Building Great African Brands &
Global Brands in Africa

African Leaders Should Rebuild Africa's Brand
WITS Business School Journal, March 2009

The culprits of the African brand debacle are none other than African leaders themselves. This is what delegates attending the Wits Business School lecture on 'Evolving African leadership and its impact on brand Africa' by Thebe Ikalafeng heard last night, Thursday, 19 March 2009.

"Africa is globally corrupt and it is battling with the problem of perception. Africa is a brand that has been too long established on negatives. So we need to reshape its image," said Ikalafeng, founder of the Brand Leadership Group and recognised as one of the "Top 10 Thinkers in Marketing" in an independent Ipsos Markinor survey among business decision makers.

Despite being the world's second-largest and second-most populous continent after Asia and boasting vast natural resources that could make it the world's richest place, the majority of African people are poor, oppressed and powerless.

Many African rebel leaders, also known as 'freedom fighters', think that liberating the continent from the grips of European colonialists gives them the green light to subject it to practices of human rights violation, economic mismanagement, dictatorship and political tolerance and corruption.

So yesterday, Ikalafeng asked, "Do rebel leaders make good leaders? The continent is full of rebel leaders but can they make good leaders?"

Failed to get message across

Most of these rebel leaders have failed to get their message across and stick to the positions that they initially picked, Ikalafeng pointed out.

"A message must be at the heart of a brand. To get a message across, you must have a platform to broadcast it. A leader must [engineer] himself because things just don't happen by themselves. Before you get better, you must acknowledge who you really are," he stated.

"As a leader, you must ensure that the values that you are projecting reinforce each other as an individual and the position you are holding. Images and acts of our leaders tell an undesirable history."

Ikalafeng also lashed out at the African Union (AU) for its 'See no evil, hear no evil, hear no evil' philosophy, which encouraged several African leaders such as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe to oppress their people.

Who is to blame?

Many African leaders, including Mugabe, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, continue to blame the west for Africa's problems - something experts believe is a scapegoat to get their people's sympathy and divert attention from their misdeeds.

Others, such as Nigeria's Central Bank Governor Charles Soludo, blame the 'CNN effect' and western media for tarnishing the image of brand Africa.

But Ikalafeng said the truth is that African leaders did not have a story when they attempted to build brand Africa. "When you build a brand, you must have a story, understand it very well and project it unwaveringly if you are to leave a good and long-lasting legacy," he said.

"We can fix things"

"But we can fix things up,"he said optimistically. "We must start telling our own story and tell it positively. We must change the view about how others see our continent. So, we need our own Al-Jazeera to achieve that. There is always a positive story behind a negative story. If you don't tell your own story, others are going to tell it in their own way.

"Brand happens by design, not by default. Otherwise people will define it for you. Countries must begin to brand themselves and the continent, broadly.

"African leaders should rebuild Africa's brand and not pillage it, rape it and oppress it. Africans must begin to capitalise on the power of their brands," Ikalafeng said, citing MTN as a concrete example of brand power.

"Let's all say 'the continent must supersede the country', 'black is beautiful' and 'I must identify with Africa then I will have an identity'," Ikalafeng concluded, quoting from Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, South Africa's Steve Biko and Nigeria's Fela Kuti, respectively.

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African Leaders Should Rebuild Africa's Brand