Re­brand and re­build

Fes­ti­val set on chang­ing neg­a­tive per­cep­tion of Africa and Africans

Finweek English Edition - - Business Strategy - JADE MENEZIES ja­

“HELL!” THAT’S WHAT goes into plan­ning this year’s multi-mil­lion rand cul­tural, busi­ness and ed­u­ca­tional ex­trav­a­ganza, says Shiru Githiomi, founder of the Cel­e­brat­ing Africa fes­ti­val. With a new ed­u­ca­tion trust and ra­dio shows set to be launched later this year there’s no doubt Githiomi has her work cut out. Then again, noth­ing worth­while is ever easy.

The Cel­e­brat­ing Africa fes­ti­val in­cor­po­rates African arts and cul­ture, ed­u­ca­tion and busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties. It’s de­scribed as a fes­ti­val that show­cases the great­ness of Africa and high­lights the brother­hood of African peo­ple. In short: “African peo­ple of all cul­tures unite and share vi­sions, present ideas and cel­e­brate all things African,” says Githiomi. “The re­sis­tance of the African spirit is what re­ally ex­cites me. What I’m do­ing is lighting that fire and get­ting us think­ing that we can do things and be more than we are right now.”

In Oc­to­ber, 14 African coun­tries will con­verge on Jo­han­nes­burg and take part in the third an­nual two-day fes­ti­val. Each coun­try has one aim: to rede­fine the neg­a­tive im­age of Africa.

“Peo­ple and coun­tries are brands – just like cars. Our brand has been dented – our im­age has been dented. I want to be part of re­shap­ing that im­age,” says Githiomi. “Africans don’t know who they are and they don’t know each other. I thought I could tell the story of who we are as broth­ers.”

Pre­vi­ously, the fes­ti­val (then known as Cel­e­brat­ing Black) was shrouded in con­tro­versy. “The con­tro­versy wasn’t re­ally se­ri­ous – it was just the con­cern that by cel­e­brat­ing black it was anti-white and ex­clud­ing peo­ple who aren’t called black,” says Githiomi. “That made peo­ple un­com­fort­able, be­cause we’re liv­ing in a com­mu­nity try­ing to make every­one generic. We’ll never have a generic iden­tity – we won’t. It’s just not pos­si­ble.”

Githiomi now makes it clear the fes­ti­val in­cor­po­rates all races, cul­tures and re­li­gions. “This con­ti­nent doesn’t be­long to any race; it be­longs to the peo­ple who call this place home. We’ve all been per­pe­tra­tors of what­ever hap­pened in the past but we’ve also been con­trib­u­tors to the good that’s hap­pened. I want peo­ple to un­der­stand that the iden­tity ‘African’ is a pow­er­ful iden­tity to have and when you carry that iden­tity, you’re a brand. How­ever you do your work or your busi­ness you’re re­in­forc­ing stereotypes or you’re chang­ing them.”

Al­though the fes­ti­val has be­come a mul­ti­mil­lion rand plat­form for net­work­ing, mar­ket­ing and ed­u­ca­tion it was ini­tially cre­ated for a laugh and some fun. “It just started off as a joke. It was never meant to be a busi­ness, it was meant to be fun,” says Githiomi. “But whoops – there was a busi­ness be­hind it.”

With a per­cent­age of the pro­ceeds ded­i­cated to the Cel­e­brat­ing Africa Ed­u­ca­tion Trust, the fes­ti­val will now go be­yond be­ing merely a busi­ness. “On this con­ti­nent we say it takes a whole vil­lage to raise a child – but a child can also raise a whole vil­lage. So that’s what we want to do,” says Githiomi.

The pro­ceeds from the fes­ti­val will be used to pay for the school­ing of dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren. Those chil­dren won’t only be placed in main­stream schools but struc­tures in their homes will also be cre­ated to sup­port their aca­demic per­for­mance.

“Ev­ery­body is putting money into town­ship schools – and that’s great. But no­body is re­ally in­tro­duc­ing chil­dren from marginalised com­mu­ni­ties to a new re­al­ity,” says Githiomi. “I want to show them that life isn’t about shacks – there’s some­thing dif­fer­ent out there. It’s not just about ed­u­ca­tion; it’s about work­ing with other or­gan­i­sa­tions to cre­ate a learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment con­ducive for that child. I want that child to grow up well ad­justed and be­come an ac­tu­ary be­cause he can.”

Along with that ed­u­ca­tion trust, ra­dio shows are set to hit the air­waves in July. In part­ner­ship with Old Mu­tual, First Na­tional Bank and the Stel­len­bosch School of Busi­ness, two sta­tions pro­mot­ing the cre­ation of wealth and African de­vel­op­ment will broad­cast the shows.

“The African re­birth won’t hap­pen un­til we learn to ac­cu­mu­late wealth and pre­serve our cap­i­tal. So th­ese shows will talk a lot about fi­nan­cial empowerment, in­vest­ing, stocks and shares,” says Githiomi. “I want th­ese shows to show that we have a brother­hood – that we’re all con­nected. And most of all I want it to in­spire love for each other,” she says.

But Githiomi has to bat­tle the de­clin­ing econ­omy and build spon­sor­ships to en­sure the Cel­e­brat­ing Africa fes­ti­val is launched at all.

“I’d need R35m to cre­ate the vi­sion I have for Cel­e­brat­ing Africa – but that’s a best case sce­nario. So far we’ve man­aged to se­cure around R3m for this year’s fes­ti­val and, usu­ally, we need be­tween R5m and R7m,” she says.

Hav­ing ap­proached 72 spon­sors al­ready, with an­other 56 meet­ings set up be­fore endJune, Githiomi be­lieves she’ll get the money she needs. “We know what’s go­ing on with bud­gets and the eco­nomic melt­down. We have a big dream, but it’s pos­si­ble. We en­counter dif­fi­cul­ties, but we spread our net wide ap­proach­ing cor­po­rate, Gov­ern­ment and in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions. We ap­proach any­body who has ever given money to any­thing.”

Lighting the fire. Shiru Githiomi

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