huge percentage of Africa’s population is young – 43% of the Kenyan population is under age 15 – so many, including Barack Obama, see youth as key to the continent’s future. From what I saw, young Africans are poised to reinvent the region’s culture and traditions; they want to be fast and first – at home and abroad. See the full report (when it’s released by the end of the month) for examples of young Africans who are disrupting their industry or driving innovation.

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What does it mean: 

  • Africa is well poised (not there yet according to the 2015 Martin Prosperity Global Creative Index) become the next hotbed of creativity. Watch continental trends and creative outputs carefully to see what talent or opportunities you could be inspired by, utilize for in-market growth, or export to the world stage.

3. Everyone is a (serial) entrepreneur. 

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Kenyan woman selling her handmade bags in Nairobi

People in urban cities across Africa are part of a prosperity movement to achieve more and earn more. As a result of this status seeking, (almost) everyone is an entrepreneur. For example, a young woman in Nairobi, Kenya will work as a Marketing Manager by day and sell handbags or sunglasses on the side.

In Accra, Ghana, you can easily find a banker who drives a taxi after work—or even becomes a taxi driver on his commute. Uganda, on the East Coast of Africa, came in as the most entrepreneurial country in the world (not just within Africa!) in 2015 with Business Insider explaining:“A massive 28.1% of the [Ugandan] population are entrepreneurs, capitalizing on the freedom that comes with shirking off decades-long rule by dictatorship. Many of the self-employed are seeing their businesses expand because of the country’s recently laid fiber optic cables that connect even remote villages to the Internet.”

What does it mean:: 

  • Could you develop new products and initiatives that support an entrepreneur’s multi-faceted life? How could you make their lives easier, faster, or more efficient?

4. Mass migration you don’t hear about. 

International media is buzzing with stories of Middle East migration to Europe and welcoming countries like Canada. The migration story you don’t read about in the media is the one happening in sub-Saharan Africa. Here the movement is two-fold, taking place from regional towns to cities, as well as from western countries back ‘home’.

The first type of migration sees regional villages and towns being deserted for the promise of employment, medical care or protection against human rights abuse in major cities like Lagos, Accra, and Nairobi. This migration, or urbanization, is growing faster in Sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else on earth, as UN World Urbanization Prospects data reveals. The Pan African Network on Migration estimates millions of youths and young people in Africa “risk everything, including their lives, to take on the perilous trips across borders”.

The other migration is Africans living in abroad (often in USA, UK) returning to their home countries to establish businesses and contribute to the growing local economies. The combined forces of these migrations are triggers for many people joining social networks because it is a cheaper and easier way to stay in touch with family and friends than phone calls or visits across country.

What does it mean?

  • Globalization is in full effect: join in and keep an open mind.

I’ll be sharing more trends in the full report, to be released in two weeks, including:

  • Seagull Management is not welcome.
  • Mobile as the first screen.
  • Social media is for the wealthy or young minority (so far).
  • Africa’s population is a beacon of hope for Twitter and Facebook.
  • “What’s in it for me?” Utility wins.
  • The Elusive Transparency.
  • Social Commerce Surprise.

What other trends do you see affecting Sub-Saharan Africa? Let me know in the comments below or @hannahlaw

Email me to receive a full copy of the report in two weeks [email protected].

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