The tribe is the most important unit in the
traditional African society and is regarded as an extension
of the family. It establishes guidelines for accepted behaviour
and personal responsibilities and provides its members
with emotional, political and physical security. Because
it has such a powerful influence on the organisation of
society, the tribe, in effect, dictates the culture of
In the developing countries of Africa, individuals are instilled with a sense of tribal responsibility and brotherhood. When tribal members migrate to the cities to be educated or to take employment, they are obliged to share the benefits with other members of the tribe. This often represents a financial burden which far exceeds the actual income earned, and it frequently leads to theft and corruption. In several African countries, corruption is rampant at all government levels - a foreign concern wanting assistance of any kind from the government has little hope of co-operation unless it resorts to bribery.
Economic development in Africa has resulted in the erosion of tribal influence - the introduction of communication networks and the re-organisation of territorial boundaries have increased the rate of intercultural contact and the opportunities for migration from one tribe to another. However, family ties remain strong and the obligation to support family members resident in the villages is still very much in evidence. This need for extra income is a major factor affecting business relationships with visitors from abroad.
One of the determinants of successful business relationships in Africa is the degree of trust and confidence established in early negotiations. The African believes that is important to know his co- worker as an individual prior to entering a business arrangement, and friendship often continues after the business is oven Interpersonal relationships are based on sincerity, and friendship is highly regarded. Once a person is accepted as a friend, he is automatically considered a member of the family' and will not require a formal invitation or appointment to visit.
A formal business meeting in Africa is always preceded by lengthy general discussions about events that have little to do with the business at hand. The African will extend the hand of friendship first; should he feel rejected, however, he will lose interest in the deal. Age is afforded great respect in Africa because of its association with wisdom. Young people may not oppose the opinions of the elderly nor voice their own opinions at meetings.
Thus, a foreign businessman who is relatively young is at an obvious disadvantage which he must endeavour to overcome with a friendly, sincere approach. In Africa, business is always discussed outside the home although not necessarily in the office, and home matters are never discussed at business meetings.
It is particularly important, when doing business in Africa, to have a flexible time schedule as time to the African has a very loose connotation. There is always tomorrow to complete what has not been accomplished today. Although this attitude is beginning to change in the larger cities as a result of western influence, meetings are seldom held promptly. It is not uncommon for the African participants to arrive several hours late. This lateness is known as `African time' and is often misconstrued by visitors as laziness, untrustworthiness and a lack of serious intent to do business.
There is only one rule about doing business in Africa - that is, there are no rules. The businessman who wants to succeed must be flexible, patient, and ready to adapt to local whims and changing circumstances.
If you wait long at an African airport (as you undoubtedly will), you can easily spot the people who are going to fail. They disembark briskly wearing immaculate suits, striped ties, and brittle smiles; they normally carry lockable briefcases along with some other gadget like a portable dictaphone. Their smiles freeze a bit when they realise they have not been met, become even more fixed after they have lost three coins in the telephone box, and disappear when they look impatiently at their watches. This last gesture reveals their fatal flaw : they are still running on `European time'.
For a Westerner, to be on time is a virtue and usually a necessity. That is because it is normally possible for westerners to predict when a train will arrive, how long it will take a taxi to go from A to B, and things like that These assumptions are more difficult to make in Africa. Lagos' famous `go-slows' (trafficjams) confound the best-laid plans; for climatic reasons; and head of families are often called away to attend to family matters.
|When Europeans arrange a meeting for 12 o'clock, they probably imagine extreme perimeters of 11 hSO and 12hlO. For an African, the meeting is roughly in the middle of the day. One of the first lessons then, is to adjust to African time'. The system does, after all, work to your advantage as well, for if you are late, no one is surprised or think you are rude.
(Source: PR Cateora, Strategic International Marketing)
If an African is rushed through business negotiations, he is likely to suspect his business partner either of cheating or, worse still, displaying signs of `western superiority'. The latter is a reminder of European colonial practices which the African associates with humiliation and exploitation. In either case, there will be little likelihood of a successful business deal taking place.
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