Zambia: Land of Make-Believe

The good news: The hardworking folks at Zambia Tourism have decided they need a new tagline that’ll get people to come and visit. The bad news: The new tagline still has to be about Zambia.

Apparently, some recent marketing research came back suggesting that the old phrase—”Zambia, the real Africa”—just wasn’t cutting it anymore. The problem might be that Zambia’s been tooting that line for 31 years. Or maybe it’s that the “real Africa,” in Zambia’s case, didn’t just mean glossy-brochure stuff like wild elephant safaris and Victoria Falls, but other noisome tidbits like police brutality, underage marriage and drug-resistant TB.

Suffice it to say that it’s going to take a marketer of considerable talents to pull off this rebranding job, and that’s probably why Zambia Tourism’s decided to broaden its search to everyone on the planet. The new tagline will be chosen via a global contest. (Oh, and if you happen to draw logos, Zambia needs a new one of those, too.) After all, chances are someone among the world’s 7 billion people can cook up a catchy phrase for Zambia that will, as the press release instructs, “reposition the country as a bucket list destination.”

Buckets can be useful for a lot of things, and the Zambia Tourism Web site already seems a worthy complement with its PR shoveling. For example, it cheerfully informs would-be visitors that “Zambia’s welcoming people live in peace and harmony”—this despite a 2008 State Department report that warns of unlawful killings, torture, beatings, arbitrary arrests, forced labor and government corruption. The site encourages visitors to “get a glimpse of village life”—even though, according to one United Nations official, “marrying off young girls is a tradition here.” And it promises “a wide range of hi-action activities”—which may or may not include watching the police hang suspects from the ceiling and beat them to coerce confessions, which Human Rights Watch contends is “routine police practice” in Zambia. (So, apparently, is locking people up. Zambia has an estimated 15,000 citizens behind the bars of the country’s 86 detention centers, according to Human Rights Watch. Tuberculosis has become a serious problem, maybe because the entire prison system has exactly one doctor.)

So, marketers, you’d better get creative. Tourism Zambia will allow entrants three submissions each, and if it picks your tagline as winner, you’ll get a 15-day, $30,000 trip for two to the country. Them’s good winnings, too, given that the average Zambian annual income is $295. The generous purse may have something to do with the World Bank Group being one of the rebranding contest’s sponsors. Not only did the global lending institution recently sink $160 million into development in Zambia, bank official Kapil Kapoor told online newspaper Zambian Watchdog that Zambia must promote itself “aggressively” if wants to be a major tourist destination.

In view of all the dirt under this country’s rug, it had better get started.