Friday, July 12, 2013
Imaging a destination
There are some very hard jobs around, and they include those mandated in whatever way to sell a product or a service. Even better, it can be selling a country as a destination of doing business or investing of some kind. While the line between marketing and advertising is very thin to a commoner like me, it all borders on attracting someone to spend their money without fear of any regrets. Imagine those guys that have to go out there and convince potential investors or tourists to visit our country. Those hidden costs, we all know and yet are so adamant to change things, simply because we have done it that way. And the shock those that have made an attempt often encounter and the consequent scars that are stubborn to erase, like the reappearance of a cockroach. I am told, it can survive sparks of highest thermal blasts. That is how difficult it can be to get a country going despite perennial recovery plans or strategies of some kind. Some weeks ago, I have considered a number of issues, that to some extent define our country. Every action or policy statement we make, generally defines how Malawi is viewed by those that have an interest in this country. Image matters just like one’s “resume” in their professional lives, and otherwise. As a matter of fact, it simply makes the job of those guys at the Malawi Trade and Investment Centre easy, and our various “competent” economic attaches. It is also a fact that anyone with an interest in our country will gather as much information as possible, and from various sources, not just an out-dated government website. It also creates an image on who we are, and whether any talk is indeed matched by actions. The reality is that most of the times, a country’s image is stereotyped, and it becomes very difficult to convince the outside world otherwise. I consider various images that our country has. Some good and some very questionable. On the positive side, Malawi is generally a peaceful country that has known no civil conflict. We have hosted various displaced people from other countries. Similarly we boast a professional military that has undertaken various civilian and peace missions across the globe. I remember the air wing operations in Mozambique, even with two choppers, did great works to save lives. But we are not the only peaceful country, and cannot therefore permanently brag about this. We are corrupt as well and other countries are less corrupt. Now consider everyone talking about limited ours of electricity. It is usually from businesses and households alike. It has now become normal that 24hrs of electricity are a miracle. The water mess has joined the band wagon. And if you are a property developer, the process to have water and electricity to your building can take ages, unless you cut corners, and do things that put us unfavourably on the corruption index. It’s all part of an image we have continued to imperfect and detrimental to our own dreams or portraits of some kind, never mind the colour. They can be blue, black and anything else. Meanwhile the cost of living and capital and living continue to skyrocket, and the Malawi kwacha is steadily heading to the archives. I don’t think a country can easily sell itself as investment destination with lending rates at over 40%, rivalling the perpetually demonised loan sharks in the suburbs. It’s how an image develops and gets processed. If it is indeed a bad photo, you try another shot. But in reality, it means trying out another country to do business or visit for leisure and no surprises. Commons sense is a reality that prevails most of the times. A few lucky cats have the audacity to define the current malaise as an economy in recovery, a case of stone throwing abode a glass house. It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white. It is a good cat if catches mice recounted a chinese politician. I reckon cats should be aware tyhere are rats around and go for the kill instead of creating a false image of non-existent hunting missions, when in fact they are devouring the masters food bank, a case of public funds. One can sarcastically link personal comforts that arise from tax payer funded Toyota SUVs. If you can ride in them, it is so tempting to imagine an economy recovering yet staple foods are no-where in sight. Do you remember the wise-man that asked for a list of names that had died of hunger to confirm if indeed such a crisis was rampant? We are creating an image associated with perpetuation of economic inequalities, usually a recipe for class wars. The great thing about images or perceptions is that they evolve overtime and find their way into our ways of life. If leaders remain detached from reality, and create their own image of a country, it actually leaves us in some trap. Someone out there is also creating an image for our country using all the facts, that are ignored as we continue mask the “God fearing” cloth. In attracting serious minded investors or even tourists, not visitors from the other side of the M1 road at Lizulu, facts matter and comparisons are made with countries in the region. In guess, any talk must be matched by meaningful action otherwise, the great world of information technology is on finger tips of any potential investor or tourist that can inject any money into the country. Tales of an education and health systems on near collapse and all these play a part in how a competing world looks at us. We can’t be beggars for life but, can actively define our destiny. We may create a certain image, and engage “marketers” but the world is getting smaller, and until most of us think beyond the day of final breath, the future doesn’t look good.