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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Brands for days

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It was then that I first heard of Africa’s branding problem. At this year’s World Economic Forum on Africa was the second time I heard of it and fully grasped the branding importance of a region that is growing fast.
The Gambia is not excluded in this problem of branding. In fact, national branding is perhaps one of the lowest in Africa. Staying for a while in Asia for my studies, I was privileged to see one of the biggest giants of national branding at work. Modern day China has branded itself as a destination for businessmen, students and tourists amidst a climate of anti-Western rhetoric and sentiments. All the odds stacked against them, they created a force worthy of recognition and have built such national pride that is perhaps only rivaled by the United States of America.
In “The Smiling Coast”, government has over the years tried to create a pride encompassing culture, sunny beaches, friendly smiles and history. National branding is however not simply a government fix. A nation’s brand is more than a few billboards on the highway and a hospitality brochure. A nation’s brand is representative of the collective; the be all; leup li chi biir!
Going through the branding debates at WEF on Africa, I asked myself what The Gambia’s brand was. Are we to be known for our smiles, our family orientation, our pride, or our pettiness? The best place to see a nation’s brand is its media. Our media brands are confusing and hard to put together; perhaps that is our brand…confused?
Unable to distinguish what our nation represents to everyone outside and within it, I went to the easiest representation of international Gambia accessible – Gambia on the Internet. What’s trending? When I search for The Gambia do I see a newly completed highway? Do I see a project nearing completion? Do I see nude celebrities caught in the act? Do I see Gee dropping bangers?
The views on Africa’s brand at the WEF differed from person to person. Most of the politicians (11 heads of state and numerous government ministers) lamented on Africa’s poor representation in the media and how every newspaper headline in the continent will more often than not do more negative colouring of the region than even foreign media. The belief that negative news sells is certainly not a myth. The politicians believe that even where all news cannot be negative, there is a collective responsibility to balance the bad with the good. “There are great things happening in the continent” they say, and I agree. The examples of African greatness have no finish line and must always be acknowledged. The businessmen who aren’t connected to media lamented a similar case. “Bad news is bad for business”.
In The Gambia, news is easy perfectly skewed to the right or to the far left. It is an unplanned science in my humble opinion. However, this is not about print media. This is about The Gambia online.
When one searches on public for Nigerian debates or South African issues, there are mature discussions which seek to tackle political, social and random issues. In The Gambia however, the trend borders ludicrous.
Browsing through Facebook, I was pleased to see a brother of mine articulate it just as I would have. Years ago, on opening the Facebook balafong forum, we believed we had figured out that our public find it difficult to discuss anything political without losing their minds. It is not an accusation to cause injury but a simple fact that played out before us time and time again.
Our online presence is either riddled with socially positive groups, which seek to promote what The Gambia wants the outside world to see, or politically confused discussions that turn every serious story into a joke.
I had promised myself that these online political debates are not for me. I feel and believe that the muddy waters of those discussions are simply too low for a man of my stature (yes you read right). It might be some people’s cup of tea but jumping into them for me simply feels like jumping into a gutter.
I cannot for the life in me fathom political discussions moderated by a nincompoop who believes that moderation involves “cussing out” people’s mamas and papas. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Mr Pa Nderry Mbai (scratch the Mr) needs therapeutic help. I would not be mistaken to assume that his mother dropped him on his head when he was a baby. Growing up in an environment as cultured as ours and allowing a foul mouthed, dirty-minded maniac to be a representative voice is sad for our people.
Growing up in a good home, I was taught that respect and humility was the key to success and I have tried to stay true to those ideals ever since. Even where I must say I am the BUT in this family equation, I am an angel compared to the pettiness I have seen in online Gambia.
A year ago, I myself was a constant figure in online media. My “situation” which received attention from online media was tough to comprehend. At one point I was at the NIA receiving blows and kicks and was undeserving of it (according to Mbai) and at some other point, I was the devil incarnate and an “NIA Killer”. I swore not to give him any attention simply because I believe I AM a bigger person. I swore not to discuss my issues in public and will therefore take my experience to the grave.
However, it would be irresponsible to watch a maniac The Gambia has helped create drag Gambian parents into the mud. Our nation has a code of conduct, a code of ethics that we live by. We are decent people living decent lives. As a writer (If I qualify as one), I am all for free speech bearing the responsibilities it comes with. Irresponsible speech coming applauded by even a couple of people is sad for our nation.
Is our brand that of unfiltered thought and uncultured tongues. Have we lost our identity to the Pa Nderry Mbais such that even our decent folks play fiddle to his songs?
There is an ongoing debate (more like war) between two parts of my family. It is a sad truth and a bitter pill to swallow. Where I have asked Mr Gibou Bala-Gaye (Gee) to stay away from the profanity usually accompanying such debates, I believe he is grown enough to fight his battles and is more than capable to handle it. It does come with the territory, doesn’t it?
On the other side of the debate, there was quite a bit of maturity from some quarters. I read through essays that were well thought through and bore messages which were at worst comprehensible. However, on that same side of the debate was the usual profanity and red black nonsense unbecoming of our people.
This piece is not in any way to bring unnecessary attention to someone undeserving of it. It is said that “he who sleeps with dogs, wakes up with fleas”…or something close to that. I was raised to be the bigger person and I have managed to do just that for this long. My surprise is at the way such an uncouth and uncultured person has been allowed to thrive on the blood of the innocent. Our country is a nation of a strong educated elite. We are a people of pride (useless or not) and from the sidelines I have watched as every brand of any significance in this little nation keeps getting dragged into the mud. How hateful have we become as a people? Can we not do or have anything good.
Fatou Bom Bensouda, Neneh MacDouall, Tombong Saidy, Isatou Njie-Saidy, Ousainou Darboe, Mai Ahmed Fatty, Mambury Njie, Muhammed Jah, Amadou Samba, Gibou Bala-Gaye and every Gambian of note has received the hate of a man who seems to hate everything that shines above the surface. It seems almost planned that his job is to destroy everything and everyone that grows above the dirt.
How a human being can be filled with so much hate and envy beats me. How deprived was he? How angry is he? The branding issue is a collective responsibility because the forces we fight against as we brand Africa are strange ones that do not come with a manual. A nation that was once filled with so much love and un derstanding is now filled with hate, envy and like my brother would call it “the crabs in a bucket syndrome”.
It is impossible to say that there is nothing good about The Gambia. How hard is it for us to celebrate what we have? How difficult is it to see how far we have come as a people? There are a lot of things wrong with The Gambia and my RBN series seek to flush out the wrongs or at least acknowledge them. I believe societal correction is a key to development and fixing our ideas and some of our intrinsic characters as a people does more to fix our faulty systems than any political fix can do. I might be wrong but that is mine to believe.
This war of words and profanity against our parents has been ongoing for too long. The threats of “disclosing” personal family information is one we as young people simply laugh at. Like I say to my people, “man xaleh bu ndaww laa”. People like Pa Nderry Mbai have endured a political war with the system for a long time. People like myself will sit on the sidelines because our tables are filled with tasks more beneficial to the growth and development of our people than his tiny brain can fathom. He is a little man wanting big man’s pants. If however he continues to take his war to the growing youth population; the movers and shakers of our time; smart, young, energetic people coming up with ideas to take our nation and continent further, he will be making his campaign’s biggest mistake yet. We have “bigger fish to fry” and need to focus on them. We have brands to represent and need to create those brands that will make The Gambia and Africa proud. If our parents get dragged into his red black nonsense however, now that will be a completely different story. TGBA


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