Q5: Changing the words we use about Africa, with Mimi Kalinda [interview]
by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Mimi Kalinda (@MKalinda) is group CEO and co-founder of the Africa Communications Media Group (ACG). Passionate about African markets and the narratives in and around them, she shares insights about the power of the stories we tell.
Q5: You know this continent inside out. Which markets would you identify as key, going into 2020?
Mimi Kalinda: Oh, if only it were that simple! Africa is not homogenous and, as such, different markets offer different value-adds. The whole continent is bursting with opportunity and it is time that we deflect from thinking certain markets have more to offer than others. It also depends on the industry. I recently spent some time in Equatorial Guinea and was impressed at infrastructure development and innovation in the health sector. If one wants to take a traditionalist approach, Kenya, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire are markets to keep an eye on. Much has already been said about Rwanda — and for good reason — especially if investors are interested in the tech and MICE [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions] industries.
Q5: You’re a fan of narratives. In your opinion, what are the most-powerful and -problematic narratives running through those key African markets?
MK: As I mentioned earlier, I do not subscribe to the notion of “key” markets and that is why our company ACG has a footprint across the continent. However, I will say that problematic narratives are rife and one of the narratives we’re all concerned about now is the one about xenophobia and Afrophobia. These are sometimes very simplistic, and without local, regional and global context. We need to be careful to give them their due intellectual consideration, because the issues that surround these narratives have very real consequences on people’s lives. The other narrative, which is thankfully changing, is the one about the lack of excellence when it comes to African products, services and leadership. We’re seeing a critical mass of Africans (particularly young people) who are proving that — that the narrative is not only outdated and untrue but utterly ridiculous as well.
Q5: You say that a country’s image and branding can impact its GDP. Can you give us examples of African countries or regions whose branding efforts are bearing fruit?
MK: At the risk of sounding biased [as I’m half-Rwandan and half DRC], Rwanda comes to mind. Just in 2016, Rwanda was ranked 42nd and second-best country in Africa to do business in the Mara Foundation’s Ashish J. Thakkar Global Entrepreneurship Index report. Rwanda has a very public and painful past which adversely affected the nation’s economic prospects. The Rwandan government and people made a deliberate decision that they would not allow a single story to be told about the country. Through much effort, including communications and storytelling, they were able to raise the reputation equity of Rwanda, making it one of the most-desirable destinations on the continent to do business today. I think Rwanda is a great example of how image and branding (supporting concrete action, of course) can impact tourism, investment and ultimately, GDP.
Q5: You’ve expressed concerns about the use of the word “empowerment” when it comes to women in adland. What language (and stories) do you think we should be using instead?
MK: Empowerment denotes a situation where one is already at a disadvantage and, when you think of it that way, it’s actually a disempowering concept. I think we should use words like “mentor”, “teach” and “inform” because, really, that’s what is at the core of any “empowerment” exercise.
Q5: How can young women in the advertising, marketing and communications industry rise to become role models for future generations?
MK: Just like young women in any other industry: operate with integrity, honesty and a great work ethic.
- Find out more about Kalinda on LinkedIn.
Carey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to MarkLives.com, her regular column “Q5” hones in on strategic insights, analysis and data through punchy interviews with inspiring professionals in diversive fields.