Want to start business in African states? Consider their (dis)honesty

Tuesday February 09 2021

Trends showed that the internet that was critical to the project, was likely to be shuttered and activists arrested. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

By The EastAfrican

Some years back, I was asked to give some pan-African risk analysis for a project funded by deep-pocketed international figures. They wanted to run two pilots in Africa; one in West Africa, the other in eastern Africa.

I was skeptical about the West African choice, because the project was supposed to be ready for in an election year. Politics tends to go south in Africa during elections, and the risk profile of their chosen country was too high.

For the eastern African country, their election was way out, but I had different concerns. The reputation risk to the project was high, because of the dissident rumblings from several corners of the country. Also, trends showed that the internet that was critical to the project, was likely to be shuttered and activists arrested.

I lost the battle to reconsider. I got paid, so the only injuries suffered were to my pride.

Exactly to the date, the West African country was in chaos as the incumbent stole his way back to power. The project died. The eastern African country was in a long internet shutdown, and worse – civil unrest.

Fast forward to today, the harmless MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMA) due to be held in Kampala on February 20, finds itself in an uneasy spotlight. Following the disputed and violent January 14 elections, there are many people out there writing and campaigning that the MAMAs be cancelled, because to continue would be to “support dictatorship”. MTV Africa would not have seen that coming.


Now, with the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen that regime social competence is a key factor to consider when doing business in Africa.

Whether you will be stuck in a hell hole, or a decent facility with a chance of getting out alive as a stranded visitor during lockdown, or how soon you will return to business safely, are important considerations.

It allows us to build on the list of things to consider when planning future business, a conference, or project in an African country.

So, first, as already indicated, don’t do in an election year or time it even for immediately after.

Secondly, look out for how big civil society is, and how much opposition there is outside the established parties in parliament.

Then look at the country’s legislative calendar and economic plans. If there’s some potentially controversial law there, expect protests. And if there’s big civil society, and a massive opposition outside parliamentary parties, plus a strongman with a weakening grip in charge, then shutting down the Internet is a likely control tool. Don’t plan an internet hungry project around those periods.

And, look carefully at the Health minister. If she or he is a machete-waving party diehard, stay away.

The easiest thing to do is go to Transparency International’s Corruption Index; the more honest a country, the least risk it poses of a violent disputed election and internet shutdown.

Other small things matter. If the president is polygamous, if he wears funny hats, if he carries a walking stick or fly whisk, if he is very religious, and if he travels in a 50 plus-vehicle convoy, proceed with extreme caution.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]