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"Brand Africa"- Separating Myth From Reality

On July 7, 2015, the Wilson Center Africa Program hosted a discussion on what many see as a tarnished "Brand Africa." Ms. Florizelle Liser, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa; Ambassador Donald Gips, Senior Counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group; Mr. Omoyele Sowore, Founder of Sahara Reporters; and Ms. Valentina Saltane, Private Sector Development Specialist at the World Bank Group, offered a frank discussion on misconceptions about Africa and solutions for realigning these perceptions with reality.

Date & Time

Jul. 7, 2015
3:00pm – 5:00pm

Location

6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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"Brand Africa"- Separating Myth From Reality

On July 7, 2015, the Wilson Center Africa Program hosted a discussion on what many see as a tarnished "Brand Africa." Ms. Florizelle Liser, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa; Ambassador Donald Gips, Senior Counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group; Mr. Omoyele Sowore, Founder of Sahara Reporters; and Ms. Valentina Saltane, Private Sector Development Specialist at the World Bank Group, offered a frank discussion on misconceptions about Africa and solutions for realigning these perceptions with reality.

Mr. Omoyele Sowore was opposed to the concept of "Brand Africa." He posited that Africa is the only continent that is treated like a commodity, and that by reducing Africa to something that can be branded, we rob African people of their dignity. Mr. Sowore focused on the role Western media has played in inaccurately representing Africa. American media in particular does not devote enough resources to Africa to properly cover an entire continent. African news sources are on the rise and allow Africans to control the narrative. Mr. Sowore believes that African-controlled news must continue to grow in order to give voice to the African perspectives absent in Western media sources.

Ms. Florizelle Liser discussed the important role that the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) plays in increasing U.S. trade and investment in Africa. The recent renewal of AGOA sends a message of certainty to U.S. businesses concerning the future climate in Africa. Ms. Liser stressed that despite the common perceptions about Africa, there are active U.S. businesses there. The ease of doing business in Africa has improved, and macro-economic conditions are more favorable and even stable in many countries. According to Ms. Liser, there are challenges and risks involved with doing business in Africa, especially for smaller companies, but there are great opportunities and the return on investment is high.

Ambassador Donald Gips agreed with Mr. Sowore that there is no "Brand Africa" because Africa is just too diverse. Many of the myths about Africa stem from over simplifications of the continent. Each country is different and we need to understand each individually. Security concerns about Africa stem from these over generalizations. Violence is isolated to small areas that often are very disconnected from the business centers. Ambassador Gips stated that the largest barrier to doing business in Africa is the market size. The African market is actually composed of 54 small markets. Breaking down barriers to trade within Africa, harmonizing standards, increasing transportation infrastructure, and allowing for freer movement of people will help Africa become one large market where it is easier to invest.

Ms. Saltane focused her presentation on the World Bank's 2015 Doing Business Report. The report focuses on small to medium sized domestic businesses in Africa and uses twelve indicator sets to assess the business climate. The report shows that it is much easier to start a business in Africa now than it was in 2005. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of reforms for improving the business climate compared to other regions and countries, but challenges still persist. Ms. Saltane illustrated that high tax rates continue to prohibit development and growth, while the high cost of resolving disputers in most of Africa poses a challenge for businesses. Five of the top ten improving economies are in sub-Saharan Africa, but there is a need for continued business sector reform.

Ultimately the panelists concluded that there is not, or at least should not be, a "Brand Africa." Instead, we need to work on aligning perceptions and realities, while improving the reality on the ground. To do so, reform must continue: improving governance and leadership while addressing corruption must be a top priority for African countries. Business reforms and regulatory improvements should continue, and greater regional integration is desirable. Meanwhile, the media needs to do a better job of accurately representing the diversity and reality of Africa. We must stop talking about a "Brand Africa" and instead focus on the true opportunities and challenges of each individual African country.


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Africa Program

The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and U.S.-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial U.S.–Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, including our blog Africa Up Close, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in U.S.-Africa relations.    Read more

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