Sources for Planning Business Operations in Africa

June 14, 2020

Every country and region has unique challenges and risks that can significantly impact business operations. Africa is arguably the most complex continent with at least 1,000 different languages, 400 major ethnic groups, 54 countries, and nearly all the major world religions represented within. It has the greatest disparities in income between demographic groups and countries, and it is also the poorest continent in the world as measured by per capita GDP. Doing business in Africa can be challenging to say the least, but for those already operating in the country or planning to do so, this week’s lessons learned provides some sources of information that business planners, traveling teams, and logisticians may want to consult for information about Africa.

As mentioned above, African countries have complexities that other countries do not. When preparing to do business on the continent, planning and research must be more extensive than if doing business in more developed countries in Europe and Asia. Not only should planning be more extensive, but your plans will also likely be significantly different compared to non-African countries.

How will environmental conditions, low literacy rates, lack of infrastructure, human health problems, and widespread disease impact your business plans in Africa? For example, if your company will be operating manufacturing equipment or diesel machinery in the dusty conditions of the Harmattan-affected countries in West Africa, maintenance costs and downtime will be significantly higher than almost anywhere else. Also, literacy rates below 50% in most sub-Saharan countries will require user manuals and training materials that include more graphics and pictures when the audience is local.

The factors mentioned above may also affect business in non-African countries too and sources of information listed below can be helpful outside of the continent.  For simplicity sake and to offer sympathy for those confronted with planning a new venture in Africa, the sources below will direct readers to information specifically on Africa when possible.

Resources for general country information:

Library of Congress –
The Library of Congress website provides access to video, sound recordings, maps, manuscripts, newspaper articles, and other publications that can provide a genuine understanding of African art, culture, geography, politics, and other information.

U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs –
The State Department’s website provides general country information that you can search by topic or bureau.  It includes information from the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) on crime, safety, and current travel warnings.  It also provides historical information and fact sheets for specific countries.

Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook –
The Factbook is very user-friendly, and its database allows for instant cross-comparison of statistics by country.  It is an excellent source for general information regarding the history, society, government, economies, infrastructure, militaries, and transnational issues of individual countries.

U.S. Department of Commerce website –
The U.S. Department of Commerce provides economic data on their website, and they post information on existing and pending foreign trade agreements, guides on how to conduct business transactions in various countries, and economic statistics and forecasts on both countries and regions.

Country and Regional Travel and Logistical Information:

Lonely Planet Guides –
The Lonely Planet Guides are usually updated every few years and are available for the entire African continent, specific sub-regions (i.e., the East Africa Guide), and some individual countries; these feature cultural and language tips, information on local and seasonal weather patterns, brief country histories, hotel recommendations, country and city maps, and a wide range of other information.

Michelin Series Maps –
Michelin Maps often provide the most detailed information on African road networks for many countries.

Socio-economic, health, disease, and country assistance program information:

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) –
USAID provides country program data linked to particular assistance programs, and it has wealth of information about socio-economic issues impacting specific countries.

United Nations –
The UN provides mission reports and statistics on past and ongoing peace support operations in Africa.

African Union –
The African Union provides mission reports and statistics on past and ongoing peace support operations in Africa.

Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS –
The Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS publishes statistics, descriptions, and other data concerning the effects of endemic African diseases that may be useful for developing or justifying humanitarian assistance programs or Defense Health Program efforts.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) –
The CDC provides detailed information on various types of African diseases such as Trypanosomaisis and Ebola, and they provide information on countermeasures used to treat and prevent such diseases.


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