Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Author of British Caribbean Enterprises Honoured

Press Release

The Organising Committee of the Recon Community Leaders Awards has honoured the author of British Caribbean Enterprises: A Century of Challenges and Successes, Dr. Christopher A. Johnson, for showcasing the contribution of the UK Black community in business.

Dr. Johnson who is also an award-winning journalist, editor and publisher, works as an independent business management consultant. Between 2008 and early this year, he facilitated a record of more than 350 clients for Business Link services, a feat that earned him praise for fostering genuine partnership between public institutions and diverse communities.

His book, British Caribbean Enterprises, is the first of its kind to feature hundreds of small firms across 11 industry sectors and business segments, covering three generations of entrepreneurs, as far back as 1907. This landmark publication has attracted considerable endorsement and appreciation from academics, businesses, trade associations, diplomats and professional bodies.

In receiving the award, the Caribbean-born author and publisher said this, “I receive this prestigious award with humility and pride knowing that there are thousands of our businesses struggling whilst others are working relentlessly to compete in the marketplace of ideas, goods and services. I pray that this award will help propel the importance of, and offer greater recognition to the need for top quality technical assistance and enterprise support especially for the small firm sector which, at the moment, is the real engine of growth for the world economy as a whole.”

Editor’s Note:
The awards ceremony which was held on the 31st October 2009, is in keeping with US President Barak Obama’s policy of engagement with Africa and the Diaspora. Previous recipients of this Award include Baroness Valerie Amos, first Black woman Cabinet Minister and Leader of the House of Lords; Nicky Gavron, former Deputy Mayor of London; Isaac Osei, former Ghana High Commissioner to the UK and Northern Ireland, and Kwame Kwei-Armah, Playwright & Actor. For more information on this ground-breaking book, visit or log in to

Monday, November 10, 2008


A Business Landmark of the Century

A new book entitled British Caribbean Enterprises: A Century of Challenges and Successes, that will set a precedent in global entrepreneurship, is now on sale. It profiles the contribution of three generations of entrepreneurs to the British/UK economy since 1907, covering over 200 commercial firms and social enterprises combined. It also involves 11 leading sectors and 70-odd business segments combined and is retailed at £20.00 for individuals and £40 for corporate or funded agencies and institutions. This book is ideal for business owners, would-be entrepreneurs, students, researchers, policy experts, colleges, universities, think-tanks and others interested in the organisation and performance of the Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) sector. Production details are as follows:

Publisher: Dr Christopher A. Johnson (January 2009)

Language: English
Printed by: MPG Biddles Ltd, Norfolk PE30 4LS
Cover Design:
ISBN: 978-0-9561028-1-2
Product Dimension: 210 x 148mm
Customer Review: Very Excellent

For details on ordering copies of British Caribbean Enterprises, please email your requests to:

Review Comments:

"The author has provided an invaluable reference book, and as far as I know, the first really comprehensive insight into the British Caribbean business community" - Emeritus Fellow, Bill Kirkman MBE, University of Cambridge.

"Dr. Johnson's timely book on Caribbean entrepreneurship in Britain addresses an important, yet often neglected topic within the field of ethnic minority enterprise. With an admirable grasp of history, economics and enterprise, the author presents a detailed portrait of Caribbean business owners in a variety of contexts. This book is to be welcomed as a valuable addition to the academic and policy community" - Professor Monder Ram OBE, Director CREME Initiative, De Montfort University, England.

"This book makes an excellent reference resource since the author has dealt with a topic on which very little in known especially in mainstream literature" - Professor Sonny Nwankwo, University of East London.

"A scholary work that combines various disciplines such as commerce, culture, demography, geography, politics, sociology and technology located within a British Caribbean context" - The Roselle Antoine Foundation.

"Congrats to the author on such a timely and splendid work; it is needed to show the contribution of Caribbean people to the UK over a century" - Mahogany Arts Ltd

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


The Creation of the `Credit Crunch'

(A guest feature by Zambian Financial Consultant Lovely Mwambazi)


So much has been reported about the current financial markets crisis gripping the US and other Western countries. The credit crunch heralded the arrival of the global financial crisis. But then, what was the root cause? Was it cheap money? Was it naked greed? Was it regulatory lapses or short termist incentives involving bonus schemes by banks? Undoubtedly, it cheap money caused the current financial crisis.

The Context
It is well documented that following the 9/11, it was feared that the US economy would plunge into a recession. In fact, the US economy did slow to a near standstill. Anxious to sustain the economy, the Federal Reserve (US Central Bank) ended up cutting interest rates 11 times from more than 6 % registered at the start of the year to less than 2 % at the end. Further, in 2002 and 2003, the Fed maintained unprecedented low levels. With inflation below 2% in the UK, the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee maintained equally low level of interest rates. This action on both sides of the Atlantic gave birth to the cheap money culture; that is, it became easy and cheap to borrow and live on borrowed money.

As expected, financial institutions made heavy capital of this situation, by creating innovations involving several financial products in order to maximise advantage and increase their profit margins. Undoubtedly, most of the products existed but were re-engineered. For example, the Asset Backed Securities (ABSs) which are at the heart of the current crisis work on a simple business principle that has been around for decades. However, this business principle of funding became a problem when cheap money made it possible to include sub-prime mortgages.

First, the conventional way to fund mortgages is through two primary sources of capital equity and retained profits and debt financing by way of bond issue or bank loan. However, there is another way of funding not only mortgages but also car loans, store cards, personal loans and car loans etc which gained momentum with cheap money . To illustrate how this method of funding works, let’s take a mortgage lender who issues mortgages using existing funds. Once the funds have been exhausted, the only way further mortgages can be issued is if shareholders invest more capital - borrow from other financial institutions or simply wait until enough funds have accumulated from monthly repayments. Clearly, this form of funding is slow and mortgage lenders struggled to cope with demand because of illiquid properties in which their investments were tied up with. Now the idea behind ABSs financing is to free money which is usually tied up with illiquid mortgage properties for fresh lending. So once funds have been exhausted, they then bundle these mortgages into mortgage books and sell them to investors at a profit for cash. This freed cash becomes available for further lending. The books of these mortgages have no value in themselves but their values are derived from individual mortgages that constitute these books. For this reason, ABSs are also a form of Derivatives and therefore, became the answer to liquidity problems faced by mortgage lenders. The same principle is replicated for all form of credit; be they car loans, personal loans, store cards and credit cards, And given that even very little capital can be turnover several times within a short period of time, it became very lucrative to make money and attracted the participation of Standard Rating Agencies, Insurers and giant Wall Street investment banks.

The Participation of Standard Rating Agencies, Investment Banks and Insurers
First, Rating Agencies saw the opportunity to make money by rating mortgage backed securities. These agencies gave the ABSs a big boost or rather a stamp of approval that these instruments were low risk with high returns, hence, safe for investment by both local and international investors. Again cheap money had resulted in safe havens like TBs and bonds unattractive, so investors were looking for high yielding investment opportunities. The attraction of ABSs due to stamp of approval was the beginning of spreading of these poisonous assets throughout the world financial system.

Second, with so much money available to lend coming from surplus world soon there was no more prime customers or credit worth borrowers. This opened a window of opportunity for undated form of ABSs. Sub prime mortgages lenders specialising exclusively in issuing mortgages to people with bad credit record or risk borrowers mushroomed mainly as subsidiaries of big banks and companies. Sub prime lenders would bundle sub prime mortgages issued into mortgage books and then passed over to investment banks for underwriting and distribution to investors using their international branch networks. A good proportion of these bundled instruments magically became investment grade A. This is because they earned lucrative fees. Insurers too, joined by providing low premium cover for investors, though some shrewd investors took advantage and passed the risk to insurers for low premiums.

The US, UK Mortgage Market at its Peak
Given the bewildering array of opportunities provided by cheap money and participation of financial giants, it was not long before basic requirements like proof of identity; proof of income and proof of resident were ignored by mortgage lenders. The reason was simple; these mortgages were not held in their balance sheet. As well, crazy products were introduced such as 125% mortgages, which mean that not only does a lender funded your house purchase for a princely sum, but they also gave you extra capital to spend as you wish. There was no waiting time to raise deposits and mortgage related fees and costs such as solicitors fees, stamp duty etc., would normally be paid for. Other crazy mortgage products were Self-certification mortgages tailored for those who can’t easily prove their income but this product became the most abused. It meant any one desperate for a mortgage would provide his/her “head income” to qualify for an expensive property just by income declaration requirement. Other suspect mortgage products are interest only mortgages and incentives such as vender/builder gifted deposit all contributed to loosening of lending standards. Specifically, the building industry gave incentives to buyers in order to sell their stocks quickly.

Again with giant Wall Street financial institutions involved in profiteering from this opportunity, who would have blown the whistle or bell the proverbial cat? By freeing up property-lending standards and conducting aggressive marketing, mortgage lenders initiated a greedy race to make money by individuals and corporations. This then exacerbated artificially low interest rates and pushed property prices to record high. For example, in the UK, the average national properties prices doubling time were reduced to 7 years. Specifically, in London and the South East, doubling time decreased by 4 years. This means that if you reside in London you can buy a house for £250,000 in 2004 and in 2008 sale the same house for £500,000 pay back the lender their £250,000 and pocket the balance. As a result of this, 20% on the UK millionaires list have been borne out of the property market. The magnitude of funding which found its way into the sub-prime mortgage sector in the US amounted to $650billion in 2006 alone.

By the middle of 2006, cracks began to appear. Intensified inflationary pressures due to unanticipated world oil price hikes imparted upward pressure on the Fed to raise interest rates. A wake up call for the Fed and as so often in the past, the move was too little too late. Too much cheap money had been taken in form of mortgages, car loans, credit cards, personal loans store cards so any upward move for interest rates would shaky the financial system. But Fed had no choice but to deal with inflationary pressure by raising interest rates. This inevitable action was brought to bear on sub- prime mortgage borrowers, it did not take long before so many sub prime borrowers started to default resulting in foreclosures in the US. With so many houses off loaded on the market for sale due to foreclosures, the bubble was over and property prices rose sharply (stumble a term technically referred to as a bubble burst). Initially, there was still denial, but it did not take long for investors to holding mortgage books to realise that their assets had become worthless with falling property prices.

All in all, investors pulled out their money out of ABSs, and as a result, funding sources dried up almost immediately. Ironically, banks themselves added salt to the wound by not trusting each other in their money market transactions. This uncertainty and lack of confidence in each other gave way to a fully blown credit crunch.

Now the acid test for investment banks and banks caught up holding huge ever falling illiquid assets. The Basle II has to be applied these assets have to be marked to current market value and not at historical cost. So these institutions started to declare themselves by writing off these assets to profit and loss accounts resulting in huge loses and setting stock prices from New York, UK, Europe, Asia all stumbling and causing the current financial turmoil.

Cheap money gave able time for Wall Street banks and their counter parties to create financial instruments with risks perceived to have been diversified away from banks balance sheet, hence outside regulatory control. The impact of raising interest rates after getting used to low interest rates exposed what was hidden under cheap money, now turned into a financial-driven recession abating strategy. Now with weak financial systems and threats of recession as real as after 9/11 it is time for serious thinking. Quick fix rescue plans may not be the solution or at worse, blaming the greedy.

(Mr. Lovely Mwambazi is a financial consultant with considerable experience of South African (especially Zambia) and UK financial business markets, specialising in the mortgage and insurance/protection sector respectively. He holds degrees in Economics and International Finance, apart from various professional qualifications. His most recent presentations include “The Origin and Implications of the Credit Crunch at Household Level” and “The Need for Financial Protection for loved ones and Businesses”. – Mr Lovely can be contacted by

Sunday, September 14, 2008


The Value of celebrating `National Youth Day'

(An expert perspective)

It is often repeated that youths are “leaders of tomorrow”, but in many instances they are today’s leaders. Those of us, who had the privilege of participating in youth and social work at an early age, acknowledge the importance of integrating the affairs of young people into public policy. Their involvement creates access to resources that are usually taken for granted or virtually ignored. More young people are `crying out’ for greater involvement in the political process. They also want a say in economic, social, cultural, scientific, technological, environmental and related human endeavours. Thus the celebration of a National Youth Day is important for young people so that they can showcase their talent. It also allows (adult) communities to learn more about the potential benefits from a rich blend of youth and experience, working for the common good.

The United Nations’ definition for `youths’ are people between 15 and 24 years old, and who make up 18% of the world’s population. Young people have more chances at a better education today than ever before, but their transition into the workforce and therefore into adulthood, are impeded by unemployment and poverty (UN World Youth Report April 2008). Almost one billion members of the Commonwealth are under 18. According to the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) which was set up in 1974 as an international agency, “one of the things that is required to advance the youth development agenda is for there to be a more strategic approach, which is why the CYP has been offering its technical expertise.” The agency is dedicated to empowering young people aged 15-29 in member countries. There are four CYP regional centres located in Africa (21 countries), Asia (8 countries), the Caribbean (17 countries) and Pacific (14 countries).

Celebrating National Youth Day is also important because countries can organise various events such as youth caucuses or conferences, enterprise projects, health and social welfare programmes, as well as annual exhibitions for youth and students groups, as well as promoting the work of (established) young entrepreneurs as exemplars for those aspiring to be professionals or self-employed `careerists’.

World Youth Congress
The 4th World Youth Congress which was held recently in Canada, brought together 600 of the “world’s `most dynamic young activists from 120 countries”. The event allowed young people to meet and exchange ideas, information and best practice, by emphasising themes such as: Empowerment, Contribution to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals, Selfishness, Integrity and the Global Family; Co-management; Partnership, Dialogue and Co-operation, and Sustainable Development. A major aim of the event was to “honour of the achievements of the most ambitious, most effective and most successful young practitioners of youth-led development, drawing attention to the world’s development professionals in order to provide increased support for youths to become agents of (real) change.”

Indeed, the celebration of young people’s input into national and international developmental goals is also important since the negative attitudes of young people are often glamorised and satirised by public opinion and various institutions, to the point of obscuring the real contribution youths make to their respective societies. Young people are mostly the victims of poverty, exclusion, alienation, crime, broken homes, drug abuse, delinquency or truancy and a spate of other societal ills. They bear the greatest burdens that humanity has heaped upon itself. Those who live in structurally dislocated communities are forced to `grow-up quickly’ by assuming adult lives that they are not necessarily prepared for, thereby contradicting society’s expectations.

In mid-September, the Global Youth Enterprise Conference will be held in Washington and with the youth population reaching a record high of 1.5 billion, economies worlds wide are increasingly unable to provide young people with sustainable jobs. In developing countries the situation is critical where 1.3 billion youths are unable to access gainful employment. As youth employment grew by only 0.2% over the past 10 years, the global youth population grew at a rate of 10.5% (Global Youth Enterprise Conference September 2008).

National Youth Policy
A national day for young people should include a clearly defined policy befitting youths as follows: -

• Youth and Democracy
• Young Enterprise
• Youth Education and Skills
• Youth Culture and Sports
• Youth and Social Welfare
• Young People’s Health
• Young People in Science and Technology
• Youth Citizenship and Governance
• International Co-operation
As we approach the first half of the 21st century, the developed world ought to follow the example of developing Commonwealth countries, by setting aside a day especially for young people. Such an occasion will help to inform and guide social welfare legislation. Moreover, it will show that there is a growing community of matured leaders who are willing to investment in young people, and to create innovations that are necessary to ensure that programmes and policies involving young people achieve greater impact, sustainability and scale.

It should be remembered also, that new ideas from young people can generate tangible economic and social benefits for both them and the wider global community. Mobilising young people is therefore not a token gesture, but instead a vital resource for growth and development. Let us make National Youth Day a permanent fixture in the annual calendar of the global human family.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Global Female Entrepreneurs - a cursory glance

Since time immemorial, women have been in the forefront of commercial activities and though it was often assumed that their `place was in the home’, their contribution has always been significant to both home and society. However, only over the past five or so years, has there been any real effort to promote enterprise among womenfolk.

With more women now in education, training and full-time employment, and with new technologies available for greater choice, it is expected that second and third generation females are more likely to surpass their (first-generation) parents in the field of commerce and industry.

This essay aims to review some of the evidence on female self-employment in both the developed and developing world. It is hoped that this article will add to new knowledge for a better understanding of the necessity for a more gender-balanced approach to global entrepreneurship.

The definition of entrepreneurship includes concepts such as owners, managers, directors, self-employed and employers, though different approaches are used when these concepts are defined to put into the context of entrepreneurship.

A female entrepreneur may be defined as the founder-owner or manager of an enterprise, its executive director, or a member of its managing board. Self-employed people are also commonly considered to be entrepreneurs. Different countries pursue different objectives through entrepreneurship – whether male or female, and so there is no single definition for female entrepreneurship, for instance.

Despite the persistent income level gaps, it is estimated that women comprise a high proportion of the workforce in almost every country. The gender gap is prevalent in new venture creation and business ownership. It is argued that these differences are mostly common in the developing countries and/or emerging democratic states.

In the Beijing Platform for Action, one of the means of improving women’s employability, in the context of increasing flexibilities in labour markets, is fostering women’s access to self-employment and entrepreneurship. Policies aimed at supporting entrepreneurship in most countries tender to be gender neutral.

Economic Impact

While it is noted that women still represent only a minority of all entrepreneurial and SME owners, female-led businesses are mainly concentrated in the areas of small-scale entrepreneurship, which primarily includes retail and service. The situation however, is changing with more women opting for business and professional services, the creative industries, healthcare and other sectors which were once the preserve of male-dominated firms. Even so, the growth of female enterprise development is a reflection of the determination of either unemployed or poorly paid women to change their life circumstances through active self-employment. It is this situation that has given rise to the claim that such obstacles do not necessarily prevent women from either being engaged in business start-ups or managing successful firms in their chosen field or sector.

Nevertheless, the presence of women’s enterprises does have a strong and measured effect on global economies. In the early part of this century, Canada reported that there were more than 821,000 female businesses and they contributed more than 18 billion dollars. The number of firms increased by 208% compared with a 38% increase for men. In Germany, there were a total of 1.03 million women-owned firms with a total turnover in excess of 232 billion in currency. In the US, women firms represented 28% of the 23 million firms and they provide jobs for over 9 million people. Women-owned businesses across the UK currently generate between £50 and £70 billion for the economy.

A recent US study showed that women contributed to over 70% of the world’s population and 93% of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Only in Japan and Peru in 2007, were women more active in setting up businesses than men, and the gap narrowed in Latin America and the Caribbean. Interestingly, in spite of these drawbacks, the authors of the study observed that it was surprising that “developing countries in Eastern Europe have low rates of women’s entrepreneurs, closely resembling their highly developed European neighbours, while Latin American and the Caribbean have rates of women’s entrepreneurship two and three times higher.” (OECD 2006, p.1)

In addition, 40% of the world’s active population are women and this share according to the International Labour Organisation, has not changed over the last 10 years. The share of women above the working age (15 years and over in most countries) who are employed was 49.1% in 2007 compared to a male employment-to-population ratio of 74.3%. Overall, there were equal numbers of women and men above the age of 15 years in 2007 (2.4 billion of each), but among these only 1.2 billion women were employed as opposed to 1.8 billion men.

Between 1997 and 2007 the share of global self employment (`own-account workers’) activity for women rose from 21.8% to 26.9%. Below are samples of female self employment rates from selected regions around the world: -

• Developed states - the EU had a reduced market share from 6.8% to 5.8%.
• South East Asia/Pacific increased from 23.2% to 28%.
• Latin America and the Caribbean 21.7% to 25.5%.
• The Middle East from 25.7% to 17.9%.
• Sub-Saharan Africa 48% to 46.9%. (ILO, April 2007)

Reasons for self-employment

By nature women have enterprise instincts – the majority are very good at managing homes particularly in the case of nuclear and extended family units. In instances where household income is in short supply, they tend to `cut and contrive’ to make `ends meet’. There are of course notable exceptions whereby highly trained professionals have the `luxury’ of being able to cope better because they are more financially well-off. In high-income countries, there is no gender difference in the survival rate of women’s business versus those of men. Women’s levels of optimism and self-confidence contribute essentially, to start-ups. Many are highly influenced by the culture and social norms of their native countries, parents, friends and colleagues, as well as former employers or reputable business people. The reasons for women opting for self-employment are wide and varied, and they include:-

• Being one’s own boss.
• A desire for independence.
• The need to for greater self-reliance.
• Want to make a `positive difference to society.
• Interested in introducing a new product or service.
• Sole possibility to carry out a profession.
• Continuing family tradition.
• Reach out to international markets; and
• Working as sub-contractor for former employer.

The level of education and training plus previous knowledge and experience, all play a critical part in the decision of women to be engaged in self-employment activities. The fear of failure though, is ever present among the majority of (potential) female entrepreneurs. It is a symptom that is associated with indecision and uncertainty especially if there is no access to quality support for new start-up ventures. European women and Asian low/middle income countries had the highest fear-of-failure (40%0 compared with women in Latin America and the Caribbean (34%) and women in high-income countries (27%). This situation probably has to do with the type of technical assistance and enterprise support each country has in place for new and emerging firms (Babson College, US: May 2008).

Gender Focus

As women become more conscious about their duties, rights and responsibilities in the 21st century, law makers and governments will have to think harder about new approaches to tackle disparities in the field of female entrepreneruship. Issues around promotion of women entrepreneurs, access to loans and premises, business support and information centres, and facilitating appropriate networks are all vital to the development and sustainability of firms in general. The following questions therefore need to be addressed.

• Is there sufficient recognition for the achievement of women entrepreneurs?
• Are media houses interested in promoting the successes of entrepreneurs?
• Are there role models of women entrepreneurs particularly budding ones?
• Do women have equal access to financial services and premises for start-up?
• Can women access finance beyond micro-credit as individual entrepreneurs?
• Are there any financial programmes especially for women entrepreneurs?
• Is there a dedicated system of business support for women entrepreneurs?
• Are there many women business advisors in specialist sectors?
• Do women have access to business and industry association networks?
• Is it easy to join a women’s business association?
• Is business networking publicised widely/
• Do women’s networks lobby government on behalf of women enterprises?

From all indications, the increase in the number of women in various areas of enterprise is set to continue, but their ultimate success will depend very much on how their contribution is perceived by respective governments and the rest of civil society. Undoubtedly, this is probably one of the most formidable challenges facing Corporate Governance and Gender Diversity in the 21st century.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


The Trademarks of Political Marketing

(An essay on the dos of clever marketing from a fresh political perspective)

A few weeks ago on this site, I penned a short essay on the effect of Senator Barak Obama’s work on Progressive Politics globally. On this occasion, I want to draw reader’s attention to the Senator’s brand-image to reinforce the importance and relevance of the traditional 4Ps or commonly described as the marketing mix: Price, Product, Promotion and Place.

Before examining this process systematically, it’s worth observing that before his actual Presidential campaign began, as far back as 2004 Senator Obama had laid the foundation for a viable political marketing strategy when on that occasion, his colleague, Senator John Kerry, lost the Presidential nomination. Even at that time, Obama recognised the importance of market principles and their application towards attracting voter interest. The aim was to maintain a viable message to the (suspected) electorate or voter-consumers who had to be convinced about the utility of his new product.

At the start of the campaign in 2007, the Senator test-marketed his product in smaller States to gauge voter reaction as well as media response to this litmus test. He then fused the most formidable campaign machinery with media moguls, political marketers and allied professionals, with the main goal – to plug the gap in the marketplace.

While commentators were busy rehearsing his failures in so-called Democratic `swing states’, Senator Obama was steadily re-positioning himself for a long-term marketing campaign for the Presidential nomination. Here is where he maximised the use of the 4Ps as his strategy became clearer – to make the Obama brand, a saleable and winnable commodity.

In his quest to promote his product effectively, the Illinois Senator employed the AIDA – Attract, Interest, Desire and Action – model another vital element in the marketing mix. In the process, he outspent his competitors, investing $75 million in advertisements and amassing 45 million online contributors, thereby recording an unprecedented feat in recent political marketing trends in the USA.

Even critics admitted that apart from his charisma, Obama had a honed understanding of the American mass market. He converted an intangible product into a real one by stimulating interest and action by voter-consumers who were at first, suspicious of his background and his political brand. His sale campaign attracted nearly 19 million voter-consumers outclassing both Democratic and Republican rivals alike, in the recently concluded Election Primaries.

Over the past 16 months, the Senator defined his product – the product of change by staking his reputation to great advantage. His unique selling points were hope, trust, faith and renewed confidence in self and the collective. He energised frustrated voters (consumers) to buy-in to a new product that they demanded for years, but couldn’t purchase anywhere. He converted his unvarnished product into a polished gem and sold it to 36 million, garnering over half of all voter-consumers including a fifth of all Democratic delegates (`prestigious buyers’ in this instance). He caused consumers to question their current `political brand’ and helped them to switch buying behaviour where it demanded most. Some analysts interpreted this calculated, high-risk strategy as Obama’s messianic appeal to frustrated `political souls’.

Obama’s message was transmitted through a variety of multi-media channels. The Internet and other web-based forums were used to hard-sell the product-message, as well as enlist millions of voter-consumers while carrying out a sustainable fund-raising campaign throughout the USA. His promotion campaign included a Manifesto which covered issues from the economy, defence, the environment and business to women’s affairs. In effect, Obama encapsulated America’s vision for the future with that of the world as a whole, using a simple message-brand called `change’.

As he branded his new product, the message was spread to over 50 locations, with various techniques used to target different States depending on the outcome of pre-market research carried out. When there were concerns about a particular place or State, the message or approach was modified to suit. The foundation of Senator Obama’s success was an unmistakable understanding of market segmentation. By creating segments for students, professionals, women, minorities, experts, trade unionists and others who were excluded from the political system, he gained momentum by tapping into gaps in the political market. In spite of securing approximately 43% of mainstream voters, the Senator’s success was comparatively relative to that of previous Democratic Presidential candidates who also vied for similar markets.

However, far from being the most single milestone in the history of political marketing, Senator Obama’s triumph was built on the achievements of other leaders from another generation (of lawyer-politicians); namely, the late President of Guyana, Desmond Hoyte, who maximised the mass media and the product of change (with the slogan `the end of an era and the beginning of a new epoch’) to win the 1985 Guyanese General Elections. Former President, Bill Clinton, also maximised the message of hope over adversity, to claim the White House in the early 1990s and ex-Premier, Tony Blair, who capitalised on a frustrated British electorate by introducing a “Third Way" product to oust his rivals in 1997.

Indeed, Senator Obama’s victory epitomised the art of political marketing by placing voter-consumers’ interest at centre of implementation. It is too, an instructive lesson for entrepreneurs who are keen on introducing new goods and services to attract consumers especially in highly competitive markets.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Black History Month - lest we forget!

October 2007 marked the 20th anniversary of `Black History Month’ (BHM) in Britain since it was brought by the GLC from the US. It originated from The Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History in 1976, and the month-long celebration was an extension of `Negro History Week’, which was established in 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, director of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Woodson selected the week in February that embraced the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

In addition, BHM is also related to the 1966-inspired KWANZA or `the first fruit celebration’, created by founder and chairman of the Black Nationalist Organisation, Dr. Maulana Karenga. This festival was introduced to `distinguish the Afro-American from the African’. Black History Month observances in the UK have been welcomed by many, but the national debate is still limited to symbolic fringe discussions rather than annual debates on issues affecting Black communities. The initial purpose of this month was to support `manifestations of the monumental contributions of Africa and Africans to the economic and political life of London and Britain’.

As part of the African Jubilee Year in 1987, there were a series of conferences in London though local authorities outside London took some time to adopt the Declaration, which formally instituted the month of October as BHM in the UK. So could this month be commemorated in March for example, the time in which the first African country (Ghana) secured independence from Britain in 1957. Or July, since this was the period in which the abolition of slavery took place, July 1833. Although having it monthly may not strictly matter, the timing is important for British-based African and Caribbean peoples whose forbears were exploited by the events that triggered physical enslavement and indentureship, the latter of which is often forgotten, but which contributed to today’s (continued) `divide-and-rule’ ploy.

The recent observances to commemorate the legal termination of the horrendous Slave Trade are indeed a pause for reflection. On balance, public institutions and private companies that benefited from the trade, offered gestures of goodwill in terms of sponsoring various events and other token forms of appreciation. And whilst the Church made relevant soundings on the issue, one wonders whether the Bicentenary of the Abolition of Slavery meant much to many in the UK. In a Parliamentary statement, the British Government said:

"The Government regrets and strongly condemns the evils of the transatlantic slave trade, the 1807 Act marked an important point in this country’s development towards the nation it is today – a critical step in the modern world and into a new, and more just, moral universe. Its bicentenary offers a unique chance for people of Britain to reflect on the wider story of transatlantic slavery and its abolition, and on the roles of ordinary people and politicians, alongside other Britons, Africans and West Indians, in helping to bring an end to slavery.”

Its seems natural therefore, that as Black History Month continues to gain recognition and a momentum of its own, there is need to redefine this occasion in the context of modern civilisation. History should not only be a representation or reflection of the past, but also celebrating and honouring present and future humanity. And since history is traditionally described as a series of discourses of the past leading to the past, the point about redefinition is valid.

The redefinition is important also, from the point of view of the controversies that BHM has raised since its inception in the US. In February 2005 for instance, columnists in the Cincinnati Enquirer cast doubts on whether this annual celebration can help to `necessarily solve problems’ affecting Black people in general. Another observer made a rather telling point, `The Civil War was fought over states’ rights, not slavery,’ and that there are more Black men in prison than in college. Actor Morgan Freeman also remarked, “I’ve never been a big fan of Black History Month.”

It seems therefore, that there is an urgent need to redefine BHM in the context of past and present events and circumstances. The celebration of pioneers from Africa and the US should be complemented with stalwarts in the diaspora particularly those in the 20th century that gave impetus to the struggle for adult suffrage or voting rights and eventual independence. Few acknowledge that apart from his Pan-Africanist ideals, Marcus Garvey (Jamaica) also struggled for Black Economic Liberation. If allowed to flourish, the `Black Starline’ project would have united the African Continent and the Caribbean Region through a transhipment of goods, services and people. This vital enterprise of Garvey’s is yet to be analysed since there is greater emphasis on his Pan-Africanist ideology; that is, his belief in collectivist thought and action (or group power). Clearly, his economic radicalism was misunderstood by followers and detractors alike.

In addition, the writings of, and relentless campaigns by C L R James and George Padmore (both from Trinidad and Tobago), helped usher in Political Independence in the West African state of Ghana in the mid-1950s. Their contribution to eventual self-government in the Caribbean is also forgotten in Black History Month observances. Other stalwarts that bore the Pan-African stamp were trade unionists; Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow (Guyana), T. A. Marryshow and Uriah Butler (Grenada), George Weekes (Barbados) and Alexander Bustamante (Jamaica).

Later, described as `Founding Fathers’ of their respective nations, Dr. Eric Williams (Trinidad), Forbes Burnham (Guyana), Errol Barrow (Barbados), Eric Gairy (Grenada), Vere Bird Snr (Antigua and Barbuda) and others like them, pioneered political and economic reforms in an attempt to bring their respective territories and the Caribbean Region into respectable global-nation states. Yet there are other African and Caribbean `firsts’ for the Nobel Prize; namely, Nelson Mandela (for peace), Professor Sir Arthur Lewis (economics) and Derek Walcott (Literature) – both from St. Lucia.

Today there is an African renaissance with emerging democracies in parts of East Africa (Uganda and Tanzania) West Africa (Ghana and Nigeria) and South Africa (Botswana). These countries are among the leading `lamps’ of the `Motherland’s’ quest to achieve genuine economic freedom, political democracy and social unification. The election of Liberian (Africa’s first female) President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the appointments of other females; Nigerian, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Managing Director of the World Bank, as well as Tanzanian, Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro as Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, all represent unprecedented developments in the modern history of gender politics in Africa.

Whilst we continue to recognise the value of annual Black History Month observances, we must also reflect on those among us, who equally, are making a definitive contribution to the realisation of global political thought, economic freedom, enterprise, social development and cultural integration. Lest we (really) forget!

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