freedom_charterPRIVATE or commercial brands are built by individuals or business partners in a small room, with no need to consult anyone. This is assuming, of course, that the founder(s) have commissioned a study of the market they wish to operate in beforehand to make sure that the acceptance of their brand won’t be hindered or blocked by cultural, religious, legal, market or other obstacles.

Once launched in the marketplace, they would then embark on a concerted, integrated brand communication campaign aimed at positioning the new brand favourably in the minds of its target audiences, ahead of the competitive clutter that exists in all markets. If they do this well, its brand equity will grow over time, gaining goodwill, shareholder value and profits.

Developing public brands, on the other hand, requires patient, honest, and transparent involvement of all stakeholders that matter in order to succeed. That is partly why we have ‘public participation’ processes in countries like South Africa.  Process managers who skip this step upstream risk being torpedoed downstream by stakeholders who consider their views and feelings to have been ignored.


The case of the Freedom Charter

Why is the Freedom Charter so popular and why do so many, even today, insist on considering it more important than the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa? The answer is simple: it is on record that  the adoption of the Freedom Charter in Kliptown, Johannesburg on June 25-26 1955 was preceded by two years of grassroots consultation.

Online records show “that the notion of a Charter was first mooted at the annual congress of the ANC in August 1953. Prof Z K Mathews formally suggested convening a Congress of the People (C.O.P.) to draw up the Freedom Charter. The idea was adopted by the allies of the ANC, the South African Indian Congress, the South African Coloured People’s Organisation and the South African Congress of Democrats.”

In short, “the Congress of the People was not a single event but a series of campaigns and rallies, huge and small, held in houses, flats, factories, kraals, on farms and in the open. The National Action Council enlisted volunteers to publicise the C.O.P, educate the people, note their grievances and embark on a ‘million signatures campaign’.”

When the final document was adopted it brought together some 2 844 delegates from all over the country, representing South Africans from a variety of racial, ethnic and, importantly, anti-apartheid political backgrounds.


Enter the OAU and today’s AU

Soon after gaining independence in the early 1960s, 32 African countries came together in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to form the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). They were joined by 21 others over the years until post-apartheid South Africa became its 53rd member on May 23 1994.

While no doubt well intentioned, both organisations were formed by African leaders with the understandable belief that they had the full mandate from the people they led. Unlike the formation of the European Union (EU), not a single African leader saw the need to organise a referendum in his country to encourage public education, participation and support for the tenets of the erstwhile OAU and, more recently, its successor, the African Union (AU).

Ironically, when the Constitutive Act of the AU was adopted in Lomé, Togo, in 2000, former presidents Thabo Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo and other African leaders claimed that the AU would have “greater powers to promote African economic, social, and political integration, as well as a stronger commitment to democratic principles”.

The AU finally came into being in 2002.

Now, seen as a public brand, the AU is simply the OAU badly rebranded.

Millions of dollars in African and donor funds were spent by African leaders flying to Addis Ababa and other African capitals in publicly-funded private jets to meet in summit after summit discussing the future of Africa. New leaders like Thabo Mbeki were too cowardly to do a thorough analysis of what caused the paralysis in the OAU and to isolate the bad from the good.

As a result, the same cancer – in the form of several African despots clinging to power and infected by years of bad, undemocratic morals – was brought into the AU in the name of inclusiveness. Exciting new terms were bandied about: Nepad and the African Peer Review Mechanism, a mutually agreed self-monitoring programme that was voluntarily adopted by the member states of the AU to promote and reinforce high standards of governance.


Cancer spreading all over

Now the cancer has metastasised and affected the whole body. The badly managed rebranding, which only consisted of applying a single coat of new paint on a badly damaged body, began to wear off as soon as the AU left its departure station.

Claims of better governance and democratic principles remain claims; the AU spends its time, like the OAU before it, defending the same despots who have managed to turn it into a very willing Trojan horse.

For how long will Africans be trapped into defending the indefensible in the form of a continental body that is devoid of human values, ready to sacrifice the defence of its most abused populations for an arrogant middle finger to the West?