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Uganda vs. Nigeria: A call for national reflection on branding and service culture

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By Akonte Ekine

Letter to President Bola Tinubu

His Excellency, Sir, I write to commend you on your activities in drawing attention to the country in your quest to revive economic challenges.

In line with what you are doing, I want to draw your attention to the National Advertising Conference scheduled to be held between December 7 and 8, 2023, with the theme, Marketing Communication as an Enabler of National Transformation.

The quality of the speakers and guests that will grace the event is a pointer to the desire of practitioners of marketing communications in the country to see our beloved country appropriately positioned among a community of nations.

However, we are leaving the fundamentals of destination marketing, destination branding, and national reputation management as a game of chance based on the narratives emanating from the activities of government actors.

I commend the team behind the National Advertising Conference.

His Excellency, as the Chief Brand Custodian and Chief Marketing Officer of the country, it is time we aggregate our conversation with the world, from our internal behaviour to the external, that we so much desire to have foreign direct investment.

There seems to be a contradiction of behaviours that are present in a mixed conversation, and when we look around, we are far behind on destination marketing.

Let us look at Uganda against the backdrop of the names of leaders such as Idi Amin Dada, Kaguta Museveni, and Milton Obote. These leaders left us with narratives that gave the world movies such as 90 Minutes at Entebbe and the rise and fall of Idi Amin of Uganda.

Today, that airport is sending out a very different and more enticing or appealing story, not enabled by anything but a cultural shift in service offerings.

Based on this, we need to review our cultural behaviour in service offerings as men and women in marketing communications gather to look at marketing communications as an enabler of national transformation.

We probably have suffered a short but terrible culture of poor service delivery across the board to the extent that now it is normal for payment for service to be a favour from the supplier of such service to the payer.

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A review of scenarios at Murtala Muhammed International Airport against the backdrop of all the infrastructural evolution happening at the same airport will show that behavioural change is probably not as fast as infrastructural change.

The activities of personnel representing various agencies at the airport are almost a compulsory demand for money for the simple clearing of bags or check-in of bags, to the extent that the measure of attention is in relation to the expected unofficial exchange.

That is a culture we are selling to the world. However, while the investment in the infrastructure is beautiful, the human elements are left behind in re-modeling and reshaping.

There are over 223 million people, no national carrier, and we are yet to call out the people who have consistently abused the process of achieving that, while a nation with about 42 million people in the east of Africa is setting new standards in the aviation industry with new aspirations as the Crane of the Pearl of Africa.

According to available information, Uganda Airlines is the flag carrier of Uganda. The company is a revival of the older Uganda Airlines that operated from 1977 until 2001.

The new Uganda Airline began flying in August 2019 and has been adjudged the World’s Youngest Aircraft Fleet by Ch-Aviation, an industry information collector and publisher based in the city of Chur, Switzerland.

The Murtala Mohammed International Airport is going through transformation, however, the people’s behaviours are not changing. And I stand to be corrected or challenged.

These workers have an entitled spirit of demanding money from passengers after every expected action. They are hostile, intending to extort money from passengers.

This personnel and passengers are the storytellers; the government must design a new behavioural conversation with one goal: to ensure the right service culture that will inspire the users of the service.

The story of Entebbe is amazingly inspiring, as is the behaviour of the personnel on the ground. What is enabling the conversation and driving traffic to the Pearl of Africa is a culture of excellence within the brand touch point.

What is our culture at our touch points that will enable that conversation from marketing communications?

Once again, I call on the Ministry of Information, adding both the Ministry of Aviation and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, to create a meeting point for other government agencies to draw reference from the management of brand conversations through the simple alignment of the reputation management of the nation.

While the Ministry of Information is probably sending out information about the country, there are many more contents going out of the country (and inside the country) through the activities of employees at the airport (just one location), amongst many other points of contact that are telling the stories to the public at various levels.

The behaviour of men and women in power is an endless story-telling avenue.

My humble recommendation is that now is the time for the federal government to set up a mandatory team for the country to start a behavioural change campaign with service offering standards across every organisation.

There should be a brand and reputation management department outside the Ministry of Information or Department of Information that will bring other skills into one place to define service levels that will impact brand value. If Uganda could revive its airline within a couple of years, what could be the reason behind Nigeria’s “Airways” revival?

The case of what happened under the past Minister of Aviation and the past leadership of the country is a pointer to the fact that we are not ready to face the ant or elephant and deal with the subject, but what is happening also is that the nation we considered to be small in the past is making better efforts at rebuilding and rebranding than us.

Our president is very busy attending to the many troubles of the nation; however, as the Chief Brand Executive and Chief Marketing Officer of the Nigeria Company, he must hear the Uganda vs. Nigeria story.

  • Ekine is a reputation management specialist, he writes from Nairobi

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