Brands and Cultural Diversity: The reality of the threat Africa at cross roads of culture and technology

Muyiwa Kayode

Most African communities have grown as close-knit societies and villages, held together by shared values and customs handed down through the years through folklore and other forms of traditional socialization. A well-structured age grade system was also a major tool of social indoctrination and shaping of values and morals.

Television and radio were nonexistent in the pre-colonial era, neither were there books. The best way to communicate from one generation to the next was the power of story telling. Africans have evolved as great storytellers.

As African nations developed post independence and migrations to the cities increased, communities remained connected through village and township associations that held monthly meetings and get togethers.

Despite living in the cities, most communities also had specific times of the year when all sons and daughters returned to the villages for a grand reunion.

Africans are traditionally community focused whereby the welfare of one is the responsibility of all, and vice versa. The village child is not raised by a father, but by several mothers and fathers, indeed the entire community, to ensure conformity with societal norms.

Access to information outside the community was limited, and within the community, such information was well filtered by elders to ensure minimal disruption to the system. The people guarded their culture jealousy as they considered this the source of their identity and dignity, and infact the basis of their existence.

Africa’s historical and cultural evolution has witnessed major disruptions from colonialisation, the industrial revolution, adoption of western education, and onto the technology and digital revolution.

The revolution in digital technology has unleashed an unprecedented level of access to information across the continent.

The free flow of information in the new media age and brand communications delivered in highly westernized symbols, imagery, tonality and style has almost displaced African world views, societal norms and standards of moral behaviour and cultural values. African youths are understandably enamored by this imagery and have aspired strongly to the lifestyles projected.

The explosion of media platforms and channels, varieties of content and growing impact of digital technology is redefining the outlook of Africa’s youths, especially in the cities.

We are witnessing a transition from the cultural values of communal focus to an individualistic self-obsessed lifestyle that prevails amongst western youths.

The first signs of conflict is in the home where parental authority is challenged and independence strongly protected.

Conforming to western lifestyle expectation becomes the norm and the endorsement by faceless far flung “friends” on Facebook and similar platforms become a major aspiration. The internet and various forms of social media have made the world a more global community than it has ever been, and both filtered and unfiltered information has found its way into African communities.

While there are certainly lots of good points to be made about this information explosion, there must be some concern as to the present capacity of African societies and economies, to facilitate the high ambitions of these youths. Whilst their contemporaries in the west live in a society that has evolved to provide platforms for the actualization of the kind of aspirations they all pursue, there are obvious gaps in African societies.

High in expectations, but low in capacity (made more complex by lack of education) and an environment that is not very enabling, frustration may set in. Frustration could be followed by anger, anger against the system and leaders whom they feel have failed them.

For a continent where average age of 75% of population would be 20 by 2020, this could portend great danger.

Do we have to wait for the inevitable to happen, or will we adopt policies and strategies that could pre-empt this danger? The cultures are certainly connecting, but we must ensure that the outcomes are positive for society.

The Governments in Africa have a lot to do to ensure that our youth dividend does not become a youth bomb.

Advertising and marketing creativity can play a strong role both in shaping and redefining Africa’s cultural evolution along its own unique patterns. African Creativity needs to find its voice, an identity and a creative flavor of its own that will be recognized and respected by the international creative community. Our creativity does not have to be overtly western to be world class.

There have been reassuring examples from the creative industries across Africa. Nigerian music has taken the world by storm and you can hear Nigerian chart toppers played in the best night clubs and bars around the world.

The African print, better known by Nigerians as Ankara, has become a hot fashion item globally, thanks to the dynamism of Nigerian fashion designers.

Movies from Nigeria’s Nollywood have kept audiences hooked to their screens across Africa and even the Caribbean. Nollywood stars are celebrities across Africa.

African technology startups are a great testimonialto the capacity of African youths to adapt modern technology to local needs and lifestyles. Technology hubs have sprung up across Africa’s major cities.

What these industries have demonstrated is the capacity of African youths to integrate elements of Western culture to redefine African culture through music, fashion, the movies and entertainment.

A lot still needs to be done to accelerate and amplify these developments. Structures must be put in place to support and encourage innovation and creativity across Africa as this is a great opportunity to unleash the energy and creativity of the continent’s youths for development.

Marketingcommunicators in Africa have a role to play by coming to terms with the reality that the new generation of African youths while being aware of the best the world has to offer, are keenly aware of their African identity and are not in a hurry to discard it. It is up to African Creatives to align with and contribute to this redefinition by delivering world class thinking that is based on strong local insights that champion the best values of African culture.

In this way, we would be contributors to building brands that recognize the uniqueness of Africans, and will leverage the best of Africa to bring greater prosperity and peace to the continent.