7 June 2005
Investors in Africa, friends in leadership positions and the Diaspora of Africans living around the world are key to building and projecting a new African brand, the World Economic Forum’s Africa Economic Summit 2005 heard last week.
During a special session at the three-day summit, which ended in Cape Town on Friday, participants were advised to stop asking the media to write “positive stories” about Africa – but to help a news-hungry media identify the many stories that would show a continent ripe with opportunities for investment.
The session focused on the images Africa would like to see projected, how to raise awareness about trade and investment opportunities, and identifying core components of an African brand.
Diaspora a potentially massive resource
Several members of a panel of African business leaders identified the African Diaspora as a brand-building opportunity.
Ishmael Yamson, non-executive chairman of Unilever Ghana, said African countries too often made those who left for other countries feel they were traitors – when in fact they represented a huge amount of human capital.
Countries should see their emigrants as a positive resource, Yamson told delegates, both for projecting positive images of their continent and as a source of funds and as potential returnees.
According to Yamson, Ghanaians living abroad sent US$-800 million back into the country in 2004 – more than Ghana earned from cocoa or gold.
“Why is the money coming back now? Because they are beginning to believe in their country, because they are beginning to see consistency of leadership, of economic environment and of political environment,” Yamson said.
‘Stop asking for positive stories’
Carol Pineau, producer and director of the film “Africa: Open For Business”, said that Africa has an image problem as a continent of war, famine and disaster. However, she said, the solution was in news coverage, not in seeking a positive slant for Africa.
“Stop asking for positive stories”, Pineau told participants at the session. “I don’t do positive stories. [Journalists] are not publicists. We do news.”
Pineau said that news coverage of Africa was unbalanced because it did not show the whole story of Africa – Africans with an economic life, a family life and individual personalities.
Africans should demand complete news coverage, she said, pointing to news stories such as that of the Ghana stock exchange, the fastest growing in the world.
Yvonne Johnston, CEO of the International Marketing Council of South Africa, said Africa was a brand, and that if Africans did not like the way the continent was portrayed, it was up to them to change it.
Johnston urged participants to stop entrenching negative perceptions by using phrases such as “Afro-pessimism”, and to help project a balanced image and context. “We don’t want sunshine journalism,” Johnston said. “What we want is the whole truth.”
‘Africa needs a pay-off line’
The value of friends in leadership positions other countries as brand ambassadors for Africa was highlighted by Cyril Ramaphosa, chairman of Shanduka Group South Africa. “We need to engage key stakeholders around the world about the progress we are making,” Ramaphosa said.
“We need to get Tony Blair to go beyond setting up the Commission for Africa. We need him to stand on a platform and advocate our story, our successes. We need the G8 to say positive things about a continent that is changing. We need the United Nations to be used as a platform to talk not about problems, but about progress.
“The greatest success can be found in getting those who support our cause to help us build [Africa’s] brand and tell our story as it should be,” Ramaphosa said.
Ramaphosa said Africa also needed what advertisers called a “pay-off line”, to be used by political and business leaders. He suggested “Africa, the changing and growing continent”.
The session was told later that Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, had endorsed the idea and had suggested a variation: “Africa the changing continent with a soul”.
‘Africans must believe in themselves’
Lazarus Zim, chief executive of Anglo American Corporation of SA, said a continent of 800 million people, spread over 50 countries and 12 economic communities, would always have problems. Africa had to project its positive messages to build a strong brand.
Yamson said branding a continent was not the same as branding a product, but that basic principles would always apply. Africa’s brand had to be honest, credible and different, and backed by emotional and financial commitment. “A brand is a bundle of promises, benefits and experiences,” Yamson said. “We must be clear about what we are offering the world.”
Millard Arnold, director of Murray & Roberts South Africa, emphasised the communication value of existing investors, saying the best way to attract foreign investment was “to talk to investors already in your country.
“Put them on film and let them tell others why they invested,” Arnold said. “A business person is far more likely to pay attention to another business leader who is saying he is in Africa because it makes business sense.”
Pat Davies, chief executive designate of Sasol South Africa, said for Africa to build its brand and encourage foreign investor confidence, it first had to focus on the fundamentals – once the substance was right, the perceptions would follow.
Davies also emphasised the role that Africa’s private sector could play. “The more we locals invest, the more we will encourage foreign investors and so build this brand,” he said.
Maria Ramos, group chief executive of Transnet South Africa, said Africans would have to build and sell the African brand themselves. “If we believe in it, others will believe in it. We will never get it done unless we believe in ourselves.”