Fixing Zim’s broken reputation chain

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THE Economist Intelligence Unit’s liveability survey of 2018 pitches Zimbabwe’s capital city Harare in the 10 least “liveable” cities in the world out of the 140-city sample.

Tabani Moyo,Chartered marketer

Harare is ranked number 135, only eclipsing countries that are grappling with terrorism and war. The survey looks into five key variables in reaching its results, notably: infrastructure; stability; education; healthcare and culture and environment.

These are the indicators which shape the global reputation of respective countries’ brand touch points — their cities. This reality check for Zimbabwe punches holes in the already weak national positioning cliché by President Emmerson Mnangagwa — that “Zimbabwe is open for business”. In a nutshell, it points to the urgent need for the country’s leadership to attend to our broken reputation chain.

The management of the reputation chain is concerned with ensuring that the country has a competitive reputation, which unlocks value to all its stakeholders, be it internally or externally. Reputation management defines the aggregate effects of identity or brand and image on stakeholders’ overall evaluation of an organisation, in this case the country. In other words, the overall estimation or regard in which its stakeholders hold the country to, be it as good (or bad) to her citizens, a trustworthy (or untrustworthy) service provider, a strategically responsible (or irresponsible) citizen among the league of nations among others.

In summary, image is taken to mean the view that external stakeholders hold of the country, especially that of investors and other nations. Identity is taken to mean the citizens’ view of their country, that is, “how do we see ourselves or how to Zimbabwean citizens see their country?” While reputation is taken to be a collective term referring to all stakeholders’ views of reputation, including identity and image, there is the problem of a broken reputation chain — the missing link between view of the internal stakeholders and those of the external stakeholders.

Given the five indicators used to assess the cities’ liveability, it is critical to take a closer look at these variables:

Infrastructure

Zimbabwe is a very expensive investment destination given the decaying and obsolete infrastructure. Even the goods the country produces are more expensive compared to importing from other nations which employ the latest technologies and means of production that makes the final products competitive.

For example, it is more expensive, using our current infrastructure and knowledge to extract and supply coal to Harare from Hwange than importing it from China. We therefore require a sober approach, beyond the blanket statements of “open for business”. There is a need for an infrastructure development strategy which will make Zimbabwe a competitive hub of industry, manufacturing and technological innovations.

Harare depends on the water supply infrastructure which was designed for the settler minority. Tied to that is the waste management system which ends up contaminating water bodies at catchment areas, exposing the country to diseases that end up claiming lives unnecessarily. There are currently no clearly spelt out plans on how to address this chaos both in policy pronouncements and in practice.

Stability

A colleague of mine, Tendai Chabvuta, writing elsewhere, noted that it was only a matter of time before Zanu PF returned to its default settings — violence, impunity and torture! This played out clearly post-elections on August 1 2018, when soldiers carried out extrajudicial killings, firing indiscriminately on fleeing citizens. This was in the full glare of the global audience as both the international observer teams and foreign media were monitoring and covering events respectively. It went on to expose the iron-handed approach of a party that had attempted in vain to position itself as a velvet gloved and modern administration.
The honeymoon is surely over for the naïve and selfish global salesforce, which took it upon itself to package the ruling party as capable of change. This even played out when a Financial Times reporter was assaulted twice in a single week before penning a damaging article for the publication that has global readership.
Education

Zimbabwe’s education system is highly quantitative, with the focus being on churning out products on a conveyer belt. Quality control is hence heavily compromised, and the ruling elite have qualifications donated to them. In other jurisdictions, the education system is at the nerve centre of stimulating inventions and innovations. Institutions of higher-learning become the engine of discovery through relevant and competitive knowledge reproduction. Our education system is not fit for purpose and there is need for a re-look into its architecture so that it produces valuable assets to address the challenges facing our nation.

Healthcare

If you really want to understand how deep the Zimbabwean crisis is, dare to fall sick! Given the burden this country has created, even if you are not sick personally, you will be attending to hemorrhaging medical bills for your loved ones. The drugs are overpriced, and those who can afford to subscribe for medical cover are most of the time shortchanged by the poorly regulated medical aid and pharmaceutical sectors. Public hospitals are parlous.

Culture and environment

Our culture industry is vague and lacks shape and form. This limits investment in the industry. Yet in other jurisdictions, the cultural industry contributes 5-10% towards GDP, thereby making it a frontline reputation ambassadorial industry as artists, sportspersons and institutions take the national flag global. Worse off, our environment is at the mercy of huge corporates, in the era of ‘‘openness’’ without frameworks. The biggest casualties are the environment, labour and other rights in pursuit of inhumane profit margins.

This is the sad reality, which our national leadership is exposing on the global stage, naked and somewhat unashamedly inviting all and sundry to come to invest. The country needs to urgently fix this broken reputation chain. A functional reputation chain is one where both internal and external stakeholders are at a perception and lived reality equilibrium.

Elections

Once again, Zimbabwe squandered an opportunity for rebirth and renewal. The trail of violence and extra-judicial killings by the army post the election results of July 30 have shown the world that the country’s reputation chain is broken and nowhere near being fixed.

Despite attempts by the coup plotters and executors of November 15 2017, both the naïve locals and blinkered foreign nations have come to the long-standing realisation that they were taken on a wild goose chase. Though the ‘‘new’’ administration attempted to paint a picture of progression and taking bold steps forward, Zimbabwe’s reputation chain is broken, deliberately in pursuit of narrow and selfish ruling elite ends.

This is a hotly-disputed election based on the cases which are now in court. It means the country’s local stakeholders such as the media, political parties, civil society, government and citizens have a different view on the national identity mix, post this election. Given the close nature of the presidential election, Zimbabwe is a tale of two nations in one. This will always create an internal perception mismatch especially on the causes and proposed solutions of the failing indicators that left its flagship capital city ranked 135 out of 140.

Therefore, instead of the election helping towards fixing the broken reputation chain, it has created an entrenched position among citizens and the broader stakeholder chain.

The manoeuvres by some in the ruling party to have the constitution amended on the minimum age limit for presidential candidates further reduces the country to kindergarten politics, which should not have any place in a nation riddled with life-and-death problems. The new leadership should be focussed on fixing this broken national reputation as the first priority towards setting Zimbabwe on orbits of development and growth. In the afore-stated survey, Zimbabwe eclipsed Damascus (war-ravaged Syria), Dhaka (increasing threat of extremism and poverty), Lagos (Nigeria faces the ever-present threat of terrorism instigated through Boko Haram) to name but a few.

Elusive national character

Having noted the above factors, I propose five key recommendations towards fixing this broken reputation chain as noted below:

Brand is not a veneer: A modern-day national brand’s values must run deep: Beyond this election and future ones. The country needs a strong internal process of defining its value system. To develop a charter that binds all the country’s citizens and internal stakeholders in answering the ever-present question, who are we? This is a critical process that develops consensus among the citizens and their leadership who, in turn, shape the perceptions of the external stakeholders, as to how they view Zimbabwe;

Do not preach: Today’s stakeholders do not like being told what to feel, think or do. The pitfalls of the current government are that it talks a lot, and spends a lot of time promising and preaching how it is open for this and that. The world wants to see a “doing” leadership, rather than a preaching one;

Always deliver on promises: Set a good example, but do not make promises you cannot keep. This has been the country’s Achilles Heel, promising heaven on earth. The current national promise from the Mnangagwa administration is that of breaking with the dark past. But with each passing day, through its acts of commission or omission, it rescinds to its default settings of violence and other isms;

Be transparent: When trust is low, it is imperative that the stakeholders see that the country is not withholding any bitter truth. If there is everything wrong with the current path, it is the entitlement by the ruling elite which weakens institutions for narrow selfish interests. As we go forward, we shall see the courts being attacked and captured for the purposes of power retention politics; and

Act on feedback: Failure to produce ongoing responsive engagement with stakeholders increases levels of distrust. This government commits acts of barbarism and expect to get away unscratched. It is high time the government becomes responsive and accountable through coordinating itself internally and being useful when answers are required. This goes a long way in fixing the broken reputation chain.

Moyo is a chartered marketer, communications and reputation management expert based in Harare. — moyojz@gmail.com

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