Branding as everyone knows is a powerful marketing tool. In most people’s minds it is associated with attempts to sell a product by giving it an irresistible appeal. It matter less whether the product is needed or is of high quality.
Today, branding is used much more widely to market every conceivable thing, including selling individuals to a sceptical public. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, except when a thoroughly obnoxious individual is completely remade, packaged and hoisted on people as the very paragon of virtue.
This is what is happening to a certain insufferable Paul Rusesabagina. Here is a fellow with no other saving grace except a nose for money and an overriding desire to get it by whatever means – straight or crooked, but mostly crooked.
This otherwise nondescript character has been packaged and branded by non-Rwandans as a hero and the saviour of some one thousand Rwandans from the machetes of genocidal elements. He has lived by that brand for the better part of a decade. Now the brand is losing its market appeal. Or as happens in classical marketing strategy, a brand must always be refurbished to give the impression that the product is new and fresh.
So, our man is being rebranded – this time as a champion of human rights, a voice for the gagged, a brave man prepared to stare down the elected government of his homeland, a one-man political opposition. In short, a colossus of a man who treads where others do not dare.
Of course, all these attributes do not fit our manufactured hero. They are only the attractive wrapping and skilful packaging of a vain, scheming and lying man by his handlers. The latest of these is Katrina Lantos Swett of the US-based Lantos Foundation.
From the latest rebranding, it is clear whose hero our man is. He is not a hero for Rwandans – most will not touch him with a ten-metre pole. Ordinary Rwandans wouldn’t care less about what he does as long as he does not use them to sell himself – and sell himself he has, like Judas and others of similar ilk.
Clearly this Paul is a creation of non-Rwandans with an agenda of their own. Like all creations, he is made in the image of his makers. He is, in this sense, their hero.
The curious question is: why is he being rebranded now?
I think there is a realisation that the saviour image won’t stick. There is simply too much evidence against such claims and too many people who know his human foibles very well. He could not have hidden everything from the prying eyes of foreign journalists, UN peace keepers and other expatriates, let alone the people he purportedly saved. The saviour image is in shreds.
And so, the saviour myth – for that’s what it is – cannot sell any more. The brand has lost its novelty and, of course, people have discovered that his is a contaminated product. Hence the need to rebrand to keep him in the market and make money for self, managers, image makers and a coterie of other profiteers.
You live a lie long enough and you begin to believe it. Fiction and fact become one. The fellow now foolishly believes in his crafted heroic and saviour image. Speaking at a ceremony during which the Lantos Foundation awarded him an award, he had the temerity to place himself in the same league as the Dalai Lama and Elie Weisel.
Said he, “I am an ordinary man” but feel greatly honoured to be held in the same light as “the towering figures” that the two men are. You would be excused to think this was straight from the mouth of Mark Antony, you know, the skilful disclaimer, “I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”
I am sure our man has no knowledge of such lines. They are the work of his managers. They should have been more honest and borrowed more from that famous speech and added: “The evil that men do lives after them…”
The vanity is clear. He is on the same moral stand as the “towering figures”. He shares the reverence and respect they inspire and yearns for the same influence they wield. But alas, despite all the imagination that has gone into creating a new brand image, he can never rise above the stature of a hybrid Shylock and Dracula.
Rusesabagina is not the only invention of clever, creative image makers. There are others like him whom we will not mention today. But they have another thing in common. They have all been fished from the same cesspool. And no matter how much colourful packaging and skilful marketing, the stench can never go away. We still have a stinking product.