Treat Africa as a “country” at your own Peril

CNN seems to be in trouble again, but this time with Nigerians who are livid at the fact that the Network omitted the country's name in the headline of a report announcing the visit of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, to Africa's most populous country. 

"Mark Zuckerberg makes first-ever visit to Sub-Saharan Africa," read the headline, published by CNN Africa and shared on its Facebook page and Twitter late Tuesday. Despite the uproar, this headline is accurate, since Mr Zuckerberg is indeed visiting multiple countries in SSA, having arrived in Nairobi today where he has so far visited The Hub and had lunch at Mama Oliech Restaurant with Joseph Mucheru, the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary of Information and Communications.

There seems to be a large gap between how global mainstream media portrays African countries and how Africans expect to be perceived by the world. The former insists on lumping all African cultures and identities in to one, easy-to-swallow unit, while the former are increasingly demanding to be covered in a more individualized manner.

Although Mark Zuckerberg’s visit had great intentions, its’ media coverage on the continent, particularly in Nigeria, was tainted by the backlash that the CNN alleged “gaffe” caused, giving Facebook’s brand communication team in Nigeria a few sleepless nights. Key takeaway: Global brands need to develop an individualized and more nuanced approach to communicating in African countries.

Over the last few years, the media landscape in many African countries has become more inclusive and localized, with local-language media outlets mushrooming. This has contributed to a heightened sense mutual understanding but also one of self-awareness. Any localization policy needs to incorporate this understanding or risk loosing much in terms of local brand equity.

This is as valid for multinationals venturing into Africa as it is for Kenyan companies that are expanding to other African markets. I often meet business people who hold strong opinions about, say, Tanzania or Uganda, purely based on popular stereotypes about that country’s culture. This can be detrimental to a business venture. It is far more effective to invest time in collecting many local perspectives first hand. In this regards, other global corporate leaders visiting Africa could borrow a leaf from the Facebook founder whose very localized and symbolic visits in Nairobi and Lagos endeared him to locals audiences from all walks of life.

One would say that if Africa is the last frontier of growth, then African investors need to lead the charge into realizing the economic potential in our regions. If Kenyan companies master the art of successful localization, they stand to reap big benefits.

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