Steppes book review. Africa Rising: how 900 million African consumers offer more than you think

this review by Steppes in Sync founder Andy Kozlov appeared in the March 2012 issue Hello Harare! 

In Zimbabwe, Coca-Cola Africa, in cooperation with Population Services International, uses its extensive delivery networks to help distribute condoms to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic (image courtesy of http://www.utexas.edu).

When Vijay Mahajan‘s marketing-focused travelogue of Africa hit the shelves of American brick boxes of chain bookstores in 2009, Africa was indeed rising. And already then the author, whose name is immortalized in the name of an American Marketing Association award  for career contributions to marketing strategy, had to apologize in the very first lines of the preface for overlooking Africa in the years preceding his 250-plus-paged revelation of ‘how 900 million African consumers offer more than you think.’

I could now go into saying that we, living in Africa, know that those proverbial 900 million African consumers can offer a lot. And some of us knew it well before Mahajan, an Indian-American, embarked on his ‘consumer safari’ (this is what Unilever executives that the author met in Harare back in 2008 call their initiatives to spend a day with consumers in their homes to understand how they use products). But I won’t go into all that.

I bought my copy of  Africa Rising last year, when many of its predictions had probably been proved wrong, at a bookstore at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo airport . The book’s cover is less than attractive. So, why did I cash out almost 260 rand for the ‘outdated’ volume? What I was looking for is a human face to all those numbers trumpeting from every corner that Africa is rising.

You can flood me s much as you want with stats showing how we all in Africa have progressed in the last five years, but until I start seeing real people attached to your numbers, I won’t even begin connecting the dots. And Mahajan’s does a great job in bringing together the bread bakers of Zimbabwe and the film lovers of Nigeria, dropping examples of water East African purifiers in between.

Africa Rising offers an unprecedented account of the continent that even in 2012 can be rivaled by the few of its kind. Reading this book, one gets a new mindset that, with some training, pays off by making the reader see an immense pool of opportunities in the potholed roads, blackouts and chronic disease.

Vijay Mahajan (image courtesy of http://www.utexas.edu)

Despite its crusade-like mission of opening the world’s eyes on the business opportunities in Africa, Mahajan’s book stays in touch with the reality and, like any other business-focused volume, is an easy read that one can process on a lazy Sunday afternoon, as well as a hectic kombi ride from NSSA to ‘College.’

Who knows, maybe reading the book while riding in a kombi will inspire you in a Newton-like manner to come up with a creative solution to Harare’s public transportation challenge.

You can write to Andy Kozlov on a.kozlov@steppesinsync.com

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