Dubai is preparing itself for a once in a lifetime opportunity to host the 2020 Expo. These large international exhibitions (expos) or world fairs were originally started in Europe to showcase technological advances and inventions.
In recent times, they have been used to showcase achievement of nations and their branding. They have also become a great source of knowledge, especially for developing countries.
I attended Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China, that was held between May 1 and October 31, 2010. Built on an area of 5.28 square km, the highly successful expo attracted more than 73 million visitors. Some 248 countries and international organisations participated.
It was a single tourist spectacle. It took China six years to prepare for the $48 billion expo that showcased China’s emergence as a global leader in science and technology.
Kenya with its riches in sports, flora and fauna managed to poorly exhibit its coffee and a few handmade artifacts. No offence but the presenters lacked any sense of purpose to promote the country.
Indeed, when retired President Mwai Kibaki visited the pavilion, he was captivated by the aroma of the Ethiopian coffee from their stand that was next to Kenya’s.
Going by the numbers of people who visited the Ethiopian stand, sales from their brewed coffee must have paid their entire expenses.
Without doubt, Ethiopia had effectively branded itself as home of coffee in Africa, no doubt a destination reachable with the continent’s premier airline, Ethiopia Airlines.
There is opportunity in Dubai to correct our past mistakes. Since the 1851 when these expos started to showcase scientific inventions, they have evolved from industrialization (1851 to 1938) through cultural exchanges (1939-1987) and now nation branding (1988 to present).
If Kenya has any intentions of participating in the Dubai Expo, I would like to presume that by now they must have finalised or are at advanced stages of preparations to brand the country appropriately.
It helps to check what other countries have done. The top ten pavilions so far have themes ranging from futuristic state of the environment to technological advancement (dominated by artificial intelligence), culture and circular economy.
The ministries of Tourism, Sports, Agriculture, Industry, Transport and Information and Communications must work in tandem and with the private sector to brand our country as an emerging hub. Kenya has a lot to offer to the world if packaged well.
The Dubai Expo will run from October 20, 2020 to April 10, 2021. To maximise branding, the planning committee must understand activities in all of the 173 days and prepare for each one of them.
They must, for example, get Eliud Kipchoge’s calendar and book certain days when he can avail himself to grace Kenya’s stand and pay him adequately for the service. Ineos set the standards of how to treat such celebrities.
We must leverage such expos to stamp our authority in the continent’s tourism by re-establishing Kenya as the Cradle of Mankind. Although East Africa, and in particular Sibiloi, is scientifically proven by anthropologists as the Cradle of Mankind, South Africa has self-proclaimed Maropeng in Gauteng and marketed the same as the origins of mankind.
It needs money to win this war for lasting tourism and branding, especially to our northern counties of Marsabit and Turkana.
Dubai’s meteoric rise as a global business hub was a deliberate effort that has paid off. They were never hesitant like we are on developing Lamu port, which should be the premier logistic hub for Africa’s hinterland.
In line with its strategy, Dubai is planning to spend about $11 billion on the expo infrastructure with the hope of attracting 25 million people within the six months and injecting about $33.2 billion into the economy.
Some of its remarkable expansions include national carrier, Emirates Airlines. It carried more than 59 million passengers in 2019. Big ideas can help small economies to leapfrog.
Within a short period of time, it has grown to become a global business hub worthy of the attention the expo brings. Beneath such expos, lies opportunity for others to exploit.