Africa business etiquette and cultural differences

Africa business etiquette and cultural differences

The most important cultural pitfalls to avoid in Africa

Doing business in African territory requires some awareness of its culture and customs. Therefore prior to initializing a market entry into Africa, it’s important to get familiarized with its cultural background and basic ethical philosophies to understand how to establish a business relationship with an African businessman.

Africans are conservative and sensitive so they follow formal business etiquettes and a hierarchical system. Knowing African entrepreneurs on an amicable personal level will create a good basis for further business negotiations.

Greetings

Africans place emphasis on respect across status and gender, so do take into consideration specific details when greeting an African:

  • Africans greet people using handshakes. In Kenya, girls sometimes greet each other with kisses on the cheek. The Anglophone in Cameroon, greet close friends with a unique handshake which involves snapping the other party’s middle finger with one’s thumb.
  • Please note that some Muslims will not shake hands with the opposite sex.
  • African greetings are not rushed. It is more polite to ask about the welfare of the other party and his/her family, health and other personal inquiries.
  • As a sign of respect, Africans bow their heads to superiors or to people who are older than them.

Gift giving

There are African etiquettes to be followed when giving presents or gifts. Here are a few of them:

  • Never use your left hand when giving gifts to Africans. Use either the right hand or both hands whenever handing over a gift.
  • Do not bring alcohol when visiting African acquaintances, unless if you are certain that the host drinks liquor.
  • Gifts should be wrapped, although there are no inhibitions when it comes to the color or design of the gift wrapper. However, be reminded that Africans do not open gifts in public.
  • Gifts are not necessarily expensive, but gifting children is highly appreciated.
  • In Kenya, it is customary to give small gifts to servants, trades people and service workers during Christmas

Dining Etiquette

Africans are quite formal when it comes to dining with guests. They follow traditional dining etiquette that is important to remember:

  • It is necessary to dress nicely or formally when invited to an African dining setting.
  • Do not begin eating unless the eldest man has started eating
  • Africans offer prized delicacies to honored guests. In Cameroon, many Africans eat with their hands, so a washbasin is prepared for you to wash your hands in.
  • Talking about business during dinner is a taboo for most Africans. Refrain from bringing up business proposals unless if the dinner is intended for business planning.

Africa has diverse cultures and various ethical beliefs. It’s a continent with a wide mixture of languages and etiquettes. A successful market entry in Africa will be facilitated well if one is aware of their cultural nuances and traditional practices.

This entry in Africa & ME was updated on March 23, 2018 by specialist.