The World Cup has given us a chance we must seize to change the way the world sees Africa, says Frances Mensah Williams
I have never been more proud to be a Ghanaian than over recent weeks. Not only did we take the lead in Africa, gaining our freedom as a country from our former colonial rulers in 1957, and produce luminaries along the way ranging from Kwame Nkrumah to Kofi Annan; we have just shown the world what having heart really means.
Despite the loss by the Ghanaian team in the World Cup quarter finals, we saw a team that epitomised the meaning of the word. A team that displayed spirit and courage and treated jubilation, loss and heartbreak with equal dignity.
I have frequently been reminded of the film ‘I Spartacus’ during these past weeks and, in particular, of the scene in which each slave slowly rises up to declare solidarity with the hunted gladiator, shouting ‘I am Spartacus’. In the days leading up to the quarter final match, everyone – irrespective of their national origin - seemed to be standing up and declaring ‘I am Ghanaian’.
And it wasn’t only about our external brand and what those outside Africa thought of us; it was also about unity between Africans. It was when South Africans cheered for ‘BaGhana BaGhana’, adopting us to succeed where Bafana Bafana had not been able to. And it was when my Nigerian friends cried at Ghana’s loss, that I knew that something had changed forever.
Now much as I would like to bask in the reflected glory of our national heroes, the Black Stars’ achievement, much like the liberation of Ghana more than 50 years ago, means nothing if it does not serve the interests of Africa as a whole. So we need to use this historic feat to do something more than reminisce; we need to use it as the inspiration for a new picture of Africa.
We must seize today, urgently, as the time to reshape Africa’s brand. We have the chance today to leverage the goodwill that exists for Ghana and to translate that into goodwill for the whole continent. For me, being a proud Ghanaian is not enough; it has to offer an opportunity to also be a proud African.
This is the branding opportunity of a generation and, for those who may think this is about sentiment, the harsh reality is that branding is about business. We spend money on brands that we think offer something distinctive; whether it is about quality, reputation, price or reliability. Branding brings perception, experience and reputation together in influencing our behaviour.
We need to work actively on building on the change of perception that this World Cup has brought about for many millions of people.
In her blog in the Huffington Post in July, American international development worker Shari Cohen epitomised what this football tournament has been able to do; provide an opportunity for people to cast away their prejudices and preconceptions and to see things with different eyes.
“To say that I have been blown away at the hospitality South Africa has shown the rest of the world would be an understatement,” Cohen wrote. “South Africans are drinking deeply from the cup of humanity that has been brought to their doorstep. I would never imagine that an American World Cup or Olympics would ever be this welcoming to the rest of the world. And that saddens me for the state of my home country, but it also makes me feel the pride of the South African people.”
Having taken the time to really talk to the South Africans as well as the other Africans she encountered, and to learn about the guiding principles of our cultures, Cohen’s perceptions have been transformed.
“When I think of Ubuntu and my recent experiences here,” she wrote, “I think America has much to learn from Africa in general, in terms of living as a larger village; and as human beings who are all interconnected with each other, each of us having an affect on our brothers and sisters. As the 2010 World Cup slogan goes, “Feel it. It is here.” Well, I have felt it, because I am here. Thank you South Africa, for giving me this unexpected gift. I am humbled.”
Rebranding Africa does not mean avoiding or covering up the many difficulties and challenges African countries face today; indeed, while ours may be of a different nature, challenges are not unique to sub-Saharan Africa, as countries such as Greece, the USA and the UK will attest.
Branding is Business
Rebranding Africa means that we need to create a framework for the continent and its people that enables us to capture each individual hero or heroine, each national success, and each regional achievement as part of an overarching narrative about the continent, and not just a series of isolated successes.
Every successful conference and every major business deal needs to be used to shed more light on each of our diverse and distinct countries and economies and, in so doing, add detail, shade and nuance to what is all too often a one dimensional picture of a continent without hope.
How Africa’s various countries are seen will influence whoever wants to invest in a country or indeed across the continent, do business or even live there. In his speech on the night of Ghana’s independence in March 1957, Kwame Nkrumah said: “You are to stand firm behind us so that we can prove to the world that when the African is given a chance he can show the world that he is somebody! We have awakened. We will not sleep anymore.”
Just as Ghana’s Black Stars faced challenges and doubters, so does Africa today. It’s time to show that we, as a continent of sovereign nations, can take on all comers, including the world’s superpowers. By acting as a team and by ensuring that we avoid own goals and other self-destructive behaviour, we can show the world who we are and change the brand of and the narrative about Africa once and for all.
Ms. Frances Williams is the Chief Executive of Interims for Development, a Human Resources and Training consultancy and Editor of ReConnect Africa.com (www.reconnectafrica.com) an online careers and jobs publication for African professionals around the world.