The DARK continent…Really?

We found ourselves at an interesting conference last week, yet the recurring theme from the speakers regularly touched on the topic that Africa was difficult to do business in, data was unreliable and infrastructure limited.

Really?

It made us wonder what went through the minds of pioneers like Christopher Columbus, or relatively recently, Henry Ford. Surely the continents were darker in those days, and the economic backdrop more uncertain? Have we as humans just become lazy? Looking for buzzwords like ‘widening jaws’ and the ‘low hanging fruit’?

Africa certainly isn’t a ‘quick fix’ location, but then again, good on them…I have yet to meet a ‘being’ who is happy to be ‘easy’…in fact, on a date I once said that very term (granted, I was very inexperienced in the dating market) and the date proceeded to be very short-lived.

Coming from a finance background, and with experience having lived in African markets like Ghana, Kenya and Uganda, we know all too well that Africa has its challenges…but also immense opportunities.

We believe the challenges are arising because we are looking at Africa through Western eyes. Africa marches to the beat of its own drum. Own customs, own processes, own ways that businesses are run. Imagine, as an example, I came to your home for dinner, proceeded to sit on the floor while you sit at the table, eat with my hands while there is perfectly good cutlery available and drink the wine from the bottle. This person who you invited into your home has completely disrupted your whole evening and you will probably not be inviting me back! The point to be made is that Western customs should not be assumed to be a natural fit for the African continent. That is where the first hurdle is often stumbled upon. Africa is Africa, not America, not Europe, not Asia…so treat it as such.

The possible reason we impose our Western regulations and customs is because it is easy. Why should we learn a new culture if I can simply impose the customs I am already familiar with and have somebody else learn the rules? We are too lazy to do the hard yards in the country, learn the cultures, and build the relationships needed before making a commercial return on our idea.

Big business, in particular banks, are a major culprit in imposing their regulation upon an African market…and then being perplexed when they are not getting the traction they expect in this vast market opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, banks can be very valuable in an ecosystem…but in their current form they are broken, and won’t be a player until they re-look at their business model.

Africa certainly is challenging. It won’t unlock its treasures very easily and is not considered the ‘low hanging fruit’ …but if corporates truly believe that the opportunity is as big as reported…then surely the effort is worth the reward?

But for goodness sake, if you decide to enter the market, take the time to create a business plan customised to the geographical region you are operating in…it’s just good manners really.

And then you will be surprised at how enlightening the African continent can actually be…