Kizito Okechukwu, the co-chairperson of GEN Africa. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency/ANA
INTERNATIONAL - As one of the largest continents, Africa is endowed with an abundance of human and natural resources that position it competitively within the global community.

The “World Population Prospects - the 2015 Revision” report notes more than half of global population growth is expected to occur in Africa, and over the years its unique cultural diversity and creativity has received growing attention.

From technological disruptions to arts and culture, the new generation of start-ups are reshaping the narratives and innovation on the continent.

There are various examples that demonstrate this growing trend, such as the recent controversy around Louis Vuitton’s 2017 menswear collection inspired by designs of the Basotho blanket.

Chere Mongangane, a co-founder of Bonono Merchants in Lesotho, said Louis Vuitton didn’t do much to try to make the fashion range look different from the designs by Aranda Textiles, which produces the Basotho blankets.

In the early years, it was a ceremonial garment worn mainly by the local chiefs and rich families in Lesotho, because they were not as accessible as they are today.

However, the designs caused an outcry, with many criticising them as mere copies. Nevertheless, the collection rapidly sold out in South Africa.

Could it be that our people do not appreciate their own culture? This could actually be the very ingredient African start-ups need to position themselves competitively with well-established brands.

We need to bring the awareness that our culture is valuable. We can modify it, add things to it and tell the world our own story, because people want to hear our story.

Fast-forward to 2018, the opening weekend of the Black Panther movie illustrates just that - the world is paying attention to what Africans have to offer. At the end of the day, Black Panther was just a movie meant to entertain, but it stands for so much more than that within our world.

Diversity is something that should be championed in all industries, but Marvel Cinematic Universe has achieved this, both within its movies and comics in a brilliant way.

Let’s also remember the 82-year-old South African artist from the Ndebele nation, Esther Mahlangu, who put her unique touch on the BMW7 series, which was displayed at the Frieze Art Fair in London.


She said the Ndebele patterns she used on the BMW panels marry tradition to the essence of BMW. “When BMW sent me the panels to paint, I could see the design in my head and I just wanted to get started!”

One of Africa’s finest knitwear designers, Laduma Ngxokolo, created a name for himself through his famous knitwear range inspired by traditional Xhosa beadwork.

Ngxokolo has stolen the hearts of global fashionistas and media from London, Paris and Amsterdam.

According to the New York City Museum of Modern Art Ngxokolo’s designs have had a “profound impact on the world over the past century”.

Although the spotlight remains promising, we can’t be oblivious to the challenges Africa’s start-ups face, particularly around competitiveness in the era of globalisation, where more producers are supplying goods and services to the same target audience.

African start-ups, therefore, need to start embracing what makes them different and what allows them to stand out against brands that have established themselves based on their cultural identity.

Entrepreneurs should acquaint themselves with regional, continental and global business dynamics to enhance their stakes in the international business environment.

Entrepreneurs need to actively and skilfully engage in the rapidly internationalising business environment by promoting strategic partnerships and co-operation in terms of subsidiaries, joint ventures, outsourcing, import-and-export links, technology transfer and business sharing, among others.

These are mandatory prerequisites for African entrepreneurs if they are determined to remain competitive, vibrant and sustainable.

It is recommended that African entrepreneurs and all role-players within the entrepreneurial ecosystem actively participate in international business interactions collectively, in order to run a viable and sustainable business environment on the continent.

This will not only promote regional integration, but also enable African entrepreneurs to expand their business outreach and impact beyond their domestic domains.

President Cyril Ramaphosa also attested to this at the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC), hosted for the first time on African soil.

“African entrepreneurs are poised to change the economic trajectory and shape the social landscape of our continent.

“We must foster an African Entrepreneurship Network where participants will collaborate well beyond this event in promoting intra-African trade.”

The GEC 2017 led to the launch of the regional GEN affiliate, GEN Africa, and the reaffirmation of GEN South Africa - and GEN Africa will work to innovate and unite the continent’s entrepreneurial ecosystem - bringing Africa to the world.

GEN Africa will be leading a delegation of African leaders, entrepreneurs and policymakers from 10 African countries at the next congress in April, to be hosted in Istanbul, Turkey.

Every year, the GEC gathers together thousands of entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, policymakers and other start-up champions from more than 170 countries to identify new ways of helping founders start and scale new ventures around the world.

At the week-long GEC, African delegates will establish valuable connections and position Africa as a continent ready to offer unique solutions to global problems, and remind the global community that Africa is open for business.

Kizito Okechukwu is executive director - 22 on Sloane and SEA Africa.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Independent Group.