How to navigate business across African markets: Jordan Rittenberry, CEO of Edelman Africa, part of the world's largest public relations firm, says that working in Africa requires grit, humility and the realisation that mistakes are inevitable--as well as an appreciation of the continent's immense potential.

Author:Rittenberry, Jordan
Position:Partner Insight

Much has been written about Africa and its diversity. We know that there are 54 countries, 3,000 tribes and l.2bn people: the population is surging, and economies are expanding. It is a complex landscape for business and travel; yet oftentimes bullish multinational businesses will arrive on the continent confidently and loudly, only to fade away a few years later without realising that in order to survive, one needs to embrace both the opportunity and the complexity that Africa presents.

The relationship between African markets is a significant part of this complexity. Working across borders relies on the ability to navigate cultural nuances and understand the dynamism of Africa. Successful organisations understand the various contexts in which they are operating in, and refrain from applying a western mould to markets that are shaped differently.

For foreign companies to operate profitably, they need to invest in research and learn about the various cultures. There is no easy way to go about it; it requires grit, humility and the realisation that mistakes are inevitable. Trying to disrupt an industry is commendable but trying to change it because you think you know better is not. Let the market lead.

Understanding the relationships that markets have with each other will also inform the degree of success. One of Kenya's biggest trade partners on the continent is Uganda, while South Africa frequently trades with Nigeria.

However, intra-Africa trade remains low and the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) is yet to be ratified by Nigeria, one of the biggest economies on the continent. Companies will need to be well-versed in intra-market dynamics if they are to position themselves appropriately and successfully.

The ability to produce quality work across Africa goes beyond sourcing suppliers in different countries to serve your clients' needs; it's about developing meaningful relationships with quality partners who share your vision.

This is where the opportunity lies--Africa's workforce is young, well-educated, optimistic and innovative. Creating a deep network of affiliates and partners sets you up for success. Building new businesses also requires agility and a sense of entrepreneurship and you will not fail to find that here--whether you are in Lagos or Nairobi.

One of the themes at the World Economic Forum this year was stakeholder capitalism--the idea that businesses ought to go beyond focusing on profit margins...

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