Doing business in Africa is by no means easy, and the ease or difficulty can vary from country to country. You could use the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ index as a guide but only those that have a reasonable amount of experience can actually speak to the real degrees of variations between countries.
And in addition to being a tough business stomping ground, Africa has her own unique eccentricities which, ordinarily can be laughed away as just some more cultural nuances, however when said cultural nuances can potentially have a huge impact on your operational capacity or bottom line, you will have to sit up and take it more seriously – regardless of how ludicrous it may appear to you.
Case in point, Nigeria. Over the last month or so there have been a spate of ‘animal stories’ circulating around the airwaves and particularly on social media. It all began with, what can only be described as a preposterous defence by a member of staff of Nigeria’s Joint Admissions & Matriculation Board (JAMB), which is one of the examining bodies for students wishing to go into higher education institutions in Nigeria. The story below:
According to a February 10, 2018 article by The Daily Post, the JAMB leadership had dispatched teams of auditors to each state owing to changes to some of their field operations (i.e. the use of scratch cards for website access for registration or to check your admission status). When an audit team arrived at the branch in Makurdi, Benue State (located in North central Nigeria), they discovered a gaping N36million hole in the books (that is the equivalent of about $99,850 or £71,850 at today’s rate). Upon interrogation, one of the female staff members gave a confession worthy of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry. She stated that she stopped lodging the money into the JAMB bank account because sometimes she would find that there were shortages that she could not account for so she opted to store the funds in the office vault.
When she was pressed for an answer about what had happened to the money by the investigating panel, she stated that her ‘house help’ confessed to her that she was “spiritually” responsible for what was happening with the money she couldn’t account for. She went ahead to say, and I quote
“…that there’s a snake and whenever I open the safe, it comes mysteriously and swallows it.”
No I am not kidding, that was her defense. There is an actual video of the panel investigation put up by The Sun TV .
Since then there has also been the case of N70 million carted away by a monkey from a Nigerian Senator’s residence (I will let you ask the most obvious question on this one). This has led to a string of jokes, memes and discussions around the subject of these thieving animals (I don’t mean the senators by the way).
Now you might ask what all this silliness has got to do with doing business in Africa. Well it just so happens that one of Nigeria’s largest and oldest banks happens to have an elephant as part of its logo – you can see where I’m going with this right?
First Bank of Nigeria, one of the most respected banks in Africa, allegedly had to issue a statement via twitter to re-assure their customers that the elephant in their logo was a symbol of “trust, integrity, dependability and loyalty”, in order to dissuade customers from potentially closing their bank accounts! The bank was forced to respond due to the viral nature of the issue, and particularly a tweet from a twitter user @officialrohkip. He tweeted the following:
“With the way animals swallow money now, I will have to close my @FirstBankngr account. I don’t trust that elephant on their logo…”
According to the Daily Post, First Bank of Nigeria then tweeted:
“The Elephant on our logo represents trust, integrity, dependability and loyalty. Let your First Bank account remain open. We are your trusted ally. #Stillstanding #Stilldependable #YouFirst.”
They went on to re-iterate the point that the elephant on their logo does not swallow customer’s deposits! You can read the full story here: First Bank Reacts.
A rather more humorous tweet I found on First Banks twitter page said:
“For 124 years, the Elephant has represented Dependability, assurance, integrity and trustworthiness. Bad behavior by some uncanny animals won’t change our Elephant’s characteristics. #Stillstanding #Stilldependable #YouFirst”
I do hope you are enjoying reading this story as much as I am enjoying writing it because TIA people – This Is Africa! Could this whole thing be “fake news”? Absolutely! But there definitely are lessons to be learnt here.
As an organisation, business owner or individual engaging with the continent on any level, you must be aware that the word ‘reality’ can be relative, and the reality you know in terms of systems, structures, business styles etc. may not necessarily be the same elsewhere and can be strongly influenced by culture and beliefs. Local knowledge is critical and, because First Bank of Nigeria is attuned to the realities on the ground in Nigeria and did not dismiss or take for granted the potential explosive nature of what some might see as a laughable fad, they may have just saved themselves a significant amount of time, money and loss of customer base.
This story also highlights the tricky world of social media in which businesses have to operate today. A single tweet could potentially wipe out billions from your net worth. Case in point, Kylie Jenner – the 20 year old, cosmetic company owning younger sister of Kim Kardashian.
On Wednesday, 21st February 2018, Kylie Jenner tweeted what would otherwise have been just another innocuous tweet, suggesting that she doesn’t use SnapChat anymore and the next day SnapChat shares dropped by 6.1%, wiping off $1.3billion from the company’s value! According to the article on Inc.com, by Friday morning her tweet had been retweeted 61,000 times by over 319,000 users! She has 24.5k followers on twitter.
This was the $1.3billion tweet:
“sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me… ugh this is so sad.”
As businesses and business owners, we must always remain vigilant about listening to our client base and understanding exactly what is important to them. “I have an amazing product/service, surely it cannot fail” is a very poor strategy direction to take.
And in the case of the money-gulping animals of Nigeria, is it so ludicrous? Is it really? After all (like an unknown Nigerian prankster wrote) there are about 2.2 billion people globally (including me) who believe that a talking snake convinced a woman to eat an apple, a donkey complained to its master about being whipped and a fish swallowed a man and threw him up safe and sound days later!
So maybe we should give the lady a break right? There may just have been a serpent with a huge appetite for large amounts of money after all. God knows Africa has seen her fair share of those.
Kevin is a strong proponent of private sector growth, youth empowerment and rural intervention as the driving forces for sustainable economic development across Africa. As a passionate African, he is constantly working to correct perceptions about the African continent from a business, social and cultural perspective. Kevin is Founder and CEO of The BIG Foundation – an enabling organisation working predominantly with rural communities in Nigeria, using the mediums of education and advocacy to help achieve economic empowerment. Kevin is also MD of UK based Africa-focused consulting firm, ETK Group, providing market entry solutions and facilitating trade in and out of Africa.Kevin holds a BA (Hons) Business Administration from the University of East London, an MSc Global Banking & Finance from Regent’s University London and an MBA from Webster University, St. Louis, USA, and was recently awarded the A.D.A Business Honorary Award by the African Diaspora Awards in December 2017. Follow Kevin on Instagram - @KevinKorgba