My time in South Africa, sadly, came to an end a couple days ago. It was the most fun I’ve had in a long, long while. And I met some new friends on the We Blog the World tour who I hope will soon enough become old friends.
Depending on how you count, this was my third or fourth visit to South Africa and the country has become, like Mexico, Medellín, Buenos Aires, and Christchurch, a sort-of second home. I would love to return next year for Highway Africa and the year after for the 2010 World Cup.
Our trip was paid for by Brand South Africa, a government-funded initiative to improve South Africa’s image abroad in the hope that doing so will attract more tourism and foreign investment. It’s called country branding and its big business. On the US side of things it was Renee Blodgett who organized the bloggers and the marketing of the trip. She has done a similar trip to Israel and I believe she plans on organizing many more in other countries that want to elevate their national brand among the connected digerati. It’s a good strategy and I have a feeling that Renee will have many more clients over the next couple years.
Throughout our trip, however, my mind kept drifting back to the above-photo from the !Khwa ttu photo exhibit, “The San and the Camera”. Who should be recruited to build up South Africa’s brand? A bunch of American bloggers or South Africans themselves?
I asked Simon Barber, who is in charge of the Brand South Africa Blog. He thinks that South Africans are in the best position to tell their country’s story, but that it will take some time before adoption rates of digital tools are anything near what they are in the US. Right now he’s asking South African Twitter users to use the hashtag “amazwi” when they have something good to say about their country. I assume he’ll be collecting these anecdotes for a summary post on the Brand South Africa Blog.
I’m happy to say that on one of our last days of the trip I inspired Simon to try a new strategy to his documentation efforts. Rather than shooting a video himself about our hiking with an Outward Bound group of youths from inner Johannesburg, he handed his camera over to Lesego Mlambo from the Braam Fischer section of Soweto and taught him how to make a video. (Which includes a very embarrassing clip of me nearly naked.)
Inviting American bloggers to your country is a nice way to gain some Web 2.0 exposure abroad, but imagine if the South African government had instead invested the money in teaching people like Lesego how to make their own media. The problem, of course, is that it wouldn’t reach nearly as many people. But what about some hybrid model? What about inviting six high profile bloggers from the US to train six locals how to blog and make videos and then tour around the country to document all they see?
I am thinking about all of this because I just finished translating a column written by Laura Vidal in Tal Cual about the Nari Jibon project. One of the things she notes in her piece is how the project challenges many of the stereotypes that Venezuelans hold about Bangladesh. They are, essentially, helping build up their country’s brand. With future leaders like Taslima and Afrin how could you not want to invest in the country?
Coincidentally, I just saw on Rezwan’s blog that Bangladesh has just started its own country branding process. After the laser show at the expensive hotel was over, however, all it amounted to was a single logo. If Bangladesh wants to build up its national brand it could learn a thing or two from Brand South Africa and start involving its own citizens.