- Text of speech delivered by Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, at the Verdant Zeal first Innovention Lecture Series on Thursday March 29, 2012 at the Civic Centre, Lagos.
I read of a story about a conference of top business executives, the head of a leading western telecommunication phone
company boasted about all the things the company could do, and the innovations it had in the pipeline. He went on for quite a long time, as he demonstrated the company’s range and depth and brilliance. His speech was met with enthusiastic applause. Then came the turn of the head of a similar Chinese company; undaunted, pointing to the western executive, he said, “We can do everything he can, for forty percent less. “ after that he sat down.
At the heart of that story is our topic today, Nigeria’s brand image and global competitiveness. Not too long ago, China, India, Brazil, Singapore, korea, Malaysia and many other country’s of the south were patronizingly called, Developing nations. Before then, they were underdeveloped nations. Everything happened in the West or the developed countries, and the world was the gospel according to them.
The United States, many thanks to its deliberate recovery plan of lease and lend, moved after the first world war from poverty and an unemployment rate of more than a quarter of its population to the richest and most powerful country in the world outdistancing Europe and everyone else and holding that title for more than half a century.
America’s lend and lease programme was President Franklin Roosevelt’s attempt to reconstruct the American economy. At the core of it was getting government to play a key role in leading the economy and directing its flow. The lend and lease act which President Roosevelt signed in 1941 allowed the United states to sell, exchange, lease or lend to America’s allies. This was as a prelude to the second world war. From 1941 to 1943, economists say American goods worth $50bn (equivalent of US$700bn in 2007) were shipped across the seas to its allies. Europe took a heavy burden of future debt repayments to the United States. Britain made its last loan repayment of $83.83 million on this programme in 2006.
The result of this was that America peaked economically after the war and while everyone else returned broke and battered, America though it lost its men, had not only secured its country’s present as no war was fought on its land but its future too because it had the money and the might and its products were everywhere. Silently, the Americanisation of the world had begun. With the “lend and lease programme,” manufacturing and production was up again, unemployment dropped to about one percent and the sluggish economy was revived.
America came out of the second world war hugely rich and in the 50’s began financing the rebuilding of Europe. As its military might and business enterprise grew, so did the American influence in every sphere, culture, music, the arts, and even social thinking. The final nail, if you like was the Peace Corps introduced in 1961. Through it America exported its youth and stamped its moral authority on the world.
I think that if you have followed my story, you may already have begun to see my thought pattern as far as the image of nation branding and global competitiveness goes.
Nation branding is a deliberate act. It is not happenstance and it is not ad hoc. Whereas events or conditions may act as catalysts in the process, nation branding is pragmatic, deliberate and beyond cosmetic. It is no flippant act to be heralded by fits and starts of pay off lines or tag lines. It is a combination of economy, military, politics and aculturalisation, and of deliberate socialization to drive change. Inherent in nation’s branding is competitiveness. The desire to out do the next nation and take the shine. At the heart of all of this is politics, money and power.
It is against this prism that I would take my discourse, reminding this audience that I am a politician who has been a student of literature, culture, politics and governance for much of my adult live and thus I may not be esoteric when it comes to branding as I reckon those of you who may be more inclined to its artistry and aesthetics may be. My hope is that by the end of our engagement, you would have taught me some of the finer details and aesthetics of branding and I would have shared some of my perhaps more crude thoughts on what I consider the first principles in nation branding and global competitiveness.
According to Amitai Etzioni, a U.S based Professor of Sociology, though there is no social-science or intellectual academy where the terminology “Nation Building” is clearly defined and its consistent use enforced, the term (Nation Building) is generally used to describe three different but related tasks:
1. Unification of disparate ethnic groups
2. Democratization (Improvement in Governance/Implementation of Rule of Law)
3. Economic reconstruction
“In a world of over six billion people living and nearly 191 independent states (and many other still fighting for their sovereignty) the challenge of building a nation’s wealth has become a critical business arena.
Approximately, 80 per cent of the world’s population lives in the third world, most of them in poverty. Problems such as low living standards, population growth, job shortage and poor infrastructures are plaguing nations worldwide.
The challenge of National Economic Development has gone beyond the limits of public policy. The new economic order has transformed economic development into a market challenge as well. Nations compete with other nations and strive to devise sources of competitive advantage. Thus today there are more reasons why nations must manage and control their branding. The need to attract tourists, factories, companies, and talented people and to find markets for their exports requires that countries adopt strategic marketing management tools and conscious branding.
In reality, a country’s brand image has direct bearing on its economy. Country-related intangible assets in many ways influence the market-shares of brands and their marketing effectiveness, which is why no subnational or even company can be rated above its sovereign. But this could also be vice versa. For instance, Japanese cars and Japan’s global ratings. Japan’s engagement in the small car segment of the market gradually gave it a lever and space above the bigger American and European car giants. Now even in the United States, Toyota is king- its tag line, good thinking, great product as yet unbeatable.
In the case of country image, affecting brand lets go back to my story at the start of this paper. China and Chinese products hardly could get a foot in the door of the more industralised west. But China built on its population and market size and began a deliberate industralisation programme. At first no one would buy Chinese goods as they were considered, third rate, cheap and certainly not cheerful. China was spoken about in derision until they began to use their labour to take the US market. With the crumbling of the iron curtain, China positioned itself as the place to do more for less. Today, China’s trade balances and reserves are far in excess of those of many of the western countries, and the United states in deep debt to China. Over and beyond that China is gradually inching into other countries, and is competing literally neck to neck with the United States for oil, trade partners and development aid. Its economic prowess being its lever.
India is another case in point. Its tagline, “Incredible India” says it all. From nowhere, as recently as 1980, India is the new software capital of the world. With its deliberate investment in the knowledge economy, India if it chooses can shut down the United States at the press of a button. Today India’s brand equity is unparalleled.
Leaving India lets come closer home to South Africa. First the release of Nelson Mandela and his subsequent win as President of the Rainbow nation began South Africa’s walk to a new image. The smooth transition and Mandela’s refusal to fit the mould of power-clinging African leaders helped define the country as one that didn’t also fit the African mould, yet the new South Africa grappled with economic questions and upheavals that were its brand eroders. At the back of the minds of the West, was “Can South Africa make it under black rule? Can its economy and industry, bequeathed to it under apartheid remain or even grow? Is South Africa capable? These question lingered until the hosting of the World Cup in 2010. The World cup became South Africa’s defining moment and with the successful hosting of that cup, brand South Africa moved from third rate to first rate. One analyst puts it succinctly “As fireworks lit up Soweto's Soccer City on 11th July, marking the end of Africa's first FIFA World Cup, there was a distinct shift in SA-based conversations. From originations that questioned whether the host country could pull it off to a focus on the mechanics that led to our success. ” South Africa had won the brand game.
One last example of another country would be our closest sister nation Ghana. It is amazing how Ghana continues to define West Africa for the world when it comes to nation branding. A key question I ask as a person in leadership in Nigeria is why Ghana? What are they doing that we are not doing? Is it all about the sales pitch or more about the content?
There is no doubt that Nigeria has much that it can sell and should sell, but examples of nation branding we have seen appear to me to begin with a productive economy. A brand must sell something. Our topic speaks of pragmatism. The image of a nation to the rest of the world is crucial. Simon Anholt examines the importance of competitive identity. Today, the world is one market. The rapid advance of globalisation means that every country, every city and every region must compete with each other for its share of the world’s consumers, tourists, investors, students, entrepreneurs, international sporting and cultural events, and for the attention and respect of the international media, of other governments, and the people of other countries.
Business decisions sadly are often made based on such flimsy matters as well worn clichés and only a marked difference in a country’s economic fortunes would jolt investors and tourists out of complacency. Everyone sees the world from the eyes of preconceived stereotypes even if we are not fully aware of this and do not always admit it to ourselves: Paris is about style, Japan about technology, Switzerland about wealth and precision, Rio de Janeiro about carnival and football, Tuscany about the good life, and most African nations about poverty, corruption, war, famine and disease. While one should not judge a book by its cover, yet these clichés and stereotypes – whether they are positive or negative, true or untrue – fundamentally affect behaviour towards places and their people and products. It may seem unfair, but there is nothing anybody can do to change this. It is very hard for a country to persuade people in other parts of the world to go beyond these simple images and start to understand the rich complexity that lies behind them. Some quite progressive countries do not get nearly as much attention, visitors, students, business or investment as they need because their reputation is weak or negative, while others are still trading on a good image that they acquired decades or even centuries ago, and today do relatively little to deserve.
So all responsible governments, on behalf of their people, their institutions and their companies, need to discover what the world’s perception of their country is, and to develop a strategy for managing it. It is a key part of their job to try to build a reputation that is fair, true, powerful, attractive, genuinely useful to their economic, political and social aims, and honestly reflects the spirit, the genius and the will of the people. This huge task has become one of the primary skills of governments in the twenty-first century.
However the place to start is in changing reality. After Nigeria’s 50th anniversary celebration lecture, one phrase kept playing in my mind. “change reality and image will follow.” And I believe this to be true. When we assumed office in 2007, Rivers state was a near pariah. The only arrows pointing to us were those of militancy, criminality and a deprived environment. It was not a happy situation and one was confronted with the reality of a need to change perception in order to attract investors. We were committed to a few key things, chief of which was poverty reduction and reflating the Rivers economy. To do this, we needed to change the mindset of our people but we also needed to empower them by arming them with the right education, good health and infrastructure to enable the economy become a productive one. Side by side our development and renewal programmes was also our rebranding project. As we tackled security and renewed the faith of our people in their government, it was critical also to give them the hope of a future encouraged by new investment and new opportunities. Getting the word out that our state was alive again, brimming with enourmous opportunities and possibilities, it was important we told our story in a manner to show that we were indeed ready and open for business.
Indeed we have good reason to make these assertions. We have made some modest gains as we wrestle with years of decay and neglect by successive adminsterations. Our investments in education, health, infrastructure, power and agriculture have begun to see some gradual results and while it is not yet Eldorado, we are determined that we will match our words with actions.
In conclusion ladies and gentlemen, there is no doubt that the Nigerian project is one that all of us, even the most pessimistic amongst us holds dear to their hearts. It may also be true that we haven’t exactly given a good report of ourselves in some times and some ways in the past, but it is also true that our nation is a work in progress and together we can work to ensure that we change the dynamics in deed and then in words. Let’s take another look at the changes in the United States, China and India. Something had to change first and then the image followed. While we as government will continue to do our duty by the electorate, the elite of the nation, most of whom are seated in this room, must also begin to think in terms of encouraging a productive economy and denying themselves a bit of the comfort they derive from our very pervasive rent culture. As I take my seat, I do hope I will be forgiven by this audience for deviating from “arts for arts sake” to simply providing us all with a mirror that will enable us reposition brand Nigeria.
I thank you all for listening and God bless you.