Post-Conflict Branding & Cote d’Ivoire: The Power of Chocolate

Cote d’Ivoire and Post-Conflict Branding

By Alex Laverty

A country that is emerging from a violent internal conflict often has a significant amount of rebuilding to undertake. This usually includes the service delivery sector, the import and exports markets, and the ways that citizens interact with politicians. A glaring issue that is often not treated at the same level as security or domestic services is the international image of the country, which has been negatively affected by the conflict. While there are rare cases when conflict elevates a country’s brand or soft power, most internal violence often bares cleavages in that society to the entire world. When outside intervention is required it signals to the world community that the society is incapable of solving their own disagreements, thus further deteriorating whatever good standing the country had in the eyes of the world previously. However, as it is nearly impossible for a country brand to change radically, there remain sources and images of brand resources that can help the country post-conflict. Often these images are obscured by the fighting and the social and economic toll of destruction. Thus post-conflict, there needs to be concentrated efforts to either reintroduce or reemphasize the representations of the best of that society. By doing so, economic and social recovery can be hastened by the benefits of increased country brand awareness.

In Cote d’Ivoire, a rebuilding is underway after the Second Ivorian Civil War. The conflict involved the French military and the United Nations and resulted in the forceful removal of one leader and the installation of the internationally recognized winner of the 2010 elections, Alassane Ouattara. Claims that human rights violations were committed by both Ivorian sides were leveled during and after the conflict. Due to the nature of the division of the country, along north-south divisions as well debates on citizenship validity, the reconstruction and reconciliation processes will be difficult. Overcoming these negative images from the conflict, along with the more ingrained disposition that French colonialism has placed Cote d’Ivoire in, will need to be addressed when building a new brand for the country.

Issues from Colonialism

Cote d’Ivoire faces a global recognition problem not just due to its recent history but also with its brand following independence. This is similar to other African states who face difficulties in standing out in a crowd of 53 nations. However, specific to Cote d’Ivoire is the issue surrounding how other countries and their media outlets discuss the country.

Since 1985 the country has asked that it be referred to as Cote d’Ivoire in all language registries. While FIFA, the IOC, and The Economist refer to the French name when referencing the nation, nearly all other major media outlets (BBC, South African Broadcasting Company, The New York Times, and The Guardian) all continue to refer to the country as ‘Ivory Coast’. Due to this confusion around the name of the country, Cote d’Ivoire faces a branding issue faced by few other nations in the world. While the economic linkages due to France means this is a non-issue in many circumstances, if the country hopes to break its reliance on France, it will need to solidify its name internationally.

Issues from the Conflict

The Ivorian brand has suffered for over a decade since the beginning of a anti-government rebellion in 2002. Since then, the country has been the focus of negotiations and stalled election dates. The focus of international attention brought about by the fighting between the two groups of presidential supporters and the intervention of the French military will undoubtedly play into the negative stereotypes held by developed nations about West African states. The fact that Cote d’Ivoire was the region’s power house 30 years ago has likely faded from any institutional or personal memory. Regionally, the long stand off between the government and the rebels will cause significant harm to its reputation because it was a constant reminder to the citizens of the region that Ivorians were split in two for a decade. However, more important for regional rehabilitation will be the xenophobic rhetoric that fueled the conflict.

While this talk of a ‘true’ Ivorian was first used in 1995 to block the current President from running, it has become part of the political lexicon of the country to discuss whether one is truly a citizen if their parents were born in neighboring countries.

With the country reliant on foreign labor for agricultural production, the damage to the country’s image as a attractor of labor may suffer in the short to medium term. With Ouattara (with foreign-born parents) winning the Presidency it will be his responsibility to maintain and strengthen the ties he made with regional leaders during the stand off and to make sure that Cote d’Ivoire’s neighbors do not see them as xenophobic society. A country brand that is tagged as xenophobic with an economy reliant on foreign labor is a dangerous combination.

Building a New Nation Brand

To address the naming surround the country, I would advise a straightforward effort to increase awareness of the French spelling as well as aiding the economic recovery. First, I would utilize the fact that the country is the largest producer of the world’s finest delicacy. 30% of the world’s chocolate (cocoa) comes from the country. As the largest supplier of the bean, the country has an opportunity to use the near universal awareness of the product as way to build the country brand.

While the country has been in the spotlight for using slave labor to harvest the bean, the recent electoral violence has no doubt replaced that fact in the world’s consciousness. Thus, to capitalize on their market dominance, the new Ivorian government should invest in manufacturing plants in the country in order to export finished products of cocoa based commodities, rather than raw materials. While this has been an economic incentive in other African countries that produce raw materials such as oil, the branding potential is much higher for chocolate because it is not associated with resource or inter-state violence like petroleum is often connected to. Exporting finished products that bear the branding “Grown and made in Cote d’Ivoire” serves two purposes. It helps show that the French-spelling is used even in the English marketing, plus it can help bring widespread (positive) awareness to the country for the production of a premium product that is not associated with violence or civil conflict.

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Could Green Be the Color of the Future for Africa?

Special Report – Business of Green – Leading Africans to Responsible Recycling – NYTimes.com

This interesting article should be seen as the way forward to many African economies. I think its quite odd that African industry should be expected to develop in the same way as European and American industry came of age during the Industrial Revolution. African economics need to find areas of the market that North America and Europe have either no desire or no substantial lead in those sectors and to exploit it to their advantage.

I’m sure the image of using Africa as the dumping ground for computer and electronics parts is not one that African tourism industries want to promote. But what if Africa became the worldwide leader in recycling electronics? The continent would be able to carve out a niche in the global market that is in high demand. Obviously, countries like South Africa and Nigeria have a leg up on the competition due to their substantial infrastructure, and they should put the pedal down and encourage more high potential growth industries to establish hubs in their country. Again the image of black Africans managing and working in a recycling plant that takes the West’s junk and turns it back around and ships it back might not be an image that is welcome. But it would provide jobs, would provide a endless stream of products, and has a solid long-term future. Can anyone imagine a world without electronics, or their rubbish? Someone will have to be willing to collect and destroy or recycle the parts, why not Africa?

The way out of poverty for the continent is each country to exploit markets that are currently considered small, but necessary. Matthew McConaughey’s movie Sahara, where the villans are running a disposal plant in Mali that can vaporize toxic/nuclear waste by harnessing solar power immediately springs to mind. The problem in the movie is that while storing the toxins as they wait for disposal there has been leakage into the underground water system. But the concept of a waste disposal system is ingenious. And while no one might necessarily set out to tell all the toxic waste producers in the world to ship them their barrels of sludge, think about how profitable a recycling/disposal plant like that would be. Factor in the shipping costs, the taxes payed on the profits, the high-tech/green jobs that would be created and you would have an industry that could be highly profitable for the private corporation and the country. Granted the investment in such technology would not be local, and the highly trained scientists might not be originally local, but that shouldn’t be a reason for dismissing the concept. Importing overseas talent would be a temporary measure as the nation’s government can then make an investment (through the tax proceeds of the new industry) in their country’s technical institutions to produce the scientists and technical hands to replace the expatriates that start out working at the plant. 

Thomas Friedman is one of the loudest voices pushing for a green revolution, and if he is to be believed ‘green’ industry is the next big thing. Hydroelectric power from the Congo, solar power from the Sahara, recycling plants in South Africa could be all part of an industry that could be led by those on the African continent. Creating that monopoly on green industry could inspire a new century of growth that would see the continent become an equal of the industrial north. The symbiotic relationship that could be created would be sustainable for both north and south economies, and just as important, for the planet.

Another Call for Assistance for Zimbabwe

If one was to look back through the Archives of this blog, one would find a post where one of the authors of this blog promised a step by step plan for how to help Zimbabwe, instead of the typically useless ‘calls for solidarity’. As the formation of this plan went along, holes began to develop and the whole idea became vastly more complicated and detailed than was originally set out to be. The African File’s now defunct sister site, The Fertile Cresent File, tore into the drafts of this project, and as time went along the situation on the ground continued to change right up to the unity government that was forced upon the MDC and Mugabe by SADC. Since then the world has watched (though less so than in 2008) as the two rivals parties try to form something resembling a functioning government. I had given up on any prescription because the situation seemed to deal more with personalities and certainly a little bit of luck, rather than any post-conflict organizational chart.

Since then, we have had a MDC Minister arrested, Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife has been killed in a traffic accident, and Mugabe has celebrated his 85th birthday.

All of which leads to this article from the Huffington Post by two ICG writers:

International Crisis Group – Sydney Masamvu and Donald Steinberg in The Huffington Post.

I have a few issues with this piece, other than the repeated calls for aid.

First deals with this paragraph:

…failure would likely lead to a new seizure of power by Mugabe and his hardline allies, even greater repression and isolation, and new hardship and abuse for the long-suffering Zimbabwean people.

I think this does quite an unjustice to Mugabe. I mean, it would be awfully hard to top the repression and isolation that has gone on in the country. I would be curious to learn where there were any areas in the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans that wasn’t ‘hard’ already. To suggest that it could be worse, is to suggest that Mugabe hasn’t been at the top of his game. I wonder how he’ll respond to that criticism. 

Second, is the impression that the regional body SADC actually gives a damn about Zimbabwe through the channeling of funds:

The regional grouping of the Southern African Development Corporation (SADC), has recognized the stakes, and is putting its money where its interests are, including through new financial support from South Africa and Botswana. It is time for the broader international community to do the same.

Masamvu and Steinberg realize that these are the only countries that would even have money to contribute, yes? Angola is spending their saved up petro dollars on football stadiums for the next ACN. Mozambique is just getting its budget together after years of actually useful help from the IMF/WB. Zambia is getting poached by vulture funds. Namibia is dealing with water shortages and aid reductions. The DRC is the DRC. Madagascar is suspended, Tanzania has never made a meaningful contribution to regional development lately, and everyone else is too small to have any kind of political or economic impact. Thus to back up a claim that SADC is actually interested in solving Zimbabwe’s crisis by funding through Botswana and South Africa (who are coincidently asking us to help pay), does not really make much sense. On top of that, they include a quote by Tsvangirai saying “Don’t make us pay for working with Mugabe.” They fail to read between the lines of this quote, because what Tsvangirai really means to say is “Don’t make us pay for working with Mugabe….because you made us do it“. SADC thought they had performed their role by holding the firearm in this shot-gun marriage. With their hands now washed of Zimbabwe, they can now blame the MDC and maybe ZANU-PF if and when they screw up.

Finally, to suggest that it is the US/UK refusals to contribute humanitarian assistance as the reason for service failure in Zimbabwe is overstating the effect of Western aid. Nothing short of an invasion by medical personnel, engineers, and teachers would help begin to tackle the challenges faced by the country. To suggest that simply freeing money to support these ventures would cause anything more than a bump in PR rating for the West buys into the antiquated belief that aid can have profound effects on a country simply by giving more and more. Many books have recently been published that should diminish this belief that aid can achieve anything when funneled through sovereign service delivery agencies or that half-ass projects by the UN or the West will cause significant societal changes. People would certainly argue that something is better than nothing, but I would argue quite the opposite. Either invade Zimbabwe with services and personnel, say to the unity government “take seat, you can come back in 10 years” and then commit to a decade long project of education and service improvements, while letting the politicians map out a long-term plan of reconciliation and civic society building, OR let the Zimbabweans figure it out on their own. Anything in the middle will just prolong the final product of a safe and prosperous Zimbabwe.