EthioPoint: Ethiopians Analysis | Research Articles

The power of branding: What do we learn from Haileselassie and Abiy?

11 mins read

By Assegid Habtewold[1]
One of the leadership qualities that I highly admire about Haileselassie is his ability to brand himself as a leader. I study leadership concepts such as purpose, mission, motto, and branding. I wrote about and applied them to my companies and myself. I’ve been facilitating workshops and coaching my clients to discover their personal (company’s) mission, motto, and brand. As a student of branding, I can confidently say that Haileselassie was ahead of his time when it came to positioning himself and his country at world stages. The way he branded himself amazes me. It forces me to acknowledge his brilliance. More than once, I was obliged to take my hats off to him.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks at Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday. He has introduced sweeping changes to the African country — lifting a state of emergency, brokering peace with neighboring Eritrea and releasing hundreds of political prisoners. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Think about this. Though there is no convincing historical evidence yet, Haileselassie and the royal family believed that they originated from the Solomonic dynasty. The royal family claimed that they had the right to rule Ethiopia justifying that they are descendants of the Lion of Judah.
To represent the Lion of Judah, the royal family came up with a flag that has a lion in the middle. They didn’t stop there. Haileselassie reared lions in his palace. Not only he domesticated lions but also befriended with them. That is why you and I are forced to think of a lion when we think of Haileselassie. What a genius!!!
How he dressed by itself takes to write another stand-alone article. The moral of the story is that since Haileselassie presented himself as a world-class king, the world accepted and flowed with it, and responded accordingly. Wherever he went, he was accorded exceptional receptions by kings, queens, and leaders of the free world. Citizens of these countries lined up to see the glimpse of Haileselassie. He made all of us proud because he knew how to brand himself and his country.
After performing poorly and badly since Haileselassie, thank God, now, it seems we’re on the way to reclaim our rightful place in the world. With the election of Abiy Ahmed as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the country has a chance to shine at world stages once again. As you may already know, Abiy’s brand is ‘MEDEMER’. He kept hammering this word till it became a household name.
In the last more than 90 days, Abiy tried his best to articulate his brand superbly. His unique brand requires demonstrating love, forgiveness, unity, and tolerance. In his short tenure as the leader of the second populous nation in Africa, he traveled around the country to reverse the bloodshed, disintegration, and chaos that were awaiting this beautiful country. Even if he lost sleep and appeared tired, he worked tirelessly to bring together communities that were at odds and in conflict, in some cases, on the verge of killing themselves one another. Extended an olive branch to Eritrean President, which in turn, led the reunification of the two sisterly people. Reconciled the leaders of South Sudan, and so on.
What is more? The motto his administration chose for his trip to the Diaspora was “Demolishing the wall, let‘s build the bridge”. True to this theme, he demolished the wall that resulted from having two separate Synods of the Orthodox Church- our national treasure and a symbol of our unity as a country that has an ancient history, beautiful culture, and intimate relationship with the Almighty! Gathered leaders of the opposition parties and preached them to bulldoze the wall that fragmented the opposition camp.
As you are well aware, the Diaspora has been labeled as ‘a stronghold of oppositions’. It has been a symbol of resistance against EPRDF for more than 27 years. Therefore, it takes intuition, courage, humility, and boldness to come and face the Diaspora that has been a thorn in the side of his party. However, it seems that he didn’t just happen to land here and make speeches. He was mindful of the motto for this trip. Accordingly, he took some proactive and deliberate bulldozing acts. For the surprise of Tamagne Beyene and awe of the Diaspora that packed the Washington Convention center, Abiy interrupted his speech, called on to Tamagne (the defender of Ethiopians around the world and the tireless singer of Ethiopian unity for decades), and hugged him on the stage to shatter the wall that was built for more than two decades. He also met well-known activists such as Obang Meto and Abebe Gellaw in private signifying the demolishing of the wall that stood between the Diaspora and the government in Ethiopia.
What do you learn from Haileselassie and Abiy? Do you have a personal brand that uniquely represents you? If you have an organization, is it uniquely branded? What are your (company’s) mission, motto, and brand? Are you faithful to your brand? What have you done to project the image you want the world to see about you and your organization?
By the way, branding yourself and your organization isn’t just crucial among Ethiopians. Pick a successful leader from any culture. Or, think about one of the companies you admire and loyal to. If you just take a few minutes to investigate, I can assure you that they are very skillful in branding themselves. They aren’t duplicates. Most importantly, they are proactive in branding themselves and demonstrating a commitment to maintain their brands by taking proper actions on a consistent basis.
Let me share with you a good example. In my 2nd book ‘The 9 Cardinal Building Blocks for continued success in leadership’ (p. 175) I talked about how Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs was a marketing genius who branded himself and his companies outstandingly. I wrote, “…Not only Jobs found what he loved to do, but he was also a great artist and architect who articulated and coined the missions and visions of his companies. When you closely look at his three companies- Apple, NeXT, and Pixar, you can immediately recognize that he invested ample time to make it easy for people who were working, and partnering with him to understand for what these companies stood for. He also carefully chose his and his companies’ brands. He wore black turtlenecks and blue jeans that made him uniquely identifiable. He teamed up with outstanding ad companies and invested money, energy, and time to create ads that reflect his business philosophies and the essence of his companies’ products…”
With the new young, dynamic, and servant leader, Ethiopia is set to reclaim her leadership role in Africa. Ethiopia was leading the continent during her darkest hour. Now, we are back to take leadership in restoring the dignity of the continent and its people, and Abiy is the right ‘king’ like Haileselassie was during the colonial era.
The question is: Are you ready? Do you want to be part of this once in a lifetime movement? Do you love Abiy and would like him to succeed? Then, roll your sleeves up and make your hands dirty! Don’t forfeit or neglect your individual responsibility. Complement what Abiy does at continental and national levels by picking your unique lane (the area where you would like to serve your community), articulating, and branding yourself and your organization.
This is equally important to leaders of opposition parties, businesses, civic, media, and community organizations. You don’t need to duplicate one another. We should all choose our distinctive lane and run on it by demonstrating excellence while also supporting one another as we pursue and claim our collective destiny.
The era where one trips and stumbles another to get ahead at the expense of others is shattered! A new era of love, forgiveness, unity, and hard work has begun. Let’s tap into this moment, and be part of this glorious movement that has a potential to transform our country and usher its people toward tolerance, unity, stability, peace, good governance, and ultimately prosperity. And, you (your organization) have a unique role to play, and this is your turn to contribute your fair share!
[1] Dr. Assegid Habtewold is the author of Unchain Your Greatness- the book dedicated to Dr. Abiy Ahmed. The book is available on Amazon. Assegid can be reached at [email protected]