It’s hard going up and harder staying there

There is an interesting story about François Bozizé, the Central African Republic’s (CAR) former leader, who put Brand Bozizé on top in the CAR for ten years straight after a 25 year climb. Bozizé is no Mugabe, however a decade as the Head Honcho in the usually volatile African political scene is quite an achievement in its self. Let’s take a candid look at Brand Bozizé and its journey to the top and try to take something positive from yet another of Africa’s long list of flawed big men.

When building your brand of course you must do the groundwork, make sure you have some unique qualities that your market can associate with your brand. This is also the time when you establish and build the reputation that your brand will stand on. Bozizé went through the military to establish himself. One could say security was the family’s line of business as his father before him was a policeman.  Bozizé went to Military school where he did well and in 1969 made a second lieutenant at graduation. He kept at the military game until he made Captain in 1975, then, three years later, crowned Brigadier General of CAR by his boss, Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa.

At this stage Bozizé had put some serious credentials behind his brand. Though the credentials were military based, his rank attested to his Brand’s value. The next logical step is growth. Brands have to remain relevant as part of staying competitive as they grow. In the CAR, at the time, the situation was one of coups. The development of Brand Bozizé into a related area meant a leap into politics, which came in 1979 when he was made the Minister of Defence. The appointment came after the then leader, Emperor Bokassa, was deposed by David Dacko… though a coup. Businesses should and do look for opportunities to help in their growth, and sometimes it works to take a step into a new arena. Brand Bozizé then moved to the Ministry of Information in 1981when Dacko was deposed by Andre Kolingba. This now political Brand was consolidating its military expertise and experience while developing into a new and ultimately positive area of Intelligence. Bozizé must have been inspired on how next to advance his brand to the next level… logically, though a coup.  In 1982, coup he did but failed. This amounted to the first serious setback that brand Bozizé experienced on the way up.

After an arrest and subsequent trial, Brand Bozizé managed to be walk away with an acquittal in 1991. This was possibly a demonstration of the value that his brand had built up over the years. The coup didn’t work and Bozizé tried another tactic… running for elections in 1993. It is fine by all means to try another strategy aimed at getting your brand to the top, nothing ventured – nothing gained as they say. However this strategy didn’t quite work either for Brand Bozizé and it appears Bozizé went back to basics, his military roots. In 2001 as the then Army Chief of Staff, Brand Bozizé attempted another coup this time to oust the man he lost the elections to, Ange-Felix Patassé. Again the strategy didn’t quite work, and the coup didn’t deliver results. Shortly thereafter Bozizé was back at it again coup style, this time the coup strategy delivered in 2003. Bozizé was new leader of the CAR, the Brand had arrived.

Actually, this is where some of the real work starts for Brands – staying on top. Some of the challenges, besides politics, that Bozizé experienced included strong resistance from the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), who then started a rebellion.  It’s true that for Businesses you can’t win everybody over to support your brand all at once. However Bozizé owned it by swiftly setting about legitimising his rule through a new constitution. We can read that as changing the rules of engagement to suite the brand – a stroke of innovation. The New Constitution was voted in by a referendum in 2004 and Bozizé went to the polls and won in the following year. The UFDR, or the challengers of Brand Bozizé, kept up their rebellion until 2007 when a peace deal was finally struck.
Getting your brand to the top is not an easy task, and once on top staying there is no walk in the park either. For Bozize it included the UFDR going back into rebel mode, even though they had been co-opted into government. Bozizé had also “won” another election in 2010… ultimately it all had to end. In 2013 rebels closed in on the presidential palace saying Bozizé failed to honour the terms of a cease fire. That was the end of Brand Bozizé.

Obviously this was a candid look at François Bozizé as a Brand, not an endorsement of his way of doing things. The route that Bozizé took to the top was unconventional in that it took three coups attempts before he could finally sit at the top. Ultimately the plan worked. What we can focus on was that he identified a strategy that he felt would best work for him and pretty much stuck to it. Though he failed twice, he maintained his Brand’s message of Presidency via coup. Another lesson was that Bozizé also used innovation to a certain degree; rewriting the Constitution and co-opting the UFDR rebels. Innovation gave his brand a longer shelf life. Ultimately not honouring relationships appears to have been the undoing of Brand Bozizé, and in Africa we tend to have very long memories about such disappointments.

*This article was written by Ewetse Khama – Lead Consultant, Hotwire PRC Tanzania
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