African males are increasingly defining themselves by the brands and products they purchase, in terms of clothing, footwear, home design, automobiles, gadgets and technology. As the population of the continent explodes, the social structure, behaviour and attitudes of African life are likewise experiencing a sea-change. Nowhere is this more evident than in the shifting perceptions of what constitutes modern African male identity.
- Traditional male gender roles;
- Positive male role models;
- The Menaissance.
- What African males are wearing or using will say more about the user than in the past. Enhancing positive male imagery is the key to this expression;
- Despite developing gender roles, it is still males that control the spending power in Africa. The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women discovered in its research entitled “Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity”, published 16th February 2010, that the ownership gap in mobile phones between men and women in North Africa and the Middle East was 24%. They also discovered that any development work undertaken by stakeholders to reach this market would need to target men as well as women since it was most likely that men would purchase the mobile phones for their women;
- Technology is a growth area: African download speeds and connection coverage are about to be boosted as four more cable projects join the existing Sat3 Cable which runs from Portugal around West and Southern Africa to Asia and the East African Submarine Cable System (Eassy) linking West and Southern Africa.
The UN estimates that the African population is currently around one billion, approximately 14.8% of the total population of the world and that by 2050 this figure will be closer to two billion, almost a quarter of the world’s inhabitants.
There are many different elements of the male psyche at work when examining the African male consumer, from the desire to project traditional stereotypes of the strong male breadwinner, through to more modern definitions of masculinity which prioritise gender equality, as well as the wish to express class identification and the desire to be part of a positive social movement.
Traditional African male gender roles
The lifestyle of a traditional African male across much of the continent is that of a subsistence farmer and patriarch. However in such a large continent there are hundreds of disparate ethnic groups, each with their own traditional cultures, belief systems and values.
Traditional African dress in these countries has seen a resurgence in post-colonial Africa as a symbolic signifier of the reclamation of a rich cultural heritage. Traditional dress is often opulent – a symbol of masculinity and wealth. Purchasing and wearing traditional dress can be a way of keeping alive centuries-old traditions and displaying adherence to traditional belief systems which may feel threatened by a modern urban way of life.
“Afropolitan” is the word that has been coined to describe Africans who are both deeply rooted in their culture and identity, as well as acknowledging their existence in a cosmopolitan environment influenced by Westernised preferences and consumption habits. This is often triggered by migration between countries and a rise in so-called “semigrants”: people relocating to different parts of their own country, rather than emigrating
Increasingly harsh conditions in rural Africa have resulted in mass economic migration from rural areas to urban areas and even to foreign countries. For instance in 1878 Dakar, the capital of Senegal had 1,600 inhabitants and now the city has a population closer to 1.4 million. Annually between 65,000 and 120,000 migrants move from sub-Saharan African countries to the Maghreb, with an estimated 20-38% moving on to Mediterranean countries.
The driver for this mass migration is to find a better way of life and as many Africans have arrived in the burgeoning towns and cities across Africa more and more have been successful in developing professional careers. This has led to the rise of a new African middle class in these towns and cities and as their income has increased they have begun less to define themselves according to the traditional belief systems and lifestyles of their forefathers and are aspiring to be more like their counterparts in the West. There has been a parallel rise of private industry based particularly around technology and mobile phones and creative industries, particularly the film industry, to provide consumer and entertainment-led products for this new middle class.
There are a number of male Afropolitan entrepreneurs who are engaged in these industries, for instance Felix Kitaka, Developer at Appfrica Labs, who launched a completely mobile gateway for Ugandans to interact with their Facebook accounts in 2009, http://status.ug/. “With around 60,000 Facebook users in the Kampala area, it seems absurd that no one locally has tried to engage the traffic with a local service,” he noted.
Positive role models
In a continent where poverty abounds, positive male role models who have come from humble roots to achieve considerable success in their chosen field are a very important constituent of the male psyche. This is because they symbolise what is achievable and are therefore elevated to the status of national cultural heroes. This is especially evident in sports and in football in particular, which enjoys an almost obsessive following. The connection that African males feel with football is often harnessed to produce some of the most powerful consumer goods or advertising across the continent. For instance the South African football magazine “Kick Off” is the biggest selling male interest magazine across the continent and also has the most viewed sports website.
Players who have been successful on the world stage are idolised, for instance Jay Jay Okocha the Nigerian footballer, who was so popular with fans that his endorsement has been lent to many products including Pepsi, Samsung, V-Mobile and B-29 (Nigerian washing powder). He is now involved in a number of charity projects which boosts his role model status still further. Other high profile African men involved in charitable endeavours include Nigerian football star Nwankwo Kanu and Ivorian and French footballer Didier Drogba.
The new breed of African male role models that have emerged in the entertainment industry – both those that have stayed in Africa and those that have moved abroad – are significant. As well as achieving success, many of them are highly-educated, well-travelled and cosmopolitan: a true reflection of the new Afropolitan movement.
The list includes Nigerian actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje who starred in “Lost”, speaks four languages and has a master’s degree from London University; Congolese R&B singer Fally Ipupa; Oscar-nominated actor from Benin, Djimon Hounsou; Idris Elba whose parents hail from Sierra Leone and Ghana and who has had major roles in the American “Office”, “The Wire”, and the lead role in the BBC series “Luther” and Boris Kodjoe whose father is Ghanaian and who is a professional German tennis player, model, actor and now clothes line owner. These are the men whose programmes and films are watched, whose music and products are bought and whom African men aspire to be.
Global phenomenon “International Men’s Day” is commemorated in several African countries. The aim is to promote positive images of laymen and to celebrate men’s positive contributions to society, community, family, marriage, child care, and the environment. Similar events abound. An event promoting positivity for African males, one allied with a Christian message, was run in April 2010 on the farm of South African farmer/evangelist Angus Buchan and was said to have attracted a crowd in excess of 300,000 men.
As the new Afropolitan class have begun to identify with and aspire to be more like their counterparts in the West, so this has had an influence on how African men are defining themselves through the products they purchase. For instance in conflict with the habits of traditional dress, African men are increasingly expressing themselves by following Western fashion trends. In the words of Neil Doveton, Fashion and Grooming Director for “Men’s Health South Africa”: “I think we are fashion conscious, I think we’re stylish. But we are very stuck for choice. SA men’s fashion is very influenced by the goings on overseas. We’re no longer isolated when it comes to design and style; we do follow trends even though we might just be a couple of months behind.” However, Africa’s own high-fashion labels are emerging. African Fashion Week 2010 showcased men’s fashion from, among others: Johannesburg-based Suzaan Heyns, and fellow South Africans Heni Este-hijzen, Fundudzi, Fabiani and Dax Martin.
The noughties’ Western trend which saw young men living in urban areas investing a lot of time and money in their appearance, enjoying shopping and frequenting bars and gyms – a trend dubbed metrosexualism – is also catching on in Africa. Quick to spot a potentially lucrative market, cosmetic and skin care companies have launched ranges aimed specifically at African men, including facial scrubs, skin-lightening creams and creams claiming to banish spots and scars.
Kenyan journalist Caroline Njunge’s story: “The Emergence of the Metrosexual Man” published in “Lifestyle Magazine” in January 2009 describes one such typical Kenyan metrosexual man: “Dennis Okanga carries lip balm in his coat pocket and cannot leave the house without applying moisturising lotion on his face and body. He also has a manicure and pedicure every two months and parts with an exorbitant amount for an intensive facial. The 34-year-old lawyer is a sharp dresser who follows fashion trends religiously. As a result, he spends a tidy sum on clothes, shoes and accessories… For him, image is everything.”
As an illustration of this, Euromonitor International figures show that the South African men’s grooming products category doubled between 2004-2009 to two billion rand (US$237.7 million). And this dynamic growth shows no signs of diminishing, having been unaffected by the recession, with sales of premium imported lines particularly buoyant. South African men’s skincare products saw the largest growth in the category in 2009, with an increase of 22%. Similarly the value of Kenya’s men’s grooming products category grew from KES800 million (US$10.5 million) to KES1.4 billion (US$20.3 million) and Nigeria’s grew from NGN458 million (US$3.6 million) to NGN775 (US$6.5 million) between 2003 and 2008.
Sales of men’s outerwear in South Africa grew from 21.8 billion rand (US$2.9 billion) in 2003 to 27.3 billion rand (US$3.3 billion) in 2008. With reference to the data that follows, please note that men’s grooming products are the aggregation of men’s shaving products and men’s toiletries. Fragranced after-shave lotions offering no moisturising properties, and positioned primarily as a fragrance, are not included in this sector, but in fragrances.
Metrosexualism has its critics however. Some women do not like competition in the fashion stakes and jostling with their partners for space in front of the mirror, whilst many more traditionally-minded African men brand them “sissies”, or “wimps” etc.
Just as every trend has a counter-trend, the rise of the Metrosexual male in Africa has sparked renewed interest in cultural heroes felt to define the essence of what it is to be a “real man”. This imagery has once again been harnessed by corporations in order to imbue their products with the brand values that the imagery exudes, such as male power, machismo, strength, confidence and assertiveness. A case in point is the advertising for Guinness in Africa developed by Saatchi and Saatchi. Between 1998 and 2004 sales of the drink were boosted by up to 50% in some African countries by an innovative campaign of five minute advertisements starring an African James Bond-like figure. He was elevated to the classic status of a national hero. Guinness advertising in Africa has since progressed to a more mature Menaissance stance with a new campaign which centres on achieving greatness through one’s actions and camaraderie. “The menaissance in Africa seems to be more rooted in intellectual masculinity, and is based on virtues of courage, perseverance, loyalty and inventiveness,” comments Graham Cruikshanks, Saatchi deputy MD. “For African males, it’s also about strength from within and male camaraderie or actions of other males that inspire.”
Whether or not African men aspire to the metrosexuality trend, take on the new values of the menaissance, or come from a more traditional outlook it is clear that in the future the products and brands they purchase will be used to communicate increasingly sophisticated messages about who they are and who they aspire to be. It is therefore likely that men will not simply shop for utilitarian reasons, but will make more purchasing decisions based on style, design and the brand values the product communicates.
The male grooming and fashion markets are forecast to grow in value terms as the influence of metrosexual man moves from the fringes to take centre stage, however some of the more “extreme” treatments, such as male facials will not grow to the same extent as products like anti-ageing creams and products felt to make the user’s appearance generally clean, smart, fresh and youthful.