With the International Monetary Fund predicting that as many as seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world will be in Africa for the next five years, businesses and entrepreneurs throughout the world have expressed interest in expanding their activities on the continent. The major barrier to further economic development is the perception that African markets are too dependent on corruption, with rampant bribery and dishonesty holding back growth. However, this stereotype belies a more complex truth: while corruption exists in Africa, it hardly represents an insurmountable barrier to economic development if companies approach expansion into the region with cultural sensitivity and business savvy.
While Africa may initially seem to represent a daunting market, many companies have had resounding success in countries like China and Russia, which have also suffered from reputations for corruption. Furthermore, what an American businessman might term “corruption” may only be the expression of a longstanding gift-giving culture or other complex social structures. Regardless, corruption in Africa does exist, and ridding the continent of these practices will require business leaders to work hand-in-hand with government institutions to change cultural norms surrounding practices like bribery or extortion. Numerous countries in the region have already made great strides in preventing corruption, and future African leaders will do well to emulate these previous successes.
Meanwhile, those looking to take advantage of Africa’s explosive growth through the next several years will do well to network with thought leaders and government officials to identify power sources by leveraging existing local networks. Businesses will also do well to choose local agents with special care, as well as to strengthen their own integrity processes in order to meet future challenges. Finally, businesses must ensure that their representatives in the region have a mastery of the local laws and customs in order to prevent difficulties while ensuring the full legality of business practices.