I was interested to read recently that a “National Identity Summit” had been held in Accra “to create and promote a unified brand image for the country”.
Organised under the auspices of “Brand Ghana Office,” the Summit brought together “about 300 participants from government, business, civil society and promotional agencies, to examine the theme: "Ghana in search of a competitive identity."
After a formal opening session, there were “follow-up workshops with about 23 syndicate groups to explore areas in governance, business, investment and human development, to generate a concept and build a consensus on what form of brand Ghana should take.”
I have no objection to people exchanging ideas about trying to improve the image of Ghana. But what needs to be done is so obvious -- and has been written about so often, with no-one taking the slightest notice -- that the idea of holding a special summit to reiterate it all over again, as if “branding” was some new concept that is only now making its way to Ghana, is quite absurd.
Although advertisers would have us believe otherwise, people’s impressions are not formed from words and pictures drummed into them again and again.
Indeed, in some instances, the mere idea that someone is trying to prevent us from forming our own impression, buts is trying to manipulate us by bombarding us with propaganda, creates a defensive mechanism that makes us resent the information that is supposed to impress us.
A friend of mine once visited a Communist country and was so overwhelmed with information about what had happened since the “revolution” succeeded that he mocked it afterwards, always saying “Before revolution!” when he wanted to say anything about that country.
I myself was once in a car in the USA travelling on the highway, when we saw a big sign advertising the name of a road, with the words “YOUR TAXES WORKING FOR YOU” boldly written below the name of the road.
Without anyone asking him any question, my host, who was driving, launched into a tirade about the road-building programme of the state -- the potholes, the traffic jams caused by toll-booths, and so on and so forth. I, the stranger, thus learnt a lot of negative things about the very roads the advertising hoarding wanted to hide from me by telling me what was obviously not completely true.
In Ghana, so many people have written about how we can get people to gain a good first impression of our country from our airport -- the cleanliness of its reception areas; how the staff behave towards travel-weary passengers; and the easy and safe availability of transportation, once a passenger exits from the airport-- that a book could be written about what to do.
When visitors get into Accra city, their impressions are formed by how we drive; the sensibility or otherwise of our traffic arrangements; whether we are able to keep hawkers away from moving vehicles; and the availability of decent places, not too far from the road, where a traveller may quench his or her thirst and attend to nature‘s call, if necessary. Do we need a summit to decide on these obvious requirements? But they are largely absent.
The most disgraceful thing about Ghana is the dirty and smelly state in which we are content to keep our city centres.
Open gutters with slimy smelly water trickling through them are everywhere. Our markets , which attract visitors with the variety of their wares and the friendliness of our market women, are let down by the failure of the authorities to provide simple things like large-enough bins for rubbish, and places where people may sit after they have walked around quite a lot. As for toilets in the markets, the least said about them, the better.
Then there is our behaviour as a people. Normally, Ghanaians are polite and gentle. Especially when they deal with strangers. But let those same strangers enter their lodgings and put on the radio or television to sample our opinions. Our panellists speak across each other, at the top of their voices, while so-called presenters and moderators sit unconcerned or are unable to bring them to order.
It is so obvious that people who go to radio and television stations to act as if they were in a boxing ring should not be asked back again for a repeat performance. But the stations’ managers seem to regard it all as normal and the same faces and voices are seen again and again to do the same thing all over again and again.
Meanwhile, serial telephone callers are allowed to add their vitriol to the cacophony.
That is BRAND GHANA in short, I am afraid. It can be changed overnight if someone clever took it upon himself to change it. You don’t need an elaborate programme in order to change it. It is just the ability to discern what is wrong and the willingness to put it right that are lacking.
How a brand can be achieved without too much advertising but a lot of hard-headed determination and sheer perseverance can be seen in places like Singapore. This is a small country in which if you chew gum and throw it in the streets, someone will notice that you have done something wrong and ensure that you pay for your mistake.
I remember a friend of mine saying that he arrived in Singapore once, at a time when flights to Europe had been cancelled because of the Icelandic volcanic eruption. His airline not only provided him with a hotel and transportation to get to it, but no sooner had he settled in than he was called on the phone and told of the possibilities that were available to him in terms of onward flights.
The airline cared about my friend. That is the Singapore brand. If you do business in Singapore, everyone you come into contact with makes sure that you realise he is not only interested in taking your money from you, but in giving you service for your money.
Mention of the word “service” has just reminded me that we once had something like that in Ghana! When I began working in Accra around the time we became independent, taxi drivers touted for business by shouting “Service!” at people who looked as if they might want to grab a cab. Do today’s taxi drivers and their aplankes know the meaning of ‘service‘? You sit in a taxi and you have to beg the driver to open the window on your side for you, because he has rolled it up and kept the window handle in his glovebox.
When they want you to join their taxi, they gruffly try to keep the competition away from you, instead of gently telling you of their own facilities (which don’t exist anyway!) I am dying for the day when a taxi-driver will call out, “Chief, pick this one because it’s got air-conditioning!” Right now, if he’s got air-conditioning, he would like to hide that fact from you, because he doesn’t want it to “consume too much gas.”
It is our behaviour towards the people who come into contact with us which, above all, will help form the impression that makes a visitor say, “Hmm -- I like Ghana. I would like to visit it again!”
If we don’t change our behaviour, I we don’t invest in facilities and fail to remain conscious all the time that others are watching us, we can shout that “GHANA IS GOOD!” two hundred times a day, and it will just be nothing but hot air. We said it ourselves: adepa n’eton neho (the good thing sells itself without having to be advertised.)
In the modern world, advertisement is only needed to make the brand name known. The rest is the content in the advertised product. And that can only gain in stature if it is really good, and gets endorsed by word of mouth.