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Investing in a nation brand
Eric Ombok
Posted Mon, 07 Aug 2006

Mkenya halisi is a Swahili term whose English translation is �The authentic Kenyan�. Mkenya halisi is an initiative by a group of young marketing professionals in Kenya seeking to invest in building passion about the country.

The argument goes that any branding initiative starts from the inside, from the hearts and minds of Kenyans. Mkenya halisi is not only about Kenyans but also about the people who have fallen in love with Kenya and who have made it their home. The initiative also seeks to bring Kenyans together to celebrate their strengths and to get the world to appreciate opportunities in the country.

Its promoters are members of the Marketing Society of Kenya (MSK), behind the Brand Kenya initiative, which sought to market Kenya to foreigners in 2003.

Fred Simiyu, one of the MSK Council Members and the Convenor of Mkenya halisi, says, �There are several benefits of building a strong brand for the country. Strong brands evoke an emotive bond among people and nations. This translates into huge benefits, from greater goodwill to an upswing in tourism, from growing exports to increased investments.�

Indeed, brands generate trust, confidence and continued association. Nation brands encourage people to broaden their view of a country. Once a nation is looked at as a brand, anything from that country is treated as a natural brand extension of that country. Nation brands can therefore be powerful sources of motivation, and one of the greatest benefits that a country can give its export sector and the business community in general is to build a good nation brand.

�When we speak of opportunities we are not just speaking of business opportunities. We are also speaking of opportunities to meet a great people who are strengthened by their cultural diversity,� says Al Kags, a member of the Mkenya halisi team. �We are talking about opportunities to enjoy wonderful weather, work in a great place with great investment potential, eat great food, play excellent games and be part of a rich society.�

Michael Riungu, Head of Research at the Sarova Hotels and a member of the Mkenya halisi team, says research indicates that in searching for a destination to visit, 48 percent of people log onto the Internet, 20 percent choose destinations on the basis of recommendations from people they know, 10 percent choose destinations through packages and promotions, and at least 9 percent rely on advice from travel agents.

This means online marketing is key for initiatives such as Mkenya halisi. However, the team intends to start from the grassroots by recruiting branding representatives in every district in the country.

The branding representatives will then be tasked with communicating some of the country�s strengths. Just to mention sports, our athletes are renowned as award winners and record breakers, and it is a befitting honour for Kenya to host the World Marathon championships next year.

We should also be proud of the Safari Sevens, which has become an internationally acclaimed rugby tournament, and our Safari Rally is still the ultimate test of man and machine in Africa. The Kenya Cricket team undoubtedly has one of the leading players in the world, with Kenya currently on its way to the World Cup again. The ladies, national volleyball team have been the reigning African champions for several years now.

The country is such a succulent blend of nature, culture and the Kenyan spirit of friendliness and hospitality, as stated succinctly by world-famous writer, Kuki Gallman, in one of her award-winning books when she wrote: �Kenya is the place that has what most of the world has lost � space, roots, tradition, beauty, extraordinary people. It is the country of people for whom tradition is important, to whom family values still matter, to protect the young and respect the old. They are a people whose poverty is not of the spirit and who always have a ready smile.�

The winning of the Nobel Peace Price by Prof. Wangari Maathai in 2005 reinforces what many Kenyas see as a clich�, that we are an island of peace � peace, which we have tried to spread in Somalia and Southern Sudan.

Countries such as Uganda and South Africa have launched fairly successful nation brands and are giving Kenya a run for her money in attracting tourists and investors, as well as hosting international events such as the 2010 Soccer World Cup to be played on the soil of the Rainbow Nation, and the Pearl of Africa hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2007.

When it comes to investing in building a national brand, dividends accrue to every ordinary citizen from a few proactive individuals boarding the long-haul train, which comes with a lot of self sacrifice and painstaking planning and re-planning throughout the journey.

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