National branding or building the global perception of countries is quickly gaining popularity and one of the pioneers in this field of branding is Simon Anholt a British government advisor who specializes in this field. This trend led to GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media and Simon Anholt coming up with an index that measures global perception of countries on several spheres and it is known as the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index (NBI).Some of the parameters used in ranking countries on the index include how people both local citizens and foreigners view the country, its governance record ,a country’s quality of goods and services globally, the level of interest tourists have in visiting the country, its cultural heritage be it in the arts,music,film,sports or literature and its ability to attract investment and immigration appeal to foreigners.
Looking at the rankings over the years, there are very few countries from Africa that have made it on the list, so far only Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa have featured in the top 50 rankings and none of them have been on the top 10 or 20.Most of the countries on that list are from the more developed countries, though rankings have differed depending on the classification used. In last year’s ranking Japan topped in the exports category while Australia topped in natural beauty. Just like 2009 America remained the most admired country globally, with Germany, France, United Kingdom and Japan following closely in that order among the top 5.
It is in following with this global trend to stand out globally, as a country that can be reckoned with in an increasingly competitive market for tourism and investment that Kenya launched Brand Kenya. The state corporation was launched and tasked with the responsibility of identifying and refining key attributes about Kenya that contribute positively to the image and reputation of the nation.
Localizing Kenya the Brand
So far the Brand has been focusing mainly on the sports arena and they have been organizing exhibitions to promote Kenya’s image abroad at various athletic meets, most recently being the Boston Marathon that was held in April. While this is commendable seeing that Kenya is renowned for its sporting prowess, it is time they approached the whole branding idea differently if we are to make strides both locally and internationally.
Anholt in his book Brand New Justice says “the image of a country determines the way the world sees it and treats it”.Further on, along the same page he says “while the image may not be at all justified, fair or even true as it may be based on prejudice, misunderstandings, differences in culture and half forgotten events from history, it does need looking after just like any reputation. It is as important for countries to be properly and fairly understood as it is to ensure that the world gets the right message about it.” (Anholt, 109).
He says that reputation is something to be guarded by countries jealously, because perceptions are based on that. It does not matter whether the perceptions are based on half baked truths, lies or plain ignorance .It is important that countries to protect their reputations by ensuring that they put their best foot forwards in all areas.
Kenya in its quest to be a recognizable brand needs to project an image in all its dealings with its citizens or foreigners in a manner that can be easily understood by all . It needs to ensure it send out the message about its brand in a simple, clear and as concise a manner as possible. This should be in everything it does such that the brand itself because a way of life that can be transmitted from generation to generation and that is clearly visible to any visitor to the country by the way we live our lives, or conduct our businesses and the way the government is ran.
It is safe to assume that building a national brand is more than touting it as a tourist attraction, building a brand is a comprehensive affair that covers everything from the way a country is governed to the type of films we make about our country. While Kenya is not fairing too badly in terms of its brand we still have a long way to go before we can play in the big league of the countries that dominate the top 50 slots in the NBI ranking.
In charting the way forward for the Brand that is Kenya we first of all have to have government support for the project, everything the country does form the statements their Ambassadors in its foreign missions spew to the press to the way we treat our athletes should shore up our brand equity. It needs to be first of all become a national brand before it becomes an international brand, its people need to believe in it before we can sell it to the rest of the world. Our equity as a brand is the only guarantee that tourists, investors or local citizens have that they are going to get the best the country has to offer, it means unparalleled quality in whatever it is that makes us who we are as a nation.Therefore it only makes sense that we should have systems and policies in place that protect the interests and rights of interested parties. We need to ensure our justice system is trusted; our police are respected and trusted by all to be upholders and protectors of the law. In addition, our politicians need to be people of integrity and who put national interest before personal interests.
For the 40 million people from diverse ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds who reside here, the country should be a home. A home is a place where we know we are loved in spite and despite our differing opinions and views on political, social and religious matters. It should not be a place where people are shunned because of their color, or their tribe or their sexual orientation.
One of the biggest exports Kenya has in the world market are our athletes, these men and women who bring so much fame and glory to our country are hardly recognized at home. Yet go any city be it New York,London,Milan and someone will instantly recognize Paul Tergat,Catherine Ndereba or Tegla Lorupe.Our athletes are so admired that countries like Qatar an d Bahrain have been known to buy out our athletes nationalities just so they can have one of these Kenyan runners flying their country’s flags. We need to celebrate these men and women who have made our country a brand to be reckoned with in long distance races, a marathon that does not have a Kenyan runner is to say the least bland and lacks the sparkle our athletes bring to these events.
For the longest time Kenya has ridden on the “Magical Kenya” theme to market the country’s appeal as a tourists dream location. The country has some of the best scenery, wildlife and climate this side of the equator, it is unrivalled in these parts but for far too long we have concentrated too much focus on our beach theme. We have forgotten that Kenya has famously featured as being the cradle of mankind and among the collection held by the National Museums of Kenya is a human fossil knows as Turkana boy that is said to be 1.6 million years old that was found along the shores of Lake Turkana.Other archeological sites include Olorgesailie, Koobi Fora among others that offer interesting and unique insights into prehistoric man.
Among the most recognizable cultural Symbols of Kenya are the Maasai, whose settlements straddle both the Tanzanian and Kenyan borders though they have evolved to be more of a Kenyan symbol. This community of warriors’ is renowned for their brevity in the face of danger, their men are held in so much awe partly because among the requirement for young men entering adulthood was for one to kill a lion. In the days before these kings of the jungle became endangered they were hunting sport for the Maasai morans.Kenya however has 42 other ethnic groups and it is time we celebrated these diversity in the way we brand the country.
In this growing battle to stand out, countries want to attract investors to spur economic growth or it may be to increase their human resource power by attracting the best minds. None has done better than America in this regard through their diversity lottery program where they attract thousands of immigrants to the US. It can be said that US growth has been fuelled by immigrants and they are the perfect case study as to how investment and immigration have produced one of the world’s largest economy. Kenya needs to borrow some lessons from there such that our policies especially those that focus on immigration and investment are attractive.
In conclusion Brand Kenya is a project that will not show any immediate gains in the future, right now the focus should be to provide an environment where first of all Kenyans’ feel proud to be Kenyan, our governance system has to be right, our politicking needs to be of the right kind, we need to provide an enabling environment for businesses and private enterprises to grow, where Kenyans from all walks of life and backgrounds feel they belong and where our rights as human beings are upheld and respected. Brand Kenya is not the work of the Brand Kenya team alone it is the responsibility of every Kenyan from the chief executive sitting in his corner office to the coffee farmer in the highlands, it belongs to everyone.
For Brand Kenya to make the national brand project a success it needs and must involve the civil servant working in the government office, to the taxi driver picking up his passengers at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport. It needs to be so imbued in the national psyche it should become as normal as breathing air. It should be seen in the athlete winning the marathon in London to the Kenyan writer nominated for the Pulitzer, it should flow from the pores of our Nobel laureate and should be heard from the mouths of the Kenyan Mp on parliamentary business in the UK, only then will we know what Brand Kenya is.