Four reasons why foreign investors fail in Africa

For centuries people have been flocking to Africa to make their riches, and for centuries many have failed. Africa’s allure and promise have always been undeniable. Being the world’s second largest continent with the second largest population, Africa is also richly endowed with a significant percentage of the world’s mineral resources.

But while the opportunities in Africa are endless, breaking into the African market is not quite so easy. And creating successful media campaigns are easier said than done.

If success is what you want, then your strategy for Africa needs to be uniquely African.

Here are some of the mistakes that companies make when investing in Africa:

They replicate a foreign strategy – Many strategies that have worked elsewhere have failed dismally in Africa because investors have failed to recognise that Africa has a very different landscape and frame of reference to the rest of the world. Not being attuned to the consumer or neglecting to tailor strategies could mean that businesses are overlooking valuable segments of the market.

They lack flexibility – One way to guarantee your failure would be to employ a rigid strategy. Many African countries are still unstable and susceptible to both local and international (social and economic) influences. For this reason, when you do business in Africa, you need to stay on top of all the changes and be able to make quick adjustments to your initial strategy. If you don’t, then you will most certainly be left behind.

They lack an understanding of cultural nuances – Messages that are not culturally sensitive can spell disaster for a brand. For example, many African languages are tonal and therefore the same word with the same spelling can mean two different things. Increasing your cultural understanding will increase the potency of your message.

They do not know how to deal with Africa’s diversity – There are cultures, sub-cultures and sub-sub-cultures. For example, South Africa (with 11 official languages and about 13 main cultural groups) is the least diverse country in Africa. Kenya has 13 different cultural groups and Nigeria has 389. It is clear that an understanding of the differences and similarities between these groups is crucial for success.

The biggest change agent in Africa today is the emergence of a group of African professionals determined to solve Africa’s problems with African solutions. These dynamic young entrepreneurs are aware of Africa’s past mistakes and have an internal drive to change and be counted. They are rapidly emerging as the future leaders who are ushering in a new age for Africa.

Lwandile Qokweni is development director for sub-Saharan Africa at media agency Carat.