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DIVERSITY IN AFRICA One Or Many ‘Africas’? Business Implications Of Africa’s Diversity By Enock Wandera I start off on a light note – some 5 years ago, I was on a business trip to one of the South East Asia countries, as I left the airport in a taxi, the first question the driver asked me was whether I was from Nigeria. When I said no, he went ahead to ask whether I was from ‘Africa’! At that point, I immediately knew that I needed to do some quick Geography 101 – and for almost 20 minutes, I had to explain to my bewildered driver how Nigeria was only part of Africa and that I was from Kenya, just one of the over 50 countries in Africa. He then asked me to tell him the difference between me and the Nigerians and, reassure him that I have not come to ‘charm’ their women! I was really tickled. Just from the thirty or so minutes encounter with a foreign taxi driver gave me the impression of how Africa is possibly thought of out there – from one extreme, an ignorant assumption of Africa being one big country, to the semi informed notion that Africa, with its many countries, is the same (Africa is Africa) and finally to the other extreme that sees Africa as a diverse continent ready to throw surprises at those who hold the first and second assumptions above – and indeed, there are a number of examples of brands and businesses in general that have learnt the hard way coming into Africa with assumptions!. I am sure you can name a few yourself? Zimbabwe is a classic example of how econom- ic decisions and performance has had impli- cations on marketing and business in general. For a long time, economic challenges in this country forced many businesses to shut down including those that were in the giant agricul- tural sector, hyper-inflation made doing busi- ness extremely challenging and at some point in the latest years, due to foreign exchange controls, moving money out of the country be- came a serious challenge - exchange of goods and services became difficult and in some cas- es, inter-country contracts were discontinued. 36 MAL25/18 ISSUE To start with the very basics, we may all know that geographically, it is argued that Africa’s land area of approximately 30 million Square kilometers can easily fit in India, China, US and parts of Europe. This land mass, 25% under tropical forest, carries as at now, about 1.2 billion people majority of whom still reside in the rural areas. The continent also boasts of some of the most beautiful & breath taking geographical features – from the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara desert, the Kalahari, the River Nile, Lake Victoria to the grand Mt. Kilimanjaro and to the world famous Maasai Mara! Next, if we go beyond the simple geographical profile, we start seeing how complex the continent is from several perspectives that have implications on business. The simplest dimensions for me to consider when discussing this are the famous 4: Political, Economic, Social and Technological factors. Politically, we would imagine that we have undergone seasons of transformation – the first season being colonial days, mainly 18th century and before in which much of the business done within the continent mainly benefitted the colonialists – raw materials were shipped out of the continent, profits were re-invested in huge business empires abroad as the locals were limited to providing cheap labor as a factor of production to the foreign business owners. Then came 1940s-1960s, a period in which