COUNTRIES, like consumer products, rely for their success on their reputations – their brand images.Â The perceptions of potential visitors, investors or buyers of products are key to their decision-making.Â
That is why there is now general recognition of the need to resuscitate and reposition the image of Zimbabwe in the eyes of the world.
The attendance at the World Economic Forum — Africa meeting, held in Cape Town from June 10 to 12, of a Zimbabwe government delegation together with a wide cross-section of prominent Zimbabwean business people was the first significant step in the process of repositioning the country’s image.
Government and business representatives attending the meeting were at one on the need to use it to kick-start the country’s return to its former status as having reliable and safe investment opportunities and being a world-class, and unique, tourist destination. Â
The World Economic Forum, based in Davos, Switzerland, is privately funded by its members who are, in the main, leaders of large multi-national businesses. Its annual meetings, in Davos, attract the great and the good from the world of big business and international politics.Â The informal meetings, or “networking”, of those attending are as equally important as the formal proceedings.
Africa, because of its geopolitical and resources importance, warrants its own annual meeting and many of those who attend the Davos get-together attend the Africa event.
From Zimbabwe’s point of view, the 2009 meeting could not have come at a better time.Â The new political dispensation, coupled with a start to reform and rejuvenation of the public and private sectors and the accepted need to improve the country’s image, meant that a powerful and positive message could be presented in Cape Town.
The thrust of “Team Zimbabwe” was to use the precious agenda slot in the formal proceedings, titled “The Reconstruction of Zimbabwe”, to best effect and also to take advantage of the opportunity to target corporate and political opinion leaders seen as crucial to Zimbabwe’s efforts to again be acknowledged as a country worth doing business with.
The country dinner, arranged for the opening night of the Forum, had to compete with the other dinners and corporate functions laid on by other countries and companies.Â In the end, demand for the 100 places available far exceeded supply and there were more than a few disappointed people.
The chosen format was, time for “networking” before and after, and the courses of the meal interspersed with presentations from Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, Finance minister Tendai Biti and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa.Â These added the political clout to the case put forward by the business representatives such as Shingi Munyeza from African Sun, Andrew Cranswick from African Consolidated Resources and Douglas Munatsi of Banc ABC. Under the direction of KMAL’s Nigel Chanakira as master of ceremonies for the evening, all speakers stressed the positive political changes achieved and the investment opportunities Zimbabwe offers.Â Notably, there was an obvious appreciation of the symbiotic relationship between business and economic success, and a powerful country brand image, and the need to progress this.
The country dinner was a success and stood out among all the others held during the forum.Â The Zimbabweans put on an event everyone can be proud of, being the right mix of serious, factual presentations and entertainment by internationally-acclaimed Oliver Mtukudzi. As a brand-building exercise and investment presentation, the evening was recognised as an important first step.
The formal agenda session on the closing day of the forum was entitled “The Reconstruction of Zimbabwe”.Â Â Mutambara spoke passionately about the importance of the removal of sanctions as a means to “help us help ourselves”.
Biti reported on progress made with the institutional reforms which are required to ensure Zimbabwe regains its institutional credibility and creates a stable investment environment. He also announced that the Zimbabwean economy would grow by more than 4% this year. Speaking on the same panel, Chanakira spoke directly to investors to look and consider Zimbabwe as a competitive, high rate of return, investment destination. A most welcome panellist was South Africa’s Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe, who stressed that Zimbabwe did not have the luxury of time, given the complexities and time sensitivities of the problems which required money and investment to be resolved. He reiterated his confidence on a quick turn-around given Zimbabwe’s educated and skilled population, its infrastructure and natural resources.
In setting out a new beginning for Zimbabwe as a country, the panel put forward a cohesive message and addressed the political and business concerns of many potential investors while showing a clear path to re-positioning the country’s reputation and image.
My view on the way forward was strengthened in Cape Town and a great deal of work lies ahead for all of us as Zimbabweans. There is nothing as energising as change. And change is what is happening in Zimbabwe. We have great mountains to climb as we balance the social, political and economic needs of our people.
Re-branding and repositioning a country will not happen overnight, it is a process. The key is to re-engage and communicate with relevant audiences and opinion leaders in a strategic and tactful manner, as was done at the World Economic Forum.
As business people we understand that becoming a significant player in an increasingly competitive regional and global market will be a long, hard journey and our first job is to re-establish our credibility.Â At the top of our agenda has to be re-building our reputation as a safe, reliable and lucrative investment destination.Â We must, and we will, re-position ourselves in the eyes of the world in such a way as to express our real personality and spirit.Â The opportunity to re-build not only the fundamentals like basic infrastructure, water and power supplies and a working health and education system is of priority.Â It is also key that we carry out the work carefully and strategically, looking to the future but learning from the past.
The world is a highly competitive place and Zimbabwe will need to reposition itself as a country, and build once again its national reputation. There is an urgent and important need to reposition and rebuild Zimbabwe in the minds of its own people, its Diaspora and potential investors and tourists.
Becoming a globally competitive player is a long hard journey and Zimbabwe is starting at the very beginning to re-establish its credibility. This massive challenge will create a myriad of opportunities. This in turn must be tempered by the need to work carefully and strategically, focusing our abilities and resources to successfully reposition the image of the country.
Zimbabwe is a work in progress. We also understand that it is the actions and words of our leadership that will start and underpin the change of perceptions needed for the country to succeed. Business needs to thrive and we need to attract as much investment as possible and so the relationship is symbiotic. Zimbabwe needs business and business needs a strong Zimbabwe brand.
The first target market for any re-branding work should be the people of Zimbabwe, who desperately need to start feeling proud of their country once again. Then we should engage the Diaspora and, only after that the international community. It is essential to start work on this very important project of repositioning Zimbabwe soon, by first getting alignment and buy-in from our new leadership and key stakeholders, for it is principally they who shape the world’s perceptions.
A start has already been made to align these elements and I believe this will continue and gather momentum. Â There is a well of goodwill towards Zimbabwe and this goodwill needs to be nurtured as it will bolster the political and economic rehabilitation process by encouraging those who must lead our recovery efforts.
Mugabe is Imago CEO. She recently attended the WEF in Cape Town
BY SHARON MUGABE