Public relations as a tool for African development

As the dust settles on what has been heralded as one of the most successful Olympic Games in the history of the global event, a few post-Olympic stories are beginning to make headlines.

As the dust settles on what has been heralded as one of the most successful Olympic Games in the history of the global event, a few post-Olympic stories are beginning to make headlines.

Among them is the news that a dozen athletes from African nations such as Cameroon, Guinea, and Ivory Coast disappeared from the Olympic Village. Many of them are expected to attempt to seek asylum in the United Kingdom. The message to the reader behind these headlines is clear: Africa continues to be a hopeless continent so its athletes seize this opportunity to abscond.

While stories about absconding athletes are certainly not new, what is new is that the continent of Africa is anything but hopeless. It is in fact an economic powerhouse with a host of lucrative opportunities. The International Monetary Fund released statistics showing that out of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world from 2011 to 2015, seven of them are African nations including Nigeria, Zambia, and Ethiopia, which was in third place after the flourishing markets of China and India. Goldman Sachs recently released a report entitled “Africa's Turn,” highlighting that the business opportunities in Africa are comparable to China in the early 1990s, and IBM has opened more than 20 African offices in the last couple of years. These statistics vividly show that Africa is indeed rising.

Enter stage left the public relations industry. Part of what we do is create and shape global conversations, elevate the reputations of nations and corporations, and build awareness of issues, causes, and initiatives. If we apply these skills towards creating a positive perception and progressive reputation of the continent, even more investors will flock to Africa and travel and tourism will increase. These factors will spur development across the continent.

African governmental organizations, private corporations, and philanthropic organizations cannot simply start pushing positive stories, they also need to adhere to some crucial elements:

  1. Credible sources: The individuals and organizations that are the sources of information and insights must be credible with the right credentials and solid reputations. Africa is plagued by a reputation of corruption, and while corruption does exist, it is not as pervasive as it would appear.  Credible sources will create trust, an essential part of relationship building.
  2. Power in numbers: There needs to be a huge push in creating alignment between the domestic communities and the diaspora. Under the leadership of the influential Honorable Abike Dabiri, Nigeria has created the Diaspora Committee, the continent's only government organization dedicated to diaspora affairs. Alignment will create one powerful voice and message, which if consistent over time will create and lead conversations.
  3. Authenticity: There needs to be accuracy behind the stories and perceptions that are being created. An image based on falsehoods will crumble, creating distrust, and this will discourage increases in investment, tourism, etc.
  4. Domestic endorsement: African organizations need to take international PR very seriously, and include this as a key element behind raising the profile of key investment initiatives. Bad news always travels fast, whereas good news will remain buried unless aggressively pushed. If positive news items are consistently pushed, especially incorporating the previous points, the positive reputation and opportunities across the continent will rise, allowing for investors to clearly see and trust the opportunities presented to them.
Africa does have several challenges ranging from security to corruption, but equally there are a lot of opportunities. In 1991 there were only eight democracies on the continent; in 2012 there are 30. In addition, while populations are decreasing in other parts of the world, the population across the continent is set to double by 2036. Combine this with the favorable economic conditions sited by the IMF, and the ground is fertile for development. If PR is leveraged as a key tool in enabling this to happen, the continent is set for a bright future.

Claudine Moore is founder of C Moore Media.

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