Forbes By Meghan McCormick
Anita Erskine has lived the dream of every young person sweeping stages, copying scripts, or fetching coffee at a studio. She was a lowly intern on a talk show, “The Bold & The Beautiful,” when the host of the live show called out sick. Erskine was dressed for a day behind the scenes, not her TV debut, but before she knew it, she was sitting in the host chair thinking to herself, “This lady is never coming back.” And thus, at 18, Anita Erskine started her career in front of the camera.
This story may seem fantastical to the reader, but after spending just a few hours with Erskine is becomes believable. She puts in the time to do the hard work and has a natural aptitude for building a personal brand.
Now, back in Ghana, she’s focused on something bigger than her personal brand. She is focused on using the media to promote the African brand and is doing it in a real and nuanced way. The two prevailing attitudes towards Africa’s brand are nicely portrayed by two editions of TheEconomist. The May 2000 edition included an article titled Hopeless Africa which cites flood, famine, and war summing up its laundry list of ills with, “No one can blame Africans for the weather, but most of the continent’s shortcomings owe less to acts of God than to acts of man.” Ten years later, we had The Hopeful Continent: Africa Rising which described the continent as being, “home to millions of highly motivated entrepreneurs and increasingly prosperous consumers.”
Famine or the next China; for many there was not any option in between for Africa, but perceptions are beginning to shift. According to the March 2019 edition of The Economist, we are now in The New Scramble for Africa. The original scramble was orchestrated by a group of powerful white men, sitting in Germany, dividing up the continent for themselves. By the end of the 19thcentury, only Liberia and Ethiopia were still independent. In the new scramble, the players may be different (China and Russia primarily), but the goals are the same. Foreigners taking advantage of a power and wealth disparity to take Africa’s riches for themselves.
Erskine is working so that in this scramble, it is not the colonialist or the foreign investor who ultimately wins, but the African entrepreneur. Since 2012, Anita has championed entrepreneurs by filming over 100 of their stories through the TV series, “Making Of A Mogul,” as well as female heroes from the continent with “Sheroes Of Our Time.” She is focused on not only those entrepreneurs born and raised on the continent, but also people like herself born in Africa and educated abroad. She is a siren calling others to follow her path home.
So how might African entrepreneurs be the winners in this scramble? Her recipe is simple. First, make sure we recognize the beauty and potential in the people, places, foods, and culture. She believes that “everything is exportable.” Instagram accounts like @visiterlafrique and @truthslinger do a great job at sharing the beauty through pictures of enviable landscapes and sumptuous plates of food. It does not take long for members of the diaspora sitting through the cold and drizzly spring of Europe or North America to start planning their return.
This is where Erskine’s second rule comes in. You need to focus on the reality. “We want to maintain an air of having it all, but the more we look at the truth, the more confidence that we have,” she shares. When we only see stories of a meteoric rise to fame and success, we don’t think that we can accomplish the same. The truth is that every entrepreneur struggles to get something new off the ground and building a business in Africa, whether you are in Ghana, Senegal, or Kenya, can compound those difficulties. When entrepreneurs try to portray an elevated image of entrepreneurship, they miss out on the real opportunities. Erskine believes, “you need a certain level of humility. It allows you to see what others just walk past because it’s too low for them to bend down and pick it up. That’s where the real money is.”
So, the potential is great, and the struggle is real. The third ingredient is what allows you to navigate the first two – self-love. Erskine believes that until you love yourself as a woman, as a Ghanaian, as an African, you cannot own the narrative. The new Africa is not about a scramble for resources or chasing the next big market opportunity, “the new Africa is built on self-love, self-acceptance, authentic truth, and beautiful originality.” While it may be some time before we see that on the cover of The Economist, it’s a vision that we can all get behind today.
You can catch “Making of a Mogul – Ladies Edition”, “Making of a Mogul”, and “Sheroes of our Time” in Africa on DSTV. “Sheroes of our Time” is also available in the UK through ABN TV SKY. Visit their websites for your local listings.