BRANDING IN RWANDA: AN OVERVIEW

No Logo’, a book written by Naomi Klein explored the way corporations discovered and perfected the art of branding their products. Whether you agree with Klein that the shift towards the brand was a dangerous one or not, it is quite clear that the modern brand is here to stay and today we have the ‘brand’ in a variety of guises all following a similar template of product transcendence.

Curiously, despite a rapidly expanding business sector, branding has not quite taken root in Rwanda. In fact, only a handful of companies could be said to have embraced the power of the brand and the three most successful are familiar- MTN, BCR and Bralirwa

For sheer creativity, MTN reigns supreme. Being a continental corporation, it has had years to hone its craft before arriving in Rwanda, there is no denying that it has taken branding in this country to the next level. In fact, one can say that it gave birth to branding as it exists in the country today. Blanketing the media with ads, sponsoring countless events, setting up attractive billboards with their distinctive yellow- the MTN blitzkrieg has paid off.

MTN are clearly trying to anchor their brand in the mould of a vibrant and feel-good company; young at heart, but a veteran on the scene. Bold without being too brash, MTN tries to impart a sense of joie de vivre and through a plethora of sponsorships and programs, also aim to portray themselves as a caring company. With their new series of ‘GO’ adverts, MTN has shown its philosophical side, the ads are replete with inspirational messages, encouraging people to fulfill their potential and reach for the impossible.

This strategy is not without its dangers, the very ubiquity of the MTN brand does annoy some people and in some quarters, makes the company look like an aggressive invader of public space and the network problems that have plagued them over the last five months have not helped their image either . However, on balance, MTN have clearly been a successful and effective brand and have stamped their image on the public consciousness in a way no other company has managed to do.

BCR have also successfully branded their company and like MTN have tried to showcase their vibrancy. They have also placed an emphasis on innovation, repeatedly launching new promotions and incentives and have, like MTN, successfully straddled the line between coming across as being youthful and yet experienced.

In sponsoring Crossfire on Contact FM, they are also positioning themselves as the bank for the intellectually astute. Added to this package is the extra dimensional, in the form of surreal humor exemplified by the ‘How Do You Eat a Watermelon?’ billboards that have baffled and amused in equal measure.

With those billboards, BCR have signaled a boldness and willingness not to talk down to their market. They appear to have grasped one of the essential tenets of branding- it is not a literal manifestation of your company. If every company limited their advertising to exactly what they were, branding would be a redundant exercise. In this sense, BCR’s watermelon ad was a tremendous trailblazer. It may be too soon to tell how successful the ads have been, but it is fair to say that BCR is taking the art of branding to new and interesting levels in the country. And the mere fact that everyone has been talking about the watermelon ad marks out the campaign as something of a success, obviously the clearest indication of a branding misfire would be facing total apathy from the public.

Bralirwa has also achieved major success as a brand. Using the ‘Billboard Explosion Strategy’, Bralirwa has erected colorful billboards with young good looking people, whose lives seem to revolve around that oh-so-tasty drink. One particular billboard, featuring a woman taking a long gulp of a Coca-Cola, is a brilliant ad: utter satisfaction condensed in a single image.

However it is not all about billboards and soft drinks. Last year Bralirwa launched their sleek, new Petit Primus. Petit Primus was intended to target middle and upper-class drinkers who considered the older unwieldy bottle too cumbersome and suggestive of lower-income tastes. It is an interesting experiment and appears to have achieved a large degree of success so far. Indeed shifting the attitudes of the targeted market so dramatically is one of the most successful examples of branding in the country and is incredibly hard to do considering the task they faced in attempting to challenge people’s deeply held prejudices to one of their products. It also shows that sometimes the genius of branding is that utter simplicity can bring about a huge change, in this case making the product, smaller and more compact.

Yet aside from the big three few others in Rwanda appear to be interested in branding themselves effectively. Some have made partial progress. Rwandair Express has been making some big gains in this regard with their ambitious approach of trying to make the airline the very embodiment of the country’s hopes and dreams. A few others are showing some promise; Rwandatel for example is worth keeping an eye on as it reinvents itself.

However one wonders about the lack of presence of the other brands. Most attempts at branding from local companies come across as either half-hearted or unsuccessful. A good example is COGEAR. They have a catchy jingle accompanying their television ad but the ad itself is bland and, sadly, instantly forgettable.

Radio stations also provide a good illustration of this problem. Most of them don’t bother to create their own niche in the market or target any demographic- they merely play homogenous contemporary tunes and yet even the choice of music could prove to be a smart piece of branding. Likewise many companies are just a mass of indistinct, generic brands making little effort to stand out of the pack. Granted advertising, sponsorship and other methods of branding don’t come cheap, but neither does making your company distinctive name on the market.

Perhaps the underlying cause of the lack of branding is an aversion to thinking outside the box. The same mindset that sees a dozen pharmacies all open side-by-side on a typical street corner in Kigali. It is also likely that many companies simply underestimate the intelligence of the market little realizing that you don’t need a particularly sophisticated market to become a major brand. Advertising, the bedrock of branding, is often experienced at a gut level and few of us would be able to articulate exactly why an ad works for us because it hits us at more than just a conscious level.

It is also likely that many companies just don’t realize the value of branding and think they can do just fine without it. However with competition in all sectors growing increasingly fierce and with an increasingly sophisticated market out there, it is inevitable that branding is going to dominate the future.

By Minega Isibo

KIGALI CITY- ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF GROWTH

Kigali, population one million people, capital and gateway to the Republic of Rwanda, is a city on the move. From it’s founding as a sleepy colonial outpost in 1907, with few links to the outside world, to its metamorphosis into the city that is the economic, cultural, and transport hub of a vibrant Rwanda; Kigali is a city that has famously kept its residents on their collective toes.  The residents of this wonderfully alive city are celebrating a century of its existence and Business Rwanda is proud to be a part of this celebration.  Kigali isn’t a city that’s only going through the motions. It has prevailed against the odds and has grown into a modern metropolis; the heart of the emerging Rwandan economy and the pride of every Rwandan.  Kigali City, founded by Dr. Richard Kandt, representative of the “Deutsch Ostafrika” in Rwanda, in 1907, was at first just Dr. Kandt’s residence and a few commercial houses on the lace of hills around present day Nyarugenge.  Then, in 1921, Kigali became a Belgian colonial administrative centre. The capital of pre-colonial Rwanda was the seat of the Mwami in Nyanza, while the capital of colonial Rwanda was in Butare, then known as Astrida. Butare was initially the leading contender for capital of the newly independent Rwanda, but Kigali was chosen to be the capital in 1962 because of its central location in the heart of the nation.  

As the seat of government of the newly independent Rwanda, Kigali saw incredible growth. From being a miniscule eight hectares in 1907, and with a population of three hundred and fifty seven people, Kigali has grown to be an impressive seven hundred and thirty square kilometers with a population of one million people. Kigali City has had its ups and downs as a capital, following the turbulent times of post-independence Rwanda. It reached its nadir, as did the whole nation, in 1994, as its boroughs rang with gunfire and the stench of death hung in the air like a blanket.  

But no more; for as the country recovered, so did the capital. The scars of that period are fast healing and the city is now being given a clean bill of health by its residents and visitors. It went from being a sleepy city at the heart of a regional backwater to being the exciting centre of an emerging Information Technology hub.  From being a city with small, and slightly dilapidated structures, it went to being a city of towers and skyscrapers.  From being a boring place with no nightlife to speak of, Kigali is now a night owls’ favorite haunt.    

Kigali, which has grown more than six times in square area and trebled in population since1996, resembles a quickly changing mosaic. The tallest building in town back in 1994 was a tie between ‘kwa –Rabangura’, as the tall building right next to the now defunct central taxi park was known as locally, and CND (now the Parliament buildings). Now, Centenary House and the Ecobank Headquarters tower over Kigali’s city centre. 

Anyone coming back to Kigali after more than five years away will be amazed at the changes. From 2002 to date, Kigali has seen the building of the first five-star hotel in Rwanda, the Kigali Serena, the Union Trade Center-a huge shopping mall right in the centre of town, housing projects like the Gacuriro estates and many office buildings.  Kigali resembles one big construction site. 

Kigali is a city of business. If you have doubts, then travel along the streets and watch residents as they go about their business. The hustle and bustle on the streets of Kigali is reminiscent of the forward-looking city it is and not the sleepy hollow it once was. Kigali is the headquarters and home of all the major economic players on the local scene; from MTN Rwanda, which is housed in the suitably named MTN Center in Nyarutarama, to Banque du Kigali- which has just moved into its opulent new headquarters. In the pipeline is an international conference center that will rival any in the region, a permanent Exposition Center and many more facilities that are pro-business. Rwanda is open for business and Kigali is its gateway.  

Kigali is a city of leisure. Have a meal at one of the numerous cosmopolitan restaurants- with menus as diverse as Mexican and Senegalese.  Sip refreshments in one of the many cafés and bistros in town.  Enjoy the nightlife in the many nightclubs that cater to various tastes in music. Where once there was nothing to do as soon as the sun set, Kigali is now a 24-hour city. Unlike many big cities of the world, Kigali is famous for its security. Crime rates are negligible no matter where you are, and the only unpleasantness that one might encounter on an evening stroll may be a street child asking for spare change. Muggers and other criminals of their ilk are a rare breed in Kigali.  

One of the slogans that Kigali has made its own is “Clean and Green’. The typical image of an African city, with the omnipresent Marabou Stork perched atop piles of rotting waste right in the center of town, uncontrolled traffic jams, chaotic public transport systems and the smell of general decay, is an image that Kigali city  has fought a winning battle against. Recently the International Telecommunications Union’s secretary general, Hamadoun Toure pronounced Kigali the cleanest city he has visited. Essential services work. A steady supply of piped water and electricity is something that many of Kigali residents take for granted. Roads aren’t full of potholes. 

However, it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. True, Kigali is slowly coming into its own as the modern capital of the ambitious country that Rwanda is. Nevertheless, in the course of rousing itself to take its place in the sun, the city must rise to many challenges in its path.  

Some of the biggest challenges that city planners have to deal with are the lack of a proper citywide drainage and sewage system, the lack of sufficient landfill space, the poorly planned housing, the lack of green spaces like parks and the deficiencies in coverage of essential services in certain parts of the city. City authorities are not oblivious to these challenges. According to the Kigali City Councils’ Director in the Department of Inspection, Mr. Reuben Ahimbisibwe, in an interview with Business Rwanda, the city authorities have put in place a 50 year Master Plan to find solutions to the needs of the growing city. This Master Plan will include green zones, demarcated roads and sufficient street lighting.  

When quizzed about the urgent need of a citywide sewage and drainage system Mr. Ahimbisibwe spoke of a Sanitation Master Plan that will be completed this year.  This sanitation master plan will then guide the City Council. However, until the introduction of a city-wide sewage system, the City Council has made it compulsory for anyone constructing a large building to include an in-house sewage treatment plant. City Council has, in order to fight against the lack of affordable housing for low and middle-income earners that gave rise to small, dinghy and unplanned-for housing, started constructing what they call the ‘Batsinda Project’, 250 well-built and affordable houses for low income earners in lower Kiyovu. These houses will eventually number one thousand. All in all, Kigali City Council is, in Mr. Ahimbisibwe’s words, making sure “we don’t repeat what we inherited”.   

These various master plans are a positive step.   However, if most of these problems that Kigali faces aren’t solved, the progress that Kigali has registered in the last century will be for naught.  For a city that doesn’t provide a positive environment for both the business and pleasure of its residents and visitors is one that will stagnate and eventually die.  

If Mr. Richard Kandt somehow came back to life and took a look at the new Kigali he surely wouldn’t believe his eyes. When Business Rwanda surveys the progress made since 1994, we know that it can only get better. HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY KIGALI! MAY YOU CONTINUE TO RISE AND SHINE!  

Kigali City Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday, Midnight to Midnight

Finally it is happening! Kigali city traders and shop keepers are being encouraged to remain open for business 24 hours each day. A twenty four hour city, an East African version of the Las Vegas strip, can hold positives for all living in the city. Business Rwanda discusses the issue. Under the aegis of Kigali City Council, a ceremony was held on 26th October at the city’s busiest shopping street, ‘Quartier Mateus’, with the city mayor, Ms. Aisha Kirabo, presiding over the event. Also in attendance were the Minister of Economic Planning and Finance as well as the Minister of Commerce and the mayors of the three districts that make up the city of Kigali; Kicukiro, Gasabo and Nyarugenge. 

A 24 hour service will increase employment and tax revenues from increased trading volume.  Shoppers will not have to worry about beating the impossible rush hour at 5pm to make it to the markets and shops. The question is whether a Kigali that works for 24 hours will actually come into being within the foreseeable future. 

Judging by the alacrity with which the shopkeepers at ‘Quartier Mateus’ closed shop a mere five minutes after the dignitaries left, this is still something that will happen in the future.  In most cities in Africa, the central business district becomes a ghost town after 8pm. The city dwellers appear to owe the place no allegiance at night. Different cities have different reasons for this, but in Kigali’s case part of the reason lies in the fact that unless you live in Nyamirambo or Gikondo-Nyenyeri, you cannot make any bets on your public bus transport home. This makes it expensive to stay in town late. 

Unless something is done to improve the reliability of public transportation, shops might remain open all night without any customers. This, however, can also be argued the other way around. If the shops keep people in town longer then public buses will hang around town longer to transport the people who remain in town. 

Another obstacle will be customer care. Too many shop keepers and business people run their concerns like the civil service. It is almost impossible to believe that some shops will keep open all night and day when the earliest that shop is open is 9am and at 4pm sharp, nothing can convince the attendants to serve you. Over the years, things have improved in the customer service department and the excesses of the past have nearly been eradicated.  But every now and then one can observe that old habits have not completely died.  In fact they have survived long enough to still be a concern today. 

All being said, the idea to encourage service all day by the city council is an inspired one. Whether it will be taken up is another matter altogether. It’s one of those ideas that is good for all concerned from whichever side you look at it.