Things are changing in Africa. Foreign companies are no longer looking at the continent solely in terms of what they can take out, but what they can get in. You might not know that Africa is home to six of the top ten fastest growing countries in the world and U.S. exports to sub-Saharan Africa were a staggering $22.6 billion last year. Russia, Europe and China are also heavily invested in Africa and have major stakes in the continent’s natural resources.
According a recent piece in the International Business Times, this massive growth in cell phone use, social media — particularly Twitter — is exploding in Africa and everyone from multinational corporations to shrewd venture capital firms and tech start-ups want in on the action. Samsung South Africa’s Twitter account has more than 100,000 followers, and Adidas, Diageo, Magnum Ice Cream and several other popular brands are not far behind.
So, what are some key cultural tips when doing business in Africa? Well, for starters, you must consider that Africa is a continent, not a culturally cohesive monolith. Language and culture will shift by country, often in dramatic fashion. However, here are a few key points to keep in mind as you attempt to break into this powerful, emerging market.
1. Educate yourself on region and culture you’ll be entering and contact official channels in advance of your trip in order to present your business plan and anticipate legal or administrative obstacles you may face. Africa is the second largest continent in the world, with 54 states and over 3,000 spoken languages (by some counts). Significant differences exist between countries and you simply cannot approach Africa with a ‘one size fits all’ attitude. Is the state and region you’re entering Muslim, tribal, religious, or secular? Is the local economy stable or are there issues with corruption and safety that need to be heavily weighed?
2. Get a local expert and even consider hiring a local partner. Many parts of Africa are new to the modern global business arena, so it’s critical to get guidance from local experts, vetted and trusted, who can steer you away from harm and help you form those all-important personal relationships. A local expert and/or partner can help you navigate regional bureaucracy, tax and business laws and ultimately save you time and money.
3. Africa tends to be Hierarchical and Interpersonal. Not all, but a good many countries of Africa are hierarchical and highly interpersonal. Bosses, local chiefs, political or military heads, tend to make key decisions, so it’s important to get to the top person to get things accomplished. Additionally, most African cultures highly value relationships, and are not keen to rush into business with strangers, so take the necessary time to develop quality relationships and be prepared to spend a significant amount of time in your African country as you develop and launch your business.
4. Proceed with Caution. Corruption is rampant in many African nations, so, especially if you are new to region, invest prudently and don’t risk you or your firm’s solvency on your “New African project.” While opportunities in Africa abound, risk is still high, so it might be wise for your first African venture to be more modest in scale.
Are you from Africa? Have you ever lived and worked in Africa? What words of wisdom might you offer up for those of us anxious to do business in Africa?