Planning to do business in Africa? Here’s what you need to know

As interests raise from many international clients to expand into Africa, it is important to understand the dynamics of the countries you want to grow into. You could experience roadblocks along the way and it would be best to know what you’re getting yourself into. We spoke to Vicka and Brendon who gained valuable experience through conducting research in Africa and shared some insights on how you can navigate through these roadblocks. 


Vicka Petrishko, currently a UX Lead at Viga Interactive who specialises in building lean strategies for business, product, and services, took a trip to Botswana, Namibia and Zambia to conduct contextual interviews in early 2019. Brendon Hull, who is the co-founder of Viga Interactive and has over 10 years’  experience in user-centred design, travelled to Nigeria to conduct usability testing for an international client that specializes in cryptocurrency. 


These two UX experts experienced a few challenges during their research in Africa and here are their tips on how you can avoid these challenges.


Many things don’t work the way you expect them to


Living in Johannesburg is quite different from most cities in SA – everything and everyone is constantly on the move. While many Europeans find Joburg slow, most Joburgers often find working in Cape Town frustrating. Our neighboring countries seem to be more of a challenge… 


“Following up on an arrangement in SA generally means you do it once or twice. Working in other African countries, you have to be prepared to do it over and over again and there’s still no guarantee that will be done by the time that you arrive”, Vicka said. 


Her advice is to budget more time for your research and to be prepared to improvise like you haven’t had to before.


Get a business partner that will make your life easier


Going into the less-known when it comes to user research, Brendon advises that you get a local partner that can help with organising users. “You need a professional partner who is very familiar with the area and the logistics of getting users to participate in your research and one who knows the timing on how long it could take for them to get to you”, he said. 


Infrastructure is something you must always keep in mind


South Africa is actually the 8th most developed country in Africa, according to African Exponent. As Trevor Noah coined it, we actually live in ‘Africa-lite’. While in Nigeria, Brendon realised that Eskom’s loadshedding schedules are can be considered as nice life problems. He experienced an average of  4 power cuts a day, which as he found out from the locals is the norm. He was faced with constant set-backs related to connectivity issues, which is obviously affected the usability testing of a live system.  


Traveling arrangements need to be extremely well planned 


Namibia has very strict Visa restrictions and Vicka was almost turned away on her second visit. It’s very important that you do your homework on what type of Visa you should have in order to do your work there. 


Brendon was lucky to have a Protocol officer who was able to make his life much easier. “The airport in Nigeria is a complete chaos and it can take you a long time to get through everything, so have someone who can fast-track you through the process while you focus on what you came there to do,” he said. 


Besides the logistic plans, there are also medical procedures you have to follow, for example, taking Yellow Fever and Malaria vaccines before your departure. Consulting with a logistics officer will ensure that you are covered with everything you need to know.

Make sure you have the right participants for your research


If someone has been assigned to recruit users for you, it’s important that you go a step further during the screening process to ensure that you have the right participants. Two screened participants for Brendon’s research did not meet the criteria, which wasted valuable time and cost the clients more money. 


“It would be better to meet with your participant’s face to face beforehand, whether it’s through a Skype or Hangouts session”, Vicka suggested. 


Even though Vicka and Brendon had a few roadblocks they did have fun and learned how privileged we are in South Africa. Vicka said, “The most fascinating thing for me was being in Zambia and seeing signs that you can now pay with your debit card or credit card so this made me realise how much we take for granted in South Africa”.  Vicka continued to say that, whatever service or product you’re going to be designing, take 10 steps back from your mental model of what you’re used to in South Africa to better relate to your local target market’s experiences. 


Brendon was excited to see how half of the testing participants were so entrepreneurial. “One of the guys we interviewed has his own cryptocurrency, others were very tech-savvy and well informed about cryptocurrencies and technology”, he said. During the excitement of experiencing Nigeria, he, unfortunately, sprained his ankle by falling off the stage, but the show had to go on as he had to finish 14 usability tests in 4 days. 


With the business opportunities surfacing throughout Africa, it can be really exciting to want to explore it head-on but you need to ensure that little things that could set you back are sorted out beforehand. Do your research, plan thoroughly, and don’t forget to enjoy every moment.