Britain’s new PM to grapple with reputational hurdles after Brexit

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Britain’s new prime minister will face a tough task of managing the aftermath of a popular decision that, although it is the outcome of a bonafide referendum, is perceived to be economic self-sabotage by most observers within Britain and around the world.

The current state of affairs reminded me of the article “The British lose right to claim that Americans are dumber”published on the Newyorker shortly after the Brexit vote. I couldn’t help but empathize with the “Stay” voters who are being lumped in the same category as their fellow Britons who are perceived as having made a dumb decision. Although the headline and article adopted a lighter approach to the controversial vote and its outcomes, it raised pointed to the fact that nations, and indeed their people, have to be aware that events that happen within them can affect their reputations.


One would then ask: So what? Does it matter if the rest of the world thinks that the Japanese are sticklers for time, or that Indians are super smart, or Kenyans good runners?  Apparently it does. The art and science of managing the reputation of a nation, otherwise known as Nation Branding, has evolved significantly over the years, as governments across the world have realized the correlation between their reputations and their exports and global influence. The image and reputation of a nation can dramatically influence its success in attracting tourism receipts and investment capital; in exports; in attracting a talented and creative workforce and in its cultural and political influence in the world. 

Although no one really knows what the post-Brexit world really looks like, it is evident that public authorities and top British will need to pay close attention to the reputational effects of the various Exit processes that the country will be involved in in the coming months. 

The internet is the biggest canvas on which the reputations of national, corporate and personal brands are being constantly painted, with new strokes of colour being continuously added to already existing perceptions.

Managing the reputation of a nation goes well beyond merely saying nice things about a nation or it’s government in the media. It also includes symbolic acts that position the nation and it’s leaders as positive forces that contribute to humanity’s improvement as a whole. For all the beating that the British nation brand has been through in the last few days, it is worth noting that they have taught the world that, ultimately, the democratic decision of a people, however illogical be it to the rest of the world, should reign supreme.

Coming closer to home, many a Kenyan feel that Britain will emerge “weaker” from the EU pull-out, as the economic consequences take their toll. Although not many of us will lose their sleep, a number of Kenyan analysts and economic commentators are concerned about the potential impact of post-Brexit EU/UK negotiations on EU-Kenya trade deals that could end up being delayed significantly. The development community is also nervous of a potential scale-down of British aid to Kenya, as the economic downturn leads to budget cuts across the board.

It would therefore seem important for authorities in Europe and Brussels to adopt clear reputation and information management strategies that will bring clarity to the rest of the world.

What is certain is that the British political elite will for some time come to suffer from an acute level of credibility deficit, after the « Leave » leaders turned their backs on their pre-referendum pledges within a day, while the « remain » team seemed unable to build a convincing and tangible case for the benefits of staying in the EU. This will not fail to amuse any African leader.

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