Doing PR in Zimbabwe

Posted on: September 15, 2008

Imagine working as a PR professional in an economy with inflation running at more than a million per cent a year, in which there has been political conflict for most of a decade. That’s what I found when meeting a group of senior PR people in Harare, Zimbabwe last Friday. Despite these problems (and many more), they were very positive about the future as the deal to share power between the ruling ZANU-PF and opposition Movement for Democractic Change had been announced the previous night.

“It’s our good news 9/11”, former ZIPR chairman Ray Mawerere told the meeting. And fellow PRistas all agreed.

I was in Harare to renew contact with Ray with whom I had worked earlier in the decade as a PR consultant. Much has changed in the past seven year since my last visit. Harare, once a confident capital city, is now rundown and dirty. Long, long queues snake outside banks as Zimbabweans seek to draw enough of the hyper-inflating Z-dollar to get them through every day.

Business in any conventional sense is almost impossible to operate but continues with enormous will of staff. PR people just “work on regardless” in this collapsed economyand provide best advice.

At Friday’s meeting, itself a haven from current problems, we discussed the types of issues such as strategy, evaluation and effective communication that PR people everywhere focus on. Many Zimbabwean PRs want to continue their professional development at home or at overseas universities. Already ZIPR runs its own diploma programme and hopes that with stability in government and currency, this will develop to higher levels.

The opportunity offered by the 9/11 agreement for stability and a return to economic growth rather than implosion will havew to be grabbed. My view is that Zimbabwe has immense potential in farming, tourism and resources yet to be realised. Its PR practitioners are ready to help communicate an improved ‘national brand’ and make it into one of Africa’s leading nations again.

With only one government controlled national broadcaster and very stringent limits on print media, there is a limit on democratic dialogue. With a change from the Mugabe-led government to shared power, it is expected that these controls may be lifted. In addition to major Western broadcasters, such as BBC, returning, new and alternative voices may appear as has happened in post-conflict nations.


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Tom Watson

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