Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition)
Keep walking, all you so-called, also-ran brand ambassadors
PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa is shedding the gravy train and fat cat images of our government – one State of the Nation Address and healthy walk at a time.
Are his now very public walks just a fad? Only time will tell.
Are they working, from a PR perspective? Absolutely.
It started last week when a few health-conscious Capetonians spotted the then president-elect and his buddy Trevor Manuel on the Sea Point Promenade on a brisk walk. The two comrades were happy to pose for selfies. Those selfies spread like wildfire.
The mornings that followed saw radio presenters get out extra early to catch the president mid-stride for some unique content. They weren’t disappointed.
The Western Cape ANC cottoned on that their president was on to something. This week, a widely distributed invitation from the Western Cape ANC landed in my WhatsApp messages. Draped in ANC colours, it read: “President promotes a healthy lifestyle – daily morning walks: Join President Cyril Ramaphosa’s walk from Gugulethu to Sports Complex to Athlone Stadium.”
Here’s the bit that got me running, well walking, scared: the meeting time was 5.30am.
Then I also had to pull off that swag President Ramaphosa has in abundance – in a tracksuit.
It sends out all the right messages. Here’s a president who walks the talk and leads by example, promoting good health in a nation that is prone to hypertension and heart disease.
There’s also that symbolic point of finishing Madiba’s long walk.
Welcome to Brand Cyril: the gift that keeps on giving with pay-off lines aplenty.
A brand so fast-acting, it can alleviate a nine-year headache. A brand with powers to make MPs behave in the National Assembly. A brand that exercises. Daily.
Brand managers worth their salt should be making a beeline to Brand Cyril, whether sports apparel brand or whisky that uses walking as its logo and slogan. He’s so shiny, so savvy, so new broomy.
There’s room on the market for a whole range of products. Cyril’s Buffalo Wings, the McCyril burger, the Runner-Phosa running shoe (with thanks to Lester Kiewit).
But the WhatsApp invitation reminded me of a rant of my own about so-called brand ambassadors that clog my timelines on social media.
Don’t get me wrong: if you’re Bryan Habana showing off the latest timepiece, I’d be inclined to buy. I’d also eat what and where Masterchef winner Kamini Pather eats because she strikes me as a cool, well-rounded individual.
But I see one too many folks with the title “brand ambassador” that just have no business promoting that brand.
We see you, promoting a brand in exchange for a freebie. They have a bit of a following on social media, a small public platform and they’re ramming the virtues of a new car or the latest golf clubs down our throats. In reality, they know as little about the car as I do and their golfing ability is as limited as, well, mine.
Brands out there: have you tested whether your so-called brand ambassadors are doing more harm than good with their terrible spelling and questionable use of grammar when promoting your product with poorly written tweets and posts?
Here’s the thing, dear brand (and with thanks to my great group of peers I’ve engaged on this topic): the person promoting your brand needs to be believable. The brand representative needs to bring just the right mix of inspiration and aspiration. I’d love to be endorsed. If I had my way, I’d be driving my dream car or riding the top-ofthe-range carbon fibre road bike
– all while dressed head to toe in designer everything.
But in reality, in my dadly way,
I’d be lucky to be an ambassador for a nappy brand or milk formula. A miracle shampoo to stop balding? I’m your guy.
I think our president has made life difficult for these also-ran brand ambassadors. He has set the bar impossibly high because right now he can walk on water. Try to compete with that, bin liner product ambassador. Keep walking because you’re no Cyril.
But there’s that thing about building things up and how they get broken down as quickly. As my colleague, The Star’s editor Japhet Ncube, commented about the president’s walks: “Don’t worry. The new boyfriend always buys roses the first few days.” NEVER have the stakes in Ethiopia been so high – political tensions are on a knife-edge and future stability and prospects for development hang in the balance.
Up until the last few weeks, most opposition leaders and supporters have been locked up as political prisoners. But with the groundswell of popular discontent and burgeoning street protests, the government was compelled to release 6 000 political prisoners last month, 700 two weeks ago and 500 on Wednesday.
Journalists Eskinder Nega and Andualem Arage, as well as Oromo opposition leaders Bekele Gerba and Merera Gudina, were among those released.
The glue that held the autocratic Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) together is coming unstuck. It has ruled as a multi-ethnic coalition since 1991.
The Tigrayan People’s
Liberation Front (TPLF) has dominated the coalition for more than two decades despite the fact that Tigrayans account for only 6% of the population.
The ethnic guerrilla organisation that brought Meles Zenawi to power in 1991, toppling the communist dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam. Zenawi governed for 21 years until his death in 2012, and while he pushed the development agenda forward, he was accused of authoritarian tendencies and presiding over extensive human rights abuses.
The popularity of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (Opdo) within the ruling coalition has continued to rise to the detriment of the TPLF.
The Oromos are the most populous ethnic group, based in the largest and richest region. They have historically complained of political marginalisation. Opdo has been perceived in some quarters as having been a puppet of the TPLF.
The third is the Amhara
National Democratic Movement, representing the Amhara, the second-largest ethnic group, which has also historically complained it is under-represented in the corridors of power. The fourth is the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM).
The governing coalition started to lose its grip on power in the face of mass of protests following the 2015 elections, which the opposition claimed were rigged. The government responded by passing restrictive laws, intimidating and imprisoning the opposition, independent media and civil society leaders. While political adversaries were crushed, the government tried to co-opt the elites.
Hundreds of people were killed in the ensuing two years of protests that rocked Oromia and Amhara. The situation became so grave the presidents recently announced they supported the protests and demanded an end to Tigrayan dominance.
Ethiopia has reached a point of no return. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced on February 15 he was stepping down in order to create political space, unprecedented in modernday Ethiopia. Actually, he had been instructed to step down after the EPRDF’s executive committee blamed the leadership for its poor governance, the unrest and failing to protect civilians.
The unravelling of the front’s grip on power was too much for the old guard who supported the declaration of a six-month state of emergency imposed a day after his resignation. Far from regaining control, the measures only served to embolden protesters demanding the release of all political prisoners and fresh democratic elections.
The potential for chaos and ethnic bloodshed is real and Ethiopia needs a political way out. There seems to be only one way forward – for the ruling coalition to call early elections ahead of 2020. This would reduce tension and marginalise the extremists who threaten to let the genie of ethnic violence out of the bottle. The caveat is they would have to be free and fair.
If Ethiopia is to preserve and build on the developmental milestones achieved, it needs to start political rebuilding to regain the confidence of the electorate. The window of opportunity to a peaceful solution could close quickly, an requires visionary leadership to chart a new path forward.