Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Africa's Foreign Policy and Nation Branding: Regional Leadership and Its Discontents

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Africa's Foreign Policy and Nation Branding: Regional Leadership and Its Discontents

Article excerpt

Brands incite beliefs, evoke emotions and prompt behaviors --Phillip Kotler and David Gertner 


Whether they know it or not, countries are viewed through the lens of branding. Their brand equity lies in the norms and ideas that they project, as well as the actors (leaders) who champion such ideas and norms. Countries embody signs, beliefs, values, and imageries about what they stand for in the global system, and it is this that has an effect upon the imagery and preferences of others rather than merely marketing techniques. As such, countries carry--or project--a 'persona' that expresses their identity, ideas, values, and norms.

This article focuses on the regional dimensions of South Africa's brand value and leadership. This is precisely because regions are crucial platforms through which countries project their ideas, norms, and leadership. It is also here that they build their brand equity. As such, this article examines the kinds of norms that South Africa projects through the region, and understands how these are perceived. Further, it analyses the predominant ideas that South Africa articulates.

1. Introduction

Nation branding is an important consideration in foreign policy articulation and diplomatic practice. The study of how nations brand themselves and the effectiveness of such activity for foreign policy is still a relatively new field. This article looks at South Africa's leadership projection in the region from the point of view of nation branding. Nation branding is different to the branding exercise undertaken for tangible products, because nations value and embody their intangible assets such as identity, culture, and values. The 'feel' of a nation is not the same as that of a product. There might be something about the look and feel of the log or flag, but this is not what ultimately shapes or alters perceptions about the country to outsiders.

The leading nation branding expert, Simon Anholt, notes that "A nation's brand image is its most valuable asset: it is national identity made robust, tangible, communicable, and--at its best--made useful" (Anholt 2002: 187). The interest of this article is to look closely at foreign policies as embodying a country's national identity and value system.

While there is value to marketing a country--the beauty of its geography, the richness of its history, the friendliness of its people, and its business climate--this is but a composite aspect of what nation branding is about. Unlike products, countries are complex organisations whose interaction with the world reflects both internal political contestations (between different political persuasions and among the fractions of the elite), conception of their identity, and how they perceive their place in the world to be.

Nation branding, as Anholt (2002) argues, needs to be based on a long-term strategy for the country and its place in the world. Policy thrust, organisational coordination, and execution are all critical in successfully projecting a nation's brand. This article reviews South Africa's regional leadership from a nation branding point of view. It then identifies challenges and opportunities in executing this task.

The rest of the article is structured along four sections. The first makes a case for why nation branding should explicitly form part of foreign policy. This section also offers a conceptual definition of nation branding and traces the sources of its influence. Second, I take a brief overview of South Africa's regional involvement, and how the lack of a conscious nation branding effort limits the dividends that the country could potentially harvest. Third, I highlight the challenges that nation branding is confronted with, focusing on the role of leadership and the emergence of city-branding. Fourth, I offer some tentative ideas on how South Africa's foreign policy could incorporate a thinking on nation branding, and thereby enhancing its place and role in the world. …

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