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Inside Africa Blog Sheila Speed for WTC Leeuwarden Kleur

In the last blog I hopefully opened your eyes to how knowing the Shame and Honour worldview culture of Africa is crucial for business success, and especially that shame can kill your business while honour can open doors. Of course, there is a right way to honour.

International visitors are highly honoured guests in Africa. The very best is prepared and presented as a sign of valuing their importance. What amazes me every time is that the honouring is done without knowing the visitor and whether the visitor is making an outstanding contribution or has attained a high level of achievement, or is doing what is morally right, or is a high ranking official, etc. For in the west we understand honour in this way. In Africa it is the norm to express honour as a code of behaviour relating to social importance. For example; honouring of the elderly, the street chairman, the village executive officer, the doctor and the teacher.

In the past I have sometimes felt uncomfortable being the ‘honoured guest’.  Once at a wedding party, when I was given a guest of honour seat in the front row, I leapt out of the seat and ran to the back of the room when one of the traditional dancers pulled a snake out of his trousers. That guest of honour seat was too close to danger for my liking.

Accepting the position of being an honoured guest is just as important as recognising who in the community has the position that comes with being honoured by the community. If we do not recognise these persons in the accepted ways we are causing them great shame in their community. The British have a saying, “if you scratch my back, I will scratch yours”. This means that there is an expectation that after being honoured, we will then honour them in an expression of appreciation for what their level of association/authority has done to open the necessary doors and put us in contact with the right people. The generous gift of a car, which can be expected for a very large contract, seems a high price to pay for an open door. Personally, I have never given a gift of a car, instead I have found a contribution (e.g. children’s school fees) to be an accepted expression of appreciation.

Along with honour comes certain protocols. The ranking of social importance of particular community members is highly valued at meetings and events even to the extent of seating arrangements, order of speaking, first in the queue, being served, how long others must wait for their arrival, etc. The greater the position of honour also means the greater the gifts received, but also the greater the value of the gift that they must give to others.

Let us be prepared to consider letting go of holding on to our worldview culture as thinking it is right, when it would cause unexpected problems with another worldview culture. In the end we all want to work happily together. Therefore, my advice, consider carefully the right way to honour the persons of social importance in the community so that you are not intentionally shaming them instead.

In my next blog I will tell you about pricing in Africa. Did you know that there is informal price setting in Africa? Knowing this can save you lots of money.

Sheila Speed, Business Development Specialist, of Speed InterLink for World Trade Center Leeuwarden.

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