Hi, Quartz Africa readers!
Make mine a local
When the first Starbucks store opened in South Africa in April 2016, the sense of public excitement was as strong as the aroma of coffee in the air. In the United States, the green and white brand seemed as ubiquitous in popular culture as it did the urban landscape. For the South Africans who lined up in the rain to welcome the American coffee chain, Starbucks’ entry into the market read as an affirmation of the local urban middle class’ position in the global economy.
Yet just over two years later, Starbucks’ planned expansion across South Africa has been halted by poor sales, cooling its ambitions to use South Africa as a springboard into the rest of the continent. Starbucks isn’t the only international food brand struggling in Africa’s most advanced economy, as slow growth curtails consumer spending especially for non-essentials like a frothy latte.
The kind of “to-go” coffee culture Starbucks arguably requires is one that requires a liquid middle class who can move freely around a modernized city. That isn’t the landscape in many African cities, and yet that doesn’t mean the continent’s coffee culture should be dismissed as too weak for profit.
Instead, coffee-makers should wake up to the psychology of branding and the potential to brew a localized coffee culture. The consumption of coffee itself has evolved, from homemade instant to franchise chains, then specialty coffees and now an increased awareness of the origins and sustainability of the bean itself. This is where Africa’s opportunity lies.
In the birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia, artisanal brand Garden of Coffee has begun exporting the ritualized process that makes their coffee authentic. Java House, the coffee chain that mushroomed from Nairobi and across East Africa, is also exporting its consistency and locally-sourced quality.
While these local producers are aiming for the Chinese market, they should not overlook the opportunity at home. Just as Starbucks has done since the 1970s, African coffee houses could instill brand awareness—and perhaps a friendly caffeine addiction—among African consumers who are developing a taste for coffee at affordable prices.
Even with questions around the economic power of the African middle class, urbanization on the continent is forging ahead. Now is the time to create a coffee culture built on local single-source sustainability rather than a blend of international trends.
— Lynsey Chutel, Quartz Johannesburg correspondent
Stories from this week
How China’s entry into the wax print trade threatens its “Africanness.” The ubiquitous, batik-inspired wax print didn’t originate in Africa but has come to denote and represent African authenticity. But as more Chinese companies import the fabric into the continent, Chidinma Irene Nwoye explains why it’s bad news for already established and fledgling local manufacturers.
African nations are trying to make up ground as the artificial intelligence race takes shape. A major AI conference will be held in Addis Ababa in 2020 to ensure collaboration with African scientists who, organizers admit, might not get visas to travel abroad. The announcement came this week even as African languages continue to lag behind when it comes to voice recognition innovations.
How the race to make the perfect African phone is gathering pace. From Egypt to Kenya and South Africa, governments, start-ups, and telecom companies all want to make a handset specific to the continent’s consumers. Abdi Latif Dahir examines the push behind why various stakeholders are investing in mobile technology specific to Africans users.
The return of Benin’s looted bronzes is about restoring a century’s worth of heritage—and pride. More than 120 years after they were looted, Benin’s bronzes may finally be coming home. Whether it’s a permanent restitution or a long-term loan as mooted, returning the artworks is critical to serving as a reference for a budding generation of local artists and bridging the gap in Benin’s illustrious art heritage, writes Yomi Kazeem.
What a Danish slave trade castle in Accra revealed about Ghana’s history. In this personal account of her family’s past, archeologist Rachel Ama Asaa Engmann details how important the slave trade was to the 18th-century Danish economy while excavating a forgotten chapter of Ghanaian history.
Chart of the Week
Visa-free travel for Africans within Africa is still a work in progress. Only the citizens of two African states don’t need visas to travel across the continent. But things are gradually improving as visa regimes get relaxed, more nations promote trade and open borders, and Addis Ababa overtakes Dubai as the world’s gateway into Africa.
Other Things We Liked
African cuisine is a lasting link to our ancestors. With local ways of life continually diluted by modernization, colonialism, and globalization, it’s often difficult to see cultural links to African ancestors in everyday life. But as Ayesha Harruna Attah describes in the New York Times, recipes and local cuisines—often rooted in a history of survival and intuitions—remain one of the last vestiges of connection to the past for many Africans.
Taking on the rise of ‘hipster’ colonialism in Africa. Germany’s Africa Commissioner Gunter Nooke recently proposed that foreign nations acquire land in Africa to build prosperous cities that would ultimately stem migration. Nanjala Nyabola argues in Al Jazeera English that such plans ignore history, define black bodies in the context of labor and money, and sugarcoat old policies in modern, trendy language.
Exploring entrepreneurship in Africa. The Tony Elumelu Foundation and the French Development Agency will support a Nigerian graduate student to document the continent’s entrepreneurship trends. (Dec. 20)
German fellowship for young African leaders. The Afrika Kommt! program allows young professionals and junior executives from sub-Saharan Africa to undertake training in leading German enterprises for over a year. (Jan. 11)
The Google Africa PhD fellowship. The program recruits outstanding graduate students doing exceptional work in computer science and related research areas. (Feb. 4)
Keep an eye on
Africa-China Business Forum (Dec. 3-5). Some 41 Chinese companies will participate at a high-level forum in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa aimed at creating and deepening business partnerships.
Afrobytes London (Dec. 6). The pan-African accelerator and lab will gather trailblazers in the African tech industry to discuss how blockchain and artificial intelligence can help tackle the challenges facing the continent.
Abantu Book Festival (Dec. 7-9). Only in its third year, the festival held in historic Soweto outside Johannesburg has become a highlight of the literary calendar, with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as this year’s headliner.
Africa 2018 Forum (Dec. 8-9). Convened in Sharm El Sheikh city in Egypt, the conference will bring together policy makers, financiers, and entrepreneurs to promote economic integration and increased investment to Africa.
*This brief was produced while listening to Jambo Bwana by Them Mushrooms (Kenya).
Our best wishes for a productive and thought-filled week ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions, free visas, and Benin bronzes to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.
If you received this email from a friend or colleague, you can sign up here to receive the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief in your inbox every week. You can also follow Quartz Africa on Facebook.