Let me take you down memory lane a bit. In January 2005 I did what others thought was unthinkable: I quit my Chief Director: Marketing Communications job at the then Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) in Pretoria to take up a position as the General Manager: Provincial Communication Services in Limpopo’s Office of the Premier. I’m saying “unthinkable” because of two reasons: the dti was a national government department in Pretoria and, secondly, the norm was (and still is) that people migrated from rural provinces to urban ones and so I did the opposite. Limpopo has played a crucial role in grooming me into what I have become. I studied at the Umiversity of Limpopo (then the University of the North). As a student leader, I was detained for thirteen months under the State of Emergency and kept at the Polokwane and Mokopane police stations and the Polokwane prison in Limpopo before I was transferred to the Pretoria Central Prison where I spent four of the thirteen months. So many of the public officials in Limpopo were my comrades from the 1980s.

My mandate was to brand reposition the province from “Africa’s garden of Eden” to what I developed as “the heartland of southern Africa – (where) development is about people”. My argument was that Gauteng Province could lay a legitimate claim to being the garden of Eden as they are home to the Cradle of Humankind. Inspired by the legend of the 11th century southern African regional trade kingdom, Mapungubwe – whose offshoots later were Thulamela and the Great Zimbabwe – we used Simon Anholt’s Nation Brand Index (NBI) as our brand development framework. By the way, I’ve also used it when I was assessing the impact of Polokwane being one of the host cities of the 2010 FIFA World Cup on its brand as part of my post-graduate diploma at the IMM Graduate School of Marketing. Furthermore, I still used the theoretical framework in the dissertation for my MSc in Global Marketing on how a country’s nation brand impacts on investor decision making. There’s extensive published academic research work on nation brand.

*** Saul Molobi congratulating Simon Anholt on his presentation during the Nation Brand Forum convened by brand SA in November 2021 in Johannesburg. Anholt connected virtually ***

Anholt’s NBI has since developed into “an annual global survey which evaluates the international image and reputation of 60 nations across six dimensions of national competence (which are) Exports; Governance; Culture; People; Tourism; and, Immigration and Investment.”

We did relatively well in brand repositioning the province as per the variables outlined in the NBI. This included reconfiguring – and enhancing the artistic discipline in the visual elements of – the province’s coat of arms. By the way, our research also included discovering that the brown colour of the buffaloes in the province’s coat of arms was wrong as only black buffaloes are indigenous to Africa and the former to South America. One of our outcomes was advising ZZ2, the biggest tomato producer in Africa, to transform their exports from the province as produce (tomatoes) into products (tomatoes packaged and branded as ZZ2). We promoted the province as God’s geological gift to humanity as it is endowed with the biggest reserves of platinum and coal. Yes, the biggest Diamond producing mine is in this province. We reminded everyone that 75% of the Kruger National Park (KNP) fell under Limpopo and not the other province. We advised those developing tour packages to start in Mapungubwe, touch the Thulamela ruins within the KNP before driving through the Giroyondo border post (also within the KNP) to cross into Zimbabwe to visit the Great Zimbabwe ruins in the Masvingo district before traveling north west into Botswana to visit the Great Zimbabwe’s offshoot, Domboshaba ruins, to end their trip at the Musi-oa-Tunya (meaning “the smoke that thunders”, otherwise these are known as the Victoria Falls to the uninitiated) – either from the Zimbabwe side or cross the border into Zambia to enjoy the falls’ more pristine scenery. The same trip from Giriyondo border post has a choice of traveling further east, pass the Masingiri river, into Mozambique’s Xai Xai province to enjoy the virgin beach life and taking a boat to go experience the source of the Limpopo river – this is a testimony to the omnipotence of God as you see a stream of water oozing out of the womb of the Indian Ocean to become a river. This is the kind of experience you get at the Nile zero in Uganda as the river forms and flows out of Lake Victoria. I had the privilege of experiencing Limpopo zero in 2006; Nile zero in 2010; the Victoria Falls in 2006 from Bulawayo side and from the David Livingstone’s majestic side in 2011.

Through our brand management campaign in Limpopo, the province consistently recorded a geographic gross domestic product growth rate of 7.8% – it was dubbed South Africa’s fastest growing province then. I left the province in 1999 for my home province of Gauteng after spending three years at the then Trade and Investment Limpopo (TIL) – an investment promotion agency of the province.

The province is to this day still using the brand positioning statement, “the heartland of southern Africa”, which has gained even a much bigger traction today. The Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone (MMSEZ), in Musina on the border of South Africa and Zimbabwe, promises to reinforce it as it will be serving the entire SADC region and beyond. Medupi, the biggest power station in the region, was built in Limpopo to tackle South Africa’s energy woes – yes, southern Africa by extension as Eskom, South Africa’s power utility, provides electricity to some of the neighbouring countries.

Anholt has recently developed what he has dubbed the Good Country Index (GCI). This, like many other other indices such as Brand Finance’s “Soft Power Index” and the Mori Foundation’s “Global Power City Index”, is ingenious and commendable. But he has positioned it as his “Damascus” moment as “nation branding,” he claims, “is a myth!” He retraces his steps: “Back in the 1990s I proposed that countries (and cities and even towns and villages) had images just like the brand images of products and corporations, and that those images were equally crucial to their success,” he recently declared in his interview with the Chief Marketing Officers Council.

“But having coined the term ‘nation brand’,” he continued, “I then had to spend much of the next 20 years trying to explain that this was just a metaphor. While a strong national image is certainly essential to economic progress, you can’t build one with logos, slogans, advertising, or PR campaigns.” This is how reductionist he has become.

In responding to the question on “in what way does good Nation Branding foster economic, political and cultural engagement?” He responded: “Well, there’s really no such thing as ‘good Nation Branding’ because ‘branding’ doesn’t work for countries…”

He believes his Good Country Index, like he believed in the NBI then, is the silver bullet. “The basic purpose of the Good Country Index is to present people with good, well-organised, reliable data that enables them to conduct informed discussions about which countries are helping and which are hindering human progress.”

By the way, although I have since grown beyond the NBI to adopt the ICON model as a nation brand development framework, I’m disappointed in Anholt’s conclusion which comes across as a desperate attempt to promote the GCI as, truth be told, the nation brand space is now cluttered and highly competitive. Indeed, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. I’m also against this apparent scorched earth policy or the biblical Samson syndrome as a tactic to introduce the GCI into the market.

Yes, we do recall how this same Anholt kind of rough-tackled Naomi Klein, the world-renowned anti-branding specialist, who was quoted by the Economist in 2001 arguing the concept of a “nation brand” was an academic faux pas. She also warned of the emergence of “a fascist state where we all salute the logo and have little opportunity for criticism because our newspapers, television stations, internet servers, streets and retail spaces are all controlled by multinational corporate interests”. Anholt responded in 2002 to her vitriol by retorting that since the publication of The Hidden Persuaders in 1957 by Vance Packard, “the population has always been ready to believe that there is something innately corrupt or even sinister about an industry that panders so effectively to people’s vanity, aspirations and simple desire to better themselves. Somehow, when these fiendish tricks are applied to something as sacred as the nation state, insults are heaped on the head of brands, marketers and policy makers alike with references to terms such as ‘spin’, ‘gloss’ and ‘lies’. In my own work, helping to improve the prospects of emerging markets through better branding of the country and its products, I am often accused of ‘rewriting history’, ‘social engineering’, ‘exploitation’, “condescension”, ‘neo-imperialism’ and ‘worse’.”

The construct of nation brand can’t be reduced only to the visual representations of a country, it is more complex and multidimensional as it involves multiple stakeholders and “the infinite range of brand touchpoints”, to borrow Dinnie’s coinage. Pieter van Ham, paraphrased by Dinnie, has asserted that “the unbranded state has a difficult time attracting economic and political attention, and that image and reputation are becoming essential parts of the state’s strategic equity.”

My current research on brand Africa attempts to develop the Pan African Global Investor and Consumer Attractiveness Index (PAGICAI). This aims to deepen knowledge from my research specialisation on how a country’s nation brand impacts on investor and consumer decision making. Fortunately, the investor component of my research, as alluded to previously on this platform, builds on the forty variables that I identified and got investors to measure their significance or relevance in their decision making. So the consumer section of my research will measure the variables constituting the country-of-origin (COO) effect.

These two will help us define our aspirations of the “Africa we want” (my emphasis on we) as ventilated by the African Union in the ”Agenda 2063” policy document. But most significantly for me, the feedback from the foreign markets will help us map out “the Africa they want”. Africa is a citizen of the global village and globalisation is a reality that dictates to the socioeconomic choices we make.

Yes, “the Africa we want” speaks to our identity as a continent – that is, our essence which denotes what we truly are. It’s about our internal assets and resources that define who we really are, should be or aspire to be. But on the other hand, “the Africa they want” communicates the image that the foreign markets have of us. These are the perceptions they have about us. So brand Africa identity originates internally from the continent itself and brand Africa image is derived externally and it speaks to consumer perceptions of the continent.

And if there is a gap between our “identity” and the “image” which is a negative factor, then we have to mobilise our nation brand arsenals to endeavour to close this gap.

The science of marketing teaches us that brand management’s responsibility is to ensure alignment and harmony across these two critical variables plus culture. Identity speaks to the vision or aspirations that the country harbours. So brand management is about narrowing the gap between the vision communicated by the country’s leadership and the cultural practice which is exhibited by everyone in that country. The starting point is does everyone “live the brand”? To arrive at the correct conclusion, one has to ask such questions as:
• Does the country practice the values it promotes?
• Does the country’s vision inspire all its subcultures?
• Are the country’s vision and culture differentiated from those of the other countries?
The second gap is between the country’s vision and the image which is constructed in the minds of stakeholders – domestic and foreign – arising from their perceptions of the country. This is where external marketing intervenes. Questions to ponder are:
• How does the country define its stakeholders?
• What are the stakeholders’ expectations?
• Is the country effectively communicating its vision to the stakeholders?
Then the last is the culture and image gap which speaks to how the citizenry represent the brand to the stakeholders. The answers to be developed should address these questions:
• What images do stakeholders associate with the country?
• In what way do the citizens and stakeholders interact?
• Do the citizens care about what the stakeholders think of the country?
Keith Dinnie puts it matter-of-factly: “It is a prime objective of nation branding to identify such prejudices and negative perceptions and provide nations with the means to challenge the negative forces that might otherwise hold back the nation’s economic development and standing in the world.”

We can’t underestimate and ignore the power of consumer perceptions. Eugene Jaffe and Israel D. Nebenzahl posit these are “the impact that generalizations and perceptions about a country have on a person’s evaluation of the country’s products and/or brands’.” This means these mis/perceptions impact on our non/consumption of our service and product brands. And as Thebe Ikalafeng’s annual brand Africa survey, “The Top 100 Most Admired Brands in Africa”, shows, this even speaks to domestic consumers as we see Africans cavorting more with foreign brands than with local ones – now at the ratio of 1 to 10.

So it is highly critical to consider the country-of-origin effect. Do remember that brand management’s battlefield is in the mind. So we have to brand position our offering and image, to borrow from Phillip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller, “to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market”. This we have to do by carving an effective differentiation strategy which will present our brands’ points of difference as “relevant, distinctive and believable”.

This will then give us comfort that we are enhancing brand Africa’s equity. The sources of brand equity are, according to Dinnie, “the tangible and intangible, internal and external assets (or liabilities) of the nation.” He conceptuslises internal assets as “innate (iconography, landscape, culture) or nurtured (internal buy-in, support for the arts)” and external assets as “vicarious (country image perceptions, external portrayal in popular culture) or disseminated (brand ambassadors, the diaspora, branded exports).” The author argues that this perspective on nation brand equity is asset-based. For me, in a nutshell, brand equity speaks to brand awareness, perceived quality, brand affinity/trust (that Ravi Pappu refers to as “associations”) and brand loyalty.”

The notion of “the Africa we want” could be perceived as self-focused so we need to embrace, as per Dinnie’s description, “the possibility of co-creation of nation brand meaning” by incorporating consumer perspectives – domestic and foreign – through “the Africa they want” counterbalance.

Although Africa has 55 countries, externally it is perceived as one country hence this inspired Margy Burns Knight to write a children’s book aptly titled “Africa is not a country” which was then followed by Dipo Faloyin’s adult reader with the same title. This negative stereotype of Africa as a dark continent has been inculcated by British novelist Joseph Conrad in his book, “Heart of Darkness”. Recently, the then President of the United States, Donald Trump, referred to Africa and Haiti nations as “s…t hole” countries further trying to destroy our nation brand equity. Anholt (2007) has posited that brand Africa is indeed under siege. He asserts that people have over centuries confirmed that “made in” is as poignant as a “made by…” “While France is identified with chic, Sweden with design, the UK with class; Germany with precise engineering; Africa is identified with disease, famine and terror.”

This was further amplified by Anver Versi, editor of African Business magazine, who in the 2009 report indicated that the images of conflicts and dictatorships, poverty and charity cases waiting for salvation from outside the continent framed perceptions about the continent. The article went further to correctly argue that member states of the African Union needed to develop sustainable new positive identities.

So our brand Africa architects have to draw from scholarships of such intellectual luminaries as Cheik Anta Diop who wrote on the African origin of civilisation and the sharp-witted Binyavanga Wainaina who dissected the clichés and preconceptions about Africa that dominate Western thought.

The Chairman of Corporate Edge consultancy, Creenagh Lodge, defined brand definition and strategy exercise as “the identification of competitive positioning and a collectivised reason to buy across an economic spectrum comprising inward investment, culture, education, tourism and the export of produce and products.”

As a continent we have to learn from South Korea that developed five strategies on internationalising their brand names; strengthening their corporate brand management competence; enhancing digital brand marketing; expanding the infrastructure for brand marketing; and, raising their nation’s image among the foreign publics.

I’m not advocating for brand homogeneity across the 55 countries on the continent. Furthermore, our cultural diversity will be “embraced, celebrated and treated as an asset rather than as a liability,” as Dinnie advices. I’m not yearning for brand consistency but rather for what John Grant imaginatively referred to as brand coherence “The way to manage brands is coherence, not consistency. Consistency is the idea that you need to make your marketing all look the same. But the most interesting brands, like people, are authentic (true to themselves) and can afford to be freer in their range of activities.”

I have argued before in this news portal that we have to affirm our post-modernist African look which appreciates the dynamism of our culture as it has intimately engaged with, and imbibed, the best from other world’s cultures to nourish itself. We have to, as fully-fleshed members of the global community, transcend our ethnic lines by celebrating “what we have become”, as Stuart Hall muses. Vipin Gupta argued this is an expression of a superior “transvergent” culture – a synthesis, as students of dialectics will argue – that has resulted from a symbiosis of cultures expressed, in our case, through an African idiom.

I’m therefore calling for the modular approach which has been described “as building a complex product from smaller subsystems that can be designed independently yet function together as a whole,” to borrow from Carliss Y. Baldwin and Kim B. Clark. This means that when the African Union is utilising the technique of modularity, each different country will take responsibility for each of the modules or subsystems in the knowledge that their collective efforts will be integrated into the overarching continental brand Africa which will create value for all stakeholders. “By adopting a modularity approach, nation brands may be able to liberate themselves from the straitjacket of consistent but bland, indistinct positioning and communications,” says Dinnie.

Yes, I fully concur with Michael E. Porter – in his seminal work, “The Competitive Advantage of Nations” – that it is significant to maintain nations and their character even in the age of globalisation – or continentalism if I have to add. For me, the Marxist principle of “unity and struggle of the opposites” has to be the umbilical cord that tie the 55 AU member states into a coherent whole.

My group, Brandhill Africa, has been tacitly endorsed by the Secretariat of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) when the Secretary-General, H.E. Wamkele Mene, addressed our Africa Day webinar on 6 May 2022 thus lending us legitimacy to marshal the central coordination for the groundbreaking and most effective continental brand-building. This will piggyback on the current Africa IPA CEO Forum we’re establishing – supported by the Gauteng Growth and Development Agency (GGDA) – which is a structured mechanism for engagements between the CEOs of investment promotion agencies in African countries.

Our leaders across all sectors of our society – public, private and civil society – have to recognise their responsibility as brand managers of our nations and continent beyond party political divide. They have to know that what they say or do de/construct our nation brands.

Let me share with you some good news from this week. I’ve just been appointed into the Board of the Lagos-headquartered Pan African Strategic and Policy Research Group. The objectives of this not-for-profit think tank – headed by the Executive Secretary: Ishola Williams, Major-General (rtd) – are listed as follows:

• To study the process of continental and global strategic developments and their impact on problems of human security, disarmament, conflict prevention and management in Africa and to propose policy options.
• To promote good governance in Africa through research, studies, election monitoring and advocacy.
• To study the process of continental and global strategic developments and their impact on problems of human security, disarmament, conflict prevention and management in Africa and to propose policy options.
• To become an African Conflict Prevention and Transformation Centre of Excellence.
• To analyze issues that impact on policy formulation and decision-making at national, sub-regional and regional levels and suggest innovative alternatives.

I hope to do my best to support this initiative in achieving its noble ideals.

Before closing off, let me once again express how grateful I am to Nigeria’s News Central television channel for hosting me in unpacking the intricacies and challenges of what the mainstream media has dubbed the “dollargate” that has broken in South Africa and has drafted Namibia into the mix too. My contribution was on how this impacted on brand South Africa. On a positive note, let me also thank the SABC’s Thobela FM to grant me the opportunity to celebrate brand Tanzania in emerging as a darling of the international investor community.

We wish all our Nigerian readers a Happy Democracy Day on Sunday. We also wish you all a blessed weekend to all.

Saul Molobi (FCIM)

Publisher: Jambo Africa Online
Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer: Brandhill Africa (Pty) Ltd

Tel: +27 11 759 4297
Mobile: +27 83 635 7773
eMail: saul.molobi@brandhillafrica.com
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