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Dr Anderson Uvie-Emegbo - Destination Branding & National Competitiveness: Lessons from an African Journey
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Saturday, 11 April 2015 07:42

Destination Branding & National Competitiveness: Lessons from an African Journey Featured

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A Chicago based colleague & I visited Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana some weeks ago. It was his first time in Sub-Saharan Africa.

While in Kenya, we had the option of flying directly from Nairobi to Kakamega but instead we chose to fly to Kisumu, on the Kenya-Uganda border and take a 2-3 hour cab ride to Kakamega. Since we planned to leave Kakamega that same day, it meant we would spend the night in Kisumu.

One of the key reasons why we took this option was to experience Lake Victoria. How do you pass through a major tourist landmark without stopping over to take in the scenery? We had a sumptuous meal of Tilapia, ugali and kasumbari at a restaurant located on the banks of Lake Victoria. It was a truly unforgettable experience. Having both experienced Lake Michigan in Chicago last year, we were able to compare notes. Though we had multiple places of interest to see in Kenya, we had too little time.

The second leg of our journey took us to Lagos, the bustling economic capital of Nigeria. Two incidents painted Nigeria in a bad light as soon as we landed at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport. First, an over zealous Port Health official insisted that without a yellow fever card, my colleague would not be allowed into the country. My colleague calmly told the official that as an American citizen who lives in a non-endemic zone, this was not a requirement. Furthermore, he stated that during the visa application process, the Nigerian Consulate in the United States of America did not state yellow fever vaccination as an entry requirement. He ended by saying that the Nigerian Consulate’s website did not have such a requirement for Americans.

At this point I told the official that as my colleague’s host and a fellow Nigerian, I would prefer that we do not wash Nigeria’s dirty linen in public. Whatever the ulterior motive the official had, it was clear to him that he had picked the wrong victim. He promptly released my colleague’s passport but not after vehement protests from another official. The second bizarre incident played out in front of us at the same time as our encounter with the Port Health official was ongoing. An airport official at the Ebola screening point accosted a passenger of Asian descent. The official loudly asked the young man (obviously under 30 years) for his completed Ebola form. Apparently the passenger did not understand English. Instead of the official to simply hand over a form to the passenger to complete, he stated fuming, “we will deport you back to your country”.

I had warned my colleague about exploitative incidents like these but to see it play out so brazenly in public was very shameful for me to watch. Any right thinking person could see that this was a ploy to extort money from this gullible passenger. The official then demanded for and seized the passenger’s international passport, completed the passenger’s Ebola form himself and whisked the passenger out of our sights towards the immigration desk.

A few minutes later, I could see that the official had ensured that the passenger had been attended to “expressly” and was waiting for his baggage. Incidents like these at a country’s gateway speak louder than a million image-laundering campaigns.  The ride out of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport took us through its abandoned car park and pothole ridden international airport road. For a first time visitor, the human and physical infrastructure deficit at what should be the nation’s finest chance to make a good first impression is symptomatic of a country that is badly mismanaged. There goes the transformation agenda.

I had warned my colleague that I could not think of any place of interest in Lagos which I could take a widely traveled person like him to. I was not keen on the unremarkable shopping malls and unsecure beaches. The only two places of interest I could have taken him to were the Lagos Business School and the colonial relics in Badagry. Sadly, we did not make it to any of these places due to traffic considerations.

My colleague could not hide his disappointment about Lagos. This was not how he expected Africa’s largest economy to look. In order to salvage the situation, I whisked him to Abuja for a day visit. One thing I was sure of was that Abuja’s scenic beauty was unlike any in Africa. While Abuja has a good road infrastructure, it is not set out as a tourist destination. Our stay was brief, unremarkable and uneventful.

Finally, we made it to Accra, Ghana. Right at Kotoka International Airport we could see a different attitude to work and better infrastructure. None of the incidents at Murtala Mohammed International Airport was on display here. The Ghanaians have a reason to be proud of their citizens. A few days in Accra and my colleague could see why it is referred to as the gateway of West Africa.  

Back in the United States, my colleague had been told that a visit to West Africa was incomplete without going to the famous Elmina Slave Castle in Cape Coast, Ghana. Though I had been to Elmina Castle severally, I am drawn to the story of man’s inhumanity to man. Looking at the “door of no return” always sends a chill down my spine. The Castle was the last place slaves were brought to before they were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. Many Americans have returned to Elmina Castle and the nearby Cape Coast Castle to connect with their roots. In 2009, President Obama and his wife, Michelle visited Elmina Castle during their visit to Ghana. Today, if there is one-place tourists must see in West Africa, it is Elmina Castle.

Kudos must be given to successive Ghanaian governments that deemed it wise to restore and preserve their historical landmarks. We also visited the Kakum National Park. In the words of my colleague, “you only live once”. I forgot my fear of heights and made it safely through the canopy walkway, 250 feet above the ground. What an experience it was! We rounded off our visit to Cape Coast with a late lunch at a seaside restaurant that had crocodiles around us - eerie but quite serene. The only regret during the trip was that we had to leave Ghana too early. 

Destination Branding

Every country desires investments across different industries and sectors. Countries like Bahrain, Singapore, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, India, Ecuador, Turkey & USA have launched marketing campaigns targeting investments and tourisms. Cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Chicago, Rome, Barcelona, Paris, Cape Town, Nairobi & Lagos have positioned themselves as regional business hubs and tourism getaways.  

Visitors to a country need more than one reason to stay beyond their primary reason for coming. The difference between leaving a country immediately after a 3 day conference and extending one’s stay for some additional days might boil down to the “what to see”, “what to do”, “what to eat/drink”, “where to stay”, “what/where to visit“, etc. Every economy needs that extra one hundred dollars or more from as many visitors as possible. The question is not if visitors will be willing to spend.

Rather it is “what has this city/country created that is worth spending money on?”

Man Your Gateways

A country’s gateway is often the eyes through which the country is first x-rayed. Are your airports, seaports, train stations and websites representative of how easy it is to visit, live and work in your country?

If a global multinational had to choose between Accra, Lagos or Nairobi to have its Sub-Saharan office, what factors would inform its choice?

What deliberate steps are the elected officials of these cities doing to increase the desirability of their cities?

Ease of Information

Information about entry visas and resident permits requirements are transparent and easily accessible online. Dubai’s dynamic e-government portal is a model for e-governance.

Where is your country’s/city’s?

Ease of Doing Business

Great destinations place a premium on ensuring that intending investors know where to go to register businesses and understand what is required of them in order to do legitimate business in that country/city. In many countries, there are still multiple government agencies regulating how business is done. These invariably lead to a cycle of corruption, high costs of doing business, delays in getting approvals and eventually loss of investor confidence.

What is your country/city’s plan to improve its ranking in the annual Ease of Doing Business index?

Flagship Cities

Beyond promoting the corporate (country) brand, it is imperative to develop and promote two or more product (city) brands. Take the cities Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Having one of these cities in any country is good enough. Both cities have truly world-class infrastructure, multiple fascinating attractions, beautiful landscape, all year round activities, breathtaking shopping venues, world leading airlines & airports.

Will your flagship cities stand the test?

Competitive Advantage

What will your city be known for – conferencing (South Africa), outsourcing (India, Vietnam), technological innovation (Israel, USA), horticulture (Israel, Kenya), education (United Kingdom, USA), entertainment & media (New York), love (Paris), ancient architecture (Rome), football (Brazil, Argentina), movies (USA, India, Nigeria), etc.? Mineral resource rich countries like Angola and Nigeria must urgently develop other sources of competitive strengths.

How long will it take Lagos to turn the Lagos Marina into something that matches the Dubai Marina, Doha Marina and Navy Pier, Chicago?

In many parts of Africa, there is still paucity of quality learning at any level. Africa does not need a laptop per child. Africans need justice, equity, accountability, employment, security, more judicious distribution of the commonwealth and improved opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Late Lee Kuan Yew transformed Singapore from a third to a first world country. President Kagame (Rwanda) reminds us that this generation of African leaders has run out of excuses. Your Excellencies, the time to be too slow, too weak, too corrupt, too divisive, too selfish and too uninspiring is over.

The world needs more than one reason to do business in your country and cities. It is time to reintroduce your value to the world starting first with your citizens.


This article was first published in my guest column in the April 2015 edition of Financial Nigeria magazine, a leading monthly development and finance journal in West Africa. 

Dr Anderson Uvie-Emegbo, Financial Nigeria guest columnist, is a leading Digital Economy & Services Leadership consultant. He is an International Faculty, Strathmore Business School, Kenya. He is also an Adjunct Faculty, Lagos Business School and School of Media & Communication, Pan Atlantic University, Nigeria. Anderson is an Alumnus of IESE Business School, Spain.

Dr Anderson Uvie-Emegbo

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