In an increasingly competitive global market for visitors, investments, and exports, numerous countries are now engaging in nation branding by devoting considerable financial resources as they endeavour to enhance their global competitiveness.
As part of these efforts, governments are implementing proactive image-building activities by utilizing strategic marketing practices supported by governmental techniques of economic, cultural and public diplomacy to position their countries favorably in the international arena.
The realisation that nation branding can play an important role in positioning Kenya globally as an attractive investment destination has seen the government put in place an investment promotion body and other related agencies to work in concert with private sector membership bodies to make Kenya a competitive destination internationally and to position the country not only as the ‘gateway to East Africa’ but also as the ‘springboard’ for business expansion into the continent.
These efforts seem to be bearing fruit, as Kenya’s investment climate is rated as the strongest in the East African Community, with FDI flowing in from emerging and developed markets. A testament to this is a recent report by The Global Competitiveness Index, an initiative of the World Economic Forum that assesses the landscape of select economies across the globe, ranks Kenya seventh among the most competitive economies in Africa with a vibrant private sector and well-educated population.
While the national branding efforts by the government have achieved some measure of economic success, there are a number of challenges that have prevented the country from effectively employing nation branding in order to realise the economic and social transformation as envisaged under the Big Four Agenda and Vision 2030
For one, being an African country, it suffers from the so-called ‘continent brand effect’, a stereotypical effect whereby negative events in one part of the continent are often taken to reflect Africa as a whole.
The overlapping mandates of various government agencies and private sector bodies has resulted in unco-ordinated, competing promotional projects and initiatives which have sometimes proven to be little more than banal image building exercises and marketing gimmicks, without resulting in substantial comparative advantages for the country.
A more pressing concern however is the fact that the scourge of corruption has become an existential threat to the country because it damages the goodwill and incentive created through various nation branding efforts that would compel people to visit, invest, work and live in Kenya.
Against this backdrop, the country also faces acute resource constraints as it seeks to change entrenched damaging attitudes of its citizens and international misperceptions through its various activities and programs.
There’s therefore need to employ a holistic approach to nation branding by bringing together key stakeholders from both the public and private sector as well as concerned citizens and other actors to build an inspiring narrative and shape a unified nation brand proposition that weaves together the various political, economic and social aspects of our nation. This process will need to be anchored by necessary legislative and policy reforms as is the case in other jurisdictions in order for it to have the desired effect.
Achieving this ambitious agenda calls for a paradigm shift away from the conventional, fragmented approaches. It was precisely for this reason that the government established the Brand Kenya Board - to co-ordinate the various initiatives aimed at marketing the country both internally among its citizens, as well as externally to enhance Kenya’s competitive identity in a range of areas including foreign investments, tourism, exported goods, and talent attraction.
In line with its mandate, Brand Kenya has been working in concert with various stakeholders within government, the private sector and in other relevant areas towards building a unified, and well-coordinated national branding program that effectively distinguishes Kenyan products, services, places and concepts.
To this end, Brand Kenya Board will be hosting the inaugural Kenya Brand Summit 2019. The Summit holds the promise of a transformative dialogue that will bring together political, economic and social constituencies to inform the development of an inclusive, authentic coherent nation brand that resonates internally while increasing international attention and goodwill towards Kenya.
Peter Misiani Mwencha, Kenyatta university.