There is a popular word I have come to love in the Ghanaian list of social jargon, packaging! I hear this word many times either from hawkers, waiters, even middle-class folk.

It is almost as if packaging and other words like “managing” is a response to “Chaley how be?”. This has become a word with meanings as powerful as its antecedent, boss or “bossu!” in the Ghanaian locale.

It must be said that there is a certain part of Ghana’s move toward development that has been overlooked and underrated.

I will use the word Package or packaging loosely as a container word for the process of branding, marketing, selling, and communicating our values and our culture (way of life).

These are wild thoughts of your average Ghanaian youth on how a deep dive into the word packaging will teach us (Ghanaians) how to present ourselves attractively and advantageously to first ourselves then to the world.

There’s a basic reason why nations have flags and anthems, coats of arms and emblems. For example, the iconic American Eagle, associated with authority and statehood, had some significance to Americans leading to its official adoption as an emblem in 1787.

Symbols and emblems are easy entities yet with deep meanings used to communicate the history and culture and instil pride and unity in a nation’s population by creating verbal, visual, and iconic symbolism.

They are further used in moulding the identity of the people. But, to be honest, holding a National Identification Card is not what carves a person’s national identity (sense of belonging) rather identifying with a shared history with rich, deep-rooted diversity. 

The South African flag is a fine example of the importance of a national symbol. South Africa had been separated by race for much of its history. However, when ANC fell in the early 90s, the country decided on a new flag as a symbol of the nation and the unity of the people who constitute the nation.

The flag includes the colours of the former rulers, the ANC and Boers, and the colours of Nelson Mandela’s political party. Some of the colours have a deeper meaning; red stood for bloodshed, green for the land, and yellow for natural resources, similar to the meanings of the colours of the Ghana flag.

While it was not always considered to be symbolic of France, the Eiffel Tower has become a symbol of France to the world. The Great Wall of China, approximately 4,000 miles long, was originally separate walls built by competing Chinese dynasties. During the Qin dynasty (ca. 220 BCE), and has become a symbol of China over the years.

Thanks to the concept of packaging, the Mona Lisa, a half-length portrait painting by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci has been described as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, and the most parodied work of art in the world and considered an archetypal masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance at a recent value of approximately US$860m. Today, the Louvre can attract 10million people to its halls to see the Mona Lisa and others.

Governments over the years

Backtrack about 11 years ago, in September 2009, Ghanaians were introduced to a brand Ghana office during the first year of the Mills/Mahama regime. In Mills’ own words, the office would “co-ordinate the development of a compelling national image for Ghana”. In 2016, A three-year strategic plan to enhance Ghana’s image to attract more investors was under development by the Brand Ghana Office.

The new image was expected “to highlight the investment opportunities in Ghana, the Ghanaian culture, values, democracy, heritage, and among other things, establish a significant and differentiated presence in the international market that will attract and retain investors”. The 2017/2019 Branding Ghana strategic plan, which hasn’t seen the light of day, was to align with the 40-year development plan of the NDPC.

With good judgement and an appreciation of the importance of branding, Mills set up the office yet placed it in obscurity, physically and psychologically.

For a long time, the Brand Ghana office perched within the former parliamentary ministry office, a move that to an extent belittled the mandate and potential of the office. Fast forward 2018, The Brand Ghana Office has been replaced with a committee made up of representatives of the Tourism Authority together with the GIPC, GEPA and the Free Zones Board with a focus on attracting foreign direct investment.

The focus of the agency had been teleported to focus on attracting foreign investors into the Ghanaian economy. We had set up the office, yet its vast and ubiquitous mission had been truncated.

It is important to note that a well researched, well planned and well-executed brand Ghana agenda would encompass activities to create a sense of belonging retrospectively, rekindle a healthy sense of nationalism and patriotism, ready the people for economic growth and development, brand and sell our uniqueness to the world for foreign exchange and making destination Ghana a choice for tourism and industry.

Truly, Good strides have been made over the years. Thanks to the 2019 Year of Return initiative, Ghana gained some eyeballs and ears globally. The Year of return significantly marked 400 years of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Virginia. An exodus that marked a sordid and sad period, when our kith and kin were forcefully taken away from Africa into years of deprivation, humiliation and torture.

But, after seeing the slave castles and hearing the story of slavery that happened 400+ years ago, what do we want to be known for as a country? What will a Beyond the Return initiative focus on to brand Ghana beyond the year of return? Herein lies the resulting effects of a strategic Ghanaian brand.

The Brand Ghana Agenda

A Brand Ghana Agenda should be one of the main priority areas on our national development agenda. A brand Ghana office will develop a central nervous system to carve our outlook and approach to branding & marketing who we are toward sustainable national development.

In the early 1990s, it was discovered that the known oil reserves of Dubai, one of the seven emirates that comprised the United Arab Emirates (UAE), would be exhausted by 2016. This led the government of the city-state to look for new growth opportunities (repackage).

Accordingly, the government of Dubai decided to reduce its dependence on oil as a major contributor to the gross domestic product (GDP) and focus on other areas of the economy. This shift in focus transformed the emirate from a fishing settlement to a tourism hub, trade and transport.

They started defying nature and reclaiming land from the sea, then branded the experience of driving an SUV through sand dunes on a hot day wearing a traditional robe and a headscarf. Packaging!!!

A Brand Ghana Agenda should be our conscious and strategic effort to uphold Ghana’s good name, firing up our development agenda cylinders, creating jobs for youth, building a culture of tolerance and respect for every profession and vocation.

A winning Brand Ghana Agenda should be a good collective of minds who will use their backgrounds in diverse disciplines, including architecture, engineering, videography, photography, journaling, storytelling, to re-kindle the patriotism and belief in the Ghanaian dream and identity.

Furthermore, the collective’s task will be to rebrand and reposition our culture in all its ethnic diversity from Ewe, Ashanti, Ga, Fante, Dagaati groups for global attention and economic gain. Thus, while the United States has to depend on a certain Diversity Visa Lottery to attain a healthy level of diversity that builds economies, we can thrive on even deeper roots of a diversity that has predated our current era.

A brand Ghana office will deliver a well-branded local league to international standards. It will brand, develop, and standardize our fabric like kente and our communication (Adinkra) symbols in all its ethnic entirety.

They will propose, design and build monuments, propose design and build museums to hold a certain historical timeline for all of our historical past.

Recommendations

The government needs to set up a clear and nonpartisan National brand strategy/plan. This strategy shall detail a roadmap to attain global Ghana brand recognition with strict utilization of new-age technology.

Setup, a grandiose brand Ghana office to conduct the serious business of branding Ghana, with the creative freedom to operate. The office should be well funded, well equipped and well resourced with, state of the art equipment and machinery.

Government must incentivize key stakeholders to commit to pushing bold and audacious brand Ghana initiatives. Policymakers should build the needed structure to sustain such an initiative through various government regimes and party agendas. 

The Chartered Institute of Marketing, Ghana must lend their professional attention to the process while instituting the culture and structure of knowledge sharing among the wider society.

There should be a professional responsibility on the marketing institute to propose reforms, and lead change from their professional standpoint and lend credence to their credentials as an astute and respected organization.

Conclusion

It is important to note that before England’s historic entry into the Euro Cup final in 2020 after 54+ years, her national team manager Garett Southgate published an essay on patriotism titled “dear England”.

In that essay, Southgate highlighted, ” I think about all the young kids who will be watching this summer, filling out their first wall charts. No matter what happens, I hope that their parents, teachers and club managers will turn to them and say, “Look. That’s the way to represent your country. That’s what England is about. That is what’s possible.

Allegiance to one’s country has roots in the social psychology of humankind. Therefore, a Brand Ghana office should be tasked with, among other things, delving into our history, studying our deep-rooted culture, finding the architecture that differentiated us from the world, the music played with instruments made from trees and animal skin and sang by our forefathers while working their farms and hunting.

They will study the food that had us eating from the same bowl in friendship, the persons that held high the name of our country as role models, the stories and folktales of the infamous Kwaku Ananse, the fabrics and fashion industry that identified us as Ghanaians.

A Brand Ghana Agenda beyond re’packaging’ ourselves to the world would reap us some good benefits as a country while setting us on the path to be innovative in solving our challenges in-country. The development will be spun through adult re-education, mass youth employment, and educating the unborn to catch up with tomorrow.

It is from a well developed national identity that we can discover a Ghanaian dream, national pride and national development. Development by a people with a common history and a shared interest in a better future for generations existing and unborn.

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The writer is a technology entrepreneur with over 12 years of business experience in eCommerce, social enterprise and FinTech.