Tuesday 24 April 2018

Darren Olivier

Swaziland rebrands: Siyingaba

A few days ago we learnt of King Mwsati's unilateral decision to change the name of his country to the Kingdom of eSwatini. It coincided with his 50th birthday and the 50th anniversary of the independence of his country from its status as a British protectorate. 

"African countries on getting independence reverted to their ancient names before they were colonised. So from now on the country will be officially known as the Kingdom of eSwatini." said the King (News24)

"He has long been concerned that people get Swaziland and Switzerland mixed up" (Reuters)

The first reason for the change is in line with the ongoing trend of sub Saharan states to shift away from expressions that evoke a former colonial or regime influence. South Africa has, for example, undergone changes of province, town, street, and anthem names for this reason. This is quite natural. The Swazi King's use of  the phrase "revert to ancient names" means one of the old Swazi names, not an ancient Khoisan name - the Khoisan being the people to have, we understand, first inhabited the land. 

The second reason is interesting. Getting confused with a country like Switzerland is perhaps quite enviable for most; on all economic and well-being indicators Switzerland will outperform Swaziland. However, this is linear for it misses the point of autonomy which is likely to be a crucial factor for the self worth of the Swazi people. This also has substantial value.

The decision to rebrand is not without criticism, mostly around cost and the unilateral nature of the decision itself. Although the King has promised to change the name over time in a bid to reduce the costs of it, the direct financial cost will not be insubstantial and needs to be considered carefully. It is not simply a question of changing letterheads because the brand identity of the nation changes. In this sense it should be treated as a formal rebrand similar to the way in which a corporate might attend to such a change. 

If that is the case, using "back of an envelope" calculations I estimate the rebranding expense to be $6million (based on Swaziland taxable and non taxable revenue of 26% of annual GDP at  $3.9 billion, and typical rebranding budgets at 10% of marketing budgets, which are typically 6% of revenue).

Total Revenue = $1billion
Marketing budget = $60million
Rebrand budget = $6million

This expense, for a population barely exceeding 1 million with a growth rate of around 1% off a low base and substantial other economic difficulties; is not insignificant. One might expect strategic thought, proper consultation and expert advice to accompany the announcement.

This cost outlined above excludes any legal cost associated with the name change. From a name perspective, Swaziland/eSwatini being a member of the Paris Convention, entitles the country to international protection of its name at no or little cost. In addition unlike corporate rebrands they would not likely require or pay for searching and clearance costs, especially as the name has been in use for a significant amount of time.

A proportional representation of Swaziland's exports*
Swaziland, like most African countries, is economically in need of foreign direct investment to sustain its growing population and is also in need of attracting foreign buyers for its textiles and raw materials, its primary exports. Consequently, it is not a rebrand which can be executed on "African time"; on the contrary it requires a dedicated, strategic approach and investment to ensure that its exports remain competitive and that the country remains attractive for inward investment.

Swaziland's motto is Siyingaba meaning "we are a fortress" but it can also mean "we are a mystery". King Mswati decision to rebrand straddles both meanings; fortresslike in its ability unite his people and a mystery in its execution.

*Pic cred: R Haussmann, Cesar Hidalgo, et. al. - Electronic Complexity Observatory, MIT Media Lab and the Center for International Development at Harvard University. http://atlas.media.mit.edu

Darren Olivier

Darren Olivier

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