Ever since reading this African Business November 2009 cover story, its been on my mind. Editor Anver Versi wrote:
Africa is still seen as a charity case waiting for salvation from outside the continent. This negative view persists despite the enormous progress the continent has made over the past decade both economically and in the political sphere. Why is this so? What can be done to change this perception to one closer to the reality of our continent?
The article addressed a range of issues; top of the list, perhaps, is how:
Africa’s dominant image has been created by the charity brands and the tendency of the foreign press to label the entire continent as warlike and corrupt.
Why “rebrand Africa”? The most obvious answer it to encourage foreign direct investment (FDI) rather than aid. While it is true that investors perceive parts of Africa as being too risky and lacking adequate governance, investors are flocking to Nigeria (which now has the 2nd largest film industry in the world) and to parts of East and Southern Africa. And, of course, to Ethiopia and Sudan where Saudi Arabian, Indian and South Korean investors have purchased large tracts of farmland to grow food for export to their respective countries.
Africa consists of 53 countries; there is an immense variation in climate, culture, economy and governance. To talk about “Africa” is misleading and results in generalizations which often entirely miss measurable progress in many countries and regions.
In the cover story of the June 2010 issue Versi harks back to his November call for the development of positive images to support the continent’s progress. The focus of this report is on the long-awaited Africa Progress Report, led by Kofi Annan and launched in Johannesburg on May 25th. Versi observes that what distinguishes this report from the many others is its clarity and its call for action in both leadership and the development of environments which are more business friendly.
The June issue talks about a number of success stories, including the “new” Lagos, Angola’s rise as an investment magnet and advanced high-speed rail in South Africa. It also attacks a recent BBC documentary, Welcome to Lagos, for focusing almost exclusively on the slums. Versi:
“….(western media)…stick to a long-outdated template of Africa as a ‘dark continent’ full of misery, backwardness, hunger and despair.”
It is as if a BBC documentary on Los Angeles focused on skid row and the new tent cities without revealing the vibrant beach and downtown business clusters or the mansions of Beverly Hills.
It would seem, then, that the first critical step in rebranding Africa is to ensure that western media tell things like they are and report on progress – which is substantial – rather than focusing on the tired negative stereotypes. The success of any branding exercise, a critical IP tool in the market development toolbox, is often highly dependent on communications and how the product or service is portrayed in films, on TV and in the press.
Individual countries, regions and the entire continent needs branded content and PR to build more positive images and start to counter the old stories.
Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP