Is Culture Getting in the Way of Business Success in Africa

Is Culture Getting in the Way of Business Success in Africa?

Three things to change immediately.


Culture refers to the accepted norms, values and behaviours of an ethnic group and business around the world is largely influenced by culture. In fact every country has their own way of doing things and if you forget to do your research, you could very well damage a relationship if not terminate a contract for life.

Africa has always stressed relationship before task whereas many western cultures have stressed task before relationship.  Africans focus on establishing the relationship while western cultures focus on getting the job done as efficiently as possible.  As Africa continues to expand its international relations, it may be worthwhile to start understanding what a country’s business culture may be since that will affect whether you get the job or not.

Below are a few basic cultural idiosyncrasies:


Eye contact

In most African cultures it is considered polite to avert your gaze when talking to someone older than you. This is a sign of polite respect to the elder, in reference to their age and standing in their community. Maintaining direct eye contact with someone senior to you, is considered extremely rude.

However in business, deliberately avoiding eye contact for long periods of time can be seen as a sign of deception.

Eye contact should be maintained at least 40%-60% of the time in any interaction.



Handshakes in this part of the world have been known to linger for some time. It’s common for two males to continue holding hands after the initial greeting while they start the conversation.

In westernised business, this can make encounters quite awkward. What is expected is a firm handshake lasting for no more than three seconds.

The general rule is to follow the host nation’s culture.



The widely accepted concept of ‘African Time’ is something frequently experienced throughout Africa. You see, many African countries believe relationship to be more important than task. As a result, negotiations and meets and greets can take weeks and months.  This drawn out process is the relationship building time and it can be read as rude and abrupt if work and business is the first topic of conversation.

Understanding how different cultures affect business gives you a great advantage in the business sector.  Often you can think you are being polite according to your own culture when in fact it is very rude in another culture.  The questions one needs to ask oneself when visiting or doing business with another culture is, ‘Have I researched all the idiosyncrasies?”

If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more on how to prepare for doing business in Africa, then click HERE.

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