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Branding Africa’s Internet

October 24, 2009  »  ICT PolicyNo Comment

A thought-provoking post we wrote three years ago. The theme of nation branding remains just as important today.


It can pay to stand out.

Does each of the 53 African nations need to have a distinct image in order to secure the best possible internet connections? In short, the answer is “no”, but such branding can help secure foreign investments and attention, plus it can instill national pride and excitement for the technological future. Historically, African nations have been grouped into one large melting pot. Perhaps Northern Africa and South Africa are seen as slight deviants to the African mean, but nonetheless, the world has a certain opinion of “Africa”. The website Nation Branding summarizes this idea very nicely:

Very few African countries have an identity of their own, and in fact most people can’t tell the difference between Zimbabwe and Botswana, Cameroon and Congo, Zambia or Senegal.

Additionally, the website delineates a couple of reasons why nation branding can help economically. These concepts can easily be carried over to the ICT sector:

  • Africa is a continent, not a country: Various problems that plague parts of Africa today can easily become liabilities for the individual countries with more hopeful development prospects. For example, Chad is not Tanzania. The geographic differences, let alone political or social variances, have implications for fiber-optic lines. Thus far, coastal African nations have been privy to faster broadband speeds due to the port of entry.
  • Less is more: Smaller nations may not have the economic power of larger neighbors  (ie. South Africa vs. Swaziland) but these countries can still market themselves to obtain foreign investment. They must learn to target their efforts, however, and promote their uniqueness. Doing so will help meet budgetary constraints. The common blanket-approach is not cost effective.
  • Governments must help in the branding process, but not control it: In the case of ICT, this means that neither governments, nor any company, should hold a monopoly over the situation.
  • It’s not all about tourism: More good for the country could be achieved if a portion (say 10%) of a nation’s tourism budget were shifted to a different sector, in this case telecoms.

Numerous options for Internet access exist: VSAT, fibre-optic broadband, mobile broadband, WiMax, dial-up, GPRS mobile, and even wireless connections from balloons. Every nation, from Algeria to Zimbabwe, relies on a different combination of these methods to transfer data aross networks. Nation branding would involve promoting what you have, or the option that designated programs feels is best for the social and economic future of the country, not what seems right for Africa, or even bordering nations. Recently, Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa have begun nation-wide branding programs. Needless to say, these countries are better-off than much of Africa, but hopefully other nations can follow from the successes.

For additional insight, read about the Brand Africa Project,  whose goal is to build an understanding and knowledge of Africa and its potential.