Opinion: Branding Kigali city through culture

By Josephine Malonza –

As cities compete on an international scale to attract visitors, investors, talented people and inhabitants, city branding is gaining much more interest and increasingly becoming the fashion that each city is trying to perfect.

To highlight examples, Rwanda is branded ‘the Land of a Thousand Hills’. What is the brand for Kigali? I do not have the answers either.

Just to demonstrate how serious this debate can go, “the European capital of culture” is a brand awarded annually to a city, enabling it to act as a focus for artistic activity, and a showcase of cultural excellence and innovation.

This, in turn, gives a cultural dimension to the work of the European community to celebrate culture as a means of drawing the community together. When in 2010 this brand was given to the city of Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey with a population of 13.1 million then, the city theme became ‘Istanbul as the most inspiring city in the world’.

The use of word inspiration went a long way to revoke emotions of creative artistic activities, especially poetry.

Away from the Eurocentric scene; this article is just but a pointer to a journey that the city and country can undertake more seriously but no pressure.

I will offer initial tools that will guide us to understand the essence and offer various methods, useful to confirm the validity of Rwanda’s brand and formulate a brand for Kigali requires us to go to go into the cultural reflections of Kigali and Rwanda with a semiological approach, focusing on the extent to which the city is represented through cultural facilities and events.

Looking closely into logos of official websites, themes, slogans used on official rubber stamps, bank notes, postcards (if any still exist), it is possible to see a continuation from the historic backgrounds, culture and heritage of Rwanda.

Symbolic cultural elements are evidently present and ought to be incorporated in city branding at all possible levels if Kigali is to keep the peculiar image different from other cities.

Cities have always felt the need to differentiate themselves from each other as a result of various political, economical or social objectives and it is the significant defining and distinctive characteristics that creates the differences.

Beyond the micro scale logos, it has been argued that culture as one of the basic raw materials for a city, also manifests itself in the macro scales such as cultural facilities and events, architecture and urban history plays an important role in forming and sharpening the city image, thus becomes a strategic tool for the ones who are benefiting from the positive reflections of a city brand.

In this perspective it is important to relook at the existing claims of, for example, what is distinctive about Kigali city? What crosscutting narratives exist? What visual representation are truly reflected of Kigali and Rwanda?

And how are all these aspects compatible with each other in order to ensure their sustainability. Sustainable in the sense that only the culturally based brand carries the day, unlike inherited or misconceived brands.

It is agreed that the purpose of city branding is to achieve consumer perception that will deliver a sustainable competitive advantage, which becomes an appropriate tool to describe and implement city marketing.

Now, to refer to an applicability of city branding, which attracts attention of professionals in urban issues, marketing, communication, etc., the starting point has to be defining the object, which in this case is the city image.

This is modeled by multifaceted dimensions underlining what value the city offered to its residents, be it employers, employees, casual workers, investors or tourists, etc.

Trying to understand what emotional, mental and psychological associations these people have with the city.

Seeing the city-people relationship as a give and take.

So, are we now ready to brand Kigali city? We shall start with listing the city’s existing strengths. They could be visual, economical, psychological and symbolic elements and any other aspects that differentiate Kigali from the other cities; it is essential to decide primarily on what kind of a brand a city wants to possess and how it will achieve it to create the necessary associations to realise this.

From practice of other cities, three main strategies can be recommended: first, various promotional campaigns and visual identity tactics, secondly, the creation of signature buildings as landmarks for the city or taking the advantage of some existing landmarks in the promotional activities and, third, of various types of events.

How well does Kigali prosper in Visual arts. Music, theatre and performing arts, film and documentary, traditional arts, urban culture, education, literature, cultural heritage and museums, urban plans and implementation, what are the favourite activities and how have they evolved with time?

These are just but a few thinking lines and hints for the exercise ahead.

The good news here is that the success of city branding is not time-bound, but more good management of information, knowledge and its delivery. It does not matter how long Kigali will take to arrive there. Nothing can be lost.

Griffiths publications highlight that the cultural aspect of a national image is irreplaceable and un-copiable because it is uniquely linked to the country itself; it is reassuring because it links the country’s past with its present; it is enriching because it deals with non-commercial activities; and it is dignifying because it shows the spiritual and intellectual qualities of the country’s people and institutions.

Ms Malonza, a lecturer at the School of Architecture, University of Rwanda, is an architect and urban designer with keen interest on the dialectical relations between Architecture and Society.

Source: The New Times

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