Retlaw Matatu Matorwa
A BRAND is an expression of essential truth or value of an organisation, product and services (James Heaton). It communicates characteristics, values, and attributes of what a brand represents. Good branding complements and goes beyond marketing activities and roles.
In late 2015, I met a group of Europeans of German origin in Ethiopia wearing T-shirts written: “Building hope for Africa.”
The message made me think deep about the perceptions, image and brand Africa is known for.
Do we have a brand to talk about? What kind of a brand is Africa associated with? What message does our brand communicate? Is there need to create or salvage our brand, if so how?
Simply put, the existence of Africa as a continent makes it a brand. Undeniably, the African brand has been shinning the world over in areas of academia, sports, entertainment and other non political-economic forte.
According to the World Bank (2013) the world’s youngest population is set to increase by 50 percent, of which half of them will be in Africa.
This creates enormous investment opportunities for the region.
Africa is endowed with favourable climate, land, minerals and raw materials which strategically position the region for industrial and technological advancement. No wonder, Africa is top on the bucket list of international investors, each struggling to control and expand their influence.
However, the greatest cloud consuming the African brand is mainly political.
Most of our problems have roots in our systems of governance.
Africa is battling unemployment, dictatorship, impunity, civil wars and internal conflicts, corruption, poverty and food insecurity amongst others.
Provision of social services such as access to safe and clean water, education and health care facilities remain challenging.
Conflicts and civil wars continue to derail economic well being and social progress in countries such as Burundi, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The absence of good governance and democracy in countries like Lesotho, Sudan, Eritrea, Madagascar and many others has curtailed and disrupted positive political, economic and social transformation.
The International Monetary Fund (2012) revealed that African governments spend 40 percent of their budgets on military and defence at the expense of investing in social services such as health and Education.
Africa has the highest number of internally displaced people in the world (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 2013).
International Organisation for Migration 2015 statistics indicate that 80 percent of refugees and asylum seekers in Europe are from sub-Sahara Africa. Despite being rich in minerals and raw materials most African nations remain stuck in a culture of dependency (Aid Statistics at Glance to 2015). Notably, the African brand is affected by the absence of trust, and responsibility between policy-makers and the governed.
Most of the challenges mentioned in this article represent symptoms relating to lack of trust in our people and institutions. It is this level of trust which permeates from individual states to the regions as a whole.
The primitive politics in most African countries, coupled with impunity and dictatorship, is the reason we lack a strategic response to resolve prevailing challenges.
To this end, Africa is seen as a continent of under-developed, power hungry and a divided people, incapable of resolving their own problems for greater good of the continent.
The world sees and judges Africa through the lenses of its malnourished children wearing tattered clothes, diseases, war and conflict-ravaged communities.
Of recent, the Ebola scourge played into the hands of western stereotypes, feeding into the notion of an African continent infested with deadly diseases.
Nevertheless, Africans have a collective responsibility to improve the perceptions, correct stereotypes and create a positive narrative for the region.
Addressing pertinent issues of governance, rule of law, democracy and accountability, food security and social service delivery goes a long way.
The concept of leadership has to be revamped from the micro level of the family locating its role in the broader scheme of governance, through the societal and central governance.
Industrialisation is key; our focus must be on processing raw materials, value-addition and technological advancement. This will translate into job creation socio-economic transformation of the continent and its people.
Africa must embrace technology, changing its attitude and the way of doing things. For example, it is very critical to mechanise and adapt technology in the agricultural sector. Given the massive land and labour available, mechanisation, enhanced access to short term high yield varieties, access to affordable fertilisers and markets can increase productivity thereby improving food security in the region.
Media plays an important role in influencing and changing the mindset.
Media is dominated by western powers who hardly report positively on the continent. Our media must begin to repackage and contribute towards a narrative aimed at positioning Africa in a positive light. Above all, every African is a brand ambassador of the continent; we must in our individual capacities thrive to contribute towards re-branding Africa.
Retlaw Matatu Matorwa, contactable on email firstname.lastname@example.org, is a strategic development communications expert. He is an associate of the Regional Agency for Agricultural Promotion and Advocacy, an African think tank promoting intra-regional trade of agricultural products.
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