China moves to muzzle people who wanted to blow the trumpet
On February 3rd this year, Dr James Lyons-Weiler, a molecular biologist who is also senior researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, said this in a particularly insightful interview on the mystery of the coronavirus:
I’ve analysed the entire genome sequence of this virus and compared it to the entire genome sequences of all the other coronaviruses that we have data for, and turned up this weird element that doesn’t belong there. I’ve found that it actually did match a vector technology that was published in 1998 in the proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
This vector technology is a mechanism by which molecular biologists insert new genes into viruses and bacteria. Now, it’s really unusual to find a vector technology sequence in a virus that’s circulating in humans, and so naturally, one thing we can say, I think for certain, is that this particular virus has a laboratory origin. So we can rule out a natural origin.”
As highlighted in earlier pieces, Luc Montaignier, the discoverer of HIV, said pretty much the same thing, and so did nine specialised Indian researchers. In fact, the Indian scientists attracted so much flak for going against the contrived orthodox that the coronavirus made a leap from bats into humans using an intermediate animal host palatable to human taste that two days later, they withdrew the paper altogether.
Yet if the Indian researchers were tarnished, it was all a smear campaign as ample enough evidence, albeit circumstantial, has emerged to the effect that the novel coronavirus was birthed in a Chinese laboratory and it was from there it either leaked or was deliberately propagated into the human population for both experimental (in a diabolical sense) and mercenary motives. The culprit laboratory in the main is the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Strictly speaking though, the laboratory was an accomplice as opposed to a sole respondent.
THE VIRUS WAS INTRODUCED FROM OUTSIDE THE MARKET, CHINESE RESEARCHERS ALLEGE
The novel coronavirus outbreak is curious, if not anomalous, in more than one respect. Analysts have wondered, for instance, why it arose in central China when traditionally basically every disease that emerges in China does so through Guangdong, the coastal province that surrounds Hong Kong in the southern part of the country.
This aberration in itself, not to mention the jigsaw that the countrys two major population centres of Shanghai (23.4 million) and Beijing (18.8 million) were only minimally affected, presupposes the fact that there is something fishy about the whole phenomenon, if it can be called that.
A persuasive case can in fact be made that although the coronavirus was according to Chinese authorities detected on December 1, 2019, it had actually been slowly but surely on the loose as early as November (considering that there was certain to be an incubation period between infection and symptoms before the cluster cases of the seafood market began to emerge on December 15, 2019). The Chinese authorities were very much cognisant of this, as well as the fact that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was not the germinal point of the virus.
The January 29, 2020 online edition of The Lancet featured a paper titled Clinical Features of Patients Infected with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus in Wuhan, China. The paper was authored by a team led by Professor Chaolin Huang, the Deputy Director of Jinhintan Hospital, the first Wuhan infirmary to be designated for treatment of the purportedly mysterious pneumonia that was triggered by the nascent coronavirus.
The paper said of the 99 Covid-19 cases analysed, 50 percent had never been to the Huanan Seafood Market and that the origin of 2019nCoV (Covid-19) needs further investigation. Had the team been matter-of-fact in their declaration, they would have made it categorical that the virus originated elsewhere but they were wary that they did not incense the political powers that be.
On the same day, the New England Journal of Medicine reported, in a paper titled Early Transmission Dynamics in Wuhan, China, of Novel CoronavirusInfected Pneumonia and which was authored by a team of dozens of Chinese doctors from the countrys various centres for disease control and prevention, that of the first 425 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Wuhan, 45 percent had never set foot in the precincts of the seafood market.
In the hard news that was splashed on the front pages of Chinese newspapers but which was totally ignored by the laughably partial Western media, researchers from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, which is a branch of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Chinese Institute for Brain Research made it plain that the novel coronavirus did not emanate from the Wuhan street market but from a different place which they were discrete enough not to name.
The crowded street market provided a happy playground for the SARS-CoV-2 circulation and spread it to the whole world from December 2019, the researchers boldly stated. The vendors and shoppers at Huanan were simply unfortunate enough to be infected by a virus that was introduced from outside the ill-fated and convenient scapegoat market.
Having sequenced the genomic data of 93 Covid-19 samples provided by 12 countries in a bid to track down the source of the infection and understand how it spreads, the Xishuangbanna researchers, who were led by Dr Yu Wenbin, wrote in their institutes journal on February 28 that the novel coronavirus was imported from elsewhere. The busy market then boosted its circulation and spread it to the whole city. More than a dozen scientific blogs published in China would onward relay the same inference.
CHINESE AUTHORITIES DUCK AND DIVE
As the coronavirus tore through the ranks of the 11 million-odd Wuhan residents, the Chinese authorities committed two rather rueful and costly mistakes. First, they downplayed the gravity of the problem both to their own people and to the world at large. Second, they threatened serious repercussions to any Chinese who pronounced on the situation in public fora without the sanction of the political bigwigs.
Third, they neglected to institute a headstart clampdown on inessential toing-and-froing both within Wuhan and between Wuhan and other cities. To rub salt into the wound, the WHO played along to the Chinese subterfuge, blindly echoing their reassuring words parrot style.
Before Wuhan, the seventh largest city in China, was put on lockdown on January 23, 2020, its mayor allowed more than 5 million residents to leave the town, and this at a time when 80 people had died of Covid-19, 2760 were infected, and a total of 14 countries had acknowledged the presence of the virus in their midst. It is a miracle that the peregrinations of this sea of humanity did not trigger a Covid-19 apocalypse across the vast country.
If the truth may be told, the exodus was not a spur-of-the-moment one intended to steer clear of the Covid-19 epicentre: it was in relation to the so-called Lunar New Year, during which the Chinese typically make no less than 3 billion trips over the full season, with workers getting a week off work from January 24-30 and returning to their hometowns for extended family reunions. However, with the spectre of Covid-19 bearing down on Wuhan, the authorities should have flexed situation-specific muscles and confined the Wuhanese in particular to within the Wuhan radius by responsible decree.
Meanwhile, the spin mantra on the lips of the Chinese authorities was that the diseases is preventable and controllable, that there is no need to be alarmed and that the chances that the disease could be spread through human contact was implausible even when emergency wards were filling with invalids who included members of the same family.
We knew this was not the case, wrote an anonymous Wuhan-based doctor who had seen a atypically huge surge in chest illnesses since January 12 on the National Health Commission website. About 8 people were investigated for spreading rumours about the outbreak.
Doctors and other members of the health cadre who tried to raise red flags were silenced both reactively and pro-actively. Officials forbade the release of data pertaining to data publication of pneumonia related to Wuhan, including social and self-media or technical services companies. The term viral pneumonia was not to be used on the image reports.
When the Shanghai P3 Laboratory team, that first isolated and published the virus genome on February 5, approached the National Health Commission for its guidance on preventative measures, it was ordered to close with the gag instructions that existing samples must be destroyed. Information about the samples, related samples, and related data, are all prohibited from release.
The Chinese government only moved to act constructively and be reasonably transparent on January 20, by which time the virus had gained a tenacious hold. China paid dearly, in terms of lives lost, for its inaction and that way put much of the world at serious peril.
REVELRY IN THE MIDST OF FOREBODING
All sorts of probable reasons as to why Beijing initially chose to treat the Covid-19 outbreak so nonchalantly have been bandied about. The most seemly of these had to do with politics by a regime that is so obsessed with self-promotion even where it is not called for.
The emergence of the coronavirus coincided with the countrys political season, when officials gather for the Communist Partys annual congress, a propaganda indaba where they rhapsodise about their policies, programmes, and the strides they are making economically. At a time such as this, a promulgation of bad news would have tellingly subtracted from the time-honoured euphoria of the occasion.
Stressing politics is always No. 1, Wang Xiaodong, the governor of Hubei, told officials on January 17. Political issues are at any time the most fundamental major issues.
Indeed, in his annual report to the same congress, Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang made not the merest mention of the viral outbreak.
In fact, no other city or provincial leader did so. , Zhou even had the audacity to allow 40,000 families to gather and share their home-cooked food in a Chinese New Year banquet when 291 people were reeling from the effects of the coronavirus and 6 had already succumbed to it.
IEC Disrespects Batswana: A Critical Analysis
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has recently faced significant criticism for its handling of the voter registration exercise. In this prose I aim to shed light on the various instances where the IEC has demonstrated a lack of respect towards the citizens of Botswana, leading to a loss of credibility. By examining the postponements of the registration exercise and the IEC’s failure to communicate effectively, it becomes evident that the institution has disregarded its core mandate and the importance of its role in ensuring fair and transparent elections.
Incompetence or Disrespect?
One possible explanation for the IEC’s behavior is sheer incompetence. It is alarming to consider that the leadership of such a critical institution may lack the understanding of the importance of their mandate. The failure to communicate the reasons for the postponements in a timely manner raises questions about their ability to handle their responsibilities effectively. Furthermore, if the issue lies with government processes, it calls into question whether the IEC has the courage to stand up to the country’s leadership.
Another possibility is that the IEC lacks respect for its core clients, the voters of Botswana. Respect for stakeholders is crucial in building trust, and clear communication is a key component of this. The IEC’s failure to communicate accurate and complete information, despite having access to it, has fueled speculation and mistrust. Additionally, the IEC’s disregard for engaging with political parties, such as the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), further highlights this disrespect. By ignoring the UDC’s request to observe the registration process, the IEC demonstrates a lack of regard for its partners in the electoral exercise.
Rebuilding Trust and Credibility:
While allegations of political interference and security services involvement cannot be ignored, the IEC has a greater responsibility to ensure its own credibility. The institution did manage to refute claims by the DISS Director that the IEC database had been compromised, which is a positive step towards rebuilding trust. However, this remains a small glimmer of hope in the midst of the IEC’s overall disregard for the citizens of Botswana.
To regain the trust of Batswana, the IEC must prioritize respect for its stakeholders. Clear and timely communication is essential in this process. By engaging with political parties and addressing their concerns, the IEC can demonstrate a commitment to transparency and fairness. It is crucial for the IEC to recognize that its credibility is directly linked to the trust it garners from the voters.
The IEC’s recent actions have raised serious concerns about its credibility and respect for the citizens of Botswana. Whether due to incompetence or a lack of respect for stakeholders, the IEC’s failure to communicate effectively and handle its responsibilities has damaged its reputation. To regain trust and maintain relevance, the IEC must prioritize clear and timely communication, engage with political parties, and demonstrate a commitment to transparency and fairness. Only by respecting the voters of Botswana can the IEC fulfill its crucial role in ensuring free and fair elections.
Fuelling Change: The Evolving Dynamics of the Oil and Gas Industry
The Oil and Gas industry has undergone several significant developments and changes over the last few years. Understanding these developments and trends is crucial towards better appreciating how to navigate the engagement in this space, whether directly in the energy space or in associated value chain roles such as financing.
Here, we explore some of the most notable global events and trends and the potential impact or bearing they have on the local and global market.
Governments and companies around the world have been increasingly focused onÂ transitioning towards renewable energy sourcesÂ such as solar and wind power. This shift is motivated by concerns about climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Africa, including Botswana, is part of these discussions, as we work to collectively ensure a greener and more sustainable future. Indeed, this is now a greater priority the world over. It aligns closely with the increase in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing being observed. ESG investing has become increasingly popular, and many investors are now looking for companies that are focused on sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint. This trend could have significant implications for the oil and fuel industry, which is often viewed as environmentally unsustainable. Relatedly and equally key are the evolving government policies. Government policies and regulations related to the Oil and Gas industry are likely to continue evolving with discussions including incentives for renewable energy and potentially imposing stricter regulations on emissions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a strong role. Over the last two years, the pandemic had a profound impact on the Oil and Gas industry (and fuel generally), leading to a significant drop in demand as travel and economic activity slowed down. As a result, oil prices plummeted, with crude oil prices briefly turning negative in April 2020. Most economies have now vaccinated their populations and are in recovery mode, and with the recovery of the economies, there has been recovery of oil prices; however, the pace and sustainability of recovery continues to be dependent on factors such as emergence of new variants of the virus.
This period, which saw increased digital transformation on the whole, also saw accelerated and increased investment in technology. The Oil and Gas industry is expected to continue investing in new digital technologies to increase efficiency and reduce costs. This also means a necessary understanding and subsequent action to address the impacts from the rise of electric vehicles. The growing popularity of electric vehicles is expected to reduce demand for traditional gasoline-powered cars. This has, in turn, had an impact on the demand for oil.
Last but not least, geopolitical tensions have played a tremendous role. Geopolitical tensions between major oil-producing countries can and has impacted the supply of oil and fuel. Ongoing tensions in the Middle East and between the US and Russia could have an impact on global oil prices further, and we must be mindful of this.
On the home front in Botswana, all these discussions are relevant and the subject of discussion in many corporate and even public sector boardrooms. Stanbic Bank Botswana continues to take a lead in supporting the Oil and Gas industry in its current state and as it evolves and navigates these dynamics. This is through providing financing to support Oil and Gas companiesâ operations, including investments in new technologies. The Bank offers risk management services to help oil and gas companies to manage risks associated with price fluctuations, supply chain disruptions and regulatory changes. This includes offering hedging products and providing advice on risk management strategies.
Advisory and support for sustainability initiatives that the industry undertakes is also key to ensuring that, as companies navigate complex market conditions, they are more empowered to make informed business decisions. It is important to work with Oil and Gas companies to develop and implement sustainability strategies, such as reducing emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy. This is key to how partners such as Stanbic Bank work to support the sector.
Last but not least, Stanbic Bank stands firmly in support of Botswanaâs drive in the development of the sector with the view to attain better fuel security and reduce dependence risk on imported fuel. This is crucial towards ensuring a stronger, stabler market, and a core aspect to how we can play a role in helping drive Botswanaâs growth. Â Continued understanding, learning, and sustainable action are what will help ensure the Oil and Gas sector is supported towards positive, sustainable and impactful growth in a manner that brings social, environmental and economic benefit.
Loago Tshomane is Manager, Client Coverage, Corporate and Investment BankingÂ (CIB), Stanbic Bank Botswana
Brands are important
So, the conclusion is brands are important. I start by concluding because one hopes this is a foregone conclusion given the furore that erupts over a botched brand. If a fast food chef bungles a food order, thereâd be possibly some isolated complaint thrown. However, if the same companyâs marketing expert or agency cooks up a tasteless brand there is a country-wide outcry. Why?Â Perhaps this is because brands affect us more deeply than we care to understand or admit. The fact that the uproar might be equal parts of schadenfreude, black twitter-esque criticism and, disappointment does not take away from the decibel of concern raised.
A good place to start our understanding of a brand is naturally by defining what a brand is. Marty Neumier, the genius who authored The Brand Gap, offers this instructive definition – âA brand is a personâs gut feel about a product or serviceâ. In other words, a brand is not what the company says it is. It is what the people feel it is. It is the sum total of what it means to them. Brands are perceptions. So, brands are defined by individuals not companies. But brands are owned by companies not individuals. Brands are crafted in privacy but consumed publicly. Brands are communal. Granted, you say. But that doesnât still explain why everybody and their pet dog feel entitled to jump in feet first into a brand slug-fest armed with a hot opinion. True. But consider the following truism.
Brands are living. They act as milestones in our past. They are signposts of our identity. Beacons of our triumphs. Indexes of our consumption. Most importantly, they have invaded our very words and world view. Try going for just 24 hours without mentioning a single brand name. Quite difficult, right? Because they live among us they have become one of us. And we have therefore built âbrand bondsâ with them. For example, iPhone owners gather here. You love your iPhone. It goes everywhere. You turn to it in moments of joy and when we need a quick mood boost. Notice how that ârelationshipâ started with desire as you longingly gazed upon it in a glossy brochure. That quickly progressed to asking other people what they thought about it. Followed by the zero moment of truth were you committed and voted your approval through a purchase. Does that sound like a romantic relationship timeline. You bet it does. Because it is. When we conduct brand workshops we run the Brand Loyalty â˘ exercise wherein we test peopleâs loyalty to their favourite brand(s). The results are always quite intriguing. Most people are willing to pay a 40% premium over the standard price for âtheirâ brand. They simply wonât easily âbreakupâ with it. Doing so can cause brand âheart acheâ. There is strong brand elasticity for loved brands.
Now that we know brands are communal and endeared, then companies armed with this knowledge, must exercise caution and practise reverence when approaching the subject of rebranding. Itâs fragile. The question marketers ought to ask themselves before gleefully jumping into the hot rebranding cauldron is â Do we go for an Evolution (partial rebrand) or a Revolution(full rebrand)? An evolution is incremental. It introduces small but significant changes or additions to the existing visual brand. Here, think of the subtle changes youâve seen in financial or FMCG brands over the decades. Evolution allows you to redirect the brand without alienating its horde of faithful followers. As humans we love the familiar and certain. Change scares us. Especially if weâve not been privy to the important but probably blinkered âstrategy sessionsâ ongoing behind the scenes. Revolutions are often messy. They are often hard reset about-turns aiming for a total new look and âfeelâ.
Hard rebranding is risky business. History is littered with the agony of brands large and small who felt the heat of public disfavour. In January 2009, PepsiCo rebranded the Tropicana. When the newly designed package hit the shelves, consumers were not having it. The New York Times reports that âsome of the commenting described the new packaging as âuglyâ âstupidâ. They wanted their old one back that showed a ripe orange with a straw in it. Sales dipped 20%. PepsiCo reverted to the old logo and packaging within a month. In 2006 Mastercard had to backtrack away from itâs new logo after public criticism, as did Leeds United, and the clothing brand Gap. AdAge magazine reports that critics most common sentiment about the Gap logo was that it looked like something a child had created using a clip-art gallery. Botswana is no different. University of Botswana had to retreat into the comfort of the known and accepted heritage strong brand.Â Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital was badgered with complaints till it âadjustedâ its logo.
So if the landscape of rebranding is so treacherous then whey take the risk? Companies need to soberly assess they need for a rebrand. According to the fellows at Ignyte Branding a rebrand is ignited by the following admissions :
Our brand name no longer reflects our companyâs vision.
Weâre embarrassed to hand out our business cards.
Our competitive advantage is vague or poorly articulated.
Our brand has lost focus and become too complex to understand. Our business model or strategy has changed.
Our business has outgrown its current brand.
Weâre undergoing or recently underwent a merger or acquisition. Our business has moved or expanded its geographic reach.
We need to disassociate our brand from a negative image.
Weâre struggling to raise our prices and increase our profit margins. We want to expand our influence and connect to new audiences. Weâre not attracting top talent for the positions we need to fill. All the above are good reasons to rebrand.
The downside to this debacle is that companies genuinely needing to rebrand might be hesitant or delay it altogether. The silver lining I guess is that marketing often mocked for its charlatans, is briefly transformed from being the Archilles heel into Thanosâ glove in an instant.
So what does a company need to do to safely navigate the rebranding terrain? Companies need to interrogate their brand purpose thoroughly. Not what they think they stand for but what they authentically represent when seen through the lens of their team members. In our Brand Workshop we use a number of tools to tease out the compelling brand truth. This section always draws amusing insights. Unfailingly, the top management (CEO & CFO)always has a vastly different picture of their brand to the rest of their ExCo and middle management, as do they to the customer-facing officer. We have only come across one company that had good internal alignment. Needless to say that brand is doing superbly well.
There is need a for brand strategies to guide the brand. One observes that most brands âmake a planâ as they go along. Little or no deliberate position on Brand audit, Customer research, Brand positioning and purpose, Architecture, Messaging, Naming, Tagline, Brand Training and may more. A brand strategyÂ distils why your business exists beyond making money â its âwhyâ. It defines what makes your brand what it is, what differentiates it from the competition and how you want your customers to perceive it. Lacking a brand strategy disadvantages the company in that it appears soul-less and lacking in personality. Naturally, people do not like to hang around humans with nothing to say. A brand strategy understands the value proposition. People donât buy nails for the nails sake. They buy nails to hammer into the wall to hang pictures of their loved ones. People donât buy make up because of its several hues and shades. Make up is self-expression. Understanding this arms a brand with an iron clad clad strategy on the brand battlefield.
But perhaps youâve done the important research and strategy work. Itâs still possible to bungle the final look and feel.Â A few years ago one large brand had an extensive strategy done. Hopes were high for a top tier brand reveal. The eventual proposed brand was lack-lustre. I distinctly remember, being tasked as local agency to âlandâ the brand and we outright refused. We could see this was a disaster of epic proportions begging to happen. The brand consultants were summoned to revise the logo. After a several tweaks and compromises the brand landed. It currently exists as one of the countryâs largest brands. Getting the logo and visual look right is important. But how does one know if they are on the right path? Using the simile of a brand being a person – The answer is how do you know your outfit is right? It must serve a function, be the right fit and cut, it must be coordinated and lastly it must say something about you. So it is possible to bath in a luxurious bath gel, apply exotic lotion, be facebeat and still somehow wear a faux pas outfit. Avoid that.
Another suggestion is to do the obvious. Pre-test the logo and its look and feel on a cross section of your existing and prospective audience. There are tools to do this. Their feedback can save you money, time and pain. Additionally one must do another obvious check â use Google Image to verify the visual outcome and plain Google search to verify the name. These are so obvious they are hopefully for gone conclusions. But for the brands that have gone ahead without them, I hope you have not concluded your brand journeys as there is a world of opportunity waiting to be unlocked with the right brand strategy key.
Cliff Mada is Head of ArmourGetOn Brand Consultancy, based in Gaborone and Cape Town.