Liberia has an international problem. Ebola has marred the image and identity of our country shoddily. The virus has shaken the country to its core. It has become a nuisance to our democratic governance process and remarkable GDP growth, which was trumpeted just a few short months ago, as one of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world. Regrettably, Ebola has trashed and stained that progressive record and image of Liberia by defining the country, as a place of contagious epidemic, marked by devastation, annihilation and death.
This tragic misfortune has become a source of unwanted stigma, shame and humiliation for our country and people the world over. This global misconception about Liberia needs to be debunked and that negative image about our country refashioned. For example, say the name Liberia in any part of the world and immediately people have a negative stereotypical image and false sense of what our country has become. Overnight, Ebola has negatively defined what Liberia is and who Liberians are. This is not right. Global attitudes and behaviors are having direct negative consequences on our people, economy, travel and culture.
If immediate action isn’t taken, the stigma will make it more difficult to fashion the necessary changes that are required to improve the lives and living standards of our people. The distinctive characteristic of ‘our Land of Liberty’ as Africa’s first independent republic endowed with an abundance of natural resources, precious extractive raw materials and friendly people have been relegated to appalling ideas like travel ban and visa restrictions that reflect the global reality of essentially wanting to quarantine every Liberian because of Ebola.
Now, Liberia is faced with the need to address the crippling impact of this negative image of our country brought on by Ebola. It is therefore imperative to Rebrand Liberia. The aim of this campaign should be to improve our country’s image and reputation. As Liberians, we cannot simply wait and expect things to turn out for the better. Our country has been sensationalized by western media, which is not a reflection of what is really happening on the ground. We need to adopt a proactive stance in rebranding our country’s image. By Rebranding Liberia, perhaps we will all realize that when it comes to image, being in possession of the truth is not enough; the truth has to be sold. And, this is what we must do for ourselves and for our country. If we are to survive this negative image of Ebola, then we must market Liberia to the world. We are capable of escaping this stigma by strategically targeting and marketing an all-inclusive and sweeping message to a global audience. Liberia needs to be rebranded globally as a place that is open for business and investment with tranquility offering political stability, liberalism and free market.
Promoting this new image, however, calls for broadcasting a global declaration that visitors and investors must be made to realize that they aren't going to enter Liberia from the Roberts International Airport (RIA) and go directly into an Ebola infested, disease-ridden and contaminated death-trap. We can begin by first identifying our competitive advantages and build on them. Second, we need to put Liberia in the position to once again compete and successfully attract foreign healthcare volunteers, tourists, trade, investment, exports and even better relations with other countries. Rebranding Liberia should seek to emphasize our country’s distinct characteristics in order to change the global perception as an Ebola infested nation. This can be accomplished by creating more favorable conditions and targeted messages at specific audiences. Living in Liberia does not mean that one is infected or contaminated with Ebola or on death row serving a life sentence of ultimate death. Liberians must no longer accept stigmatization as the cost for survival. And, we cannot sit idly and continue to allow others to narrowly define who we are as a people and country. This stigma and negative global image cannot be allowed to follow our country and people. It must be shaken-off. Our success or failure can accurately be chartered, and questions of reputation, image, identity and hence marketing and branding will become central to our competitive edge of removing the stigma of Ebola.
Liberia have lots of products that speak volume about the strength, heritage and possession of our country, which goes far beyond the sudden outbreak and rapid spread of Ebola that have fatally claimed many innocent lives. The virus has never before been known to West Africa. Consequently, the world needs to know that Ebola is not holding Liberians hostage. We’ve got a fix on the virus and we are making progress with fewer cases and low infection rates evident by empty beds at Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) due to remarkable policies and programs being implemented by our government and international partners.
Let the world know that the majority of Liberians are living a full and productive life. And that our country is filled of diversity, where over 4.4 million people live, work play and perform daily routines filled with pleasant, dynamic and vibrant lives chock-full with vivacious and exciting lifestyles. The world must be reminded that English is the official language of Liberia with US$1.9 billion in GDP and US$0.4 billion in debt. Liberians should also tell the world that our country is endowed with an abundance of natural resources, which includes diamonds, gold, iron ore, rubber, oil, gas and NOT Ebola. Liberia has the world’s largest plantation of planted natural rubber, responsible for over one third of all automobile tires manufactured in the world. Our Flag of Convenience, allows over one fourth of the world’s ocean bound maritime fleet to sail the seven oceans of the world with pride, security and peace.
Liberian can pompously proclaim to the world that we are a resilient people. Nothing can stop us from thriving after Ebola. The virus is a short-term challenge, but in the long-term Liberia will rise again and always be an attractive place to live, work, play and do business. Liberia is a small country, but in this case, small is good because it can easily be managed and governed with requisite democratic principles aligned with the formulation of required economic and social policies to deal effectively with ignorance, disease and poverty; hence Ebola.
In order to change the negative global perception of Liberia and the outbreak of Ebola, we need to dispel the common myths that exist by building a superior education and healthcare delivery system. We must also do this by building affordable public housing and instituting community-based investment programs that are strengthen adequate resources to prepare ordinary Liberians for future challenges. This author believes that our core values must shape our country because those ideals have longevity, and must engage citizens and national organizations at home while winning recognition and respect abroad. Those values inevitably transcend our growing democracy, election cycles and special interests by capturing the core of our country and people and what we offer the world.
The main challenge to rebranding Liberia and bringing this global misconception to an immediate end is overcoming the stigma that Liberia is consumed by Ebola and anyone coming in contact with Liberians or anyone visiting Liberia foretells instant death. This global misconception can be solved by bringing a considerably higher volume of adjusted messages to target audiences in order to change hearts and minds. We need to break down audiences, get them to know us better, send the right message to them, and then get them to visit Liberia to show just how spectacular Liberia still is. At the end of the day, we want people to say, ‘Wow! I didn’t know this about Liberia.’ Liberians everywhere, have a moral obligation and responsibility to educate the world about Ebola and how it can be controlled and eradicated. The main challenge is to encourage people to visit Liberia and share benefits of what Liberia offers the world in order to tear down all the walls of misconception about Liberia and the Ebola virus.
About the Author
Francis Nyepon: Author, Policy Analyst, Environmentalist & Entrepreneur