15 February 2012
The Republic of Namibia is a country with great economic potential that could rival next-door neighbor Botswana if the proper branding techniques are applied in much the same way that Botswana is shifting their economy to one based on upper-scale eco-tourism. Namibia has natural resources to power their economy during towards this goal, and in
2010, both Botswana and Namibia exported over USD 4 billion in products and goods. However, Namibia has yet to reach the acclaim of Botswana because of the lack of knowledge about Namibian products and the possibilities for tourism. The six areas below (based on the Anholt Nation Brand Hexagon) will discuss the strengths and weaknesses that Namibia will encounter as they attempt to increase awareness of their brand on the international stage.
The Namibian Tourism Agency makes the claim that the country is “…perfect for nature lovers, adventure or solace seekers, and for people looking to be inspired long after their departure.” The five features of the country that are highlighted are the wildlife, the culture, the geography, the history, and the climate. The notable characteristics of these features are the Namib desert spanning the coast of the country and the exceptional ‘non-commercialization’ of the wildlife in the northern part of the country. The natural beauty of the country is also highlighted in the tourism slogan: Endless horizons.
Namibia also promotes the fact that environmental protection is written into that county’s constitution, the only nation to do so. Community Based Tourism has been the result of this commitment, which are said to bring social and monetary benefits to the local communities that provide these services causing the experience of tourists to be authentically Namibian.
Adventure/Extreme sport tourism is certainly a spot of comparative advantage for the country as it has a diversity of biospheres with which to host activities such as dune and sandboarding, skydiving, whale watching, and ‘serious’ off-roading. These offerings combined with the vastness that is much of Namibia where there are very few people (the second smallest population density in the world) thus allows the country to appeal to both the soulful sojourner and the thrill seeking escapist.
The challenge for Namibia is to balance the ‘undiscovered country’ aspect while also marketing it to a wider audience. The lack of familiarity with the country and how to differentiate it from the more popular African safari destinations is the largest obstacle to its success.
Namibian exports, like much of Southern Africa, is dominated by the extraction industry, which produces 25% of the country’s income. It was ranked as the 8th largest producers of diamonds in terms of real value in the world, and is the sixth ranked producer of uranium, now supplying nearly 10% of world demand. While mining was seen to be on the decline, the recent increases in world commodity prices has seen renewed interest in Namibian minerals such as copper, gold, and natural gas.
The fastest growing export sector in Namibia is fishing. This is the result of conservation methods undertaken by the government since independence when fish stocks had fallen to dangerously low levels. Sardines, anchovy, hake, and horse mackerel are the main species found in abundance in the cold South Atlantic waters.
It may be difficult to brand Namibian mining exports, but the export of hake to Western European countries such as France and Spain may allow Namibia to put a nation branding stamp on these exports to increase visibility. However, relating a foodstuff to a country that has its primary advantage in tourism may have little relevance.
The historical roots of human habitation in Namibia allows it to promote itself as a country with a deep lineage of humanity. These roots include the rock paintings in northwestern Namibia and the Bushman/San population that lives in the Kalahari desert, where they have lived for latter part of 30,000 years. The heritage of the country includes Boers escaping the Anglo-Boer war, German soldiers who gave Namibia a uniquely German flair in architecture and cuisine, plus the South Africans that administered the country after South Africa took over the League of Nations mandate and then refused to release the territory. Like South Africa, Namibia has 11 ethnic groups, the majority group, Ovambo, located in the north. While diversity of culture and the unique link to German heritage could be a benefit to branding the country, the fact that only %1 of the population has English as their native language may cause difficulty for scaling up the tourism industry if Namibia was to see an increase in North American/Western European visitors. However, there is a significant Chinese population, one that could possibly be employed to support tourism from the East.
Namibia has one UNESCO World Heritage Site, the rock paintings at Twyfelfontien that date between 6000 and 2000 years old and is known as one of the largest concentrations found on flat, upright slabs of rock. As discussed before the unique location of German architecture on the east coast of Southern Africa, combined with the fact that you can order a jagerschnitzel on the African continent sticks out as a feature that no other African destination can replicate. Namibia is certainly attempting to channel some of South Africa’s ‘rainbow nation’ quality when describing the diversity caused by the inclusion of multiple black African ethnic groups and white and colored Afrikaners.
The relative youth of the country hinders this identity formation as it was not as critical to state survival as in South Africa, and with a population of 2.1 it is difficult to scale culture quickly. Thus relying on the connection to ‘ancient’ and colonial Africa may be its best course.
The politics of Namibian history are undoubtedly a benefit to the nation’s brand. The governance of the country is decidedly ‘un-African’ despite the presence of de facto one-party state. In 2011, Namibia was ranked 6th on the Mo Ibrahim Index of African governance, just below South Africa, and one ahead of Ghana. This can be a major advantage to Namibia, especially as there is not a perception of pervasive of crime as there is in South Africa, thus perhaps an advantage over the continent’s hegemon. The relative unknown of Namibia perhaps acts a boon, because no reputation in Africa almost equates to a positive reputation. This also gives a clean slate from which to build their national brand. There is no need to explain or cover up coups or massive vote rigging. The weakness of governance towards the brand is the monopoly that the liberation movement turned political party has over the electorate. The party, SWAPO, dominates in a way that makes the elections in South Africa seem competitive, gaining 75% of the vote at the last national election. While the government has performed in a focused manner in terms of development, there must be a worry that political stagnation could occur due to the lack of political competition.
With a stable democratic government, a developed infrastructure, efficient transport system, and a stable exchange rate due to the linking of the Namibia Dollar with the South African Rand, Namibia is an extremely attractive investment location on the African continent. The port of Walvis Bay is the only port on the African Atlantic coast that is linked by a paved highway route to the Indian Ocean. The fact that Walvis Bay is a strategic deep-water port that is connected to Angola, Zambia, Botswana, southern DR Congo, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, may give the country a chance to increase its visibility on the continent.
Internationally, it will be difficult for Namibia to attract non-resource extraction investment because of the poor education system. The recent financial crisis has resulted in the worsening of a trend that saw official employment decrease since the late 1990s. With nearly 20% of the formal economy in the tourism sector, the need to attract companies that will invest in tourism might have the biggest near term impact on the nation’s workers because of the salaries paid to employees. However, the taxation the country can derive from export extraction will help fuel the reform of the education system. Namibia will need to decide what kind of 21st century economic sector their education system should be aligned towards.
In summary, Namibia has great potential to be a significant brand not only on the African continent, but on the world as a whole because of its stable political system, a one of a kind colonial heritage, and its unexploited natural beauty. These features give Namibia the ability to market itself as a distinctive get away location that can cater to the extreme sport adventurer or those wishing to connect to the ‘soul’ of Africa. The major brand challenge for Namibia to overcome is properly educating a certain type of international traveler about the nation’s offerings while at the same time keeping the ‘exclusivity’ of being one of the best kept secrets on the African continent.