05 September 2021 – Business in Africa has a chequered history. However, foreign investment is now needed more than ever. In this article, Leon Louw, founder and editor of WhyAfrica, writes why Africa needs your business
Doing business in Africa is exciting. It is also risky but can be highly rewarding. However, its impacts (your impact as a foreign owned business or investor in Africa) can be devastating. Devastating to the environment and devastating to the people of this vast and diverse continent.
If you are involved in extracting the rich natural resource of Africa, your business has the potential to start a war. If you don’t believe me, ask communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), or the desperate fisherman of the Niger Delta in Nigeria.
Large business and multinational interests have contributed to the degradation of important ecological systems, political decay, and the destruction of cultural values in Africa. Of course, there are elements within African society that partook in what can only be described as the looting of Africa’s natural resources.
Extracting these resources and shipping them out to their own countries for their own benefit, was institutionalised by the colonial powers, and by neo-colonial commercial interests thereafter. The system could not have functioned without cheap African labour and toiling slaves. The slave trade, of course, became a thriving industry on its own. It destroyed African communities and the moral fibre of African societies
Local kings, chiefs and community leaders were often given a bottle of whiskey in exchange for land or a few hundred slaves. Or they were asked to make a cross on a piece of paper, which in the western world was evidence that they signed off their ancestral land. These unethical practices evolved over the years to give rise to corruption, state capture and the sponsoring of rebel movements or militias.
We need to rebuild, transform, listen, and understand
Thankfully, the world has changed, and although these practices are still with us in various forms today, we are in a much better place. What we, as business, do not want to do, is take Africa back to those dark days. What we want to do, on the other hand, is to rebuild, transform, listen, and understand.
We need to rebuild trust. Trust between communities, government, business, labour, and civil society needs to be strengthened. Company structures, management and the workforce need to be transformed so that they reflect the demographics and diversity of the continent’s people.
We need to listen and understand what African communities want and need before we think of increasing the profit margins. We need to think of how we are strengthening the local structures of the communities in which we operate, and how we are empowering local people and supporting local entrepreneurs.
To do all this, we must unpack and understand every single detail about the broader ecosystems and countries we intend doing business in. That includes critically examining and studying how others have done it, why they were successful, and if not, why they failed.
There is a big divide between what companies think will be good for a community, and what communities really need and want. Most people in Africa do not trust business, especially if it is foreign owned. There are many reasons for the distrust, but that is a discussion for another day.
Even if a company has the best intentions and does everything by the book, its motivations will be questioned by certain community members, and its endeavours rejected by others. Therefore, local communities also need to be informed about the good intensions of business, to start rebuilding that critical trust.
That is what we, as the WhyAfrica community, hope to do. We want to create a space and platform for companies and business to understand Africa completely.
To be successful and sustainable in the future, companies that operate in Africa will have to understand the culture, history, and politics and most of all, the needs, of the people in the country where they intend doing business in.
At the same time, African people need information about what business is up to and what companies are doing to make their lives better. They need to be informed and educated about how business is part of the broader picture, and part of civil society. They don’t want flowery press releases telling them how many houses a company has built, or schools, or clinics, but they still live in a shack and need to walk 20 kilometres to get to hospital. We have to tell them the real story and be honest about our shortcomings.
These are the issues WhyAfrica will attempt unpacking in our quarterly digital magazine in the future. WhyAfrica’s first ever magazine will be launched in November 2021, and we look forward to bringing you a jampacked, informative product that will assist you in understanding Africa and all its issues, so that you can make better business decisions, and contribute to the true transformation of Africa (the transformation Africa’s own people want, and not anybody else).
If you are operating in Africa, it is also an opportunity to tell us how you are contributing to Africa’s revival after Covid-19, and to partner with a brand that puts Africa, its people, and its environment first.
To be sustainable, we need advertising, sponsorship, and partners. If you are interested, please e-mail me on email@example.com. If you want to become part of the growing WhyAfrica community, follow our social media pages, and subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletters and digital magazine (its free) on the website (www.whyafrica.co.za and ask all your colleagues and friends to do the same.
WhyAfrica intends doing a road trip through Africa early next year (depending on Covid-19 restrictions) to determine the impact of Covid-19 on communities and the economies of several African countries. You do not get more grassroots than this. At the same time, we will visit business projects and initiatives along the way. For this event to happen, we need sponsorship (vehicle, accommodation, fuel). It is a great way of getting your name out there, so contact us if you are interested in WhyAfrica visiting your project, or if you want to contribute in some other way.
Leon Louw is the founder and editor of WhyAfrica. He specialises in natural resources and African affairs.
WhyAfrica provides you with business intelligence that matters. Africa is our business, and we want it to be yours too. To subscribe to WhyAfrica’s free newsletter or digital magazine, and for more news on Africa, visit the website at www.whyafrica.co.za or send a direct message. WhyAfrica will launch its first ever digital magazine in November. If you are interested in contributing or advertising, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To coincide with the first launch, we have a range of different packages and combo deals to give your company the greatest exposure to a rapidly growing, African readership.