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Fixing Zimbabwe's broken reputation chain

22 Mar 2019 at 07:02hrs | Views
The Economist Intelligence Unit's livability survey 2018, pitches Harare, in Zimbabwe, in the 10 least "livable" in the world out of the 140-city sample.

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

These are the indicators which shape the global reputation of the respective countries' brand touch points - their cities. This reality check for Zimbabwe punches holes on the already weak national positioning cliché by the President of the Republic - 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 its entire stakeholders, be it internally or externally.

Reputation management defines aggregate effects of identity/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 be it as a good (or bad) to her citizens, a trustworthy (or untrustworthy) service provider, a strategically responsible (or irresponsible) citizen among the league of nations.

In summary, image is taken to mean external stakeholders hold the view of the country, especially that held by investors and other nations. Identity is taken to mean the citizens' view of the country.

In other words, "how do we see ourselves?", while reputation is taken to be a collective term referring to all stakeholders' views of reputation, including identity and image. There comes the problem of a broken reputation chain - the missing link between the views of the internal stakeholders and those of the external stakeholders.

Given the five indicators used to assess the cities' livability, it is critical to take a close look at these variables:
Infrastructure

Zimbabwe is a very expensive investment destination given the decaying and obsolete infrastructure. Even the goods she produces are more expensive compared to importing from other nations which employ 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 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, the city under the spotlight, depends on the water supply infrastructure which was designed for a white settler minority. Tied to it is its waste management system which ends up contaminating water bodies at catchment areas and expose the country to diseases that end up claiming lives unnecessarily. There are no 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 the August 1 2018 horror, when soldier carried extrajudicial killings, shooting 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 ironhanded approach of a party that hand attempted in vain to position itself as a velvet-gloved modern administration.

The honeymoon is surely over for the naïve and selfish global salesforce, which took it upon themselves to package the ruling party as capable of change. This even played out when the 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 on churning out products on a conveyer belt. Quality control is heavily compromised. Worse off, when the ruling elite get 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 a need to overhaul its architecture so that it produces valuable assets to address the challenges facing our nation.

Healthcare

If you really want to understand the depth of the Zimbabwean crisis, 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 afford to subscribe for medical cover are often shortchanged by the poorly regulated medical aid and pharmaceutical industries.

Public hospitals have been turned into funeral parlours-you get admitted and your chances of being discharged alive are very limited.

Culture and environment

Our culture industry is vague and lacks shape and form. This limits investment in the industry. Yet in other jurisdictions the culture industry contributes between 5% and10% towards the gross domestic product, thereby making it a frontline reputation ambassadorial industry as the artists and sportspersons and institutions take the national flag global.

Worse still, our environment is at the mercy of huge corporates, in the era of "openness" without frameworks, the biggest casualty is the environment, labour rights and other rights in pursuit of inhumane profit margins.

This is the sad reality which our national leadership is exposing on the global stage, undressed 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 that in which 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 has shown the world that the country's reputation chain is broken and nowhere near being fixed.
Despite attempts by the plotters and executors of the November 15 2017 coup, 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 progress and taking bold steps forward, Zimbabwe's reputation chain is broken, deliberately in pursuit of narrow and selfish ruling elite ends.

This is a heavily disputed election - even the number of legal challenges the courts testifies to that. 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 in the aftermath of 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 promoted entrenched positions among citizens and the broader stakeholder chain.

The manoeuvres by the ruling party to amend the constitution on the minimum age limit for presidential candidates further reduces the country to kindergarten politics, which should not have a place in a nation riddled with life-or-death problems.

The new leadership should be focussed on fixing this broken national reputation as a first priority towards setting Zimbabwe on the path to development and growth. In the aforestated survey, Zimbabwe eclipsed Damascus (war-ravaged Syria), Dhaka (increasing threat of extremism and poverty), Lagos (Nigeria faces the ever-present threat of terrorism instigated by Boko Haram) to name but a few.

National character

Having noted the above factors, I propose five key recommendations towards fixing this broken reputation chain as follows:
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. It should develop a charter that binds all the country's citizens and internal stakeholders in answering the 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, in promising and preaching how it is open for this and that. The world wants to see actions, rather than words.

It is vital to 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 each passing day, through its acts of commission or omission, it resorts to its default settings of violence and other isms.

Transparency is important.

When trust is low, it is imperative that stakeholders can see that the country is not withholding any bitter truth. If there is everything wrong about the current path, it is the entitlement by the ruling elite which weakens public institutions for narrow selfish interests.

As we go forward, we shall see the courts being attacked and captured for power retention politics.

Act on feedback

Failure to produce ongoing responsive engagement with stakeholders increases levels of distrust. This government commits acts of barbarism and expects to get away unscathed.

It is high time the government became 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.

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

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Source - the independent
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