Five trends for Africa in 2012

In a recently released report, US trendspotter Marian Salzman, CEO, Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, examines what’s on the horizon for 2012 and presents more than 150 trends sighted in 32 categories; from advertising and retailing, to mind and mood and travel. Her format is chapters of five trends for each category – and there are five for food but they’re very American and culinary in focus. What’s particularly interesting is her positive take on Africa… and you can download the full report, The Big Little Book of Nexts, Trendspotting for 2012, gratis, too. THE SUN IS SHINING BRIGHTLY IN AFRICA these days, with all signs pointing to a great future forecast. In a region long noted for struggles with everything from poverty and famine to violence, Africa is growing and enjoying a rising consumerism, with its own share of superwealth and a burgeoning middle class. (Though still wrought with such issues as uneven economic empowerment and “tenderpreneurship,”12 it is a fact that Africa’s middle class and number of billionaires are growing.)

That’s apparently the key to many of the successful emerging markets we’ve been watching (China, India, Indonesia): a healthy middle class hungry for consumption (plus an interest from foreign investors that are pumping the economies with a much-needed jolt).

Another factor contributing to growth is Africa’s youth moment: Two thirds of the people there are aged 25 or under. Africa’s population is getting younger while the rest of the world’s is graying; coupled with advancements in youth development, drives for employment and entrepreneurship, and improving governance and leadership, the continent’s youth bulge might indeed yield a plethora of positive results.

Plus, according to The Wall Street Journal, “The economy of sub-Saharan Africa will grow by 5% on average this year and 5.75% in 2012.” With all that growth comes a trend we’ll call consumer colonialism, in which foreign brands are looking to cash in on African optimism.

In Kenya, Vodafone has infiltrated the hugely exploding mobile world and brought down the cost of text messages for the masses. And Yum Brands, KFC’s parent, wants to double the Colonel’s offerings in the region to 1,200 restaurants in the next few years. The list goes on and on of the retailers and factories from around the globe that are setting up shop on the continent: Guinness, Smirnoff, Nestlé, Wal-Mart and many more.

But look for a backlash regarding perceived interlopers making “land grabs” in areas that time has forgotten; just how big business will integrate with tradition is what is really unclear at this moment.

In terms of specific locales, Ethiopia has seen a bit of a turnaround as foreigners and Africans alike watch its growth; from 2003 to 2008, “Ethiopia’s economy grew at an average annual rate of 11.2%, twice the clip for Africa as whole, according to the Africa Development Bank.”

Places in Addis Ababa like rooftop cafés are drawing young urban professionals to spend money, and glamorous women shop at high-end stores such as the Lady Shop. Any changes in Ethiopia, though, are tempered by the fact that the country still has some of the poorest people16 and worst living standards on the continent, and corruption is a glaring factor.

But like all emerging markets, growing pains are typical; Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley, an area along the border with Kenya, is full of indigenous tribes that time has left untouched, including the lip plate–inserting Mursi and bull-jumping Hamer. The Ethiopian government, in a bid to stimulate more growth, is looking to build sugar farms in the region, which would cause the tribes to resettle, resulting in a bit of an identity crisis of old versus new (Prada-shopping millennials versus ancient tribes looking to maintain their heritage in the face of so much progress).

On the tech front, Africa is in a full-on ‘moment of mobile me‘. In a region where connectivity has always been a problem, the explosion of the mobile phone (Africa, as a continent, has 19 400 million mobile users, 17 more than the U.S.) has allowed regional bonding and navigating the continent’s tricky geography easier, albeit digitally. By 2015 there will be an estimated 800 million mobile users, and already Nigeria is the world’s 10th-largest mobile market.

Look for mobile to “mobilize” Africans to improve everything from healthcare and safety to access to information and education (e-books, links between schools and educators, and more). And in terms of the mobile vehicle itself, cheap smartphones will be the norm in Africa. “Within the next three years, cheap smartphones will be the norm in Africa,” says Jacques Van Niekerk, CTO of MIH Internet, the largest African Internet media company. “The Babelphone will address issues of illiteracy and unfamiliar user interfaces by its ability to interpret natural language.”

Mobile phones will also help with the organization and infrastructure as a Made in Africa era will help boost a region rich with untapped resources. Manufacturing is hot in Africa these days, from chocolate in Madagascar to leather shoes in Nigeria to hot sauce in South Africa.

“For decades, Africans have produced what they do not consume and consumed what they do not produce,” says Andrew Rugasira, a Ugandan entrepreneur, in The Wall Street Journal. Two years ago, his company, Good African Coffee, broke ranks with local bean exporters to open the country’s first instant-coffee plant.

Similarly, Madécasse Chocolate questioned why Africa produces 60 percent to 70 percent of the world’s cacao but most of the chocolate is made outside its borders. Its two business partners served as Peace Corps volunteers in Madagascar and were inspired to create jobs and ease poverty by making chocolate.

And finally, look for a new generation of lipstick politics to take hold of the region: South Africa’s main opposition party elected a young black woman as its Parliament leader, and in Rwanda, half (49 percent) of Parliament is women, the largest ratio in the world. Just don’t ask the men of Africa to don a skirt. At David Tlale’s Africa Fashion Week20 show, men’s skirts were much blogged about and talked about on social networks as a challenge to traditional gender roles, but most men declined the option.

Big Little BookSkirted or not, the traditionally male-centric continent is experiencing more gender neutrality. Look for African influence to redefine not only the region next year but also Western culture; the spring runways in New York and London were filled with tribal prints (from Donna Karan, Burberry and more), and an interest in artisanal crafts from Africa will also have a moment in American and European homes.

Download the full report here (2MBs)