Minding your manners in Africa Minding your manners in Africa

Minding your manners in Africa
14 Dec 2017

If you consider that the continent of Africa consists of 54 different countries, you begin to get an inkling of just how culturally diverse this continent is. The differences between the northern African countries of Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Tunisia and those of sub- Saharan Africa are simply vast.

But as the second biggest continent on earth and home to more than a billion people, such diversity should come as no surprise. Here we explore the business etiquette practised in a number of its economies:

Algeria

Situated in North Africa and bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Algeria has the fourth largest economy in Africa. Much of its culture is drawn from its Middle Eastern neighbours and it is, in fact, known as a member of the Maghreb group of Northern African countries often considered to be part of the Middle East.

Arabic is the most common language, although the indigenous North African tongue of Berber, and French as a result of colonial rule, are also spoken. When working in Algeria though, the Arabic influence is felt in numerous different ways, not least of which is that the working week usually lasts from Saturday to Wednesday or Thursday as Friday is a Muslim holy day.

People are very sociable and greetings in Algeria can be lengthy affairs. This means it is important to pay attention to social niceties such as enquiring after the other person’s wellbeing and making appropriate small talk, all of which will smooth the path for more harmonious business discussions later.

Kenya

 Kenya is a multi-lingual and multicultural country that is starting to becoming a key technology hub for the east of the continent.

While many people associate it with safaris and Africa’s ‘big five’ game animals - lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and Cape buffalo – it also has a stunning coastline with palm trees and white, sandy beaches as well as a bustling capital in the shape of Nairobi.

The national motto of Kenya is ‘harambee’, which means ‘let’s pull together’. This phrase gives a good insight into the local culture, where community, mutual effort and taking joint responsibility are all considered integral. As a newcomer, expect to be welcomed into the fold but also be prepared to pitch in as part of the team. Despite this situation, Kenya is still a country with high gender inequality. If invited to a traditional dinner, for example, men may be expected to eat first, followed by women and, lastly, children.

According to the United Nation’s Human Development Index, which measures quality of life using indicators such as health, education and inequality (of which Norway ranks number one), Kenya comes in at 146, compared with the lowest ranking country, the Central African Republic at 188.


Ghana

Ghana has a population of around four million, around 2.5 million of whom reside in its metropolitan capital of Accra. It is a multicultural nation with more than 100 different ethnic groups who speak around 250 languages and dialects, which is starting to become an important tech hub for West Africa.

One of the main societal bedrocks in this collectivist culture is family, and with it comes a concomitant respect for tradition. But the downside of this focus is that it can manifest as a resistance to change and a reluctance to interact professionally with those outside of an extended circle of associates and contacts.

Another point to be aware of is the necessity of using diplomacy in all business dealings as maintaining ‘face’ - or a positive perception - are extremely important in this culture, not least in terms of communication and presentation. Indirect communication is preferred, so putting people on the spot or discussing potentially sensitive issues in a group setting will not be well received.



Democratic Republic of Congo

With a population of over 70 million, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC or DR Congo, as it is otherwise known) is the second largest country in Africa and one in which French and more than 215 different native languages such as Kikongo, Lingala and Tshiluba are spoken. It has a varied landscape ranging from mountain ranges and tropical rainforests to lakes and volcanoes.

After many years of civil war, the country is now working hard to improve its business environment by attempting to diversify its economy and introduce more transparency. Its capital, Kinshasa, is the country’s political and cultural hub and the Congolese celebrate Independence Day on June 30 to commemorate their liberation from Belgium.

South Africa

Located on the southern tip of the continent, South Africa has an extremely diverse culture and a population that speaks 11 official languages. In fact, in order to describe the country in the post-apartheid years following its first fully democratic election in 1994 when iconic leader Nelson Mandela become its first black president, Archbishop Desmond Tutu dubbed South Africa the “Rainbow Nation”.

The country, which has the second largest economy on the continent behind Nigeria and a population of more than 50 million, is often used as a gateway and base for businesses to enter and expand across the rest of Africa.

You can expect a warm welcome from new colleagues here. People are friendly and employ quite a direct communication style, preferring to speak face-to-face rather than by email or over the phone. While South Africans are relatively relaxed in their approach, professionalism in all aspects of working life is valued.

 

Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London, a private company specialising in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for organisations and private clients across a wide range of sectors. It has offices in London, Delhi, Visakhapatnam and Mumbai. Prior to founding the business, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, the US, Middle East and Asia. 

If you consider that the continent of Africa consists of 54 different countries, you begin to get an inkling of just how culturally diverse this continent is. The differences between the northern African countries of Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Tunisia and those of sub- Saharan Africa are simply vast.

But as the second biggest continent on earth and home to more than a billion people, such diversity should come as no surprise. Here we explore the business etiquette practised in a number of its economies:

Algeria

Situated in North Africa and bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Algeria has the fourth largest economy in Africa. Much of its culture is drawn from its Middle Eastern neighbours and it is, in fact, known as a member of the Maghreb group of Northern African countries often considered to be part of the Middle East.

Arabic is the most common language, although the indigenous North African tongue of Berber, and French as a result of colonial rule, are also spoken. When working in Algeria though, the Arabic influence is felt in numerous different ways, not least of which is that the working week usually lasts from Saturday to Wednesday or Thursday as Friday is a Muslim holy day.

People are very sociable and greetings in Algeria can be lengthy affairs. This means it is important to pay attention to social niceties such as enquiring after the other person’s wellbeing and making appropriate small talk, all of which will smooth the path for more harmonious business discussions later.

Kenya

 Kenya is a multi-lingual and multicultural country that is starting to becoming a key technology hub for the east of the continent.

While many people associate it with safaris and Africa’s ‘big five’ game animals - lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and Cape buffalo – it also has a stunning coastline with palm trees and white, sandy beaches as well as a bustling capital in the shape of Nairobi.

The national motto of Kenya is ‘harambee’, which means ‘let’s pull together’. This phrase gives a good insight into the local culture, where community, mutual effort and taking joint responsibility are all considered integral. As a newcomer, expect to be welcomed into the fold but also be prepared to pitch in as part of the team. Despite this situation, Kenya is still a country with high gender inequality. If invited to a traditional dinner, for example, men may be expected to eat first, followed by women and, lastly, children.

According to the United Nation’s Human Development Index, which measures quality of life using indicators such as health, education and inequality (of which Norway ranks number one), Kenya comes in at 146, compared with the lowest ranking country, the Central African Republic at 188.


Ghana

Ghana has a population of around four million, around 2.5 million of whom reside in its metropolitan capital of Accra. It is a multicultural nation with more than 100 different ethnic groups who speak around 250 languages and dialects, which is starting to become an important tech hub for West Africa.

One of the main societal bedrocks in this collectivist culture is family, and with it comes a concomitant respect for tradition. But the downside of this focus is that it can manifest as a resistance to change and a reluctance to interact professionally with those outside of an extended circle of associates and contacts.

Another point to be aware of is the necessity of using diplomacy in all business dealings as maintaining ‘face’ - or a positive perception - are extremely important in this culture, not least in terms of communication and presentation. Indirect communication is preferred, so putting people on the spot or discussing potentially sensitive issues in a group setting will not be well received.



Democratic Republic of Congo

With a population of over 70 million, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC or DR Congo, as it is otherwise known) is the second largest country in Africa and one in which French and more than 215 different native languages such as Kikongo, Lingala and Tshiluba are spoken. It has a varied landscape ranging from mountain ranges and tropical rainforests to lakes and volcanoes.

After many years of civil war, the country is now working hard to improve its business environment by attempting to diversify its economy and introduce more transparency. Its capital, Kinshasa, is the country’s political and cultural hub and the Congolese celebrate Independence Day on June 30 to commemorate their liberation from Belgium.

South Africa

Located on the southern tip of the continent, South Africa has an extremely diverse culture and a population that speaks 11 official languages. In fact, in order to describe the country in the post-apartheid years following its first fully democratic election in 1994 when iconic leader Nelson Mandela become its first black president, Archbishop Desmond Tutu dubbed South Africa the “Rainbow Nation”.

The country, which has the second largest economy on the continent behind Nigeria and a population of more than 50 million, is often used as a gateway and base for businesses to enter and expand across the rest of Africa.

You can expect a warm welcome from new colleagues here. People are friendly and employ quite a direct communication style, preferring to speak face-to-face rather than by email or over the phone. While South Africans are relatively relaxed in their approach, professionalism in all aspects of working life is valued.

 

Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London, a private company specialising in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for organisations and private clients across a wide range of sectors. It has offices in London, Delhi, Visakhapatnam and Mumbai. Prior to founding the business, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, the US, Middle East and Asia.