Early yesterday morning, I had the pleasure of sitting in on the “Economic Integration in Africa and Opportunities for Communications” session in Lagos, which was part of the African Communications Week 2018 offering. Organized by IE Business school and BBC Company, the session dealt with the question of navigating economic opportuities on the continent and in Nigeria in particular, as well as the need to re-evaluate our communications strategy as individuals, communication experts, a Nation and Africans on the whole.
The panelist were; Senior Speical Adviser to the President on Industry, Trade & Investment, Dr. Jumoke Oduwole; Chief Transformation Officer at MTN, Bayo Adekanmbi; Executive Head Marketing & Communication at Stanbic IBTC, Nkiru Olumide-Ojo and Associate Professor at IE University Spain, Nicolas Randall.
A thought provoking session, questions of identity as is the case with every branding story was at the centre of disccussions on developing a communications strategy for the Continent as a whole. How do we see ourselves as Africans? How do others see us? and what are the many ways in which that narrative can be changed for the better? These were the questions around which conversation was built. Incredible insight was lent by the very experienced panel of communications experts; from the private to public Sector to the micro and macro scales within society.
As brilliant and enlightening as all of this was, there was one key factor, crucial to the question of identity for any brand or Nation State that was left unaddressed-Determinism! One f the key reasons as Nigerians and Africans we struggle with a clear sense of direction is that no collective agenda, National or Regional identity has been created. At the core of a lack of a collective identity is the fact that we have not first as a Nation, determined what we would like it to mean to be a Nigerian.We have very strong opinions on what we believe it means to be a Nigerian today and for many Nigerians, it is a rather unflattering reality they would rather not identify with. This unwillingness to associate with, much less own what we perceive to be our current identity and narrative, has resulted in an absence of a National identity.
Dr Jumoke Oduwole said something incredibly profound and it was that “Nigerians do not trust the brand” and she could not have been more correct. As Nigerians, we’ve learnt to distrust even those things that are positive because our current narrative is shrouded in so much negativity, much of which we’ve come to accept as our reality. We hear it repeated, and we see it reinforced in the news locally and internationally, and even in our daily lives. This process of repetition seems to give credence to it and encourages us to accept it as our unshakeable reality.
What no one has told Nigerians is that Identity isn’t a static phenomenon, it is an ever evolving concept. Sometimes that evolution happens consciously, and other times it occurs subconsiously. We have a choice as a people group, to reject a narrative and Identity that we did not consciously shape, in exchange for an Identity and narrative that we consciously build and can be proud of. But it must be an intentional and deliberate process with vision at the heart of it.
African Countries like Kenya, Bostwana appear to be either at the cross roads or in the process of redefining their Identity in a way that betrays the conventional “African Narrative”. They are consiously making decisions on what it means to be citizens of those Countries and even though they are still in the process of creating these new brands, the world is already buying into the vision.
One of my favourite quotes developed in house is that you must first believe in your brand, before you can have a shot at getting others to do the same. Building up on that, you need to not just believe in your brand but be proud of it. A key indicator that your brand needs an overhaul is when as the originator, you have a hard time being proud of it.
While many Nigerians and African’s swear by their pride in their Nations and in the Continent, more often that not, they’re usually making these declarations in a defensive context. It is fine for us as individuals and as a nation to come to the conclusion that we do not infact like what it means to be a Nigerian. It is fine for other African’s to determine that they are not okay with the pictures and perceptions that have shaped their identity. It is also great to admit that as defensive as we are about it, in part we believe it and even when we don’t, we understand how others have reached those conclusions.
Only when we reach this point of admission can we really begin having the very pertinent conversation on what we would like it to mean to be a Nigerian and an African; first as individuals, then as Nation states and finally as a Continent. Only then will we begin to build a narrative and identity we can be proud of owning. Only then would we start to hold eachother and our leaders accountable for acts of what would then be deemed to be ‘UnNigerian.’ or ‘UnAFrican’.