- Rebranding the African continent
Way back before Ghana’s independence in March 1957, Kwame Nkrumah knew that – just as in competitive business – a classic way of gaining an upbeat political and respectable position was by deploying and defending a brand.
Accordingly, the Osagyefo rebranded the Gold Coast with a new name, Ghana. The proud new nation sported a new logo – the national flag with the bright colours of red, yellow and green, with a majestic black star radiating at its core.
The brand sported a tag line: Freedom and Justice. For good measure, on the international seas, Nkrumah had initiated the Black Star Shipping Line to explore wider horizons. With foresight he established Ghana Airways to lift high the flag of Ghana across the skies.
There was a method behind Nkrumah’s prescience. Sourcing the historical essence from the likes of Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Rev Martin Luther King – Jr, New York firebrand Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, and such pathfinders, Nkrumah knew that the Ghana brand was to herald the total liberation of the black race.
The Ghana brand stood for more than just one small country. In sync with Nkrumah’s personal charm, prestige, and confidence the world considered the great possibilities ahead for Africa. The independence struggles within the continent itself became an emotion and an experience. In promoting the African personality, Nkrumah’s clarion call that was to inspire the blues singer, James Brown’s revolutionary lyrics, “Say it loud, I’m black and proud”.
The success of the Ghana brand was so great that it used to be said, in those days, that when any black person met a Ghanaian for the first time, the introductory remark was simply this: “You are lucky”.
Akon on rebranding
In a recent post, the Senegalese singer, record producer and entrepreneur noted that this world is all about branding and marketing. He said, “The number one brander in the universe is the United States. They make United States seem like it’s the best place in the world to be. It’s the land of the free; home of the brave; I go there to find and chase my dreams.”
Relating to Africa, Akon noted, “We have to be able to tell our own stories as directors, film makers, and entertainers … and the press – it’s going to be your job to redefine how people think about Africa because you’re here. You see what’s going on. You clearly can see in a vivid picture the good, the bad and ugly. What you choose to put out there is what the world is going to get.”
He said, “I can tell you right now in Chicago alone, there’re more people dying in Chicago than in the war in Iraq, but you’d never see that there’s a lot happening in the U.S. That you would never see because they choose to show you what they want you to see. And it’s about country’s integrity. You have a certain reputation you have to keep; no one puts their family business out into the street.”
Akon noted that one of the problems we have in Africa is that “when something happens the press is quick to put out negative energy and quick to put out a negative story and then that story goes onto internet and other broadcasting systems take it and they post it.”
He said when you look at places like Kenya, for instance, the two terrorist attacks were broadcast everywhere so now people were afraid to go to Kenya because somebody got shot at the mall. But, he said, “when you look on-line, there were over 25,000 attacks in the US but you only knew about maybe five or six so we have to really rebrand.”
How the world sees Africa
Akon noted that “when you look at how the world perceives Africa, they’re right! you know you see zebras, lions, tigers, bears … oh my! You get to the point where you think Africa is a big jungle. The images they’re showing of Africa are historical images … battling with spears like the times of Shaka Zulu. But then when you look at the US, they’re showing Superman, Batman, you know. Where is our Superman? Shaka Zulu should be a superhero today.”
For Akon, “we have to tell our own stories. I mean even Jesus is white, and you believe it? But it’s okay because of how you were framed: if you were taught something from the day you were born, and your mother taught you that; your father taught you that it’s real. You never look at your mom and your dad as liars, but their mother and father talking the same thing because that’s the kind of history that’s put out for them to believe.”
He noted that “Our history books in the U.S is all white American history and culture that’s been borrowed from other nations, but Africa has to teach the same history of our ancestors, the great things that they have accomplished: and it’s going to be the jobs of directors, filmmakers to narrate that story.”
He asked, “How do we want to be perceived and how do we want that story to be narrated to the rest of the world? This younger generation we kind of figured it out because now when you look at hip-hop in America every rapper is rich with gold chains, Bentleys, nice girls by the pool with bathing suits in big mansions and then when the video is over, they get on a phone and call the Uber.
“They don’t even come in the Bentley that you just saw in the TV, but you go to Nigeria, we got Whiz Kid, Davido, and P-Squared – all these guys driving a Bentley, Mercedes and they actually own those cars. That’s the difference, but if we don’t translate that they would never know. They think we’re going to leave the shoot and go home on a horse or zebra because that’s what they know.”
He observed that “This is why African Americans are so afraid of Africa. You mention Africa, they start shaking: there’s so much fear and they don’t know how to translate that [but] the younger generation is slowly understanding how you have to rebrand the culture because the culture has adapted. They actually took everything that we’ve created and made it look better.”