The United Nations Development Programme lists 46 of Africa’s 54 countries as sub-Saharan – countries that lie south of the Sahara. With a population of over 1 billion, being around 90% of the total Africa population, it’s important to understand that communication with these diverse people is key to Doing business with Africa.
Too many developed countries make the assumption that access to the internet and mobile technology is one size fits all when it comes to international trade. Internet connectivity, reliability and speed, and access to laptop or desktop computing are often severely limited, even to seasoned business people in sub-Saharan Africa. Reliable electricity is often even a further challenge that impacts communication.
Three-quarters of the population have a SIM connection – that translates to 747 million people. There are 444 million mobile subscribers, which equates to nearly nine percent of all global mobile subscriptions and around a third of mobile users, 250 million, have a smartphone. Mobile phones are mostly how business is conducted on a daily basis.
Handling connectivity issues
Ensure that your website is mobile-friendly, as your contacts from sub-Saharan Africa will surely pay a visit to your website by phone. Tip: check the responsiveness of your website. Also, don’t expect everyone to read large attachments or links – especially when connectivity is interrupted by power outages, weak signals, or sometimes government intervention! And yes, amazingly, the fax machine is still a good standby for document transfer. So, don’t throw the fax out just yet!
Don’t be discouraged by seeing your Africa contact use Gmail, Yahoo, or other generic services to send email. Very few have an Outlook account, and this is not common in many instances. Do not ‘trash’ the emails and make sure you check your spam folder in case you missed something.
Face-to-face contact stays king
Be prepared to courier plenty of brochures and samples – and take plenty with you – when visiting the African market. Don’t expect everyone to view your website and all product or service information on their mobile screen! People really appreciate quality publications and even high-quality business cards.
Finally, pick up your phone and call often! It might not always work with WhatsApp, WeChat, or Zoom. So, be prepared to increase your phone bill. And critically, face-to-face communication is – and will remain – King.