Africa’s diverse countries have been subject to years of negative stories in the media. The effect on global audiences has left many to cast the whole continent in a bad light and to know little about the individual countries and cultures.
This has damaged business confidence over the years. Just like products and people, nations need to have a strong and positive brand to do well in the global economy. Nation branding, the process by which countries alter people’s perceptions, has taken hold in Africa as the continent seeks to reverse the bad vibes.
South Africa is the continent’s leader in nation-branding, and countries including Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana are newly pursuing it. South Africa’s ‘Proudly South African’ (http://www.proudlysa.co.za/) campaign is known around the world.
The past decade has seen economic growth and rising tourism in many African countries. But the reality that many people around the world can’t tell the difference between most African countries, or have mostly negative impressions formed from news reports, means they are unaware of the positive developments and opportunities.
Author and researcher Simon Anholt, in his book Brand New Justice, claims Africa’s biggest obstacle to growth is the image of the continent itself. He argues that in a globalized world it is the responsibility of good governments to understand, measure, and exercise control over a country’s reputation if it is to prosper. However, he has criticized nation-branding if it is just a marketing strategy without substantial changes to how things are done in a country.
And it is clear the winners in nation re-branding will be the countries that prove on the ground that they are changing and living up to the fine words and catchy phrases.
In Nigeria’s Lagos State (www.lagosstate.gov.ng), Governor Babtunde Fashola – known as ‘Nigeria’s Obama’ – has launched a campaign to turn around the country’s long-standing reputation for corruption. Using the slogan Good People, Great Country, the city of Lagos has set itself ambitious goals that are dependent on significant increases in investment.
Lagos wants the city to be transformed into a place anyone can do business and be attractive to tourists.
The city has seen its population triple in the last 50 years and is on track to be the third largest city in the world by 2015. Thinking long term, plans are in place for the city to eventually be home to 40 million people.
Critics are blunt about their hostility to the re-branding exercise: “How do you re-brand a product when the content stinks?” asked Akinola M.A. on news website Mynaija News. “I can’t understand the meaning of this project when basic facilities like good roads, water and electricity are virtually not available.”
Supporters say the governor’s strategy is based on action, not words. Investment is going into a Rapid Bus Transit (BRT) system, traffic management, security, street lighting, beautification, and public-private partnerships to improve services.
“Nigeria cannot wait until it solves all her problems before it can stand to give serious thought to re-branding its battered image,” Nigeria’s information minister Dora Akunyili told Online Nigeria. “This is because our development is tied to our image. This negative perception has had destructive effects on our people and stymied our growth and national progress.”
Showing the power of trans-African approaches, the Wisdom Keys Group, a Nigerian company founded in South Africa (http://www.wkg.co.za/network.html) and working in 16 countries with partners, was contracted to do the campaign.
As the pioneer of brand power in Africa, South Africa’s International Marketing Council (http://www.imc.org.za/) heads a relentless campaign to engage an international audience and expatriate South Africans. It is a sharp, multi-media outfit tackling every aspect of South Africa’s domestic and international reputation. Products include e-newsletters, campaigns to lure back expert South Africans, a vast network of web content, and a highly targeted advertising and marketing campaign that lures businesses and tourists to the airport (via ads on taxis and in subways) and on to flights to South Africa.
For Kenya (http://www.brandkenya.go.ke/), the focus is on instilling pride within the country. As Kenyan media consultant Kwendo Opanga told the Nation Branding website, “it is not branding Kenya for foreigners that is difficult. It is branding Kenyans for Kenya and Kenya for Kenyans that is a tough call.”
“We even work with the school system to ensure that this is in the curriculum so that children are told that they need to start living dignified lives.”
Rwanda, despite experiencing a horrific genocide in 1994, is gaining attention for turning its image around. It has taken a different approach and has targeted building powerful networks of support around the world to make deals. As Rwandan government adviser Elaine Ubalijoro told FastComany, “How do you take a country that’s been through hell and bring it to security and prosperity? This is about healing, and this is about hope. We think it can be done.”
The Rwandan strategy is hinged on exploiting a global network of high-profile and powerful contacts that includes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Google chief Eric Schmidt. The results include a training programme where British civil servants work in Rwanda. Starbucks, meanwhile, has become one of the top purchasers of Rwandan coffee.
Ghana’s newly launched Brand Ghana office was set up to coordinate the development of an engaging national image for the country. Its head, Mathias Akotia, told Nation Branding: “We are in competition with other nations for attention, wealth, tourism and for the export of products. Country branding is about the management of our national identity and values in a way that will take us forward.”
Still in the early stages of re-branding, Ghana plans to hold a national summit to draft a plan and identify the country’s values and identity.
Branding is not merely slogans and catch phrases. Word-of-mouth can radically change a country’s image, and its prospects. The international magazine Monocle (www.monocle.com), a publication that prides itself on spotting the next big thing, has highlighted the East African nation of Burundi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burundi) as the place to watch. The magazine thinks that by reinventing itself as a place of tourism, coffee and oil, with some of Africa’s best inland beaches and a wealth of art-deco architecture recalling Miami’s South Beach area, Burundi can distance itself from past conflict and become a must-see destination. At present, 80 percent of its earnings come from coffee and tea exports. It is hoping to become a tourist and transport hub with a new port, linking central and east Africa.
As the magazine says, “Bujumbura has got all the substance – and architecture – required to turn Burundi’s backwater capital into an African success story, and the country’s upcoming elections are a chance to create lasting peace after 15 years of civil war. But corruption could still derail the dream.”
The Nation Branding website (http://www.nation-branding.info/) (“everything about nation branding and country brands”) is the place to visit for all those interested in nation branding, country brands and how countries can improve their image abroad. Upcoming nation branding events can be found here: http://www.nationbrandingevents.com/nationbranding.
Published: November 2009
1) Monocle Magazine: Launched in February 2007, Monocle is a global briefing covering international affairs, business, culture and design. Developed for an international audience hungry for information across a variety of sectors, the magazine is a consistent champion of Southern countries and their economic opportunities. Website:http://www.monocle.com/
2) A BBC radio documentary on Nigeria’s experience of nation branding. Website:http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/documentaries/2009/html
3) Brandchannel: The world’s only online exchange about branding, packed with resources, debates and contacts to help businesses intelligently build their brand. Website:www.brandchannel.com
4) Small businesses looking to develop their brand can find plenty of free advice and resources here. Website:www.brandingstrategyinsider.com
5) Catwalk for Africa: A fashion show taking place from December 4-6, 2009 in Tunisia. Website:http://www.catwalkforafrica.com/accueil/accueil_en.php
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
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