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Where do we go from here?


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16United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon admitted that the UN failed with Sri Lanka during the final stages of the war 

 

As the delegation from Sri Lanka leaves to the US for the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly, it has been reported that the country plans to work in line with the sentiments expressed by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during his recent visit to Sri Lanka. 

The thumbs up he gave the country over its efforts to remain on the path of democracy and collective development was a big win for Sri Lanka but we must also note the cautionary comments he made about there being much work that had yet to be done. 



Zeid’s visit to Sri Lanka 

My mind goes back to February this year when there was a press conference held by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein following his visit to Sri Lanka. He mentioned a series of reforms intended to breathe life into Sri Lanka’s ailing justice system, including the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission and an office dedicated to investigating the fate of thousands of people who disappeared during the war. 

More controversially, it also called for the creation of a hybrid court comprising Sri Lankan and international officials, which to my mind was too harsh for a country which was driving toward reform.

Zeid stuck firmly to the position and went on to state: “Sri Lanka has many excellent judges, lawyers and law enforcement officials. But over the years the system they depended on, and which depends on them, became highly politicised, unbalanced, unreliable.” This observation was unacceptable to the many were helping the Government instil reforms in State institutions.



GDP 2.6% and Nielsen Consumer Confidence 52

Let’s accept it, Sri Lanka is at a crossroads. The country’s last quarter GDP has registered a 2.5% growth against the backdrop of the devastating floods which struck the country, while the Nielsen Consumer Confidence indicator has touched a low of 52, which is very alarming given the progressive approach adopted by the current Government. 

There has been a 4.9% growth in the services sector, a key contributor to the economy, during the second quarter of this year, according to the Department of Census and Statistics. The industrial sector too has recorded a 2.2% growth, while agricultural products declined by 5.6%. When compared to the second quarter of last year, contributions from paddy, tea, rubber and fishing to the agricultural sector dropped to 17.9%, 12.2%, 8.2% and 7.8% respectively, which is also cause for concern. To add to the problem, Sri Lanka is challenged with declining export revenue for the 18th month in a row which is piling further pressure on the task of managing the economy.



Best practice globally

Against this backdrop, if we look at the Government’s decision to acquire the services of a global PR agency, which was recently revealed in the media, I feel that it’s time that we review the best practices used by other countries which like Sri Lanka were emerging from a brutal war and trying to resuscitate an ailing economy. 

One key lesson is that there is nothing called ‘nation branding’. The logic being that it infers that a promise can be built using marketing messages. There is absolutely no evidence that this is possible; no country has ever succeeded in doing it and experts in this area like Simon Anholt have never advocated it. 

Common wisdom tells us that if a country doesn’t like its image – and most countries don’t – then the only way to change, update, enhance or otherwise influence that image is through the things that country does, not through the things it says. Influencing a country’s reputation is primarily a matter of policy, strategy, innovation and investment over a very long period, it has nothing to do with logos, slogans, advertising or PR campaigns. So one can always argue that the tactic of getting strong PR companies to speak on behalf of Sri Lanka will have very little impact on the end results. What is more important is building a reputation through actions.



Reputation helps exports and investment

It has been proven that countries with a powerful reputation and positive image can export more products, culture, people and services and attract more tourists, investors and immigrants as well as the attention and respect of other governments. History also untitled-473shows us that countries with weak or damaged images find it much harder and more expensive to achieve all of these goals.

In other words the need of the hour is giving substance through brand Sri Lanka rather than promises. Share real life stories rather than marketing magic. As expert policy advisor Simon Anholt says: “A reputation cannot be constructed; it can only be earned.”



Croatia war crimes issue

After years of amassing evidence on the rights and wrongs of the Balkan Wars, the UN tribunal, The Hague, delivered several verdicts shaping modern international law and informing the identities of the countries that emerged from Yugoslavia. Operation Storm – the military offensive in August 1995 that ended four years of war with the Serbs and gave Croatia victory and independence – had been termed a war crime. The foundation myth of Croatian statehood was sullied by this decision. The guilty verdict incriminated the entire 1990s regime of President Franjo Tudjman and destroyed Croatia’s founding myth: the liberation war. The key players – Tudjman, his Defence Minister Gojko Susak and Army Chief Janko Bobetko – had died in the meantime and could not face justice.



Croatia brand hurt

Croatia as a brand was hurt by the mentioned issues and the unwillingness of post-war governments to cooperate in the prosecution of war crimes suspects further dented the brand image of the country. However, with some focused work, today the brand has a reputation as one of the most successful destinations in the Mediterranean, ranked ninth in terms of the rate of growth of its national brand as per Brand Finance and was termed among only two European countries to make the ‘Most Improved’ list. Maybe it’s a lesson for Sri Lanka. Let me examine the key initiatives and some lessons. 

Exports: The Croatian Chamber of Economy took leadership on a set of stable policies that the Government advocated and started a landmark Project to Mark Croatian Products with Croatian Quality and Croatian Creation labels. The Croatian Quality label was given to 110 Croatian products which met high world standards. With full membership of this European integration, there is a strong marketing push on this front that has increased exports to almost $ 25 billion.  Governance: Even though Croatia’s brand equity was hurt by the lasting associations of the country with the brutal Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s and the unwillingness of post-war governments to cooperate in the prosecution of war crimes suspects, the country has worked hard in building its brand image. 

Croatia is an active member of the UN, EU, NATO and WTO and has established 52 foreign embassies and 69 consulates across the world, all of which have career diplomats manning the stations.

 

 

"Against this backdrop, if we look at the Government’s decision to acquire the services of a global PR agency, which was recently revealed in the media, I feel that it’s time that we review the best practices used by other countries which like Sri Lanka were emerging from a brutal war and trying to resuscitate an ailing economy. One key lesson is that there is nothing called ‘nation branding’. The logic being that it infers that a promise can be built using marketing messages. There is absolutely no evidence that this is possible; no country has ever succeeded in doing it and experts in this area like Simon Anholt have never advocated it"

 



Culture: Croatia represents a blend of four different cultural spheres. As of 2016, Croatia has 23 professional theatres, 14 professional children’s theatres and 27 amateur theatres visited by more than two million viewers per year. The professional theatres employ 1,100 artists. There are 24 professional orchestras, ensembles and choirs in the country, attracting an annual attendance of 323,000. There are 117 cinemas with an attendance exceeding 3.5 million. Croatia has 175 museums, visited by nearly 2.2 million people in 2009. Furthermore, there are 1,685 libraries in the country. This shows the people’s positive attitude towards aesthetics.

People: Croatia has established a high level of human development and literacy in Croatia stands at 98.1%. A worldwide study about the quality of living in different countries ranked the Croatian education system 22nd. In fact Croatia has produced two Nobel Prize winners.

Tourism: Since the conclusion of the Croatian War a private-public partnership was set up and a global branding campaign took place. The industry recorded a fourfold rise in tourist numbers, with more than 10 million tourists arriving each year. It dominates the Croatian service sector and accounts for up to 20% of Croatian GDP. Annual tourist industry income is touching € 8 billion.



Next steps for Sri Lanka

1. While democracy is a positive development, in an island nation it must be managed or it gives a mixed signal globally on the voice of people which hurts the credibility for brand building.

2. While the positive sentiment on development from a policy perspective is strong, the challenge is for the public sector armoury to start rolling. This is the real challenge for Sri Lanka. This is what I feel the success of a Government hinges on, given my experience heading the National Council of Economic Development (NCED) at the Ministry of Finance.

3. It is time Sri Lanka utilises the expertise of someone like Simon Anholt to work closely with the political hierarchy so that he can guide policymakers. 

4. All key stakeholders, namely the chambers, must understand the importance of Sri Lanka becoming a strong brand globally with a reputation which is earned.

5. There must be a quarterly monitoring system on the parameters of nation brand strength so that corrective action can occur and this must be driven ideally from the Prime Minister’s office.



(Dr. Rohantha Athukorala served the UN for five years and is an alumnus of Harvard Kennedy Executive Education).

16-02


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