Branding: Which Way for Africa?

Published on 22nd January 2008

There is need to establish a regional civil society group, association or network in Africa and abroad to start operationalizing a public information, education and advocacy strategy.

The goal of such an organization will include initiating and implementing short and long term strategies to change the perception of the international community on Africa as a destination for international aid and charity by:

  • Educating indigenous NGOs in Africa on the long-term implication of international charity and foreign aid promotional activities on Africa. 
  • Monitoring the information from International NGOs and providing responsible, sustained and robust engagement on the implication of the information on Africa disseminated through the fund raising and public relations activities of Western-based NGOs.
  • Building and consolidating a network of existing voices speaking against the charity branding of Africa. These voices exist in the West and in Africa.
  • Determining popular cultural forums and tools in Africa for disseminating and countering the negative image and portrayal of Africa. Artists; musicians and actors from Africa should be more visible in promoting positive images of Africa.
  • Ensuring and systemizing collaborations with Africans residing in the West. Many Africans living in Africa are oblivious to the kinds of communication and image circulated about Africa for fund raising in the Western media. These groups can play significant roles as watch dogs on the nature of information circulating about Africa.
  • Promoting business and investment opportunities in Africa.

As a start, a regional civil society organization should organize annual conferences and seminars on building Africa’s image and telling Africa’s truth. Such an event must involve popular and targeted communication strategies and channels that can be accessible and attractive to diverse civil society groups. Venues for such an event should take place in different African countries each year. The conference should be directly, clearly and unapologetically promoted as an agenda to repair Africa’s image and promote an alternative true brand. It should include different activities ranging from seminar styles to music concerts and regional food fares. It should be inclusive and multi-generational.

An event like this will eventually take on a life of its own; empowering grass-root and local efforts and initiatives. The goal here is to make engagement with/on rebranding Africa popular and attractive to diverse audiences and institutions. Subtlety must not be the tone here. The fund-raising information that currently defines Africa’s image is direct, simple, engaging and captivating. Efforts to counter this must also be visible and vibrant.

Africa lacks the international image that accurately reflects the economic growth, possibilities and potential of its many nations. The little or complete lack of global knowledge about individual African countries means that every country ends up with the same reputation of crisis, violence, corruption and poverty. Building and maintaining a `strong and positive African Brand could dispel Afro-pessimism as well as reveal what African countries have to offer in terms of exports, vacation destinations, employment options and investment opportunities.’ Africans know this but what is missing is a structured, operationalised and formalized public engagement strategy for promoting a positive brand of Africa that entails challenging the current robustly funded negative branding of the continent.

Undertaking new branding of Africa and its states without deligitimizing current branding undermines the impact of power brands.  These are brands that are particularly well adapted to the environment in which they operate and which thus survive and flourish. Power brands establish a strong pact with consumers which competitor brand cannot match.

Promoting new brands of Africa will fail without a strong public policy and public information advocacy strategy on the negative impact of current International NGO (INGO) marketing of Africa. Values, belief and change happen in the west through public information, engagement and advocacy. INGOs currently adopt some of these methods in creating public support for charitable donations, and influencing western governments’ foreign polices on Africa. A similar strategy is called for to dismantle the aid and charity branding of Africa.

The current branding of Africa like all power brands is very valuable. Erecting or establishing a new brand, will entail reducing the impact of the current aid and charity brand. In fact it is in bringing down the old that the new Africa brand can be developed. The establishment of a civil society group advocacy group committed to long-term strategies against the current aid and charity branding of Africa will build the self-esteem of the citizens who will take Africa to the 21st century in its true light and right.

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