Thursday, 17 March 2011

Image is everything these days...

(re)Branding Africa is a challenge

What are a lot of people’s first thoughts when hearing the word ‘Africa’?

Instability caused by war? Widespread poverty? Starving children, and primitive people living in huts? An exaggeration perhaps, but as someone who grew up in Africa and has lived in London for years now, I know this to be a genuine perception/misconception. This could be blamed on both personal ignorance and Western media portrayal of Africa.

Mainly we see Africa in the news when there’s some sort of crisis. In the competitive climate of the global market place, African countries are lagging in terms of investment, tourism, exports and employment.

Nation branding can certainly help African countries develop a more positive image and give them a chance to increase foreign direct investment, and tourism. I read an article in the journal Place Branding and Public Diplomacy entitled ‘Branding African countries: A prospect for the future’ by Evalyne Wanjiru, that suggests the utilisation of customer relationship management (CRM) to ‘gain a competitive differentiation’. CRM is about managing customer relationships and understanding customers’ needs. Simon Anholt believed CRM can work when branding nations with a ‘viable target market’.

Interviews were carried out with experts in country branding, African development and CRM for the paper, and one interviewee interestingly stated that Africa suffers from ‘continent brand defect’, meaning the continent as a whole is seen as a single brand. Johnston of Brand South Africa believes that rebranding could end ‘Afro-pessimism’.

The paper goes into more detail regarding branding, CRM and the challenges of branding Africa however they can be overcome with the right policies in place and the right (re)branding campaign, especially through the use of CRM.

I personally think that branding Africa through CRM could work well.

As an Ethiopian, I know that my country could benefit from further tapping into the market available from their ideological link with the Caribbean and Rastafarianism. For example, an annual high profile music festival including prominent artists not only from Africa, but also around the world is a viable possibility that could boost tourism, and aid in the construction of a more positive image for both Ethiopia and Africa.


  1. It is true the image itself in todays world means a lot. When someone mentions a country or a continent to our mind always come things which have been settled in our mind for long, things which have been "fed" to us by media and by word of mouth. To me when someone mentions Africa appear children who suffer for food, water, accommodation and all other commodities necessary to lead a normal life. However, that is what it has been shown to me or that is how Africa has presented itself to the outside world. Therefore, there needs to be done more and more in order for the countries image to stand better in the world and have a more positive impact into attracting new tourists.

  2. I agree that Africa as a whole has an issue in terms of image with many people outside of Africa. If we look at places such as Gambia it would seem that some parts of Africa have managed to create an image that is attracting tourists. I believe that there are many other parts of Africa that could benefit from additional branding and more positive international exposure. I think that perhaps certain parts of Africa, including Ethiopia, would also benefit more though changes and development in the country itself. If Ethiopia and other parts of Africa could improve internally then the area would surely benefit in the form of increased tourism. Many authors note that it is the situation within the country that influences the image outside of the country. This is not an easy task but it is a step forward to recognise that change within the country can improve the image outside of the country.

  3. Indeed, branding can be a powerful tool to enhance a country's image. However, I think we need to be careful in expecting too much from it. Re-branding a country alone might not change the perceptions people have of it, unless it is accompanied by clear policy changes.
    The exception is of course when the perceptions are outdated or when they exist because we, as the non-African audience, confuse countries or label an entire region as "backward" or "poor" or "war-torn", without knowing the details. I think it is particularly in the latter where nation branding can help, because nation branding is about making a country stand out among its neighbours by highlighting its unique characteristics.
    Branding cannot change everything. But if the perceptions are largely based on ignorance, a powerful brand image could be a tool for changing this.

  4. Very interesting post. May be what you have said of Africa is the practical proof that nation-branding is a privilege for western or wealthy countries more generally. In fact I guess that nation-branding campaigns usually require a good deal of money to back them up, and a well-developed media also helps. Probably mine is just common sense, but it seems to me that the majority of African countries have neither money to fund such campaigns nor competitive media.
    It seems to me that lacking these two, but having a good number of African people around the world, Anrican governments can promote the so-called "diaspora diplomacy". In fact engaging with African people around the world, African countries will be more likely able to promote their image abroad.
    Furthermore Africa has a very fashinating culture, but it seems to me that this is underestimated as a tool to promote Africa.