Black Panther: Lessons for the Diaspora

 At this point I’m not even sure if there is a need to put any spoiler alerts in this post – we’ve all seen the epicness that is Black Panther by now (if you haven’t on a serious note, look away now).

Since it’s release, Black Panther has initiated a number of conversations about race, culture and identity and I am honestly so here for it. Why? Because amongst all the Twitter rants and threads, thought pieces and articles what we are doing is having conversations amongst ourselves.  I believe engagement amongst Africans and the African diaspora (Afro-Latinos, Caribbeans, African Americans, African Europeans) is so important for our development and with the help of social media, it is becoming more and more of an occurrence. The Black Panther movie is just one of the most powerful catalysts for this type of engagement so far.

The purpose of this post is really just to put my thoughts and feelings on some of the debate I’ve seen online in writing. Overall, I believe the feelings of pride and empowerment in its many forms that the Black Panther movie has brought about are justified, positive and something to be embraced.

African traditional wear as ‘cosplay’

One of the main features of the Black Panther phenomenon has been the wave of African pride, particularly amongst African Americans. This has seen cinema-goers across the globe dawning African traditional wear. Plainly the Black Panther movie has become synonymous with African pride. We’ve all seen the images of cinema-goers doing the absolute MOST – from Dashikis and African drums to Coming to America costumes and Egusi Soup in the cinema (the MOST).

Opinions about this trend have been divisive. On one side many people (Africans in particular) are not impressed and feel the wearing of their traditional cultural wear has been reduced to nothing but ‘cosplay’ and that such trends are similar to the scenes of any other Marvel movie. This is understandable. The narrative around Africa and its cultures have not always been this complimentary. In fact, many first-generation Africans who grew up in the West often recall being bullied for their backgrounds and it is common knowledge that amongst the African diaspora embracing one’s connection to Africa has historically been met with reluctance, to say the least, and even straight up denial of one’s African roots. So for it to take a fictional African country created by Hollywood to ignite one’s pride I can see why this would be problematic…

 

Firstly though, in my opinion, any film with a mostly black cast (and black director) that is not about slavery, struggle or gang violence is something to get hyped about! Representation of the kind displayed in Black Panther is something to get hyped about!  I think this is particularly relevant within the African American context. Living in the world that we do,  every one of us as Africans will continually take a journey of enlightenment about one’s identity and self-worth. It is important that we understand that this journey will be different for everyone depending on the context of one’s environment. It’s great if you are an individual that has held African pride from a young age but this will not be the case for many. For many African American’s, for example, African pride has been ignited recently by racial tensions and issues surrounding police brutality and indeed the Black Panther movie.

Black Panther
Black Panther

Sharing and learning 

My next point is this: if you are truly for the genuine portrayal of your culture and cultural wear, what are you doing to ensure this? I’m of the belief that making Twitter rants about your dislike for traditional wear at Black Panther screenings on its own no matter how valid your opinion is plainly redundant if we are not doing our part in the sharing and creation of positive narratives about our African identities.

I particularly loved this thread by @thediasporicblues on African tribes and cultures featured in Black Panther. That thread has received millions of hits and has been shared across all social media platforms – that’s millions of people possibly learning something new about the nuances of African cultures and traditional wear (I certainly did).

Part of the reason I created this platform was to share knowledge about the continent. After the UK, my largest audience is from the USA. I’d like to think there is an audience of African Americans who read my content and are learning about African cultures and opportunities from the perspective of a British Ghanaian. I think it’s important to make the most of the variety of perspectives and rich culture within the African diaspora which is ripe for sharing and learning. 

Black Panther
Black Panther

Even as first generation Africans with strong ties to our countries and tribes and even villages – what we know and understand about our cultures and the cultures of our fellow Africans is nothing but a drop in the ocean. We have still so much to learn about ourselves and about each other. Therefore who are we to look down on others with limited knowledge?

The evolution of culture 

When I was discussing this debate with a good friend of mine she raised a very interesting point about our use of traditional African wear as young Africans. For example, as second generation Africans living in the UK when we decide to wear ‘traditional’ clothing, we adopt modern and arguably ‘westernised’ styles to fit our dual identities. By the same argument, older Africans could attest that our portrayal of traditional wear is wrong since it does not fit their standard of what traditional wear is.

I think Black panther and particularly Killmonger’s character is a lesson for us all as Africans – our culture is our wealth and keeping that in our pockets only stifles our development and leads to division. #WAKANDAFOREVER

What are your thoughts? Comment below!

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An Interview with Okwu ID

Okwu Ndi Igbo na Ala Beke

(Igbo Diaspora Media)

 

Okwu ID is an independent platform of young Africans, telling their own stories and documenting their culture. Earlier this month I joined Okwu ID for the filming of a panel on sexism within the Igbo culture. On the agenda was:

How much to blame are women for enabling sexism within Igbo culture?

How much do you personally identify with your Mother’s/ Father’s view of manhood/ womanhood?

 Okwu ID lady’s panel 

These hard-hitting questions made for fascinating, passionate and often heated discussion which was amazing to observe from young Africans in London. As a non-Igbo (and non-Nigerian for that matter) learning about the Igbo culture in its own right in the organic form that is presented by Okwu ID has been incredibly interesting. So far it has been valuable to discover the nuances of Igbo culture as well as it’s similarities with my own.

 

My only exposure to the Igbo culture had been from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s depiction of the Igbo language and history in her novels. I also remember listening to a BBC World Service podcast entitled ‘Forgetting Igbo’ which was a fascinating account of one man’s exploration of the Igbo language and the idea that it is effectively ‘dying out’. I feel as though Okwu ID has tied all these themes together in a consistent platform.

 www.okwuid.com

Birthed Out Of Frustration

After the panel, I caught up with brother and sister Chukudubem (Chids) and Chinye, who form the sibling duo that makes up the founding members of Okwu ID. They discussed with me their motivations for creating the platform and what they see its purpose as. Chids who works in psychiatry and Chinye who works in the construction industry both run Okwu ID alongside their day jobs. However, the concept was the birth child of Chinye whose return from studying abroad ignited a frustration with the African community. “I studied and worked abroad for about 6 years and one of the things I learnt (especially in Denmark) was how societies work together to create a cohesive unit, and how having a unified identity and support system could change the face of a nation. When implemented this can allow them to direct their narrative.”

Thinking about her own cultural identity, Chinye realised that this was not a concept that was being applied within African/ Igbo communities worldwide. “When I returned from Denmark I came back to London wanting to know what Africans were doing across the board. I attended various events of different cultural groups trying to figure out what we were doing as a community. And to be honest I was quite disheartened as I felt like there were so many issues in our community that were not being addressed, and that if we do not act to direct our own narrative and to control our self-determination as people, looking into the future – where does the African stand?

Having a good cultural brand is important – it is important what people think of Nigerian people because it affects whether we get visas, our ability to travel and do business it is important that people respect your country and that’s what I learnt from living in a Nordic country. They have a fantastic PR system and we don’t and it affects the everyday lives of Nigerian people inside and outside of the diaspora and back home. Plainly, no matter where you go and whoever you are, you will always be African, so it is important that our image and narrative is a positive one. I think all that frustration just lead to a feeling that we had to do something.

 

Chinnye decided to take matters into her own hands and create her own initiative. But after trying a few things that did not really work especially as she was going it alone she created a poster which called for African creatives to get in touch. This is where her brother, Chids who, with a significant Twitter following and social media presence came in. He shared the poster and it was met with great interest. “We then specified that we needed people to take part in a discussion especially after seeing loads of discussion panels out there. Once we started getting responses from social media we thought ok wow, people are actually responding to this let’s do a pilot and see how it goes.” The pilot went well and after its success, they along with their brother Ike began to build the Okwu ID platform.

 

Okwu ID
Okwu ID
Okwu ID

Chids’ motivations for getting on board were aligned with Chineye’s, “Similar to my sister the project was birthed out of frustration from the lack of access to information and available networks within the Igbo and West African community. I also think Igbo culture can be quite individualistic and hyper-ambitious, so you have a lot of people that are not particularly concerned with group identity.” Chids also has a strong passion for dispelling misinformation about the Igbo culture, “there are a lot of things that you find online about our culture which is plainly incorrect. So part of the reason why we wanted to set up Okwu ID was to express a pro-Igbo and African narrative because we knew there was a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of people narrating the culture in a way that is detrimental to our people in general.

 

The siblings have since created a team behind Okwu ID with their complementary skills sets, “My sister came up with the concept and then it was lightning in a bottle: Chinnye who came up with the initial idea, my brother Ike who is quite tech savvy and myself who has a good network of people and a social media following so together we have consolidated our strengths and it has gone well from the first pilot.

Challenges

Okwu ID is currently a platform encompassing a Youtube Channel and Blogsite as well as the main social media platforms which currently each produce consistent content. This would be no easy feat for any content creator, but particularly for young people juggling full-time careers and education.

One of the main challenges I’ve encountered running Okwu ID is a constant conflict between the desire to do everything – keeping it in-house, within one small team of like-minded individuals, and not ‘burning out’” says Chids. “If all the major decisions are made between 2-3 people including organising and creating content, it’s easy to burn out and effectively create an ‘echo chamber’. In the future, it would be ideal to form a wider network of people who are truly interested so that we can delegate roles and have established roles but at the moment it makes the most sense to keep it in-house as we figure things out.”

Another challenge the siblings have encountered interestingly centres around the nature of the Igbo culture itself, Chinye mentions “an issue we’ve encountered is that certain people feel threatened by what we’re doing and it is quite disappointing as it is something that has plagued our community. Igbo people have historically democratic systems (i.e there are no Kings) and a lot of the cultural narrative is that you are your own King and that individualism can turn negative and can create unnecessary competitiveness. It would be better if we could come together. There is also a strange subculture amongst the older generation of Igbo people that want to keep Igbo culture in their pockets which is completely opposite to the premise of Okwu ID as we are about sharing, teaching and creating a network around our culture.”

Okwu ID on Youtube

 

Learning Points

I asked Chids and Chinnye what they have personally learnt about their own culture and history since launching Okwu ID.

Chids: “Getting an insight into different narratives. When you bring together different people across the Igboland you discover the impact of things beyond your immediate family or network e.g. when we discuss things like religion, patriarchy and gender dynamics I think – wow, these things have affected an entire nation of people in so many different ways

“From observing our analytics it has also been fascinating to see what culturally, people are drawn to i.e. men and women, British and US audiences. We can almost anticipate which subjects are going to resonate with who.”

 

Chinnye: “Learning more about the Biafran war. How it’s trickle-down effect has impacted people like our parents. Additionally, I have learnt more Igbo and since launching Okwu ID my Igbo has improved greatly from often doing infographics and language learning content and simply creating an environment where we can ask questions and practise.

 

There are also many misconceptions about Igbo people, culture and history. To Chinnye one of the most poignant to her is the idea that, “we are all light skinned. This narrative annoys me as often my Igboness is questioned as a dark-skinned Igbo woman” To Chids it is about the history of Nigerian Civil war and the view that “’Biafranism’ (the cessation of Igbo people from the rest of Nigeria to establish their own country) is something to fear.  One of the biggest misconceptions is that Igbo people are causing trouble and antagonising with the country, but Igbo people are just at the forefront of airing their grievances but all the grievances that Igbo people are airing are universal. I do not think there is any ethnic group that is particularly happy with Nigeria. We are speaking for the majority of Nigerians who are unhappy with the system.”

Goals and Takeaways

So what do the siblings hope that it’s audience take away from Okwu ID?

If there is one thing that I would like people who consume our content to know is that we (Igbo people) are African and we have been African since the dawn of humanity. There is another common misconception that we are descendants of Jews but we are not related to any semantic culture and our accomplishments have nothing to do with Palestine/ or Jews. This rhetoric is plainly anti-African.”

Through the Okwu ID platform, the siblings hope to encourage a pro-African narrative, the development of Igbo culture and language and create a network of young African people within the diaspora.

www.okwuid.com

Instagram: @okwuid

Twitter: @okwu_id

Contact

Are you Igbo? What is the most interesting thing about your culture? Okwu ID and I would love to hear from you, comment below!

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The Fashionomics Series: Kuba Wraps UK

KUBA UK is a line of authentic African head wraps & accessories handmade in London, founded by Georgina Owusu-Ansah a secondary school Business and Finance teacher. Born to Ghanaian parents, Georgina has always been in touch with her African culture, “I had the typical British Ghanaian upbringing: hall parties, Ghanaian food, cutting off a bit of African cloth to go with my outfits – It’s always been apart of me.

Solving a problem

It was Georgina’s love for African prints and material that sparked the idea of an African head wrap line, “early last summer, I was online searching for some new head wraps and I just couldn’t find a brand that was locally made but still authentically African. Although I love international brands I didn’t want to wait for ages and pay loads for shipping.” Georgina realised that there was a gap in the market for something locally made and immediately got the ball rolling with her brand and business idea.

“The teacher in me thought: how can I solve this problem? and I literally birthed Kuba within a few days. On Sunday I had thought of the line and by Wednesday I had a logo.”

KUBA” was derived from the name of a Central African royal tribe known for their exquisite patterns and stunning fabrics – this matched Georgina’s vision.

At the moment Georgina takes full control of the business and does everything from sourcing products to promotion. But she has recently hired an intern who works part-time for whom she delegates appropriate roles.

 

Kuba Fall Collection

Learning curves

At only 6 months old, Kuba is still a new business. The brand is evolving and will continually do so. “There is still so much to discover in terms of who we are and we’re always learning”. For instance, when she first began making head wraps, Georgina realised that there was the issue with the material potentially drying hair and later added a satin lining. That way, she says “customers could maintain their hair on the inside whilst getting the beauty of African print on the outside”.

The brand

Georgina has a clear and grounded vision for the Kuba brand. “Kuba is a brand that is AUTHENTIC in its origin and this is with everything we endeavour to do: from our designs to our team and our goals. We want to share the beautiful aspects of African culture that is often missed out. We want to show the beautiful and multi-faceted side to our culture in the face of the negative media representations, of backhanded conversations and negative narratives and give people a sneak peek into authentic African beauty through print.”

The promotion of African culture goes beyond the prints, however, as each piece is given a name that is representative of her culture. “I wanted to show the beauty of Ghanaian names as well as educate people about my culture. For instance, one piece is named after my mother ‘Serwaah Bonsu’. In addition, traditionally all prints are given names but after purchasing a print named ‘The Kings Chair’ Georgina renamed her head wrap ‘Nana’, a name for a woman of superiority in Ghanaian culture “it was my way of reflecting my target market whilst retaining my Ghanaian culture.”

And Georgina has an even broader vision for the brand. As a London-based company, the wraps are made locally but the aim is to eventually outsource labour into parts of West Africa to support the local economy and help to equip local people in building infrastructures such as schools and health facilities. “To me, it’s all about giving the people in our supply chain their due – it’s not about handouts. When you are providing something so valuable to your culture and have nurtured that you should be able to get your due.

The journey to begin outsourcing labour (in Ghana initially) is one that has already begun. “At the moment we are looking into sourcing some suppliers in Ghana through some relationships we have built.” Relationships are what Georgina believes is key to building a robust and efficient supply chain, “you need to be able to trust your supply chain, build relationships with people and create a community from the beginning.” This is a journey that Georgina acknowledges will not be an easy one as she recalls being advised by fellow Africans that she should source her material from elsewhere such as Europe. “I was honestly shocked by this and didn’t realise that this was normal practice. Initially, I thought if that’s what everyone does then I’ll do the same but, for something that’s so precious and valuable to our culture to be sourced elsewhere with the potential to be watered down and profits redirected just did not settle with me.” From this Georgina began to do her research and discovered so many authentic places she could outsource from. “I focussed on Ghana – being my heritage this was naturally my go to”.

Being born in the UK however, Georgina feels strongly about her dual identity. “Ghana is my heritage but London is my home”. As an educator, in the long term, Georgina hopes to use Kuba to support education projects here too as she feels passionate about informal education.


Plans for the future

In the short term, the plan is to release more products in the Kuba line and expand beyond head wraps throughout the year. In the long term, Georgina hopes Kuba can gain the capital to widen its reach, secure its African partnerships and continue to sell products that people can love and enjoy, “as well as Kuba there have been so many diaspora brands recently that are showcasing the quality of African culture and heritage and we want to continue to do so and support others doing the same”.

So what advice does Georgina give to the diaspora in launching a successful brand and business?

Kuba is still a really new business. I’m constantly learning every day but one thing I’ve learned so far about this journey is that if you are a new brand don’t compete! Don’t come in with a competitive mindset or the idea that you must slay your competition. This doesn’t take away from basic business principles. It pays to build with others.

Also handwork is key. Its been the definition of the last 8 months so be prepared to work your socks off to make sure anything you do is done well. We’ve only got a handful of products and are continually striving to have good quality.”

And finally, “No man is an island. I credit a lot of my success to my family and friends who have jumped along for the ride and who are there to listen to me ramble on about my crazy ideas. I’ve learnt that it’s okay to allow your business to evolve with the help of others and that’s beautiful”.

 Georgina Owusu-Ansah

As a new business witch such big plans, it will be exciting to see Kuba’s journey, I’m particularly looking forward to it!

Follow the journey:

Shop: www.kubauk.com

Instagram: @Kubawraps

Twitter: @Kubawraps

Facebook: @Kubawraps

Georgina would love to hear from you, comment below!

This post is part of a series of interviews with founders and designers within the diaspora using their brands to promote African culture and development.

 

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The Fashionomics Series: MIA LDN

MIA (Made in Africa) LDN  is a clothing project, showcasing handmade formal wear from some of Africa’s finest tailors. The line was founded by 24-year-old trainee solicitor and Nigerian born, ‘Andre the Designer’ whose frustrations with men’s trousers led him to create his own bespoke design, “I spent some time in South Africa, whilst I was out there I was in need of a suit. One of the things I found quite annoying about men’s trousers was that there always seemed to be a trade-off between waist fit and thigh room. I was frustrated with always having to ‘go up’ a waist size, the lack of shape and the quite often, lazy designs.” As a result, Andre approached a South African tailor and asked him to design a trouser that was high waisted and slightly cropped and which, importantly allowed for the extra thigh room and style he desired. “The design was both stylish and practical – I could wear them as part of my suit or as part of a casual outfit.” It was here that Andre had designed the first pair of MIA’s flagship trousers as motivated to share his design with the world he pitched the idea to his tailor. “I suggested we take the design back to London and see what happened, and so we made our first batch and returned to the UK”.

Andre was inspired to think bigger though, as he now echoes the words of his first collaborative partner his South African tailor – GallanT, “Your vision must be bigger than you”. This inspired the collaborative approach of MIA which now encapsulates the brand as a whole.

 

Collaborating 

It is the goal of MIA to collaborate with at least one African tailor in every African country. Collaboration being the key aspect of the MIA brand, “we take a collaborative approach as our aim is not to ‘colonise’ the creative talent of our chosen tailors and designers but to showcase their skill and designs.” There are two sides to the MIA experience: Firstly, the Retail side which uses the MIA flagship trouser but with each tailor adding their own unique touches to make it their own. “For instance, Gallant Tshepo adds both the middle trouser button, as well as 2 extra buttons at the hip, before extending a waistband from the middle to the hip to attach to those two buttons.” MIA has also recently on-boarded a Zambian tailor, Rency Malaika and hope to move to Nigeria next.

These collaborations allow MIA to capture the designs and prints that represent each tailor’s culture and industry best. The other side of the MIA experience is the Bespoke Tailoring side, “If the customer seeks a tailored design then along with our tailor partner we pitch our ideas to the client and collaborate with them to create their bespoke design”.  

 MIA LDN Flagship Trouser

With this model, the aim is clear, “to dispel preconceptions about African fashion by showing the world that Africa can compete on the formal wear front and on its own terms.”

By working directly and collaboratively with highly skilled African tailors, MIA is able to provide an authentic product and service. “We are essentially cutting out the middleman. As members of the diaspora, we are given regular reminders that we are not British in the traditional sense. One of the best things we can do is to channel the reactionary energy from such reminders towards embracing the fact that, whilst being British in our own way, we are in a unique position where we are intimately connected with our heritage and are able to go directly to the source. This makes the experience more authentic – truly made in Africa.”

When locating African tailors to collaborate with, recommendations are MIA’s starting point. “The tailors we look for and collaborate with are very much up and coming and just need that extra push and platform to help them to further develop.” GallanT and Rency Malaika are both young designers aged 22 and 23, “they are at a stage where what they are creating now may be different to what they create in the future so one thing we look for is a willingness to learn, that raw drive and creative flair so that we can play our role in helping to expose them to a wider platform whilst they work on their own brands”. 

As well as creating an empowering platform, MIA’s motivation for collaborating has a practical element: “there is not really a one-stop shop for tailors in Africa. Our goal is to work with highly skilled tailors and discover some of the best in each country. That way we get to a point where people can go to our website and filter through countries and tailors to order easily.

 GallanT Collection – Zambia

Doing business in Africa 

For their Zambian collaboration, MIA visited Zambia for their cover shoot. Speaking on the practicalities of doing business in Africa, Andre notes “in this current age with instant communication and the many forms of online messaging it makes communication a lot easier. Not more than 10 years ago such technology wasn’t quite as widespread amongst much of the continent.” However, Andre acknowledges some differences when building partnerships in Africa “Understanding the difference in culture is important and patience is a big thing. It’s important to acknowledge the differences in lifestyles and working styles whilst acknowledging that my partners are entrepreneurs in their own right with their own brands and businesses e.g. acknowledging that they are not in front of a computer all day or always switched on which is the norm in the west. It’s all about bridging the gap and finding that middle ground.”

Whilst in Zambia, Andre and his team didn’t just focus on their shoot but used the trip as an opportunity for networking, “we networked not only with our tailors and the individuals we needed to but also with others in Zambia’s creative industries like bloggers, photographers and other models in order to build a rapport and learn more about the market and industry – we feel strongly about collaboration in all aspects.

MIA 3
MIA2

MIA LDN Zambia shoot

Teamwork 

Although Andre is the founder of MIA he works with and oversees a dedicated team. “I have a team which includes our head creative director and stylist, Jade who runs most of our shoots; social media manager Charnelle – a former intern of ours; Nsikan, who, amongst other things, helps with fashion merchandising; and Mark, who assists with business development.” Having a supportive, capable, and engaged team has taken a lot of pressure off of Andre who balances his day job as a trainee solicitor with MIA, “I’m grateful. It’s hard work but it gives me a great creative outlet.

Collaboration runs beyond African partnerships though as MIA aims to partner with other startups, “in anything we do we try and give a platform to as many creatives and small businesses as possible. For example, we work with a marketing consultant and a Black-British owned accountancy firm and have also built a growing network of photographers and bloggers. We prefer to collaborate as it allows others to build their own personal brands.”

 

Future plans 

In the short term, MIA is focusing on having a successful Spring/Summer 2017 launch whilst the long-term goal remains “to be in collaboration with tailors in every African country and to become a one-stop shop for both retail and tailored services.” Andre also speaks of future plans for an app in addition to their website being an online portal for African tailors.  “By us doing the groundwork now in building relationships within the fashion and creative industries throughout the continent, we may even get to a point at which other brands and businesses come to us for introductions and recommendations to allow them to meet their own collaborative needs.”

So what advice does Andre give to others in the diaspora about launching a successful brand and business?

We at MIA have still got a long way to go, but I’d advise anyone searching for inspiration to think of a problem or anything that irritates you and create an innovative solution for it.” Andre points out that this is something the diaspora could particularly capitalise on, “as minorities there are loads of things or spaces that don’t particularly ‘fit’ for us. Finding solutions to these gaps in the market is a great start”.

Secondly, “definitely have a plan (I spent a lot of time planning) but if you have an idea it does get to a point where you should just go for it.” Andre was initially going to put off launching MIA to do an entrepreneurism course at Cambridge, “but I’m sure we’ve probably made more progress than we would have had I done the course – you learn and progress as you go along.”

 Thirdly, “get comfortable with networking and understand its importance. You are building contacts and potential opportunities every day” but, Andre warns “don’t expect every connection you make to materialise into an opportunity. A lot of opportunities come about unexpectedly – through a casual chat or a brief mention – so just keep connecting and see what happens.

And finally “don’t sell yourself short. People will say your dream is too big but if you can’t see the end goal and can only visualise it this is a motivation in itself”.

 

With many more collaborations to come and huge plans for the brand and platform, MIA LDN’s journey will be an exciting one to follow!

Shop: www.mialdn.com

Twitter: @mialdnapparel

Instagram: @mialdnapparel

Facebook: @mialdnapparel

Youtube: mialdnapparel

Contact: info@mialdn.com

Andre and the MIA LDN team would love to hear from you. Comment below!

This post is part of a series of interviews with founders and designers within the diaspora using their brands to promote African culture and development.

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annettebena

An Interview with The Dapaah Group

One of the aims of this blog is to promote and inspire the work of the African diaspora in the UK. For my first insight, thankfully I didn’t have to go too far and got the chance to catch up with my cousins   – The Dapaah Group (DG) – to discuss their plans and motivations for the continent. In brief the siblings, Raphael, Kwaku & Afia Dapaah are on a mission as social entrepreneurs to promote and empower Africa & the diaspora.

How it all began… 

As a Politics & History graduate, Raphael naturally pursued a career in governance, eventually leading to some sort of ambassador/ diplomat role in Africa. However after learning more about Africa’s industries and economic landscape, he discovered the gap of opportunity for change and development and the role he could play: “I started looking into Africa’s staple industries such as cocoa and coffee and discovered how little we actually earn from our own resources – it annoyed me – all these years we have taken in exporting our goods and we are not getting the true value for them”.  Determined to make a change, he initially set up the business on his own. Further research led him to the idea of group economics and family dynasties which motivated him to approach his brother Kwaku with the idea who, at the time was working in Kenya for social enterprise, Balloon Ventures. Kwaku was project managing local startups  there after graduating from Cambridge with an Economics degree. Given both brothers backgrounds and interests, the next steps came naturally. The Dapaah Group was created as a business response to Africa’s developmental needs.

  

We find that Africa is blessed with an abundance of natural resources and opportunity; however these resources are often undervalued and exploited by foreign powers and systemic corruption. Our aim is to invest in Africa’s raw materials, and add value to them by processing them into finished goods for exports, and to ultimately eliminate our dependency on imported goods.”

Currently, Africa is a net importer of staple food products despite as we know, providing much of the world’s natural resources. Many commentators have emphasised the need to give more attention to the processing of raw agricultural produce rather than exporting unprocessed agricultural commodities. This is something we see in our everyday goods. For instance think The Body Shop, Starbucks or Lush. All brands that use taglines such as “Made from the foothills of Mount Kenya” and “Handcrafted Shea Butter from Tamale, Ghana”. Unfortunately, the origins of these ingredients are as far as Africa gets down the supply chain as these products are processed and manufactured into finished products abroad and quite often sold right back to the continent.  According to Tanzanian businessman & entrepreneur Mohammed Dewjiover 80% of the value in the global food industry is in value-added components such as sorting, cleaning and packaging.

The opportunities, therefore, are clear and one that The Dapaah Group have identified and are looking to tap in to. Taking on first the cocoa sector, their first investment, they have established a chocolate company: Dapaah Chocolates. At the moment the company source their cocoa from across Africa (including Tanzania, Uganda and Madagascar). However, once they have received the relevant authorisation from Ghana’s Cocoa board the aim is to source the majority of beans from a family owned farm in our hometown of Sefwi Wiawso in the Western region of Ghana and eventually build a factory with surrounding farms there. The chocolate industry turns over $100million in sales annually, and countries like Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire who produce up to 90% of the global supply of cocoa, only receive 2% of this booming industry. “Our hope is that we will be able to bring jobs, opportunities and tourism to the area, thus creating a micro-economy and a climate of prosperity in too often neglected rural Ghana.” Thus the social enterprise model was a purposely selected business model, as the group places emphasis on social impact through job creation and development via the private sector (the group is registered as a business in the UK).

Chocolate making 

As the group has control of their product direct from the cocoa bean all the way down to processing and packaging, they have been able to fully engage with their product and discover their niche. “After doing research into the cocoa industry we discovered that a lot of the chocolate we eat isn’t really even chocolate as a lot of the nutrients of the cocoa bean  are left out. The cocao – the dried seeds used for making chocolate – in its raw form is rich in antioxidants  and boasts tremendous health benefits. As a result, we have been able to create a high quality, single origin chocolate direct from the bean”.  

Naturally, setting up any kind of business is demanding much less one that demands the skill of a chocolatier (Kwaku currently acts as Head Cook, whipping up chocolate recipes in the family kitchen). How do the siblings balance The Dapaah Group with their day jobs? Raphael currently works full time and devotes his lunch breaks, evenings and weekends to his MD responsibilities at DG as well as taking on the marketing and engagement role from his sister, Afia whilst she completes her final year of university. As for Kwaku, he decided to go part time which has provided him with a good balance to take on the role of CFO and Head Cook. He says “luckily my team have been quite supportive in my decision to go part time and my colleagues were actually one of the first groups to sample our chocolates – the feedback was great.”

Next steps  

So what’s next for The Dapaah Group? In the long term the aim is clear – move their entire production back to Ghana in a position of strength with an established brand within 5 years. The Group plans to set up a factory and buy land purposely for farming, giving them a firm grip on the entire Dapaah Chocolates supply chain. This will ensure job creation for local farmers as well as young graduates (the first group of people they plan to employ who have been left idle due to lack of jobs after graduating) in processing, packaging, logistics and transport.  Raphael adds “ultimately we aim to have cocoa suppliers from several African and diaspora countries for our single origin speciality line. That way we establish our brand footprint everywhere and confirm ourselves as a pan- African brand.”  This is certainly something to look forward to. There is also the potential for expanding beyond cocoa into Ghana and Africa’s other natural resources because of course, the possibilities are endless!

In the short term, however, the plan is to officially launch Dapaah Chocolates in a year’s time with a brand and operations here in the UK. In the lead up to launching, DG will be working collaboratively with other brands and entrepreneurs at events across London.

What can the Diaspora do?   

Raphael puts it quite simply, “identify what other people could see as a challenge and see it as an opportunity – if the Chinese and British can see opportunities why can’t we?”  Clearly, opportunities do exist on the continent for the diaspora within agribusiness and beyond.

www.dapaahchocolates.co.uk

Instagram: @DapaahGroup  | @Dapaahchocolates
Twitter: @Dapaah_Group | @Dapaahchocolate

Snapchat: @dapaahgroup
Email: dapaahgroup@outlook.com

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