Opinion piece: How to achieve business success in Africa

3 min read

Saying that the African continent is big for business may be an understatement. Currently the continent is home to no fewer than six of the world’s fastest growing economies, especially in the spheres of mobile and broadband technologies, and natural resources.

However, achieving business success goes far beyond contracts, business suits and business know-how. There really is an ‘African’ way of doing things, especially where business is concerned.

“Africa is complicated in its simplicity and impermeable to global standards of business. Each destination has its own intricacies and customs and it’s something that should not be taken lightly when wanting to achieve business success,” says Natalie Tenzer-Silva, Director at Dana Tours in Mozambique.

As such, to be successful in business in Africa, you have to make it your business to do so first. Here are some top tips to get you started.

1. Think local

There is no such thing as approaching business in Africa in ‘uniform fashion’. Each of the continent’s emerging markets boasts vastly different sensibilities, complexities and cultural norms, all of which need to be carefully factored into your business approach.

In Mozambique, for instance, great importance is attached to titles such as Mr. or Mrs., even more so when business acquaintances have a certain level of education and are degreed when they are referred to as Dr. or Dra. However, at the same time Mozambican locals are quite social and making a real effort to get to know your associates socially, will end up helping you professionally.

2. Consultants and experts

Do not hesitate to get in touch and to work with local consultants and experts. You will often find that besides having knowledge of local customs and business culture, they are likely to have established relationships within certain business sectors.

In a country such as Mozambique where most of the business is conducted in Portuguese for instance, you will want to get in touch with a reputable translation service if you are not fluent in the language. Not only will it make business negotiations run smoothly, you are likely to find that your host will notice that added effort which will aid in relationship building.

3. Hire local

In the event that you are looking to establish an office in Africa, the best point of call would be to employ locals.

Employing local staff can prove to be the success of your business and you will find that the more local employees you have, the better your business will integrate into that society and the more useful it will be regarded by the authorities and by your potential clients.

4. Throw Out the Rule Book

Forget what you know and what you are accustomed to in the world of business. Many enterprises accustomed to a certain way of doing things, find Africa a confusing and frustrating place. In the majority of markets, corporate policies differ significantly from those seen in more developed countries.

Equally, it’s important to bear in mind the concept of ‘African time’. Do not expect swift decision making as things move a slower in Africa. Be prepared for ongoing back-and-forth discussions following your initial meeting and to ultimately spend a lot of time in a destination such as Mozambique. Be patient and do not try to rush a decision from your business partners in Mozambique – it could cost you the entire deal.

5. Build relationships

Many African cultures are built on the concept of community and inter-personal relationships are vital in driving commerce in these markets. With this said it is not always about what you have to offer, regardless of how unique or ground breaking it may be, it is rather about the strength of your relationships.

In Mozambique, for instance, you should try to start any business meetings with small talk about families and health. It is also customary for the person who initiated the meeting to open business conversations, while the most senior person in the room closes discussions.