10 Iconic Products

Made with pride in Africa, by Patricia Wanjala

Ghanaian cocoa

Ghanaian cocoa

1 Kenyan tea
Two-thirds of the world’s population started their morning with a cup of tea today. If you are among them, some of your tea leaves probably came from Kenya. The top global exporter of this commodity, Kenya, has produced tea in the Northern Rift Valley highlands since 1903.

The aroma and taste of Kenyan tea is reportedly so superior that it is used for blending with almost all other teas. Some attribute its quality to the fertile volcanic soils; others peg it to the high altitude (over 2000 metres.) One manager of a tea factory explained that the harvesting process makes it unique: Kenyan black tea is hand-picked, not machine-picked. Only the upper young leaves and bud are included. This preserves the highest level of antioxidants and flavour. Whatever the reason, Kenyan tea remains a highly popular African brand, enjoyed daily around the world.

2 South African gold
Perhaps you are wearing a gold ring, earrings, an heirloom watch or a vintage bracelet. Did you know that there is a 40% chance that the gold you have on, originally came from South Africa? South Africa has the largest gold mines in the world, and for over a century they produced the highest volumes globally. These mines stretch over a 400km belt in the Witwatersrand. Some have a depth of almost 12,000 feet.

In 1886 a prospector discovered gold in Langlaagte’s farm. Hordes of European immigrants invaded the area. They came by boat, oxen, foot, and later railway to get to what was then described as an ‘endless treasure of gold.’ It transformed South Africa from an agricultural society into the richest economy in Africa, springing mining towns and cities like Johannesburg.

In 1970 South Africa reportedly produced 79% of the world’s gold – about 1000 tonnes. In recent years it has fallen behind larger countries such as Australia, China and Russia. Still, South Africa remains Africa’s biggest exporter of gold – up to 200 tonnes in a year.

3 Tanzanite
A diamond may be a girl’s best friend, but tanzanite is so much more exotic. What is so special about this bluish-purple rock? It actually enjoys the distinction of being the world’s rarest gemstone. Discovered in 1967 by a Maasai shepherd named Mzee Ali Juuyawatu in Northern Tanzania, it was named by Louis Tiffany after the country in which it is mined. Since it is only found in this one location, the supply is much more finite than diamonds.

The debate rages as to whether tanzanite will run out in 15, 20 or 100 years. Either way, this cousin of sapphire is unique not only for its equatorial heritage but for its pleochroic properties. This refers to its iridescent colour quality. Tanzanite increases in value depending on its colour – the palest blue stones are not worth much. The darker blue and purple tanzanites are viewed as being among the premier gemstones of the world.

4 Ethiopian coffee
Back in the ninth century, coffee was originally discovered in Ethiopia, Africa’s oldest country. In fact, coffee derives its English name from Kaffa, the region where it first blossomed. Legend has it that, around the year 840 AD, it was discovered by a goat-herder Kaldi. He tasted the beans and later took them to the monks. The monks tossed the beans into the fire to roast them and were rewarded with a potent, aromatic beverage. Known as Bunna in Amharic, coffee plays an integral part of Ethiopia’s economy, history and culture. A symbol of Ethiopian and Eritrean Habesha hospitality is their elaborate traditional coffee ceremony. It is performed for esteemed guests as a mark of honour. Arabica coffee travelled from Ethiopia through Sudan to Arabia, Europe, South America and Asia before it was introduced to the African British colonies over 1000 years later, including neighbouring Kenya. Coffee is the world’s most widely traded agricultural commodity. Fittingly, Ethiopia remains one of Africa’s top producers.

5 M-Pesa mobile money transfer system
Have you ever wished for the convenience of doing most of your financial transactions in a few clicks on your phone? The ability to pay grocery or restaurant bills, transport, utilities, school fees, insurance and even your local barber shop? This system has been a reality in Kenya since 2007. M-Pesa (Mobile – ‘pesa’, or money) was launched by the mobile operator Safaricom, of which Vodacom holds 40%.

Today, two-thirds of Kenya’s adult population uses it and 60% of the country’s GDP flows through M-Pesa. It now includes a mobile banking service where customers can deposit, earn interest, withdraw funds and even access loans. To date, Kenyans have made M-Pesa withdrawals totalling around US$8.5 bn. M-Pesa is the most developed mobile payment system in the world. Similar models have since been launched in India, Tanzania, Afghanistan and other countries. Look out – it may be on its way to you!

6 Nollywood
In the early 1900s popular Hollywood films like Tarzan and Frankenstein were shown at movie theatres in Nigeria. But after independence in the ’60s, this populous nation with its flamboyant culture quickly took a liking to seeing characters they could relate to. They soon embraced the African silver screen and notable filmmakers in the ’70s gained fame. In 1992, Kenneth Nnebue’s film Living in Bondage was a runaway success. Thereafter home video replaced the film theatre in popularity.

The demand for ‘Nollywood’ movies is insatiable among the global African Diaspora. They are sold all over Europe, the Caribbean, Africa, USA and the world. A new production is released every three weeks and over 50,000 copies are sold. For sheer numbers, Nollywood films are surpassed only by Bollywood of India. In terms of revenue Nollywood comes third globally with Hollywood in first place. Given that filming takes place on shoestring budgets of about US$17,000 and in record time, these numbers are seriously impressive.

7 Ankara fabric
A potent symbol of the vibrant African continent is its traditional fabric. These fabrics are as varied as the landscape and peoples they evoke. Whether Indigo from Chad, Mud cloth from Mali, Woodin from Ghana, Aso Oke from Nigeria, Kikoy from Kenya, Kanga from Tanzania, Kitenge from Congo or finely woven Eritrean cotton, African fabrics have an unforgettable stamp of authenticity. There is a long tradition of fabric adornment in the continent. Back in the 15th century Ashanti royals would bedeck themselves in costly Kente garments adorned with gold and beads.

Today, Ankara or African fabrics have graced catwalks the world over in an East meets West cross-pollination. Maasai prints have been seen on the Alexander McQueen runways. Anna Wintour, Vogue Editor-in-Chief, was spotted in an Ankara Burberrys coat. Celebrities spotted in Ankara include Kate Bosworth, Kim Kardashan, Sarah Ferguson, Naomi Campbell, Solange Knowles, Lady Gaga and Estelle. Ankara fabric has a timeless African appeal – it has found its way not only into the mainstream fashion world but into global Interior Decor collections.

8 Argan oil
Since the 13th century Argan oil has quietly been extracted and used by the Berber women of Morocco. In recent years it has gained massive popularity. The demand for this potent ‘liquid gold’ has escalated for its use in mainstream and multi-ethnic beauty products. Industrial giants like L’Oreal and Proctor and Gamble are among the wholesale bidders clamouring to buy millions of pounds worth. Don’t be surprised to see Argan oil as an ingredient in your luxury branded cosmetics for hair, scalp, face and body.

The kernels from the Argan tree are harvested and pressed for the oil by women in co-operatives in the region. The trees live for around 150 years, are found in a limited area and only start producing fruit when they are between 30- and 50-years-old. Moroccan oil is so rare that it cannot currently satisfy global demand. The country’s exports of Argan oil have more than doubled in the past five years to well over 700 tonnes, but the spiny evergreen trees have since come under UN protection to prevent them from being decimated by farming and construction.

9 Cardiopad
A brand new medical device, this African invention attests to the vast reservoir of talent on the continent. Designed by 24-year-old engineer Arthur Zang from Cameroon, it is the first touchscreen tablet to perform remote ECG heart examinations. It transmits the results wirelessly to a central server. From there the cardiologist receives it on his device. Using the Cardiopad software he can rapidly interpret the results, issue a diagnosis and prescription.

In a country where fewer than 40 cardiologists serve a population of over 20 million, this tablet is nothing short of revolutionary. Before, heart patients would have to wait for months for an appointment and travel vast distances to see a cardiologist. Some even died in the process. This life-saving device is 97% reliable and easy to use even from the most remote clinic. If embraced by hospitals, it would halve ECG examination costs. With cardiovascular disease being the number one killer in America and Europe, this invention could benefit communities not only in Africa but the entire world.

10 Ghanaian cocoa 
The Ancient Maya Indian cultures discovered cocoa as early as 600 AD. They viewed cocoa as a sacred plant, a ‘food of the gods’. It formed the basis of sacred rituals and became so important in the New World that it was even used as currency. In the 15th century Columbus brought some back to Spain. In the 1650s it was introduced to England. Heavily taxed, cocoa, or chocolate, was the exclusive drink of the wealthy. In 1828 a Dutchman named Van Houtten invented the cocoa press. It could separate the powder from the cocoa butter. When more butter was combined with cocoa and sugar, it made the first chocolate. Cadbury’s bought the machine and produced the first chocolate bar in 1842.

Now an affordable treat for the masses, chocolate grew so much in popularity that European countries established plantations in the colonies. By the 1870s production had begun in West Africa. Today 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa – specifically Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana and Ivory Coast. Ghana is a giant of cocoa production and has even begun producing quality Fair Trade chocolate for the export market.