Robert Jenovai

Business culture of Africa - A culture that you will accept and love unconditionally


How would you generally describe the business culture of African countries?

Whenever asked to describe Africa in a few sentences, I usually start by reminding that Africa is a continent, made up of 54 internationally recognized countries. All of the countries have their own specifics and largely differ, not only in history, heritage and culture, but also in political, economic and business ambiance.
Still, if I had to unite countries into logical groups, I would distinguish two crucial regions. These are the Sub-Saharan Africa, encompassing all the countries south of the Sahara, and North African countries, located above Sahara in the map.

Countries of the Sub-Saharan Africa have been, beside their local traditions, largely influenced by the colonial period, unfortunately marked by the apartheid, conflicts and political instability. In modern history, most of these countries have been successfully undergoing democratic changes, reflected positively on the business ambiance as well.

We must not forget that Africa is the second continent in size, as well as second in population density, following Asia. These facts, along with the increasingly stable political situation and rapidly growing economy, have encouraged many multinational companies to invest in Africa. This has a practical impact on development of these countries, but also on life and standard of living of the population.

What is the common denominator of our business cultures, and which crucial differences would you highlight?

Since the time of former Yugoslavia and the Non-Aligned Movement, Serbia has nurtured traditionally good relations with many of the African countries. This friendship still exists in many fields. Furthermore, I find similarities in the fact that consumers increasingly follow global trends, but at the same time respect their ancestry and take pride in their history and tradition.

Retail sales is fragmented in its structure, despite the increasing influence of consolidation of the modern trade. In a way, our market is experiencing the same trend, particularly compared to developed countries of the Western Europe.

In terms of differences in the business ambiance, I would accentuate two issues. Large number of countries display visible contrast between the rich and the poor. In the region of Sub-Saharan Africa 41% of the population currently live under the poverty threshold, set by the definition of the World Bank to the amount of 1.9 dollars per day per capita. The economies are undergoing a rapid growth, which inspires optimism, however, this is a lasting process, and it takes time to balance the differences. Another issue is the diversification of economy, which needs to be developed. Many of the African countries depend on one or two natural resources, so their prices in the global market drastically affect economies of these countries. In Angola it is crude oil, in Zambia copper and, in Mozambique, apart from the dominant agriculture, main resource is natural gas.

Which candidate profile would be compatible with African business culture? What do I need to know if I wish to work for an African company?

Many of the African countries are currently implementing serious educational reforms, so I would not distinguish specific areas of expertise here. I’d rather mention the issue of value, which is crucial. A candidate must be open to accept diversity in all segments, to hold extremely high moral and ethic principles. Must be prepared to pass on knowledge, but also to learn from local colleagues, in various markets. Must be willing to change.
I have spent almost six years in Africa. I was in charge of the markets of Angola, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
The practical advice that I still share with colleagues preparing to go to Africa mostly summarize to: get to know the country that you’re travelling to, its history, people and the customs. Learn the official language spoken in the countries, e.g. Portuguese in Angola and Mozambique, English in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Form a firm decision regarding the departure and consult your family. You should be prepared to change your lifestyle. And, when you get there, adjust, be inquisitive, explore, learn, create, travel, make friends. You will accept and love Africa unconditionally. In return, you will be given an exceptional business opportunity, an exciting life adventure, and an experience hard to describe in words.

Robert Jenovai, Izvršni direktor ljudskih resursa, Nelt

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