by Lesego Thomas (@leethomas92) One can argue that the presence of foreign brands and brand chains isn’t all that unique; globalisation is a real thing. But the extent to which this is so in Ghana is quite remarkable. And what makes it even more so is how it reflects their overall relationship with the rest of the world.

Believe in one another

The people of Ghana are a population that not only love, but also believe in, one another. If you were to ask each one what the most-important thing is to them, the answer nearly 100% of the time is their family. Additionally, their version of ‘black tax’ is not like ours here in SA. Instead of an almost life-long obligation those who ‘make it’ owe to their families, here the gesture ends when they are in a position to start making a living for themselves in the big city. This promotion of self and their identity really is something to marvel, as shown by corporate Ghana reserving every Friday for people to flaunt their cultural wear, whereas we South Africans restrict it to a single day in the year. In short, at the centre of Ghanaian identity is a strong love for and belief in one another, as well as the desire for everyone to succeed.

If it’s local? Great. If it’s black-owned? Even better!

True in SA but not so in Ghana, as I came to realise. Instead, success is shown in how regularly people engage with, and consume, international brands, often at the expense of their local counterparts. In SA, promoting and consuming locally bred businesses is a key part of the SA success story, which has added, and continues to add, pressure on foreign brands (think Topshop and River Island vs Tshepo The JeanMaker and Skinny Sbu Socks).

Standard Chartered and Barclays, both from the UK, lead the Ghanaian banking category as a result of the ‘status’ associated with them — a privilege not quite enjoyed by local institutions such as  GCB, Ecobank and UniBank. Also, from an academic perspective, studying abroad is preferred over studying locally whereas, in SA, institutions such as Wits University and University of Cape Town (UCT) are able to attract some of the brightest minds from home and abroad.

Interesting tension

Therein lies an interesting tension. On the one side, we see a country where the people really push their fellow countrymen and women to succeed as best as they possibly can. On the other, we see those who have made it choose to engage with the rest of the world, and all it has to offer, at the expense of locally produced products and services.

What does this mean for the growth of homegrown brands?

The truth is that Ghanaian brands barely form part of their quintessential success story. Another way to think of it: the less local you buy, the more that qualifies your level of success. If we analysed that further, we can see how it ties back to the continent’s dark past; particularly how colonialists managed to suppress the self-esteem of Africans. That bit of history repeats itself in how local brands are a gateway to the brands they truly aspire to.

What will it take for African brands in this market to reverse this tide, and subsequently win a share of the consumers’ minds, hearts and wallets? My answer is that they would first need to acknowledge the advantage they have (being a favoured option by virtue of being international brands), and use that to build confidence in purchases for African and Ghanaian products and services. Then, leverage that as a key step in moving the continent forward through the brands we build.

Updated at 12.09pm on 14 March 2019.


Lesego ThomasLesego Thomas (@leethomas92), an FCB Africa strategist, has over four years in strategic planning. He’s worked in the financial services sector, as well as on some of the largest brands in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa. African Echo seeks to unpack markets in Africa, highlight business opportunities and share insights into what works and what rebounds.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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