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Entrenched stereotypes of Africa are damaging the continent’s ability to attract investment.  It is time for a new African story to be told,” said Paul Walsh, CEO for Diageo Africa, at the recent Awards event held in London to recognise and reward journalists and editors providing high quality coverage of the business environment in Africa.

In his opening address, Walsh, who heads the global drinks giant’s operations in Africa, spoke of the urgent need to address what he called “the misconceptions of Africa” and to give voice to “the positive stories that often struggle to be heard.”

The Diageo Business Reporting Awards aim to promote a more balance view of opportunity in Africa.

Diageo Africa Business Reporting Awards

Launched in 2004, this event marked the third in a series of Awards sponsored by Diageo.  The company, whose brands include Guinness, Johnny Walker and Smirnoff, is a significant investor in Africa and is a strong champion of investment in the region.  Pointing out the extent of Diageo’s success in Africa and the benefits that accrue to investors, Walsh said, “Africa is rapidly expanding.  In 2005 the region grew by more than 5%, supported by record flows of foreign investment.”  His company’s optimism about Africa is reflected across the continent, he added, and cited a poll conducted in 2005 by The Economist which revealed that 60% of Africans believed that things would get better for them. 

‘Improving Perceptions is not a Panacea’

“Challenging Africa’s image problems is one of the continent’s key challenges,” said Walsh. Recognising that negative stereotypes are impeding Africa’s capacity to attract investment, he said, the need to profile positive investment stories is critical to shifting perceptions.

The Diageo Business Reporting Awards aim to promote a more balance view of opportunity in Africa.  This requires not only the reporting of the continent’s challenges but also its many successes. Business – particularly those that are doing well in Africa – need to do and say more about their success to counter the preponderance of negative stories about Africa.

“Just as the media can do more, businesses can do more,” said Walsh.  “Companies like us have to be ambassadors for Africa.”

While conceding that improving perception “is not a panacea”, Walsh stressed that events such as the Diageo Africa Business Reporting Awards that served to highlight success in Africa represent “a major and real step in the right direction.”

2006 Award Winners Best Published Feature
'Chinese influence in Africa' (Reuters)
'An exceptional piece of writing on a topic of crucial importance to Africa's economic development.'

Best Television Feature
'Africa's Chinese investment' (Channel 4 / ITN)
'A timely and expertly produced feature presenting the opportunities and challenges presented by China's rapidly expanding interest in Africa.'

Best Radio Feature
'ICT and Africa' (BBC World Service)
'A fascinating report into how information technology is changing the way Kenyans live and work.'

Best Website
Business Day Nigeria (www.businessdayonline.com)
'A good mixture of news and features, with informative content presented in a way that is visually appealing and easy to navigate.'

Best Publication
The Africa Report (Jeune Afrique Group)
'A critical approach to the key issues with consistently excellent writing.'

Best Journalist
David Christianson (Business in Africa)
'First-hand research, objectivity and flair.'

The Role of Africans in Changing Perceptions

The awards event was attended by a diverse gathering of over 200 people including business leaders, journalists, members of the diplomatic corps and representatives of African businesses and organisations.  The Master of Ceremonies for the event, Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie, Executive Director of the UK based African Foundation for Development (AFFORD), asked those Africans present to consider their role in changing the negative perceptions of Africa.   “As Africans in the Diaspora, we have a particular role to play as ambassadors and champions of Africa,” he said.

Delivering the keynote speech in the lead up to the presentations of the awards, the Kenyan High Commissioner to London, HE Joseph Muchemi, spoke of the changes taking place across the continent and the efforts being made by African governments to instil higher standards of governance and accountability.  These changes, he said, had yet to be reflected in the media.  “Negative images take a long time to shift, if ever”, he said.  Yet, recognition that a number of countries had made considerable headway in their development was required, he added, observing that “African countries deserve fresh consideration by the media.”

Business Awards

Introducing the awards, Nick Blazquez, Managing Director of Diageo Africa, spoke of his company’s long affiliation with Africa. 

“We operate in more than 40 countries throughout Africa and contribute to economic and social development.  10% of Diageo’s business is in Africa and we directly employ 4,000 people, with many more indirectly employed through our operations”, he said. 

Speaking of the remarkable returns on investment in Africa, Blazquez pointed out that in 2005 African stock markets outperformed other global markets and brought returns of 66% in real dollar terms to investors, including Diageo, five of whose top 10 markets are in Africa. 

Blazquez acknowledged that public perception of governance in Africa was a challenge to business and highlighted the importance of corporate behaviour in Diageo, adding that “all our businesses in Africa operate to the highest standards of integrity and corporate governance.”

Presenting the awards, Blazquez said, “We were very encouraged by the response to this year's competition, which saw a record number of entries from Europe, North America, Australia and Africa. With these awards we are delighted to be recognising those who have gone the extra mile to promote awareness and understanding of business in Africa."

The awards covered six categories: Best Published Feature, Best Television Feature, Best Radio Feature, Best Website, Best Publication and Best Journalist. Winners received a bronze statue by the German sculptor Loni Kreuder and a cheque for £500.

“This event is about changing perceptions,” said Blazquez.  For companies like Diageo, reporting success is good for business and good for Africa. 

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