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This is Africa….everything is slow!

Sanjay Korteweg

Excellent, nothing like starting a column with a very old cliché. When I first came to Africa, I had a suitcase full of prejudices. Arrogance on my part and with experience at some reputable large international Public Relations (PR)-agencies gave me very wrong expectations.

Starting a PR and Communications Consultancy in Namibia, soon had me scratching my head about prejudices and clichés that are often spouted about Africa in general.
Sure, it is a great place for the professional bureaucrat who loves shuffling paper mill and stamping documents. Dealing with the bureaucracy here can leave you in tears. But, let’s be honest most of us have suffered at the hands of ‘impossible’ European bureaucrats. So, this is not something that is African-centric at all. I was very pleasantly surprised to see that most clients do not suffer from bureaucratic tendencies. When the customer calls for a meeting in Namibia, they want to see you on the same day. Or, they will clear their schedule to meet with you on the same day. Practically unheard of elsewhere in the world.
In Europe there would be a full day of back and forth of possible dates, before settling on a date 2 weeks in the future. Busy schedules aside and finding a mutually acceptable time and day still leaves us with the practical problem of traffic, train journeys and the client very possibly being in a different city. Here in Windhoek, you can be at your client’s offices within half an hour having a coffee, even if you it is across town during rush hour. How is that for speed and efficiency.
Between making the appointment, giving advice about a campaign or project, project planning, budget approval and execution is often only two or three days. That took some getting used to. No time to ‘go slow’ here! It also creates a very different picture of Africa. It helps that as a consultant you have access to the Executive board here within the day, you don’t first jump through a million hoops to finally get to the decision-makers. This makes things move at an incredible speed.
In Namibia and other African countries, PR and communications is slightly different than in the rest of the world, there are many factors at play that cause this. Lack of interest, speed or unwillingness is certainly not one of them. Handled the right way, by the right people there are great strides to be made in PR and Communications in Africa.
Public Relations can definitely be a force of good here in Namibia and Africa, if implemented well and with the right organisations. Something, we don’t hear very often anymore. There is none of the cynicism here when it comes to corporate communications. A great place to be a Public Relations practitioner, as long as you leave the tired old clichés about ‘This Is Africa’ at the border!

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