Until the story of the hunt is told by the lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter (African proverb referenced by Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, amongst others)
Africa is the second-largest continent, after Asia, covering about 20% of the global land area. The number of countries in Africa varies depending on when you count them or who you ask, so let’s say between 55 and 58 countries.
In addition to the protestation that Africa is a continent and not a country, it strikes me that the sometimes overwhelming diversity is reflected in many ways: Africa is the second-most populous continent and its people are the most genetically diverse people on Earth; there are about 3000 distinct ethnic groups on the continent, who speak about 2000 languages. It is not unexpected that doing business in Africa, not to mention doing research focused on understanding human behaviour, is complex. Although diversity is our greatest challenge, it is also our greatest asset.
When the African Market Research Association (AMRA) directors were deliberating on the next Africa Forum, scheduled for 22 and 23 February 2018 in Nairobi, Kenya, we felt compelled to put this diversity on the agenda. Moreover, the theme of the event – Research for African Diversity – will focus our deliberations not only on the diversity of culture, languages, and behaviours, but also on the innovative research methodologies used in Africa, the role of technology (e.g. internet, mobile, etc.) in Africa and the African insights industry, and multi-country research across Africa.
RESEARCH, THE AFRICAN WAY
Insights agencies in Africa often adopt methodologies and techniques from Europe or America, or adapt them to the African context. The result can be an awkward fit for both the African researcher and their international client. African methodologies could actually be more appropriate, if we are brave enough to do the necessary research-about-research that is required for scientific enquiry, and to push back.
For example, in the South African context, holding an indaba (i.e. a conference or consultation between or with people) would be much more appropriate than shoving consumers into a room for a focus group; or imagine creating a lekgotla (i.e. a meeting place for assemblies, court cases, and meetings of leaders in a village) for your brand research. Who knows: maybe an African scientific approach and African methodologies, or the principles they are based on, can be adapted and used in other parts of the world!
Alik Shahadah (filmmaker, writer and African scholar) describes ”the African” as a mental identity state characterised by “a fully liberated being with identity, culture and purpose, with paradigms of his or her own agency… a continuous journey which builds on the past to construct a new future of possibilities… the African is at his or her intended ideological destination and busy with the business of growing.”
So, when you are contemplating your strategy for the African market, answer this: do you understand what it means to be African?
Director, African Market Research Association (AMRA)
Leonie is founding Director of AMRA, Chief Executive Officer of the Southern African Marketing Research Association (SAMRA) and the Esomar representative for South Africa. She is a registered Research Psychologist and had her own research agency for 16 years before selling the company in 2012 to join SAMRA full-time.
This article was first published in the Global Research Business Network newsletter, Global Insights.