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Africa, a case for corporations to invest in policy communications


Africa's economic potential is vast, yet despite the many opportunities for growth and development, it remains one of the least explored regions of the world. The continent's population is projected to double by 2050, creating significant opportunities for growth and development. With abundant natural resources and a growing number of tech-savvy entrepreneurs, Africa has the potential to become a major player in the global economy. Additionally, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is a significant framework that aims to boost intra-Africa trade and promote industrialization. To prepare for this future, policies are being put in place to benefit all stakeholders.

Globally, the neoliberal shift has increased the role of the private sector in policy design and implementation. Special Interest Groups, sponsored think tanks, policy papers, and agenda-setting policy conferences are just a few of the tested tactics used by corporations to advance their goals in influencing public policy. However, policy communications' tactics have always been met with scrutiny from media and non-profits, especially in Europe, where corporations are seen as profit-hungry and manipulative.

In Africa, however, entrepreneurship and corporations are celebrated and courted, as jobs and economic growth are urgently needed. More broadly, on a global level, the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer found that 61% of respondents said business is the most trusted institution, ahead of NGOs at 59%, government at 52%, while media is only at 50%. This insight provides legitimacy for businesses to be involved in policymaking. The case for policy communications from African corporations has three justifications:

1. Educate the central government: New business ideas, business models, and industries are created every day. From fintech applications to vaccine manufacturing, it is important to educate the central government so that they can come up with new ideas rather than importing policies implemented in different contexts.

2. Share institutional knowledge: Large corporations especially in the technology sector now have more information on citizens than governments, even in developed countries. Examples of Google community mobility reports during Covid-19 or Uber transit data used in transport planning in Kenya are few possibilities in how corporations can help better policy making.

3. Proactive government relations management: In a world of competing interests from multiple stakeholders, it is now clear that corporations cannot ignore government relations and how it affects policymaking. The rise of ESG investment, activist NGOs, disinformation agents, and the modern 'scramble' for Africa has led to this justification.

Policymaking in Africa is a complex process that is often driven by the executive branch of government, rather than the legislative branch. Policymaking ultimately rests on the shoulders of bureaucratic civil servants, who often outlive elected officials. Therefore, it is essential to build strong relationships with these individuals, who have significant influence over the policy-making process. Lawmakers are relatively less involved in policymaking, so it is important to understand the role that they do play in the process. Additionally, existing trade bodies may not always be representative, but they are influential, and governments see them as the legal representatives of their industries. Therefore, it is crucial to work with these organizations to ensure that their views are considered when policy is being developed. Finally, workshops are an inevitable step in the policy-making process, and it should be a goal to be part of them, as they are the place for discussion, argumentation, and influence. By understanding these nuances of the policy-making landscape in Africa, organizations can develop effective policy communications strategies that engage all relevant stakeholders and lead to positive policy outcomes.

An effective policy communications approach on the continent should include some key features that are often overlooked:

·      Tailor your message to the needs of Africa: while DEI, ESG and Sustainability might be the right keywords in London or New-York, it is important to understand what matters here - as jobs creation, economic growth, industrialization are the topics of the moment.

·      Emphasize the benefits for the country or the continent: It is important to emphasize the benefits of policy initiatives to build support. This means highlighting how policies will create jobs, boost economic growth, and improve the lives of ordinary citizens.

·      Engage local media: International media are becoming less influential after decades of negative coverage of the continent, local media can no longer be overlooked, as they are gaining audiences among decision makers. It is important to engage with local media to communicate policy messages.

·      Collaborate with local stakeholders: This means working with local stakeholders, including civil society organizations, business associations, and community groups, to build support for policy initiatives. They are now very effective at influencing governments on the continent. Gone are the days, where it was enough to speak to the politicians, collaboration must be broader.



Lerato Mpholo is the Managing Director at Opinion & Public BCW, the Francophone Africa go-to integrated communications agency, moving people for governments, corporations and non-profit by delivering public relations, strategic communications, and public affairs services.

Along with PRCA Africa, Opinion & Public BCW is participant in the inaugural Conférence Internationale sur les Governments et les Communications (CIGC), taking place on 10 November 2023 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Themed “Building Trust between the Youth and Government,” the event will feature renowned government communication experts from around the world and provide insights on effective African government communication.