The Brand in the Mirror

There’s been a lot of talk about branding lately – branding of countries and even of continents. The recent visit to Ghana by US President Barack Obama set off another debate about how Africa is perceived, both within and outside the continent, and whether Brand Africa can ever be repositioned.

In the same way witnesses to the same event all have their own version of the facts, our individual experiences have an impact on how we perceive a brand, and different eyes see different things. Do we, as Africans, have a kinder view of Africa or are we all the more critical for being so? Are we so used to seeing the wide disparity between the have and have-nots in our home countries that we fail to understand just how others from more developed lands might view this?

By the same token, are we so aware of all the positive things in our societies of origin, that we despair of visitors who come only to reinforce their negative perceptions?

The Sum of Our Experience

My experience of flying British Airways will colour my perception of that brand, while the quality of a product I purchase from L’Oreal might make me question if it (or I) is ‘worth it’.

Having recently returned from a visit to South Africa organised by South Africa’s brand manager, the International Marketing Council, (we’ll be sharing more from the trip in future issues) I am incredibly inspired by the energy and determination of South Africans. With a World Cup to run, everything seems to be in the process of being built or rebuilt – a visible renaissance in a nation that has been so recently reborn from its painful past.

Managing Brand Africa is the responsibility of all of us, because that brand colours all of us.

Yet, as I read articles in the British and international press about Africa, I have to wonder. If the essence of branding is the sum of how we feel about our experience of a product, it begs the question of how so many people who have never experienced a part of Africa have no qualms about contributing their views.

Branding Africa

Some media, never letting facts get in the way of a good story, start with a presumption of guilt, leaving the burden on the falsely accused to protest, rebut, and finally claim a victory long after the buzz generated by the issue has died down.

The African continent is a classic example of an easy target and what you are told will depend on who you ask – or don’t. For some, Africa represents a continent of hope and opportunity; for others, a place of despair and hopelessness.

Good news stories are rarely allowed to emerge from Africa and that plays strongly into the perception of the continent’s brand. Distorted reports, clarified too little and too late, continue to build a picture of crime ridden, corrupt and venal countries governed by tyrants and despots. Progress is often either grudgingly noted or swiftly dismissed when compared to ‘the bigger picture’; while external spokesmen are given more credibility than those who know the continent to make or break the case for Africa.

Knocking away Stereotypes

So what role can we, as Africans overseas, play in changing some of the assumptions and presumptions about Brand Africa?

Well, we can make a start by challenging false assumptions and knocking away negative stereotypes. Challenging ignorance, not by strident insults, but by gentle explanation and factual discourse; remembering the saying that ‘raising your voice doesn’t increase the power of your argument’.

People’s experience of us as proud Africans will colour their perception of Brand Africa. Africans can’t achieve? Africans are limited? Perhaps, then, striving for excellence – right where we are – is the best way to rebut assumptions about the capabilities of people from Africa.

A New Brand

Managing Brand Africa is the responsibility of all of us, because that brand colours all of us. In many areas, Brand Africa has never had more good news to shout about but has also never been more in need of ambassadors to make its case.

In the words of the late King of Pop, it’s time to make that change. South Africa has made a decision to protect its brand; isn’t it time the rest of Africa did the same?

In This Issue

Keeping with tradition, our August issue is made up of my picks from the issues of ReConnect Africa published throughout the past year. We hope that those of you who started subscribing recently will enjoy the articles you may have missed, while our longer standing readers can revisit some that they enjoyed before.

While the events of the global recession have also impacted on Africa, the continent still offers long-term growth and opportunity for investors. We start with a report on the Africa Investment and Finance Conference in Africa – The last Frontier.

In considering Kenya’s – and Africa’s – ambitions as the outsourcing destination of choice, Selorm Adadevoh reflects on whether Africa should really aim to copy India in his report Outsourcing to Africa: Dream or Realistic Aspiration?

Tanzania – ‘The Land of Limitless Opportunities’ – is not simply a land of natural beauty, but also a country that offers vast investment opportunities, as a recent conference in London highlighted.

If you need the facts about just why Africa has so much to offer, there is no better place to turn than the beautiful new book that celebrates all that is positive about Africa. Learn more about ‘Africa – The Good News’ in this report.

The role that Africa’s Diaspora can play in leading change and development within Africa is explained by Dr. K Y Amoako, Founder and President of the African Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET) in ‘Transforming Africa’ and we look at how the ABE qualification is opening doors for African professionals globally in ‘Training Africa’s Managers’.

Careers

In this tough job market, your networking skills will be crucial to finding and keeping a job. In ‘Think You Can’t Network?’ Jane Adshead-Grant offers some essential tips to help you transform the way you make contacts.

Could you be happier in your life? What’s stopping you? In ‘Be Your Own Coach’, leading careers coach Robin Alcock takes a look at what prevents us from being more effective and what we can do about it.

Also in our Careers section, we review a recent Summit on recruitment in the oil, gas and power sectors in ‘Future Talent for Oil and Gas’, offer some advice on interviews in ‘7 Ways to Excel at Job Interviews’ and hear from our Careers Coach on ‘Finding a Job at Fifty’.

For those of you opting for self-employment, take a look at Steve Gardner’s advice in ‘Only the Lonely – The Hidden Side of Self-Employment’ to find out how to give yourself a boost during those tough days.

African Diaspora

In ‘Transforming Ghana in Ireland’, we look at how the Association of Ghanaian Professionals in Ireland is helping instil patriotism and professionalism in Ghanaians in Ireland.

We bring you a report of the launch of ‘Global South Africans’, a global network of South Africans and friends of South Africa, and its plans to bring skills and knowledge to the country. With a new government in place, we share, in ‘Voting South Africa’, the reflections of two South Africans in London on the significance of their vote on Election Day.

Africans don’t come any more enterprising than Fred Quartey and, if you are looking for a taste of Africa in London, a visit to his restaurant, Just Freddie’s, is a must. Check out ‘A Taste of Talent’ to learn more about Fred’s story.

Journalist and radio presenter, Uduak Amimo is our guest interviewee in my pick of ‘5 Minute Interview’ articles and she shares some of the sources of her inspiration and success.

August is holiday month but there are nevertheless a number of exciting events taking place in the UK and overseas and our Events listing gives you details of what’s on this month.

As ever, we report on news from the UK and around the world and bring you an overview of news from across the African continent.

Share your comments about our articles or write into our Letters page and let us know what you think about ReConnect Africa.

ReConnect Africa Members’ Forum

What’s making you angry/thoughtful/happy? What would you like to share with other readers of ReConnect Africa? Post your comments or give some advice to other members on our free ReConnect Africa Forum.

Thank you to those of you who have registered onto the Forum and posted your comments; if you haven’t yet joined, why don’t you do so today?