Accra. Ghana. Photo © sldsouza.
How have we come to know what brands we like or dislike? How have urbanists across the world developed a taken-for-granted recognition of brands, products and tastes for products far from its origin? This has come about first, because of globalisation, and second, because of the perpetuity of strong brand presence in daily rituals. Familiarity with brands begin before birth, during pregnancy and throughout one’s lifetime in various forms; which have become a taken for granted commonplace. It begins with the Philips ultrasound equipment to listen to the heartbeat of your baby, to the Pampers diaper, Disney school bags, first Apple iphone, favourite MacDonald’s burger to the Mercedes E240 you like to show off to your friends, we all (urbanist and consumption cultures) have become “logolised”. The power to invoke and demand brand affiliations – wearing the latest Calvin Klein cologne, cladding in GUCCI and drinking Coca Cola ZERO, as some examples, have created a strong cultural and subcultural GI tilt; and in the process, taken the so-called “third worlds” by surprise. With most urban centres across the globe experiencing rural to urban migration shifts, it is predicted that urban rituals will overtake rural rituals.
In an age of globalisation and growing urban cultures, societies have to confront symptoms of intercultural encroachment. In Africa for example, local cultures and traditions such as kids gathering under trees to listen to folk tales have to contend with Disney cartoons on television; or the local herbalist with his mysterious one-drink-cures-everything concoction is forced to compete with Pfizer’s range of specialist medications. The result, within ACP and particularly in Africa has been to assimilate the global product, logos, mannerism or other descriptors into local popular phenomena; thus ensuring continuity and the preservation of cultures. African rituals especially have benefited from this culturalisation methodologies of preservation. In the debate surrounding Intellectual Property Rights, Geographical Indicators and Cultural Goods, a connectible set of “fears” have emerged. These fears are partly embedded in post colonial and historical points of reference and legitimate in-balances and anomalies in inter-continental trade. [Reference to past EPAs – Economic Partnership Agreements ]. Cost of using, operating and producing technologies have in the past cost ACP countries considerable deficits in both local export and high international import. An example would be the cost of Microsoft certified and licensed software used in Africa which is higher than in the West. Picking up an average Windows 7 HOME edition from any US store may cost about US$ 120 whilst the same package bought from a shop in Accra would cost you between US$ 250 and US$ 400 depending on whether its a Microsoft retailer or an ordinary retailer.
Nevertheless, ACP countries account for some of the most interesting innovations and in some cases cultural copy production that is unlike any other. Some worthy and interesting productions worth exploring into are here mentioned:
- Mobility Centers: The mobile phone was designed with a business model that required every person to own his or her cellphone. Beginning in Ghana, those who bought the mobile phones could not use or maintain their payment plans and hence offered them to their neighbours for a usage fee. This pattern fuelled the design and development of the phenomenon space to space – a “mobile” communication centre.
- Television: In the case of television, there is an African proverb that has evolved to describe its assimilation: “Only the dead watch television alone.” In some communities such as in the Eastern Region of Ghana, it is quite common for villages of about a thousand people to collect donations and contributions towards buying and owning a “society TV”. Usually, the village electrician or someone considered educated enough gets to keep the remote control.
- Breaking News: There is no need for technology when one wishes to know about latest news. In Liberia and on the streets of Monrovia, Daily Talk, a chalk and blackboard methodology accomplishes the breaking news phenomenon without the added costs of TV networks.
- Nollywood and Gallywood: West Africa’s alternatives to Hollywood often modify Western thematic in order to provide local audiences with the very popular themes popular with moviegoers. From vampire blockbusters (TWILIGHT) or girls is action roles (BAD GIRLS) or Biblical epics (PASSION OF THE CHRIST)…and so forth, there is always an African version.
- Ritual Additions: In most ACP countries local traditions have accommodated modern practices, mannerisms and products into traditional rituals – libation pouring, spiritual possessions, mystical readings and other modes of spiritism. It is quite common for gods and spirits to “receive” Dutch schnapps, Coca-Cola and other global items. In some rituals, global products have dramatically changed its practical methodologies for operating. Dipo is the name for a coming-of-age ritual practiced by the Krobo people of Ga-Dangbe in Ghana. Every girl or boy who hasn’t performed this ritual cannot be formally given into marriage or be in socially good standing. To “certify” this Dipo ritual, successful participants have their bodies cicatriced as a mark to the community to having fulfilled this requirement. The problem with body cicatrices are that, they leave long lasting scars. Canon cameras where the first to be introduced in the ritual process to acquire photographic evidence and hence no need for body cicatrices.
Localising and cultural copying is prevalent in all cultures and subcultures. Adding, subtracting and copy producing to create a unique mark can transcend the norm and the product(s) of other nations may in some situations become national symbols. For example, the Dutch national symbol, the tulip flower originates from Turkish immigrants who brought these “onion-like flowers” to The Netherlands. The American Statue of Liberty is another example – given to the new and free world as a gift from the French. These two examples underscore the need to look deeper and understand the cultural, symbolic and ritual methodologies and their roles in creating Geographical Indications (GI). The results drawn from this type of qualitative examination of a GI product would enable us to offer new approaches to factoring and adapting IP legislation, to preserve richly endowed ACP countries.
About the author: Sal Souza is an International Designer (Graphic, Visual, Multimedia, Broadcast Media, Industrial, User Interaction, User Experience) and IT Consultant with expertise in New Media, Web 3.0, IPTV, DTV, Media Production, Product Prototyping, Desktop Software, Interactivity, Mobile Applications, Traditional Knowledge, Geographical Indications and Cultural Goods. He lives and works in Nijmegen, The Netherlands.