It all depends on your attitude towards Africa’s challenges, says Avaya MD

“I read this story about a man who went to a rural village in Africa to sell shoes and saw everyone walking barefoot. He concluded there was no market for him there so he left. Another man arrived a short while later and concluded there was a big market to sell shoes.

Hatem Hariri

Hatem Hariri

“I believe it all depends on how you look at the challenges in Africa.”

So says Hatem Hariri, managing director for Africa at US-based business communications company Avaya. The company calls itself a “leader in helping organisations around the world succeed by integrating communications with business strategy and operations”.

In 2012 Avaya signed a five year contract with Bharti Airtel to operate and manage IT requirements for Airtel’s contact centres across Africa.

Hariri currently lives in Dubai with his wife and children and travels across Africa frequently to oversee 52 markets in the continent.

Once an ignored market as companies favoured other continents, Hariri says Africa is now an important market for anyone pursuing global growth. But to capture the opportunities, business executives should travel across the continent, interact with local people and get a good understanding of the region.

Presence is the key

“The key to success in Africa is presence. When I came for the first time I was both amazed and enjoyed working here. People really wanted the latest technology. When I communicated this to my industry they too were surprised because these were things we did not know. It is important to be here with the people, to see for yourself and to learn the territory. Then you can service the markets better,” believes Hariri.

Avaya has a presence across the whole of Africa and operates regional offices in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt. And the company is set to open in Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania, Morocco and Algeria.

“We are investing more and more in Africa because we see opportunities here. Whereas other parts of the world are saturated, there is a real hunger for new technology here,” he explains.

“The countries [we have identified] have good technology infrastructure, people are well educated, social media use is high and the banking system is advanced. Such an environment creates opportunities for us to work there.”

Hariri adds the African-division has recorded double digit growth for several years and the continent has been recognised within the global company as its fastest growing area. However it faces challenges such as poor infrastructure in some regions.

“In some countries you waste a lot of time in traffic because of poor infrastructure. We also experience bureaucracy. But I look at these challenges as a platform for us to engage with government, service providers and our customers to transform them into opportunities.”