by NR INDRAN / INT
A stereotype is defined as a fixed, widely held idea or image of a person, people, place or thing, based on oversimplification of real or imagined traits of behavior or appearance.
Of course not all Italian Americans are involved in organized crime. Yet there are so many crime thrillers that fuel this stereotype.
Scores of Tarzan films have portrayed Africa as jungle territory light years away from civilization and teeming with ferocious beasts roaming its entire landscape. And that image has to some extent stuck, never mind that the Sahara Desert makes up one-third of Africa.
No wonder then that black activist Malcolm X, who visited several African countries before his assassination in 1965, took issue with the depiction of Africa in Tarzan flicks. “They always project Africa in a negative light: jungle savages, cannibals, nothing civilized,” he bemoaned.
Today Africa still remains a victim of stereotyping. However, considering that one-tenth of the world’s population is African and in an age of globalization and an increasingly small world, Africa can no longer remain that wild savage place in the distance.
There have been significant economic, political and social developments to dispel the darkness associated with Africa.
There is tremendous potential in Africa – opportunities abound for growth powered by natural and human resources.
The time has come for the negative labels which hinder the continent’s social and economic development to be replaced with colorful images of happy, healthy men and women and children, modern infrastructure, thriving economies and good governments.
The sustained shenanigans of some embattled African leaders send out a negative message that democracy is under siege in Africa.
Pictures of emaciated Ethiopian children with bloated bellies and flies around their eyes have become icons of famine, weakness, disease, corruption, war and underdevelopment and, unfortunately, even thriving nations on the continent are pigeon-holed as basket cases.
Historically, relationships in the international scene have been used as tools to ensure security and the economic well-being of the individual states. As such, in the present world, it would be difficult for any nation to survive independently.
Nations have thus realized the need for co-operation in socio-economic, military and political areas amongst others. In order to achieve growth and national survival, countries around the world have formed alliances in order to complement their individual efforts. These alliances have occurred in every continent although to a lesser extent in Africa.
Co-operation among various African nations has helped to buttress failing economies and improve social development. However, the stigmas attached to the quality of life in Africa will remain ingrained in the global psyche for as long as there is no concerted effort to give Africa a make-over.
In recent years several initiatives have been launched to spruce up the continent’s image. One such organization committed to changing perceptions of Africa is Brand Africa, an independent, pan-African brand-driven platform for African thought leaders, decision-makers and leaders of Africa’s top corporations and economies, media and nation brands. Brand Africa seeks to proactively drive Africa’s positive reputation, image and competitiveness.
One of the key questions the Brand Africa Forum 2011 held in Johannesburg on 29 September 2011 focused on was how South Africa and other countries can raise Africa’s voice and increase African economic investment.
Brand South Africa is committed to helping Africa create social, economic and political opportunities for its people by embracing the power of one, thereby portraying a continent-wide, rather than a country-individualistic approach to branding.
While “nation branding” is important to ensure the competitiveness of a country on the global stage, doing this to the total exclusion of “continental branding” will only serve to highlight each country’s success as an exception to the African rule engendered through stereotyping.
What is the way out of this dichotomy?
We must accept that Africa is always going to be diverse and varied, given that it’s such a large continent. Africa is the world’s second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia, and has more than one billion people.
So we need to capitalize on the positive diversity of Africa. The world’s investors, traders and travelers understand – and appreciate – differentiation and specialization.
We must promote positive both country-specific and continental narratives on economic growth, democratization and conflict resolution. We must be both Proudly South African and Proudly African at the same time.
It is true that as individual countries we are sometimes in competition for trade, tourism and investment. As representatives of Brand South Africa, this means we tell the story of how to service Africa’s growing middle class, its growing economy and its mineral wealth by investing in and through South Africa. We believe this benefits everyone.
In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report (GCR) for 2011, South Africa has again emerged as the most competitive economy on the African continent.
There has also been a remarkable improvement in South Africa’s Goods Market Efficiency and Financial Market development. We continue to be placed in the top 10 countries in nine of the key measures, including the strength of our auditing and reporting, regulation of securities, efficacy of corporate boards and for the soundness of banks.
In times of economic uncertainty such as the world is presently undergoing, South Africa’s reputation for financial excellence and maturity is a crucial factor for driving growth.
These achievements did not come easily and speak of decades of work, study and striving for excellence by our professionals and institutions. These institutions can benefit all African countries because their excellence can be used to leverage further investment into Africa.
If international investors have faith in the accuracy of company results, in the regulation of the securities exchange, in the protection of their minority shareholding, in the strength of the banks – and this cannot be said of many European and American banks – and perhaps crucially the reputation and sophistication of its professional services, then they are more likely to trust that their investments are safe and worth the return.
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