Last updated on November 22nd, 2017 at 04:00 pm
Africa may not be the first place that comes to mind when envisioning the next great economic frontier. However, with the rapid growth of business competition taking place in other continents, Africa is ready. Six of the world’s fastest-growing economies reside in Africa, and there is evidence that Africa’s economic growth rate has been rising steadily from 3% in the 1990s to 5% today (Multilingual)according to forecasts from the International Monetary Fund. Slow and steady wins the race and you can expect to yield great returns over time when conducting business in Africa. Let’s take a look at the strengths, challenges and cultural tips for doing business in the newest rising star of the global economy.
A Growing Economy
A strong, growing economy begins with a strong workforce. The IMF forecasts that Africa will experience a 5.3% economic growth this year, and is expected to surpass the world average growth rate in the next few years (Multilingual). This strong economic trend is driven by a rapidly growing middle class and youth bracket of 200 million African youths from ages 15 to 24. If this trend remains consistent, Africa will be well equipped with the largest workforce in the next few decades.
Huge Potential Market
A large population equals a large market! Africa is made up of 1 billion people- that is, 10% of the world’s population. Africa’s growing middle class is made up of individuals with superior education and wealth from previous generations, leading to a demand for quality products and services. There’s also been an observable shift in demand “from basic commodities to a modern lifestyle” including “demand for luxury goods” according to owner of Eki Orleans Fashion, Hazel Eki Aggrey (Ventures Africa). This shift is further helped by the heavy use of social media among the young African demographic. 100 million Africans are using Facebook every month to stay up to date with the newest, popular trends (ITWeb). As this number continues to grow, you can expect African demand for modern, luxury products to follow.
The Challenge of Linguistic Diversity
There are obvious challenges to conducting business in Africa including political instability and disease outbreaks. However, the continent’s tremendous linguistic diversity poses the greatest obstacle to business success. With over 2,000 local and regional languages, the quest to effectively communicate and target a specific African demographic, is a challenge. Fortunately, you can begin the quest by categorizing the primary languages into 6 major groups: Afro-Asiatic, NIlo-Saharan, Niger-Congo A, Niger-Congo B, Khoi-San, and Austronesian.
When targeting the most multilingual and culturally diverse continent, you must pay careful attention to localization. The demographic in Africa is so fragmented that cultural differences can occur over a span of small regions. Thus, it is crucial to localize your marketing content to make it suitable to the culture of the specific region you are targeting. Improper localization has led to riots and protests in African communities – in 2002, a writer for ThisDay (a Nigerian publication) penned a light-hearted column in the newspaper stating that Prophet Muhammad might’ve enjoyed the Miss World contest. Deadly riots ensued, and a This Day office was torched forcing the writer to flee to Norway. The writer had not taken into account the conservative culture in parts of Nigeria, and nearly paid for it with his life- not to mention wasted resources.
Carefully localize your business and marketing material to create strong, positive relationships with your African counterparts!
Africa’s cultural history dates back to the birth of humans between 5 to 8 million years ago. Since the beginning of humankind, groups from all over the world have migrated to and settled in Africa resulting in the buildup of the 3,000 plus existing ethnic groups today. Thus, you can probably guess- one African (or even group of Africans) is not representative of the many cultures that exist throughout the entire continent.
Proper business etiquette depends solely on the specific area you are doing business with. Let’s take a look at some examples of proper business etiquette in Africa’s two largest economies: Nigeria and South Africa.
Remember to include African languages in your marketing translation mix. With business opportunities ready to bloom and a fast growing group of young consumers, Africa is the place for prospective companies to begin planning and investing towards a rewarding future.