WEF Brand Bonding
Africa’s round for World Economic Forum brand bonding
The recent World Economic Forum (WEF) conference in Myanmar demonstrates the rapid change that country is going through, from world pariah to a country that is getting all kinds of accolades and attention, from Obama, the European Union, Japan, China and other countries. The WEF event was an endorsement of Myanmar through brand bonding involving top business executives and politicians and staff from major countries, with the focus on business. To be fair to the country it has made significant moves to be nice to its people and the rest of the world and this merits some reward. The issue is has it done enough and why is it being given this treatment and African countries that have impressive track records on democracy, economic growth and management and with equally attractive resources have yet to host the event. The WEF must give Africa a similar endorsement and I would like to nominate three countries that deserve this seal of approval from the WEF, namely, Ghana, South Africa and Rwanda. The list covers east, south and west of the continent and includes countries that have impressive track records and resources which would benefit from a WEF event. It will give them the chance showcase investment opportunities, encourage them to take measures to be more attractive for investors and it will be part of the effort by Africa to engage not just with charitable brands but also major business brands as well.
Why is Myanmar getting all this treatment which could lead into major investment and economic development? The country has embarked on major political and economic liberalization. It has allowed one of the most famous women, Aung San Suu Kyi, to take part in the political process. It is still work in progress. The political liberalization is in its infancy with most of the members of parliament still belonging to the group that has ruled for decades. It has yet to come to peaceful agreement with ethnic minorities and give full protection to the Rohingyas who it classifies as non-citizens even though the group has lived in the country for generations. A more realistic reason for the conference is to do with the country’s abundant natural resources and the fact that it is close to the new economic epicenter and major users of raw materials, China and the East Asian tigers. Myanmar does not feature in the 144 countries in the WEF index of the competitive landscape of economies in the world and the World Bank index on ease of doing business. It ranks 172 out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s corruption index.
The three African countries which I have nominated to host WEF’s meeting compare very favourably to Myanmar in a number of areas. Ghana has made very impressive gains in democracy, having had three recent free elections which have seen the reigning party removed from power a couple of times. Major efforts have been made with regards to political and economic governance and the country has had high economic growth rates. Ghana has good agriculture, fishing, minerals and manufacturing prospects that are attractive to investors. It has recently started developing its oil and gas deposits and indications are that the potential for this sector is very high. It is the second largest producer of cocoa in the world, a major gold producer with a reasonably good physical and human infrastructure. Ghana ranks 103rd h in the WEF economic competitive rankings out of 144 countries and 64th out of 185 countries on the World Bank’s ease of doing business index. In the Transparency International corruption rankings it comes 64th out of 176. South Africa is the economic powerhouse, with the largest economy in Africa. The country has a democratic process, having organised free elections since it moved to majority rule, a fair judiciary process and free press. It has huge agricultural, mineral, industrial, tourism and fishing potential and very good infrastructure. It ranks 52nd in the WEF economic competitiveness index, 39th in the World Bank business index and 69th in Transparency International corruption index. Rwanda has made huge gains in governance, rising from the abyss twenty years ago when the government at that time and its supporters slaughtered over a million of its citizens. It has potential in agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and distribution sectors. Rwanda has developed its physical and human infrastructure to one of the most advanced in the region and ranks 63rd in the WEF index, 52nd in the World Bank index and 50th in Transparency International rankings.
The countries nominated need to work at hosting a WEF conference, the seal from that organisation, to benefit from the attention of investors from major brands, politicians and the media. A major effort must be made to get up the rankings noted above, partly because it is good housekeeping and to make a case for hosting the event. The focus must be to improve the physical, governance and human infrastructure, with special emphasis on WEF indicators. They would need to market themselves and lobby companies and politicians involved. All three have, by their actions and comparative positions, the capacity to be used as manufacturing, communications and distribution hubs by major brands for the regions they are located and will benefit from the exposure of a WEF conference.
After the Myanmar conference, WEF has no excuse to ignore Africa for its next conference. The three countries listed have demonstrated political and economic progress and have ample resources to warrant being used as a venue. I hope the nominated countries and others who can demonstrate a solid case make requests to convene such a conference. This focus on business by WEF will be a shift in African branding from the current situation where charitable organisations take pole position to one where commercial brands also take prominence and, realise and make use of investment opportunities on the continent. While these charitable brands will continue their much appreciated work, WEF should by example, highlight the commercial opportunities on the continent that will benefit Africa and its partners. The dominant forum for the continent has been donor conferences, it should shift to investment forums, to explore and develop business opportunities. I have chosen three countries but others, notably Tunisia, a possible northern host, may also fit the bill and would need to make a case to host this brand bonding event.
Do conferences matter, just take a look at the recent G8 meeting held in Northern Ireland, a region facing challenges of sectarian healing, being the poorest region in the UK and the recession. I am sure David Cameron must think the G8 will be a boost. The WEF will give Africa a boost with the focus on business engagement of the continent.
J Boima Rogers is the principal consultant at Media and Event Management Oxford (MEMO). MEMO provides policy, marketing, media and event management services. http://www.oxfordmemo.co.uk.