Now is the time to invest in Africa. Image credit: WhyAfrica

By L.M. Louw

25 January 2021 – To avoid the pitfalls and risks of doing business in Africa, companies need credible, grassroots business intelligence. So why does intelligence matter?

With a second wave of Covid-19, increasing nationalism, populism, protectionism, and the pandemic’s economic fallout threatening to overwhelm some African countries, credible information is paramount. A lot depends on your sources and the way you gather this information, but you may still ask why intelligence matters.

Technology and social media notwithstanding, Africa remains an enigma. The true situation in most African countries during this time of lockdowns, clampdowns and ludicrous abuse of power is not known. Most African people are not active on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin or Instagram. In fact, it is only the privileged few that have access to internet at all. While the Twitterati continues to give us valuable insights into what is happening in the upper echelons of society, the plight of millions trying to eke out a living in remote rural areas of failed or fragile states remains unknown.

If the powers that be can silence its connected populace during elections in a country like Uganda, where there is at least some sort of media presence, imagine what happens in countries like the Central African Republic, Chad or for that matter even Zimbabwe, where there is no media freedom and limited connection with the rest of the world? Without knowledge about what is happening on the ground it becomes almost impossible to make strategic business decisions if you operate in, or intend to operate in, such regions and countries.

Travel restrictions during Covid-19 has made it even more complicated. Gone are the days when we could, on a whim, jump onto a plane, or even drive across the border to go and assess unverified news reports in neighbouring countries. Almost a year into the pandemic, and with a second wave of the Coronavirus threatening to derail Africa’s short-term plans, we have to rely on content generated by the mainstream media, and press releases from development agencies, NGOs and the United Nations.

This information is both valuable and credible. However, to grasp the real issues and to get an in-depth understanding of what really transpires in inaccessible areas, means gathering intelligence from alternative sources as well. It helps if you have a large network of business connections across the continent who have their fingers on the pulse. It also helps having various sources within government departments. The best information, nonetheless, is found within thousands of anecdotes we hear in South Africa daily. South Africa has long been a magnet for immigrants and refugees from troubled countries north of its borders. Every South African personally knows someone from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, the DRC, Nigeria, Somalia, or Ethiopia. And they all have stories to tell. Stories of how they walked more than 4000km to South Africa, how their companions got eaten by lions at night on the way through the Kruger National Park, and how many of them successfully started their own businesses despite government bureaucracy and unparalleled xenophobia.

All these people still have families and friends in their countries of origin. Often, their families live in rural areas, and by probing and asking the right questions, it is possible to get a good idea of what is really happening at grassroots level. Many of them are in contact with their families, and, if there is an opportunity, still visit them. It is this information that I find invaluable.

Forming a picture of events and identifying possible risks after gathering these bits of information is a rewarding exercise. Moreover, one gains knowledge that is extremely useful when looking at expanding your business footprint into Africa or determining the real impact of your business on local communities, for example. It often leads to new discoveries and insights and enables one to identify added risks or eliminate perceived challenges and risks.

To understand why Museveni is still popular in rural Uganda, how many people have really succumbed to Covid-19 in Zimbabwe or whether traditional Ethiopians in rural areas wear face masks, and how these issues will affect your business, it is a good idea to contact an African specialist that has access to such information and is in touch with the right people. In a time of peril when business in Africa needs to make a sustainable and lasting impact more than ever, accurate predictions and sound advice are paramount. It is now that real intelligence, regular news, and credible information matters the most.

WhyAfrica (www.whyafrica.co.za) strives to keep you in touch with the real Africa. Keep on following WhyAfrica on social media, subscribe to WhyAfrica’s newsletter or experience WhyAfrica’s interactive digital magazine to get the insights your business needs to make a meaningful impact in Africa. WhyAfrica plans to undertake a road trip from Cape Town to Kenya towards the end of this year to determine how Covid-19 has affected Africa, so if you operate in Southern Africa and would like us to visit your project, or if you would like to be one of the sponsors, please contact us as soon as possible (leon@whyafrica.co.za). There has never been a better time to invest in Africa. The more you know, the better your decisions and the greater your impact.

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