How to Sell a Country in Five Minutes

Duke Malan

Countries compete. For investment dollars, tourists and talent, in much the same way that they compete for sporting medals – fiercely. On top of the podium of fastest growing economies is Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s race to the top

The East African nation has a powerful story to tell. In 2015 it was the world’s fastest growing economy – driven by investment in infrastructure, the agriculture sector, population growth and a rapidly expanding manufacturing sector. Ethiopia’s entry into the global sourcing and manufacturing big leagues is remarkable, taking on and often winning against global leaders like Bangladesh, Vietnam, China and India.

We recently had the opportunity to work with the Ethiopian Investment Commission on a trade visit to Hong Kong to engage the investment community and reaffirm that “Ethiopia is open for business”.

Dr. Arkebe Oqubay, a senior Minister in the Ethiopian Government and author of Made in Africa: Industrial Policy in Ethiopia was in Asia to deliver the keynote address at Prime Source Forum, one of the largest gatherings of senior stakeholders from the apparel and footwear supply chain.

The audience heard from Dr. Arkebe about mega developments such as the 1.3 million m2 Hawassa Industrial Park geared for the textile, apparel and leather industries. There are a number of factors that have attracted major companies like PVH, owners of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, including the use of hydropower, tax credits and a highly skilled workforce at competitive rates – to name a few.

Competing for attention

Effectively telling your story to a trade industry audience is a very different proposition to a sprightly five minute interview with Bloomberg TV’s Asia Edge team. Dr. Arkebe delivered a master class in effectively “selling” a country in the interview. The top three communication lessons that can be drawn were:

  • Create the conditions for trust: A sceptical or ill-informed audience need to hear things that will make them listen and trust you. Early on in the interview he mentioned that Ethiopia has been experiencing double digit growth every year for the last 12 years. Stellar growth at that rate is rare and commands respect.
  • Cue key message, and repeat: Reinforcing key messages is the only way to ensure that it sticks in the minds of viewers. The key theme came through repeatedly: ‘Ethiopia has a clear vision, the economy is growing and it has the people and policies to make that vision a reality’.
  • Bridge away from off-message issues: Ethiopia has challenges (as do all countries) and in response to a question on recent protests in the country, Dr. Arkebe reframed the discussion to focus on the underlying market dynamism.

For Africa to continue rising and join the economic winners’ circle, more leaders need to effectively tell their good news stories to the international investment community.

Duke Malan is based in Hong Kong and leads FleishmanHillard’s China-Africa Desk. He was previously Head of Reputation Management at Johannesburg-listed insurer Discovery Limited