How many people outside East Africa or the larger Eastern Africa region can answer Kenya to the question, “where would you rather visit before you die?” Many Kenyans, if asked the same question, would answer US or one of the several Western European countries. Before recently my answer was Japan. Today I guess Singapore is a more interesting place to visit. Think of any country you would rather visit before you die, what is so peculiar about that country? State of the art technology? On point governance? Is she endowed with the best natural sceneries? Whatever it is, one thing is true, you already know about that country largely because the country branded herself as one of the best countries to live in. This fact is what led Kenya, in 20008, to also form a parastatal she came to call Brand Kenya.
According to Brand Kenya website, the parastatal was formed so as to coordinate initiatives for marketing the country and maintain the Kenya brand. That is, just like any other known brands like Coca Cola, Safaricom, and Bidco, Brand Kenya was established to portray the image of Kenya to Kenyans and the International community as a formidable brand that anyone would wish to relate with. To achieve this objective, Brand Kenya is supposed to identify and distinguish Kenyan products, services and concepts and place them in people’s minds as products, services and concepts worthy of possessing, experiencing and/or emulating.
Eleven years after its establishment, it is difficult to say whether Brand Kenya has managed to achieve anything in as far as reinforcing “Brand Kenya” in people’s psychology is concerned. Kenya for example is known as a tea growing nation, an athletic nation, a nation endowed with several beautiful sceneries, and most importantly a corrupt nation where money meant to improve the health of the citizens, finance dam constructions so that they don’t end up dying of hunger, and several other important projects end up in people’s pockets. An important indicator that Brand Kenya has achieved close to nothing is the widening trade deficit, which had surpassed Kshs 1.2 trillion by beginning of 2019. If Kenya as a brand was working, then you’d expect many Kenyans and non-Kenyans alike to prefer Kenyan products, services and concepts. The fact that Kenyans prefer imported products and services, and non Kenyans do not want to consume Kenyan made products and services, means that at this stage the parastatal has failed to deliver its mandate. The question therefore that Brand Kenya should ask itself is. “How do we make Kenyans to be proud of their products and services while at the same time selling Kenya as a brand to the International community?”
It will surprise Brand Kenya that if they can effectively answer the first part of the above question, then the second part will come in automatically. In the last few decades, especially from mid 1990s to todate, Kenyans have largely preferred to associate themselves with non-Kenyan products, services and concepts. In football for example all Kenyan football fans relate to clubs such as Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, and other English Premier League teams as their own teams, even when the only relationship they have with those teams is the fact that they watch them on DStv. When it comes to local football, the only teams these same fans know about are Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards. Other than when the two Kenyan clubs are playing, you will hardly find any Kenyan throng the local stadia to cheer up Mathare United play against Posta Rangers.
The lack of love for Kenya doesn’t end up with football. Not so long ago we had Khaligraph take on radio presenters for not playing local music at the same rate they play Nigerian, Tanzanian and American music. The TV Stations would rather play the boring Mexican soaps and Nigerian stupid movies than give time to mediocre local productions, even when they understand perfectly well that the reason the local productions are still mediocre is because they get zero airtime. The TV stations would point to the never ending series like Papa Shirandula, Inspector Mwala, Tahidi High, Mother in Law, Aunty Boss, Housewives of Kawangware, as their support for local content, yet the fact that these shows never end means the stations don’t expand the net to include newcomers. Elsewhere especially in US we really love emulating, their TV Stations have series that come to an end, and are only renewed when the viewership is still attuned to the show.
Then there is the issue of governance and corruption. The politicians including the President and his Deputy would love to talk about how important it is to promote Kenyan products, leading them to come up with the Buy Kenya Build Kenya strategy, but the very people would rather talk loudly against corruption and do nothing to stop the vice. It should be noted that experiences in countries such as Singapore have it that any President or Prime Minister willing to deal with corruption once and for all can do so in less than two years. Jubilee Government has been in power for slightly over six years, yet today the President is still a cry baby in as far as the fight against corruption is concerned. Interestingly, even Brand Kenya that is supposed to market Kenya has a beloved brand has been engrossed in corruption, leading to the sacking of its former CEO, Mary Lusaka, thanks largely to the vested interest of the Board’s Chairman Chris Kirubi.
If Kenya therefore wants Brand Kenya to be effective in marketing Kenya as a brand that everyone in the globe would love to associate with, the first thing that must be done is to deal with corruption. Secondly, the country must move first to ban cheap foreign products (mitumba) that has made it impossible for local producers to make a living. The mitumba clothes for example killed the local textile industry. It pains me that as Kenyans we rather spend less on already used and discarded products (including old Mexican soaps and long forgotten Nigerian movies), than spend a little more on our own products so that collectively we can help each other grow and end poverty. Tanzanians would rather spend a lot more on their products, and leave Kenyan cooking oil, bar soaps, and foodstuffs rot in the shelves of their shopkeepers.
bIf Brand Kenya wants to market Kenya as a formidable brand, then Banning cheap foreign products is the way to go, as any amount of campaigns meant to force Kenyans into loving their own will not work. Once foreign products become more expensive than the local products, whether those products are music, clothes, football games, or toothpicks, then Kenyans will have no choice but to prefer the made in Kenya alternatives. Once Kenyans fall in love with their own, the International community will have no choice but to also embrace the made in Kenya Brand. And of course, as long as corruption is still part of our culture, we are better off forgetting Kenya as a lovable brand.