Is Kenya’s Brand Waning?

Published on 10th October 2006

Writing in South Africa’s Brand Magazine, Jan Hofmeyr of Synovate Brand and Communications Practice observed that if one bought shares in The Coca-Cola Company in 1999 one would have forked out over $85. Today, the share is valued at about $43. Loosely speaking, the share price or commercial value of the Coca-Cola brand has almost halved in just seven years! The Coca-Cola brand has obviously taken a beating. Other factors such as the global move to more healthy beverages and competitive pressures have played their part. One major factor we easily forget due to Coca-Cola’s ubiquity is its link to the United States of America as its country of origin. It is no secret that the USA brand has not been in carnival mood over the past decade. This has pulled down not only Coca-Cola but also giant brands such as General Motors which is now taking a hiding from the emerging Eastern powerhouses.

The love felt for any national brand reflects the state of the national brand. When America’s President George W. Bush found it prudent to pursue Kenya as an agenda item during bilateral talks with Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete, many observers saw this as both an affront to Kenya’s sovereignty and more importantly, a possible sign that Kenya has gone a few rungs down the pecking order in the eyes of the most powerful man on the planet. The Saturday Nation splashed a banner on the front page and covered an entire page with a story that cast aspersions on Kenya’s image on the international front.

Is Kenya’s brand really on the wane? Elie Wiesel, the author of 36 works dealing with Judaism, the Holocaust, and the moral responsibility of all people to fight hatred, racism and genocide once wrote that “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.”

KenGen was recently ranked first among the top 40 equities on the African continent in a list published by Reuters. Kenya Airways, the national carrier and self proclaimed “Pride of Africa” came in third and has proven to be the real pride of the Kenyan brand by perennially topping the list of Africa’s preferred airlines. Incidentally, Kenya Airways was the first-ever privatized African airline.

The Artur Brothers incident is still fresh in many of our minds and puts a negative spotlight on this nation. At the international press, the issue received more prominence than it deserved. Our local press is culpable too.  It has continuously turned this and other such unfortunate incidents into a front page material to be beamed all over the world. Selling papers and pulling in the listeners and viewers today is one thing but damaging your nation’s brand for the long term is another. I am not advocating for misreporting or lies from the media, I am just asking the media to think long term. The success of their media brands is more intimately linked to the success of the Kenyan brand. If locals did not feel good about the Kenyan brand, they would jump ship by immigrating or seeking employment abroad in their hoards. If Kenyans get impoverished because they are unable to grow their businesses and their local brands suffer, then poverty shall ensure that the media brands become a luxury for a populace that would rather buy food to survive. More continuous and consistent damage to the Kenyan brand through our own bad press can get us there. I’m sure it is in none of our interests to get to such a state.

Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone with the Wind” believed that “Until you've lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was.” The Kenyan brand isn’t anywhere near this sad situation. We’ll not let it get there.

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