Many governments have committed resources dedicated to nation branding. The process of building a positive nation brand is therefore not accidental, but very deliberate and painstaking. It involves introspection and commitment by those who are charged with the responsibility of creating a positive image of a country. Their aim is to improve a country’s standing, as the image and reputation of a nation can dramatically influence its success in attracting tourism receipts and investment capital; in exports; in attracting a talented and creative workforce and in its cultural and political influence in the world.
Nation branding appears to be practised by many countries, including the United States, Canada, France, United Kingdom (where it is officially referred to as public diplomacy), Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore, South Africa, New Zealand, Israel and most Western European countries. Even developing nations such as Tanzania and Colombia are creating smaller nation branding programmes aimed at increased overall image and with the case of Colombia, changing international perception.
For instance, the US has set aside US$230 million towards this purpose. The concept of measuring global perceptions of countries across several dimensions (culture, governance, people, exports, tourism, investment and immigration) was developed by Simon Anholt. His original survey, the Anholt Nation Brands Index, was launched in 2005 and fielded four times a year. Today, Zimbabwe can learn from these countries and develop its own branding programmes which are not limited to high quality products but also take into account other pillars, tourism and investment.
It is gratifying to note that Zimbabwe as an economy is undergoing a number of important ground breaking changes which have a bearing on the nation brand e.g. establishment of laws for Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to encourage economic growth and diversification and establishment of institutional frameworks for key national regulators.
For instance, Zimbabwe’s new banking regulations will strengthen the financial services industry and bring stability to the economy. Much work has also gone into strengthening the legal and regulatory framework for banking institutions and proposals to amend the Banking Act aimed at enhancing governance structures within banks, strengthening the powers of the regulator and punishing non-compliance or any errant activities.
We have also witnessed the establishment of Statutory Instrument 132 of 2015 designed to curb the influx of sub-standard products. We are also looking forward to the finalisation of the Zimbabwe Quality Standards Regulatory Authority Act and Consumer Protection Acts to safeguard the health and safety of consumers just to name but a few.
Enforcement of these laws is critical for positive nation image building. The upgrades at the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) and Chengetedzai Depository Company are also to be applauded as they have a huge impact on investor confidence.
With the launch of the National Code on Corporate Governance for Zimbabwe in 2015, a combined effort of the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (Saz), Institute of Directors of Zimbabwe (IoDZ) and Zimbabwe Leadership Forum (Zimlef), boards of directors and directors of companies, public entities and non-governmental bodies now have firm corporate governance guidelines for directing their entities. It is a voluntary code whose enforcement is on an “apply or explain” basis. The code provides universal principles of good corporate governance and recommendations to be followed by boards of directors and directors of companies in pursuit of effective and sustainable corporate governance. Working in collaboration with the Law Society of Zimbabwe and the Public Accountants and Auditors Board of Zimbabwe (PAAB), a commission is undertaking a review of the Companies Act (Chapter 24:03). All these developments are indeed significant and welcome in the eyes of the investor and will go a long way to creating confidence and realisation of government’s ZimAsset economic blue print, Sadc Industrialisation Strategy and Road Map and Vision 2016. The urgent need for Zimbabwe to leverage its abundant and diverse resources, especially in agriculture and mining, to accelerate industrialisation through beneficiation and value-addition cannot be overemphasised.
If Zimbabwe is to record success like countries such as Ethiopia and Zambia, which have demonstrated successful implementation of SEZs programmes, our narrative must move from rhetoric to action. Now that the Special Economic Zone Act is destined to enter into its second reading in parliament, the expectation is that this strategy should become a reality within the next few months. Infrastructure deficit to support the implementation of SEZs must be prioritised through deliberate resource mobilisation efforts.
Re-engagement efforts have already started and must continue to ensure successful implementation. Negative sentiment about the nation brand has no place in this equation and must be a matter for urgent attention. The impact of political or any other form of instability only serves to reverse positive efforts to build a strong nation brand. Implementation deficit is a major weakness that erodes confidence.
It is time to focus on confidence building and to support all efforts to deal conclusively with corruption especially where the culture of impunity must become a thing of the past. A strong nation brand is one that recognises the role that must be played by both government and private sector in building a strong nation brand.
Strategic sectors such as mining, agriculture, tourism must be central in building a strong investment climate and nation brand.
The recent US-Africa Summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia highlighted that, the host nation’s growth is predicated on huge industrialisation drive and investment in human capital. It was also highlighted that strengthening tourism, investment, governance, standards and ease of doing business, trade facilitation and exports are important elements in building confidence.
Given that the Zimbabwe economy is driven by SMEs, more resources must be challenged to facilitate inclusive growth through tried and tested strategies which recognise bottom-the-pyramid. Failure to do so will only serve to cut out a very important growth potential segment. When citizens are allowed to participate in economic growth, they are more confident and ultimately drive economic growth.
Nation branding is not an event but a collective, systematic and deliberate effort to transform how a country is perceived by its citizens and other nations. The aim is to change the perception from an unattractive nation brand to one which is able to command respect from those who are willing and able to invest their capital for a return.
Political will and commitment of everyone concerned is needed to create confidence in brand Zimbabwe. Let us recognise that Zimbabwe has already made huge strides but more can be done to promote the nation’s positive attributes. Perception is sometimes reality.
Roberto Bolano put the issue of nation brands aptly when he said: “People see what they want to see and what people want to see never has anything to do with the truth.”
About 90% of Zimbabwe’s problems in relation to nation brand are related to perception and therefore it follows that we need to pay more attention to nation brand building. It is time to invest time, resources and effort and start building an attractive nation brand.
This painful process involves upholding our own commitments, upholding ethical standards, promoting standards of goods and services, dealing with corruption decisively, improving ease of doing business and most importantly telling our own positive story about brand Zimbabwe. If we do not, no one else will.
We do not only have to do the right things but be seen to be doing the right things.
Gadzikwa, is Standards Association of Zimbabwe director-general and Arso president-elect. These New Perspectives articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society. E-mail: email@example.com, cell +263 772 382 852