Interview with Chris Diaz

HR-LB-v2-IMG_1427---CopyKenya Airways’ Marketing Director Chris Diaz has recently been appointed to the board of Brand Africa – an intergenerational movement to ‘Inspire a Great Africa’ through creating a positive image of the continent, celebrating its diversity and driving its competitiveness. Interview by Jackson Biko.

Pan-African marketing organisation Brand Africa is currently seeking to position Africa as a favourable investment destination. Chris Diaz joins the seven-member Board of Trustees, which is led by Brand Africa Founder and Executive Chairman Thebe Ikalafeng of South Africa. The appointment also comes two months after Mr Diaz’s reappointment by President Uhuru Kenyatta to the board of Brand Kenya, which is charged with the responsibility of showcasing and promoting Kenya’s image as an investment hub in Africa. Brand Africa seeks to achieve its goals by promoting partnerships and a catalytic environment for investment, tourism and active citizenship.

What does your appointment mean for Kenya Airways as a Pan-African airline that connects many Africans and African countries?
I think it’s important for us (the airline) to know the African brand experience and to know the African stories of how KQ connects Africa to the world and brings the world into Africa. This is not only about the pride and the emotion of the people of Africa but also about the iconic experiences and destinations, as well as all the great things about Africa including the world class culture, food, music, fashion, sports and the leaders of Africa. Brand Africa is about how we create this big experience, the continental experience. So, for me, the appointment is about positioning the continent to the rest of the world in terms of pride and all the experiences that make us very special. And why not? Africa today is the highest investment region in the world. Secondly, if you look at the World Bank reports you’ll see that Africa is the fastest growing in terms of the number of tourists coming into the continent; around 60 million people came in as tourists to Africa in the last year. And this is growing. A visit to Africa is now one of the most wanted experiences in any person’s Bucket List. My appointment is to contribute to the Brand Africa partnerships in the areas of tourism, chambers of commerce, the AU, and all the elements of Brand Africa that can be brought into such partnerships.

What should be the strategy to involve other Pan-Africans, especially the ones in the diaspora, to achieve your agenda?
The diaspora is very powerful in the key regions that Kenya Airways also flies to and the connection is how to encourage the diaspora to bring technology and ideas from other countries into African development. Don’t forget that there is also investment coming from the diaspora. So for Brand Africa we will be having conferences and seminars, and bringing groups of the diaspora back home to see how they can contribute to development and investment or by bringing new ideas in relation to technology.

As a trustee of Brand Africa, what is on your to-do list?
One of our key responsibilities is to champion investment in Africa. The second thing is tourism. Africa is well known for the best tourism destinations in the world – we have some award-winning destinations here. Lastly, I want to build partnerships in all areas to attain what we have set to achieve.

How is Brand Africa going to continue empowering Africans in pushing this agenda?
The citizens of Africa must be given opportunities to become brand champions. Brand Africa is going to certify the people who have passion in marketing the regions and countries.

How do you plan to engage African leaders to effectively push this agenda?
As a board we have set up councils and various segments that are governed by the objectives of Brand Africa. Each council or segment is bringing in their contribution – from their country or from their industry. I think those roles are defined.

How do you think KQ will continue to remain relevant in this whole picture?
Kenya Airways’ relevance is to give excellence in the brand experience. The real, authentic African experience… turning moments into memories. KQ flies the highest number of tourists into Kenya, the highest number of visitors into Africa in 41 cities across the continent. That is pivotal in what we will be doing.

How can Brand Africa deal with the image that Africa struggles with due to corruption, failed governments, terrorism etc?
Brand Africa believes that every region around the world has their own set of problems. Other continents have their challenges, but for Africa, if you come and you enjoy the experience of eating the African food, living the African fashion and enjoying the African experience, it’s very unique.

What’s the role of the youth in all this and how do you plan to capture their ideas?
The youth in Africa are savvy on technology. Brand Africa will be championing the digital market. The beauty of it is that we have brands like Safaricom that have made the internet accessible. We plan to make the youth our brand ambassadors on this front.

How can the private sector be empowered, perhaps engaged in pushing the agenda?
The strategy will be by encouraging ‘Buy Africa build Africa’s brands’. The corporates, by being recolonised, are automatically going to take leadership of brands in Africa. Then we will also bring the corporates together to look at sustainability projects and CSR projects. Every corporate is to have a development centre, that is to take in young leaders into their internship programmes. So Brand Africa is going to work with that. Brand Africa is keen to work with leading universities across the world in order to identify talent.

Do you see a united Africa as envisioned by the historic Pan-Africans?
It’s a very difficult question. The beautiful thing about us Africans is that we are very proud to be Africans. We have a lot of pride in our culture, but we also have so much diversity in terms of values and diversity in terms of tribes. How to bring this together is not just a challenge for Brand Africa, it’s for me and you and the people of Africa to do it together. The vision is to have free trade zones within 28 countries. That market power positions Africa’s greatest economies to be able to inter-trade and to be able to do manufacturing and therefore create a lot of employment.

What, according to you, hurts the image of Africa most and how can that be remedied?
There are several things. One of the biggest things that affects us is corruption. The second biggest thing that affects us is security. The third biggest thing that affects us is our competitiveness. We need a big investment from the government in terms of security: if there is no security, there is no business. We need to remedy that and we need to mitigate our own security. Corruption is something that every government really has to control – you may not be able to stop it, but you can control it. And this comes through good governance and good practices at all levels across the corporate and governmental worlds.

What needs to happen for you to look back at your participation in this agenda and say that it was worth your while?
If I had helped to position the continent for success. And success for Africa will be in being a respected continent for investment, as well as a desirable travel destination. I would like to see Africa as a big contributor at global conferences as well – as a major stakeholder in global decision-making.

Chris Diaz’s African top 5
1 Maasai Mara
It’s the greatest migration in the world – you’ll never get tired of seeing it.
2 Kilimanjaro
What could beat climbing Africa’s highest mountain?
3 African island experience
Diving off any African island – it could be in South Africa, Diani or the Seychelles.
4 African food
Every country in Africa has got a good food experience.
5 African music
There’s nothing to rival the wonderful beat of African music.