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Marketing Africa to the world

Andrew Harding | 14:44 UK time, Thursday, 16 September 2010

How do you market Africa to the world? Is there such a thing as Brand Africa? And if there is, does it help or hinder the continent?

In the aftermath of a successful football World Cup, South Africa has been hosting an interesting conference here in Johannesburg to explore ways to build on that positive image.

A few delicate sparks flew early on as a rift emerged between the business community - anxious to talk about Africa's "can-do spirit" and ways to focus on "aspirations" - and more sceptical voices arguing that the continent shouldn't be trying to airbrush away its problems.

Santhie Botha, chief marketing officer for the telecom giant MTN, muttered that she felt "like I want to slit my wrists" listening to Jay Naidoo railing against the Fifa "mafia", his country's "apathy" and other failures.

Unsurprisingly, South Africa seems to have done rather well - image-wise - from the World Cup, nosing ahead of Spain and Russia in a new survey of "brand strength". But tellingly, that same survey couldn't evaluate the rest of the continent due to a lack of data.

Dambisa Moyo picked up on that issue during her speech. The author of Dead Aid is still bemoaning the distorting effect of decades of foreign aid on the continent, and pointed out that only 16 countries in Africa had bothered to get credit ratings - leaving investors with "a bad smell" from countries that haven't.

Rwanda - where Ms Moyo says one "can get a business licence online in less than 30 minutes", as opposed to two years in some countries - proved to the rest of the continent that "it is possible".

Ms Moyo argued that Brand Africa was generally a negative thing, associated internationally with war, disease, corruption and poverty.

That might be unfair to more prosperous, better-run countries on the continent, and unjust given the fact that there are more poor people in both India and China that in all of Africa.

But in marketing terms, she argued, the whole of Africa was "tarred with the same brush... no country is an island".


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