Sara Byala: ‘Coca-Cola has immense power in Africa’

The historian tells Mike Higgins about the corporation’s contentious role in apartheid’s last years and how its outreach work empowers women and attracts criticism.

The World Today Published 28 July 2023 4 minute READ

Sara Byala

Senior Lecturer in Critical Writing, University of Pennsylvania

Bottled: How Coca-Cola Became African
Sara Byala, Hurst, £30

In ‘Bottled: How Coca-Cola Became African’, Sara Byala examines the ubiquity of Coke’s products across the continent and what it reveals about development and capitalism.

Coca-Cola is available pretty much everywhere. What intrigued you about its presence in Africa?

I’m originally from South Africa and an Africanist historian by training. When I travelled in Africa as a child, I would collect upcycled items made from Coke cans and bottles. Also, I am not the first person to go somewhere remote in Africa and wonder how there is a cold Coke on sale there. Then, in 2014, I saw a BBC article about how Coca-Cola marketers in South Africa celebrated the 20th anniversary of the end of apartheid by making rainbows above downtown Johannesburg using clean water, and a light bulb went off in my head.

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