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Opinions of Friday, 26 March 2010

Columnist: Alagbo, Mathias

RE: Atta Mills: What Are Re-branding?

Kindly permit me a space to react to the article titled- Atta Mills: What are Re-Branding? As published on your website Ghanaweb.com on Tuesday, 16 March 2010.

In the said article, the author Mr. Prah , instead of displaying candor and intelligence in his writing to promote a proper challenging discourse, sounded more like a mischievous politician whose only interest is to paint black and create panic, confusion, lack of trust and render as in his words, disastrous and chaotic, The ‘Brand Ghana Office’ project instituted by His Excellency President John Evans Atta Mills.

For the sake of public interest and to cure the author of his gross ignorance as far as Country Branding and its benefits are concerned, I decided to share some light on what exactly Country branding is and also answer some of his grievances raised.

Mr. Prah argued and I quote ‘’what is he re-branding? It is not that Ghana does not have a good name. The visit by Barrack Obama, President of the United States of America to Ghana demonstrates amply that indeed Ghana does not need any re-branding. We have, or had a good international reputation, and all that we needed to do was continue with the quiet but effective steps previous leaders were taking to create a good image for this country.”

If Mr. Prah thought that a mere visit by President Obama of the US is enough proof that our country has achieved enough international credibility and goodwill as a democracy and a favourable investment destination then God help us because only an analogue minded individual in a 21st century digital age will arrive at this narrow and myopic conclusion.

It has to be noted that the President is not Re-branding Ghana as he alleged out of pure mischief because Ghana as a country is not a commercial product whose look can be altered or improved upon which is known as re-branding. The ultimate goal for Branding a developing Country like Ghana is to stimulate economic, social and psychological wellbeing for its citizenry through the development and implementation of a proactive and integrated national and international strategy. Even the United States with her high standing in the international arena as far as tourism, migration, trade and international diplomacy is concerned still spend lots of money improving its image abroad and compete for her fair share of the worlds tourists, investors and international allies.

South Africa, India and many other developing countries are actively engaging in Country branding business with tremendous benefits in terms of the feel and pride if their citizens, achievement of favourable image abroad and parenting local brands into commercial success.

Sitting down to do nothing but to disregard primary journalistic ethics to politicise and ridicule a noble project like Ghana Brand Office shows that this guy was writing from sick and confused imagination when put under a social psychological microscope. Since Mr. Prah choose to confuse branding with re-branding, it’s important to understand country branding which to experts is a nation’s identity that has been proactively distilled, interpreted, internalized and projected for international recognition and to construct a favourable national image. In this vain, Mr. Prah should be aware that country Branding is not just about ‘’good image’’ determined by a foreign Presidents visit which he seeks to project as the case.

A nation’s identity defines its true self, values of her people, essence and character driven by a vision thus different from others and resistant to change. It is a call to duty of every citizen coming together willingly to tell the world same powerful, believable and interesting story about their country through a common communication channel.

Country branding is not in any way a positive spin or propaganda as he tried to paint it but rather involves the act of harmonizing all channels of national expression as varied as acts and policies of government, values and behaviours of the Citizenry, education, culture, sports, public health, taxation, public diplomacy, build and feel of settlements, promotion of export and investment and infrastructure development.

It becomes a framework to bring all Ghanaians including its diplomats, footballers, international icons such as Kofi Annan and every citizen from all walks of life in holism to be goodwill ambassadors of our nation happily espousing our achievements, greatness, hospitality, and business friendliness and to create strong local brands into commercial success.

Just as nobody goes on a therapy or medication unless diagnosed of a sickness so are Countries in the branding business too. Only nations with some kind of traditional position influence and reputation which they seek to change or improve of which Ghana is a prime example, goes into Branding. For instance we have a past history of instabilities and revolutions not discounting the negative image of our sub-region noted for its unimaginable corruption, civil strife, indiscipline, filthy cities, erosion of some cherished values, failed States, wars, famine, diseases which all feed into the international perceptions that we are all one and the same irrespective of the reality. In spite of our shortfalls, we have achieved substantial progress in areas of democracy, good governance, human and national security, economic growth, food security and our daily efforts to lift ourselves out of poverty are attractive and positive sides of our story that need to be told through country- branding with a clear, direct and coherent communication strategy.

Creating the impression as though Ghana Brand Office is duplicating the roles of State Institutions and Agencies in marketing Ghana is quite unfortunate, ridiculous and clearly demonstrated the author is at complete loss of the roles played by branding organizations.

Country-branding in the case of Ghana is the missing link between national mobilization and development and as such the integral role of Country -branding anywhere involves the creation of more harmony and coordination among stakeholders to tell the same powerful, believable and interesting story about their country with the aim to unite the nation under a common vision and shared values, nourishing confidence, pride, harmony, ambition and national resolve, to enhance nationhood and citizenship and not to endorse and perpetuate division, create discord and other vices of gangsterism and criminal behaviours against the state and people of Ghana. If the author is a true patriot and a concerned citizen of my Country hence decided to ridicule the branding project, then he should be asking himself why should countries such as South Korea and Malaysia whom we were at par with during independence have achieved so much in terms of development while we in Ghana stagnate as a nation and sadly see us retrogressing in our developmental efforts instead of our desired progressive development goals!!!.

The answers are pretty clear in that we have set grand targets for ourselves as a country with little or no road map to that destination. Vision 2000 came and went and now we have vision 2015 and in some quarters vision 2020 yet there is no clear cut programmes in place allowing for total citizens voluntary acceptance and participation in achieving those goals and it is no surprise that characters like Prah are on the sidelines just to criticise and destroy others’ dreams for this nation as a whole because they do not feel belonged and are brimming with selfish interest of who might take the credit when the dividends begin to pour in. We aim for a middle income status but our rate of economy growth remains stunted with GDP per capita as low as $450 while we continue to export our major commodities in its primary or raw form in line with the colonial legacy left behind 53 years ago.

Not only did we lack commercial brands with international marketing support but also our level of infrastructure development cannot support the needed foreign direct investment. Incomes from remittances still trickles in from abroad and tourism but too slow and too small to support any major economic push while at the same time not only are we too divided on partisan political and tribal lines for any radical national mobilization for development but also we keep suffering from the negative connotation of Africa as a continent because we are doing very little to positively differentiate ourselves from the larger African and our own past despite our tremendous achievements in the last two decades which warrants international attention and goodwill. As a Ghanaian, I feel so insulted, ashamed, and disturbed that one will choose to chastise and describe as treacherous the Mills government attempt to investigate the fraudulent sale of Ghana Telecom to Vodaphone as well as the dubious importation of Rice from India in clear violation of our laws and that of India which in part help drive Ghanaian rice farmers out of business. Brand Ghana Office has come at no other better time to address the concomitant obstacles on our path to national cohesion and development so we can attract the needed investment, tourism and exports, jobs and not short change the birth rights of Ghanaians such as selling national assets for peanuts and granting contracts based on ‘’compassion’’ to achieve false praise singing by foreign ‘friends’ and for other parochial gains.

I urge Mr. Prah and his cronies he sought to impress to adopt and support ‘Brand Ghana Office’ project because they will be emancipated mentally and morally through the brands citizenship development programmes which will consciously affect social regulation.

The fact that brand-Ghana understands that People’s active intellectual and emotional buy-in is critical in reducing Ghana’s negative scorecard such as crime and violence, corruption, unstable political environment, poor safety and security, poor labour productivity, poor public health and sanitation makes a laudable and compelling one. The above is crucial in ending the culture of impunity, political patronage, self-vested interests, greed and loyalties to political and economic godfathers and ethnicity which can only further divide our country and set us on the bloody path of attrition. Mr. Prah accused the President of manning the Ghana Brand Office with a little known PR man when the project has not even taken off yet!!! If you have the courage to cite Obama’s coming as the sole reason of Ghana as having a good image, then let me remind you of him telling us that Africans does not need ‘’strong men’’ but strong institutions. Ghana in this vain does not need to pay millions of dollars to well known lobbyists or PR groups to market us in the international corridors of power but strong institutions manned by competent and well qualified people operating outside the influences of politics.

We have waited for 44 years since the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah to have another visionary leader that seeks to unite Ghanaians by putting premium on our values and loyalty to God and Country through guidance and inspiration and what else can be so commendable than this.

A society can only succeed when its inhabitants can master the courage to condemn what is condemnable and embrace, support and encourage what is just. Anything short of this will only portray us as backward thinking people walking with our feet up and heads down so Mr Prah work up to your responsibilities for God and Country.

Rejoinder published by: Mathias Alagbo (kabrocky@yahoo.co.uk)