With an emerging middle class of 400 million people, 10 of the fastest growing economies globally, and the most youthful population of any region, Africa is a continent of significant opportunity. There are also risks, as there are anywhere, including the challenge of combatting corruption, navigating opaque regulations and developing a skilled workforce. Below are tips for business success in Africa:

 

Build Personal Relationships: Most Western businesses are data driven and transactional in nature. Business in Africa is predicated on relationships. Developing personal relationships and trust with business counterparts and government officials is a key dimension to commercial success. Leaders in government and business on the continent will take time to understand what is being presented to them and ensuring that any transaction is genuinely win-win.

 

Engaging Government: The role of government in the African business environment is more pronounced than in most other regions. It is important to reach out to key decision-makers at various levels of government to keep them informed of broad commercial objectives. This can be done in a time effective and transparent manner.

 

Align Commercial and Development Objectives: Every African government has a national development strategy. Whether a company is making an investment in life sciences, ICT, energy or manufacturing, demonstrating how an investment is going to help the government achieve its development objectives in a particular sector is very helpful to commercial success.

 

Mitigating the Corruption Risk: Corruption risk varies greatly by country and sector, and companies that mitigate it successfully start with a thorough risk assessment and appropriately tailored compliance measures. They also treat compliance as a critical “business enabler,” and use a mix of compliance, government affairs, and commercial levers to mitigate risk.

 

Investing in Africa’s Talent: It is worth including a high-quality-skills-training program as part of any investment strategy. The appetite and capability of young African men and women to learn global best business practices cannot be overestimated. Hiring locally and investing in career development will pay significant long-term dividends.

 

Come with Solutions: Some of the most immediate market-entry challenges include the nascent consumer credit market, currency risk, and the need to bring financing for most projects. Products must also be tailored to market realities of affordability and infrastructure limitations.

 

Local Counsel: Finding the right local counsel in Africa’s 54 jurisdictions can be challenging, especially in smaller markets. Covington has worked on matters in virtually every jurisdiction in the region and can be helpful in identifying, engaging, and coordinating the work of well-qualified local counsel.

 

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Photo of Witney Schneidman Witney Schneidman

Witney Schneidman has nearly 40 years of experience working across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Drawing on his experience in the State Department, the World Bank, think tanks and his own consulting practice, Dr. Schneidman, a non-lawyer, has advised energy, technology, consumer and health companies, among…

Witney Schneidman has nearly 40 years of experience working across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Drawing on his experience in the State Department, the World Bank, think tanks and his own consulting practice, Dr. Schneidman, a non-lawyer, has advised energy, technology, consumer and health companies, among others, on projects in more than 30 African countries. He has also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs, and on the Africa advisory committees in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and at the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

Dr. Schneidman provides strategic advice on the varied political, economic, social and regulatory issues that are critical to companies’ success in Africa. This includes issues related to Corporate Social Responsibility, compliance, market entry and risk mitigation. He played a leading role in the passage and recent reauthorization of the African Growth and Opportunity Act and was a delegate to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit co-hosted by President Obama during his visit to Kenya.

Dr. Schneidman chairs Covington’s Africa Practice Group and is a senior member of the firm’s Public Policy Practice Group, the International Strategy Group and the International Trade and Finance Group.

Photo of Benjamin Haley Benjamin Haley

Ben Haley leads the firm’s compliance and investigations practice in Africa. With deep experience representing clients before U.S. regulators in high-profile matters and a history operating on the ground across the continent, he helps clients assess and mitigate complex legal and compliance risks…

Ben Haley leads the firm’s compliance and investigations practice in Africa. With deep experience representing clients before U.S. regulators in high-profile matters and a history operating on the ground across the continent, he helps clients assess and mitigate complex legal and compliance risks in Africa.

Clients often call upon Mr. Haley to assist in the resolution of complex government enforcement matters and commercial disputes. For more than a decade, Mr. Haley has handled complex government enforcement matters and internal investigations, with particular expertise in anti-corruption, anti-money laundering, fraud, and financial crime matters. He has guided clients across a range of industries to favorable outcomes in government investigations, as well as parallel shareholder litigation, insurance recovery matters, and employment disputes.

Photo of Jay Ireland Jay Ireland

Jay Ireland is a senior advisor in the Regulatory and Public Policy Practice Group, focusing on advising clients on Africa-related issues. Mr. Ireland is a non-lawyer who has nearly four decades of senior executive experience across a number of industry sectors, including telecommunications…

Jay Ireland is a senior advisor in the Regulatory and Public Policy Practice Group, focusing on advising clients on Africa-related issues. Mr. Ireland is a non-lawyer who has nearly four decades of senior executive experience across a number of industry sectors, including telecommunications and media, healthcare, energy, financial services, and manufacturing. Most recently, he served as President and CEO of GE Africa, where he was responsible for growing the company’s footprint across Sub-Saharan Africa in power generation, healthcare, transportation, oil and gas, aviation, and financial services. His efforts led to being named “International Business Leader of the Year” in both 2012 and 2013 by Africa Investor Magazine.

In addition, Mr. Ireland has held a number of executive positions outside of GE including as the co-chair of the U.S.-Africa Business Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a vice chair and member of the Corporate Council on Africa, and the chairman of the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa.