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Business negotiations with sub-Saharan Africans Business negotiations with sub-Saharan Africans
by Joseph Gatt
2019-07-21 09:51:08
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Each country, each individual have their own specificities. Sweeping generalizations on business negotiations with sub-Saharan Africans, in no particular order.

-Language: in English-speaking Africa, English will tend to be used. In French-speaking Africa, you won't get far by speaking English, and you want to speak to them in French. In Portuguese-speaking Africa, speaking Portuguese will always be an advantage, but you could be lucky with French or English. In Ethiopia, English tends to be spoken by the elite.

subsahar01_400-In most sub-Saharan African countries, greetings are long and verbose. They will ask you a lot of questions, and will expect you to ask a lot of questions. So here's the format. How are you? Fine. How's your family? Fine. How's business? Fine. How's your country? Fine. Is everything OK at home? Fine. How's your health? Fine. And at work is everyone OK? Fine. And in your village is everything OK? Fine.

-If you can pick up a little bit of their local language, you are, in most cases, going to get killer deals. If you speak a little bit of Bambara, Wolof or Hausa or Peul or Fulani or whatever, they will laugh hard at every sentence you say. Keep entertaining them, the more you know the better. Just to give you an idea, I once went to a café in Paris where the pregnant waitress was from Mali. I threw “Inisogoma” and “Ikakene” at her and she laughed out hard. She then gave me free coffee, a free banana and a free croissant, and kept asking me if I needed anything else. We became good friends.

-Africans tend not to discuss their private life. Small talk will involve discussing something like “who's your president?” and they will expect you to give a detailed account of how political affairs run in your country. Africans tend to believe in good presidents and bad presidents, and tend to believe the president runs everything. So you will want to discuss your good president or bad president.

-In business, a lot of Africans tend to say “we will find a way to do that” even when there's technically no way to do that. So stay informed with the logistics and transportation, and double check or triple check whether the deal is feasible.

-Two notes on lunch and dinner. Note number one. A lot of Africans will ask you what your favorite meal or dish is. Be vague and say something like “rice” or “bread”. Be very vague. If you say something like “steak” or “lamb chops” they will make you wait for hours and will send someone to hunt for steak and lamb chops, and you'll end up with something like chicken breast as a substitute.

-Note number 2: most cooking is done with tap water and that where a lot of the food poisoning comes from. A lot of butchers also sell expired meat, and a lot of the milk can be expired. So if it tastes weird or smells weird, don't eat or drink it.

-Africans will tend to discuss their family and will tend to hint that you should hire their family members. They can even bring family members to the meeting. The best way to counter this is by printing out a list of scholarship program applications in your home country's universities, and suggest that their family members apply to those, and suggest that the more they try the better chances they will get in.

-The banking system in most African countries is rather unreliable. Many will ask you to do the transactions in European banks.

-Many Africans want bribes, many are downright scams. Just because you're dealing with a high-profile businessman or even a minister, doesn't mean you're playing it safe. If you're doing business in Africa you want a very long-term vision and want to start very, very small. To give you an idea, a friend of mine started a resort in Africa. At one point, for many years, it was just a couple of swimming pools. After about 8 years, he built a few hotel rooms. After something like 20 years, and once he was an established family member, he built a huge hotel and everything else that goes with it.

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