BLOG | Inside Africa | Shame and honour

Inside Africa Blog Sheila Speed for WTC Leeuwarden Kleur

In this blog I am going to, hopefully, open your eyes to how Shame can kill your business and how Honour can open doors for your business in Africa. Knowing the worldview culture of Africa is crucial for business success.

If you have been wondering, where Sheila Speed has been these last years, the answer is: living (between the Netherlands and Tanzania) and working in East Africa. My Grandfather lived and worked in Tanzania for the Scottish Government from 1945 to 1960 in land registration and mapping, and two generations later I, like him, have come to know how it really is in Africa from the experience of being inside Africa. In this blog I will share with you things that are good to know for doing business in Africa, but which are not easy to discover.

Have you ever wondered why the starting up phase of your business in Africa was going great: everyone was on board, plans were made, partners were selected and excited, finance was expected, and then suddenly everything changed? This happens many times in Africa for white businessmen.
As an extra thought: Please don’t think I am racist by calling us white. In the Eastern Africa language of Kiswahili they have a special word for us. They call us Mzungu/Wazungu which is White person/White persons. “Heh Mzungu” they shout. This means he is calling out, “Heh white person”.

Anyway, going back to … suddenly everything changed … in these situations we are left standing with a big question mark on top of our head. When we ask the locals what happened they will say they don’t know, but actually they are avoiding to tell the real explanation. I know of one classic example where the local leader, who had all the power, expected to receive a new car as a token of appreciation for his authoritative power. When the international partners did not do this because they saw this as not being right, he put a stop immediately to the business. No one wants to shame a new business partner, or even a local leader, right? It can happen and it does happen more times than we expect. It can happen very simply when we don’t know how the shame and honour worldview culture works when doing business. In Europe we live under a different worldview culture i.e. the guilt worldview culture. When we bring our worldview culture into another worldview culture we can unknowingly cause a lot of problems.

The way in for your business and, the way out of unknowingly causing shame, is using the other side to the worldview culture of shame, which is honour. Of course, there is the right way to honour. In my next blog I will tell you about the importance of honour in Africa.

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