What does the African essence taste like to you?
We need to spread the soft power of the continent
IS IT possible you don’t like the taste of people who look and speak like you? In Africa and other emerging markets, it’s no secret colonialism created a biased appetite for Western culture – but how does this play out in the way we socialise, network and invest our resources?
If you observe closely on social media, many people speak of Africa with a forked tongue, saying one thing and doing another. As a researcher into human behaviour, I’m intrigued by the growing number of people who preach proudly African but buy and travel Western. The hypocrisy is unsettling because the contradictions appear motivated by hidden biases from hundreds of years of media, political and community conditioning.
To shift any brand narrative, the consumer must have a healthy appetite for the value of whatever product or service is being offered. It’s not enough to talk about overcoming self-hate, an inferiority complex. A proactive approach must be engineered that triggers a desire for our goods, services and products so great the instinct to see others as better is overridden by an inherent force emanating from the brands offered. This self-love model versus anti-others is perhaps the highest level of consciousness.
A brand is like a menu from which people eat. Your values form a variety of ingredients which you package into behaviour recipes and people are attracted to you based on the digestibility of your product or presence. Essentially, we are “brand cannibals”. The brands you consume are the ones who offer you “life nutrients”, which lead to social and psychological benefits – emotional nutrients such as fun, efficiency, inspiration, affluence, affirmation, self-esteem, safety etc.
To better understand this phenomenon of social digestion, let’s delve into cannibalism, a controversial practice where “one human consumes another or parts of another for survival, dietary, ritual and/or pathological reasons” (sourced from about.com). Further research reveals most cultures, at some point in their history, have eaten other people (and many still do). But, the vast majority do so not for the meat but to digest what the person represents – heritage, character or “essence”.
Quickly, ask yourself, what does African essence taste like to you and to the rest of the world? And, more importantly, which brand tastes better – Brand Italy, France or Africa? The ability to re-condition the world to taste us differently is a power we own.
In 2003, computer expert Armin Meiwes decided he wanted to eat someone who spoke better English and was more courageous than him. He put his request online and received over 200 replies. He decided on Bernard Brandes. Brandes embodied the traits Meiwes desired and, after consent, Brandes was invited to Meiwes’s home, they chatted over candlelight, Brandes took a sleeping pill and Meiwes began the ceremony. Once Brandes was dead, Meiwes cut up a few kilos and put it into a frying pan with some olive oil and garlic and begin to consume Brandes with some fine red wine. Afterwards, Meiwes reported to feel Brandes’s essence in him; feeling more articulate and empowered.
In an article by Islamic teacher Shaykh Nazim Adil al-Haqqani about how anger eats away at the faith’s followers, he says: “We can swallow and digest anger, in the full knowledge other forms of nourishment are soon forthcoming.” Christians would be familiar with the passage from John 6:53 where Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
For those of you who are still feeling uncomfortable, how many times have you seen a cute baby and said: “You are so adorable, I could eat you!”
The point is we are wired to digest essence to advance our social and professional objectives. To allow the world to determine how Brand Africa will taste, rather than controlling the narrative, is an injustice not only to ourselves but to the next generation.
Our values, linked to the perceived value of what we’re digesting, determine what we eat and, ultimately, how it tastes. This is why some societies eat bugs, dogs, cows, chickens, snakes, while a neighbouring society wouldn’t dream of it. But what’s consistent for all is we seek nourishment from properties deeper than the surface of the food. We feed off of people and brands that represent our higher selves. We desire people around us whose presence affirms us and increases us in some way.
The question is how do we affirm ourselves and then serve it to the world. Imagine a world where you arrive in New York, Rome or Paris and people are salivating over African restaurants and luxury goods. This chapter of history has already started.
African brands are sprouting, such as Yswara, the continent’s first luxury tea brand, founded by Swaady Martin.
But what if our governments understood the power of entrepreneurs and brands to change the African taste narrative? In China, they are spending billions on this “soft power”.
Hard power is experienced through economic and military might. Soft power is felt through cultural and consumer forces, such as film, music and brands. When you see a Japanese teenager wearing hip hop clothes from Brooklyn, New York, this is America’s soft power at work.
Africa is well positioned to spread its soft power and have the world change its taste buds.
BREW: Swaady Martin started a luxury African tea brand.