International business: doing business WITH Africa or doing business IN Africa?

August 28, 2020

For international business, it’s vitally important to understand the difference between Doing business IN Africa and Doing business WITH Africa. The African continent, comprising 54 countries, is a complex mix of cultures, languages, beliefs, politics, post-colonial legacies, and – of course – wonderful people! If there is one common thread that needs to be appreciated, it’s that when desiring to do business with Africa people buy people first!

Appropriate greeting

What does this mean? Despite the forced separation of COVID-19, it has to be realized that when the new normal allows visiting developing markets – and Africa in particular – nothing replaces the trust-building act that is displayed by appropriate greetings. Bestowing your African hosts with a proper verbal greeting, accompanied by the traditional handshake, shoulder bump or hug is the foundation for selling yourself and a significant stride toward relationship marketing.

Dysregulating digital meetings

Body language, sincerity, maturity, cultural sensitivity, and delivering on your promises are not easily communicated through platforms such as Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams. They have their place where a good relationship has been built over time or where training and conferences must go on remotely. Hanna Thomas Uose, Principal at Align and Formerly Chief Product Officer at and Campaign & Culture Director at, wrote an excellent blog on the subject of Zoom which puts this subject in perspective.

Tribal realities and languages

Each African country has even greater complexities when respecting tribal realities and the often many languages within a single country. South Africa for instance has 11 officially recognized languages and 17 in total and Ethiopia has 86 languages! One thing these individual countries have in common is that face-to-face greeting through appreciating the customary handshake or shoulder bump immediately builds respect for both parties. Hand sanitizer accepted!

Before continuing the Africa theme of these blogs, a footnote is that Africa is a place where grey hair and age are still highly respected. Also, the dynamism of women in business is on the rise and must not be ignored!

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Peter Hurst

Experience in and with emerging markets

Since 1995, Globally Cool has trained and coached thousands of professionals, in over 45 emerging markets. Want to know more about what Globally Cool can do for you? Check out our services and join us!

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