This working week opened with South Africa Day st the World Expo 2020 hosted in Dubai. Upbeat from his recent annual South Africa Investment Conference (SAIC), President Cyril Ramaphosa, as always, did not disappoint in his speech in brand positioning his country as a viable destination for investment. “The benefits of doing business in South Africa are immense indeed. We have a strong and well-regulated financial, banking and taxation system, world-class IT infrastructure, and a range of business and investor friendly regulations and policies.”
You may be wondering why “SA Day” at the World Expo? This world’s six-month branding spectacle, that takes place every Friday, had 192 countries participating. It was meant to be held in 2020 but got delayed by the lockdowns intended to contain the spread of COVID-19, so it was launched on 1 October 2021 and it closed shop yesterday, 31 March.
The World Expo is a multifaceted international platform designed to showcase the excellence and achievements of various nations – that is, their political, business, cultural and technological excellence. It provides a platform for nations to bring their cultures and innovations into direct contact with large numbers of people. It is also a vehicle for national promotion for the host country.
The World Expo, the six-month long exhibitions, do differ in character and are held every five years in different parts of the world at a specific site. Like with most world events, countries have to bid to host them.
This event has never been staged on the African continent where, I’m convinced, it’s most needed. Why I’m saying this? This is the best cost effective and most efficient manner to start a new city. All participating countries are allocated a plot on which they build their pavilion – the building may be as monstrous as the country chooses it to be. Then the countries will occupy the buildings for six months showcasing the best of their countries. After this, they surrender the entire structure as is to the host country and the latter will then decide what to with the nascent urban city built for it. Imagine Dubai now has new 192 buildings at its disposal.
Yes, Dubai did provide bulk infrastructure during the construction phase – including constructing the streets interconnecting the buildings. But what a great score! This could have been the cheapest way to develop a smart city that the president has been touting in his state of the nation addresses (SONAs) fir the past two years. By the way, don’t forget that the 192 countries had to book their officials who worked at their pavilions in hotels for at least six months – yes, tourism was catapulted into the nation brand stratosphere. This on top of regular delegations from countries visiting the show. I can’t just imagine the millions of tourists who came to visit the show – over 22 million visited Milan in 2015; over 73 million visited the Shanghai leg in 2020 (courtesy of the gigantic Chinese population). Don’t you smell money already?
Can’t South Africa bid for future instalments of this economic engine in future? It’s possible, though it will be extremely challenging. We participated successfully in the 2005 Aichi instalment in Japan and the Shanghai leg in 2010. In the latter, we even made a strong brand statement by being one of the six African countries that opted for a standalone pavilion instead of joining the continental behemoth, built courtesy of China, for African countries. Our brand equity was extremely high as we were hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup here at home – the most profitable in the entire history of the soccer spectacle. Although we showcased our technological advancements, our Zakumi mascot and the Diski dance dominated the cultural scene – though I may sound unpatriotic, I found the discipline in the Chinese moves more impressive than those of our dancers even though they were choreographed by us (could it be they drew from their Tai Chi experience?).
Then as a country we dropped the ball in 2015 by not participating in the Milan leg – citing budgetary constraints. So it will be difficult for us to get countries to vote for us particularly the European Union (EU) member states since they could still be aggrieved that we snubbed Italy – do remember one of the cardinal principles of diplomacy is reciprocity. But for me as a brand architect, our non-participation in Milan has broken our brand consistency. To this day I remember the shock and the disbelief on the faces of the many stakeholders I engaged with then as I served as South Africa’s Consul General in Milan on hearing that our country was not participating. So this leaves us with no option but to participate in the next three expos to win the hearts and minds of the majority of countries before we could be seen as a country whose bid is worth supporting.
Talking about brand consistency, let me just remind you, our dearest reader, who is our parent company. It is Brandhill Africa whose vision is to become a premier pan African competitive identity and public diplomacy group.
Our mission is to brand position corporates, cities, provinces, countries and Africa as viable destinations for tourism and investment while at the same time helping to open market opportunities for Africa’s strategic exports.
Our core business flowing from the above is reputation management. Every individual, institution or corporate cherishes their reputation, every sane person will be prepared to fight with everything within their power to protect their reputation, so from our perspective, this means they’re prepared to pay a price to safeguard their integrity. People do business with someone they trust. Corporates deal with investors, customers, suppliers, retailers and governments they can trust. They invest in countries they can trust. Tourists go to countries with reputations. The consumers buy goods and services they can trust – they believe in brands they can trust. They elect politicians they can trust. That’s why William Shakespeare, in his play, “Othello”, describes reputation as “the immortal part of my being, (as) what remains (once is dead) is bestial”. This means what you’re known for will persist even after your death. In his other play, “Macbeth”, Shakespeare puts it bluntly: “The evil that man do, lives after them.” So reputation is at the core of humanity.
Yes, we are in the business of re/building brands in Africa, hence our name, Brandhill Africa, which clearly identifies our ideological leaning to this continent and our mission as changing the narratives on Africa from what Joseph Conrad described in 1899 as a “dark continent” in his seminal work, “The heart of darkness”, and hundred years later, President Donald Trump described Africa and Haiti nations as “sh*t hole countries.” Our name puts us way ahead of everyone as the continent integrates into one common market through the AfCFTA. So brand Africa is our forte.
We have solid professionals with impeccable credentials working for us – all with post matric qualifications; vast marketing and communications experience; international relations and diplomacy. I, for one as the founder, I’m a Doctor of Business Administration candidate at the University of Northampton and my highest qualifications are an MSc in Global Marketing from the University of Liverpool and an MA in Dramatic Art from the University of the Witwatersrand. For twenty years I’ve worked in spaces in which I promoted South Africa as a destination for tourism and investment and also helped to open foreign market access opportunities for our “Made in South Africa” service and product brands. I have a fair experience in international relations having served as a Chief Director for Public Diplomacy (serving as the country’s spokesperson on all international engagements) and also as Consul-General to Milan, as mentioned earlier, primarily driving economic diplomacy in northern Italy – the economic hub of the country. The second senior person, the Editor of this news portal, has a Master of Art in Marketing Management degree, and like me, he’s a published author. So we are both touted by many as some of the foremost thought leaders on brand management.
Our other executive served as a councillor and MP for twenty years, ten years of which as a representative of the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa to the SADC International Relations portfolio, so he’s extensive networks in Southern Africa besides him having served as a Mayor of the City of Tshwane, makes him an asset to this group. I have spoken about our strategic partners who are endowed with impeccable credentials recently in this platforms.
Our allegiance is to our countries and the continent – yes, we’re unashamedly and uncompromisingly pan African – and although all of us are political activists, with anti-apartheid and anti-colonial struggle credentials, in our own right, our group of companies is politically non-partisan. Our mutual interest is economic growth and development in Africa. We’re committed to promoting trade and investment opportunities accruing from the operationalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
Our primary market is political administration – three spheres of government: local, provincial and national – and multilateral institutions such as SADC, African Union and the United Nations. So as you can’t talk about a nation brand without engaging the private sector and civil society institutions, we have extensive consultations with these institutions. I have alluded to these relationships previously.
Our value proposition evokes the rule of three effect: “Research. Innovate. Re/engineer”. We conduct proper research to ascertain all the mis/perceptions attached to a client’s brand. We then develop innovative ways to manage its reputation. Then we re/engineer your brand. We have recently won a once-off contract from the United Nations and the European Union to conduct and promote climate-smart agriculture among the emerging farmers; we’re consulting for the Gauteng Growth and Development Agency (GGDA) in establishing a CEO Forum for 15 CEOs of economic development agencies from 15 African countries (and we hope to increase this in the second phase); we’ve developed editorials on the AfCFTA for Standard Bank’s Africa Division; and, we have developed websites for a number of private sector companies and NGOs. We have published a few letters from our satisfied clients on our website commending us – including having contributed to the establishment of the Trade and Investment Directorate at Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).
We have just curated a book fair at the Constitution Hill, a task we carried out within 8 days by mobilising 22 book publishers to exhibit and sell books and 16 authors who participated in live discussions. All our activities are promoted on television, radio and social media platforms. Every week i have thr honour of being featured on the SABC’s Thobela FM to unpack a specific subject on Africa. Now we’re supporting our strategic partner in developing a marketing strategy for Magalies Water – one of South Africa’s water boards.
Our brand archetype? “Crazy”, as Steve Jobs said. “Mad” as Thomas Sankara mused. “Disobedient” as Nawal el Saadawi poeticised. “Rebel talent” as the Havard Business Review (HBR) described our kind. Because all these brand character traits they’ve spoken about, “drive the human race forward” (Jobs); they drive innovation (HBR); because “we are where we are because of the madmen of yesterday” (Sankara). We are trailblazers. We’re the foremost thought leaders on competitive identity and public diplomacy. We are rebels who cherish our liberation. We’re free from the traditional hang ups. We break rules. As Africans, we don’t just celebrate what we used to be, but also what we have become. So we fully embrace the dialectics of culture.
We are humble. We don’t shout empty slogans. We aim to be Africa’s voice of reason. Our pay offline, “Research. Innovate. Re/engineer”, is our rallying call. This is our brand mantra.
What are our deliverables? We build websites. We develop advertising. We write and publish speeches/ stories/ articles/ opinion pieces/ books/ news portal. We project manage events. We develop marketing and communication strategies. We develop interventions to support the marginalised and empower them to participate in the mainstream economy. These are our functional products. Our commitment to rebranding Africa after centuries of colonialism should evoke emotional attachment to every African to our brand offerings and positioning.
See us as cosmopolitan, highly dynamic city dwellers as we don’t believe in the concept of underdeveloped “backward” Africa – we don’t believe in the “jungle of Africa” where Tarzan lives in the wilds side by side with animals. We strive to reclaim Africa’s original position as the cradle of civilisation, the cradle of humankind. Scientific evidence, silenced for years by the colonisers is there and they can’t dispute it or hide it any longer from our people. We walk the trail drawn by our forebears such as Cheik Anta Diop, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, Kwame Nkrumah and many other revolutionary luminaries who fought to restore Africa’s destiny.
Do join us on this journey. We believe in forging partnerships. Africa needs you and us working together.
Before I unleash my parting shot, let me share an example of brand inconsistency which I even believe borders on illegality as it doesn’t comply with the regulations prescribed by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) in South Africa. I was nursing a bout of flu during the course of this week and I sent my son to the nearby Norwood Pharmacy to buy me a medication that the resident pharmacist could recommend. I was shocked to see the branding of the medication they sold him. the labelling didn’t even include all the compulsory specifications they needed to put. Do rest assured that my last visit to the pharmacy was when I went to register my protest against what they sold my son, I will never do it ever again.
On a lighter, do enjoy your weekend. And we say to all our readers observing Ramadan: “Ramadan Mubarak.”
Publisher: Jambo Africa Online
Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Brandhill Africa (Pty) Ltd
Tel: +27 11 759 4297
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RESEARCH. INNOVATE. RE/ENGINEER
– a pan African competitive identity and public diplomacy agency decorated with the “Best Brand Award” at the World Brand Congress’ “Brand Leadership Awards 2021” –
A Strategic Partner to UNISA Enterprises (Pty) Ltd
A Strategic Partner to Enterprises UP (University of Pretoria)
A Strategic Partner to Proudly South African (Proudly SA)
A Supporting Partner to the African Agri Council (AAC)
A member of the World Free Zones Organisation (World FZO)
A member of the African Tourism Board (ATB) and World Tourism Network (WTN)