The Problem with "Rebranding Africa"


Vogue magazine currently boasts nineteen international editions and plans to release a twentieth edition, Vogue Thailand, in 2013. In 2010, photographer Mario Epanya created magazine covers for what he imagined a possible "Vogue Africa" to look like. The release of the images sparked debate on the neccessity of a "Vogue Africa." While Vogue publishes editions in countries from five out of the seven continents it has yet to produce any editions in the continent of Africa.

This month, the fashion industry drew attention back to Africa again in hopes to discuss the future of the continent. Suzy Menkes penned an article for the International Herald Tribune entitled "Rebranding Africa" which discussed Franca Sozzani's decision to dedicate the May/June issue of L'Uomo Vogue to the continent.

While I believe that wanting to create a "Vogue Africa" and sparking discussion regarding "Rebranding Africa" are admirable I would like to point out just one thing: Africa is not a country.

People discuss Africa as if its problems can be solved like those of any other country, ignoring the fact that Africa is a continent made up of literally thousands of ethnic groups. My family hails from Nigeria which is considered Africa's most populous country and alone is comprised of more than 250 ethnic groups. To create just one magazine in order  to represent such a large continent is insulting because it would be impossible for such a publication to truly capture the essence and the distinctive qualities of the continent's 54 countries.

Similar to the problems with America's education system, we are trying to use the same cut and dry methods across the board to solve the individual problems of people with dissimilar needs and characteristics.

I am not saying that the fashion industry (or any industry for that matter) should ignore its African consumers, but  they should respect the consumers enough to distinguish them from one another.

There is one common thread that connects the current international editions of Vogue. It is that each edition is focused on one country. There is no "Vogue Asia," "Vogue South America," or "Vogue Europe," but there is a Vogue China, a Vogue Brazil, and a Vogue Germany (just to name a few). To create these international editions Vogue chose markets that they thought were profitable enough to run a successful publication. Instead of trying to "rebrand Africa" as a fashion capital the fashion industry should choose a few countries to highlight such as Nigeria or South Africa which are among the 10 countries that account for 75% of the continent's GDP. The industry should then create publications that speak to the needs of each country's citizens. For example, with a population that is half made up of muslims, a Nigerian publication would need to address different issues than a South African publication.

Instead of grouping all the countries together as if trying to create "A United States of Africa"  the fashion industry should respect the continent enough to treat its individual countries as just that, individual countries.

While there may never be a "Vogue Africa" why can't there be a "Vogue Nigeria" or a "Vogue South Africa" to start off? I don't believe in big reforms, but I do believe that strategic small changes can make for a big difference. In order to "rebrand Africa" we must first try to understand the distinct qualities of its individual countries.

(“Vogue Africa” Photo Credit: Mario Epanya)