Zimbabwe’s “reputational economy” in the aftermath of the military coup that dislodged former president Robert Mugabe in November 2017, is as good as a castle built on sand. Its foundation is shaken and lucid, while the entire superstructure is built on promises and very little action.
By Tabani Moyo
It is made complex by the fact that the history of nations, throughout human existence has been of nations advancing the parent country’s interests on an international arena. However, the Zimbabwean narrative is very unique as the country literally sells its soul without defining its interests. The narrative that Zimbabwe is open for business alone, poses a problematic proposition for the country’s national reputation.
The reputational bubble, which I gave a subject of “a fragmented reputation economy”, was nearly burst at the just-ended World Economic Forum (WEF) which was held in Davos, Switzerland from January 23-26 2018. It was instructive that the nation should have invested in talking to itself before taking to the world stage.
Zimbabwe’s delegation, led by the President Emmerson Mnangagwa left the country with the message, “Zimbabwe open for business/capital” The message was essentially targeting the international audience. Instead of focusing on the messaging brought by the Zimbabwean delegation, the global media asked if the president was now ready to apologise to the people of Zimbabwe, specifically the victims of organised killings in the Midlands and southern parts of Zimbabwe. This was not a comfortable question for the Zimbabwean president and he went on a garden stroll trying to duck the question.
Crafting a new reputation trajectory requires two major ingredients, namely transparency and democracy! It’s about opening up your entire national supply chain and bureaucracy to scrutiny, and ensuring that its conduct is in accordance with the new open culture. Therein lies the crux of the national problem. The thorny issue here is the heinous deeds of the administration and acts of evil are being wished away and the administration is not making solid commitment to have those sins addressed so that they are never to be repeated again in our life time.
This is the crisis that faces reputation managers globally. They are outward looking and tend to promise what their internal systems cannot afford to deliver. In essence, the country’s president is concerned with shaping the image matrix at the expense of attending to the internal dislocations which currently define the identity mix. Image is how the external stakeholders view the country, while identity is how the internal stakeholders, namely the citizens, institutions, private and public sectors view themselves. Combined, we establish a reputation, which is both the internal and external view of stakeholders.
The new administration is battling with a huge reputational crisis given the process that led to its usurping of power from a “democratically” elected president to the one installed by the military. With the heavy burden of trying to manage a reputation which is fragmented, the president is making the mistake of focusing on the image of the country while relegating the identity mix of the internal stakeholders who are calling for his equal commitment to attend to issues of human rights as he is in appeasing global capital. The many cases of gross human rights abuses form part of Zimbabwe’s problematic governance reputation, which cannot be ducked through escalating calls for increased flow of global capital into the country. In essence, an increased flow of global capital to a regime that has a catastrophic human rights record, tends to strengthen the excesses of such a regime, as further violations are committed while parading the bubble of capital flows.
Zimbabwe should have a balanced reputational diet that satisfies both her inhabitants and those living outside its borders.
It is a given that old habits won’t fade away easily. As the administration paints a picture of Zimbabwe as a safe capital destination, the ruling party officials purportedly assaulted the opposition leader Joice Mujuru leading to some youths suffering deep cuts and broken limbs. The ruling party commissariat threatened to unleash violence ahead of elections akin to the 2008 electoral acts of barbarism. Omega Hungwe warned journalists that they would not be spared in the violence. The DNA seems to have been radiated when the president was asked if he was committed to holding a peaceful election and he stated that people who commit acts of violence do not announce it in advance.
It seems the ruling party is eager to take the easy option of managing reputation through inviting the international powers like Britain and the EU so that they endorse the electoral outcomes and in that measure, launder the coup reputation. This is a reputational blunder. Zimbabwe needs to talk to herself internally and build a consensus before launching into the international deep-end, if you may.
Having noted the foregoing, it will be amiss if I do not propose the key lessons for the Zimbabwe administration pertaining to the art and science of managing reputation.
A 360-degree approach towards understanding the stakeholder: One will be forgiven for assuming that the country is under the hammer! Yes, it’s being auctioned under the guise that we are open for business, yet there are no minimum conditions set towards ensuring that the national interests remain the priority of Zimbabwe and her people. With such an approach, internal stakeholders, especially citizens are left at the mercy of powerful capital, leading to exploitation of cheap labour, degradation of the environment and abuse of human rights under the government’s watch.
Where there is a military takeover; it’s a whole complex story at play, which is a source of blundering and attempts to manufacture consent through both the carrot and stick method. It’s not a simple story when one of the countries known the world over for promoting democracy, Britain, plays a lead role in attempting to clean the coup and playing the global role of public relations for the administration borne out of military processes. In such situations, reputations are left fragile!
Let the boss set the tone: Charismatic and pragmatic leadership helps in building positive reputation. The challenge of the new administration is that the presidium is literally made up of soldiers! This requires a highly agile reputation management approach. Put it in simple terms; imagine Mnangagwa, Vice-presidents Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi addressing a rally in one place. There will be more soldiers than citizens attending!
Track your reputation footprint: The tracking of coverage and debates on the national reputation has to be both for offline and online communications. Given the inherent discord in the bureaucracy at present, it seems there is no one assigned to managing reputation except churning out hectares of propaganda on the “new dawn! New era.”
Find and preserve your soul: It is anomalous to be outward looking before understanding the soul of the administration. This is critical in defining how Zimbabwe will conduct its affairs. How is relates to issues of transparency. How it subjects itself to democratic processes and how responsive she is to her citizens’ needs and wants. If the country fails to build the defining vision which binds all the internal stakeholders, chances are high that reputation will be the biggest causality and the citizens will suffer the most in the long run!
Reputation management has even become more complex due to the rising tower of Babel that is social media, which actively creates platforms of conversations which escalate or cement negative or positive reputation respectively.
l Tabani Moyo is a chartered marketer, brand strategist, reputation management consultant based in Harare. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org