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Because we failed to brand our nation…

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Former president Nelson Mandela. PHOTO: AFP<br />


After apartheid was finally dethroned in South Africa and the first democratic elections were held in 1994 Desmond Tutu described the nation as Rainbow Nation to underscore the racial and cultural diversity that made up South Africa. Early in his tenure, President Nelson Mandela proclaimed “Each of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world”. According to Wikkipedia, the term was intended to encapsulate the unity of multi-culturalism and the coming-together of people of many different nations, in a country once identified with the strict division of white and black.

That was more than two decades ago. The South African flag which was adopted in 1994 is beautiful and colorful, projecting that beauty in diversity. It has six colors, in a design that’s both striking yet simple. That flag tells you “we are diverse but colorful and beautiful”. I wrote on this page several weeks ago, about how dull and uninspiring our green-white-green flag is. Given the realities of our nation today, our flag is no longer relevant. It does not reflect our identity as a nation.

Post-Apartheid South Africa has built a nation brand as a critical part of leaving the vestiges of apartheid behind and developing a modern nation that is globally competitive and which enjoys respect among nations. The rainbow is colorful and beautiful. Therefore using it to symbolize the image of South Africa creates a strongly positive impression. It also makes the people see the beauty and strength in diversity, instead of division. Of course, there is still a great deal of inequality and poverty, but the process has achieved significant milestones in that nation’s journey towards the proverbial Promised Land.

A deliberate branding program was developed and implemented over the years and what we see today as an admirable South Africa is not an accident or a series of ad hoc emergency programs as we are wont to do in this country. There is a specific institution known as Brand South Africa which is the official custodian of South Africa’s Nation Brand. It has as its mission:

Developing and articulating a South African Nation Brand identity that will advance South Africa’s long-term positive reputation and global competitiveness.Seeking the involvement and cooperation of various stakeholders in building awareness and the image of the Nation Brand domestically and internationally.Seeking to build individual alignment to the Nation Brand in South Africa, and pride and patriotism amongst South Africans.

The Vision of Brand South Africa is:
A Nation Brand that inspires its people and is admired globally.The South Africa we all see and admire today is not a fluke. A deliberate brand strategy was put in place and is continuously being implemented to sustain a strongly positive brand image for the nation. That positive image translates to goodwill, foreign investment and tourism which all add up to wealth creation.

A properly articulated nation brand strategy is a pre requisite for national development, because it promotes patriotism and makes people feel good about their nation. It erases political and ethnic divides because people are galvanized and united behind a common purpose which is consistently communicated across all boundaries. This is what our country so desperately needed after the civil war. But sadly, 47 years after that war, we have not articulated any Nation Brand strategy. The outcome is that our nation doesn’t stand for anything specific in the minds of our people. If you mention Nigeria to people, what images or ideas or issues come to mind? What concept do we represent in the minds of our people at home and abroad? There are so many positive things and values about our people and our nation and that is why we are still together as one nation.

The positives far outweigh the negatives. But because we have not developed a proper brand strategy, people only dwell on the negatives and this is holding us back. It is impacting negatively on our ability to achieve the accelerated development that our people so desperately need. It is also undermining our capacity to create wealth and free our people from poverty. And where there is widespread poverty, you will have discontent, and criminal activity. That is when people will pay negative attention to those differences and diversity that should be our strength rather than a weakness. That is why we have ethnic militias threatening our collective destiny.

We need leadership that understands nation branding or we need our leaders to understand nation branding. Whatever efforts are being made to address our differences and discontent and create a platform for unifying our people, we desperately need a nation brand strategy. It is never too late. The time to start is now.



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