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Doing Business in Africa: How Culture Changes How We Work Together


Remarkable Africa

The relative uniformity of approaches taken by the West to Africa is to me amazing. I ask: if there is even one Western business interest or person that attempts to engage in an African language, never mind also indigenous resources? I have not found such. Instead every approach from the West ignores most of the impacts that translation into local contexts/languages/cultures will have on the practices that they advocate. This is comparable to playing a game of soccer while following the rules of cricket (Harries 2011)!

Doing the above, intervening on the basis of local languages and resources, is not a guaranteed formulae to success. It is a means of beginning to bring into view the issues and difficulties that commonly result in outside oriented business interventions leaving behind a trail of dependency. Once the difficulties concerned are in view, then they can begin to be addressed instead of being ignored.



This brief survey of the kinds of contexts faced by Western business people wanting to invest in Africa has articulated and emphasised the need for businesses that intend not to set up dependency to be built on local resources and local languages. It has done this by considering; vagaries of translation, the practice of magic, some very different understandings of the nature of business, and ways in which the introduction of Western models of business can be deceptive. Confining oneself to local languages and resources will result in a Westerner being able to identify the kinds of difficulties faced by local business people. These are in turn likely to be the bottlenecks that are preventing indigenously powered economic advance.





[1] “In fact, when an individual is absent from a communal ceremony, he or she endangers the cohesion of the group and runs the risk of being suspected of wanting to destroy it” (Shamala 2008:135).



Bendix, Reinhard, 1977, Max Weber: an intellectual portrait. London: University of California Press.

Gutt, Ernest-August, 2008. ‘The so-what Factor and the New Audience.’ 2nd keynote paper presented at the Bible Translation Conference February 2008, “The Bible translator and audience considerations”, 5-6 Feb 2008, ETP, UK Campus, Horsleys Green, UK. (accessed July 2, 2011).

Illich, Ivan, 1980. ‘Vernacular Values.’ (accessed December 11, 2012).

Harries, Jim, In Press, ‘Intercultural Generosity in Christian Perspective: the ‘West’ and Africa’, transformation: an international dialogue on mission and ethics.

Harries, Jim, 2011. ‘Is it Post Modern, or is it just the Real Thing? Challenging Inter-cultural Mission – a Parable’ Global Missiology Vol 3, No 8 (2011): April). ( (accessed 10th May 2011).

Harries, Jim, 2014, ‘Tent-Making in an Uneven World; some implicit difficulties for Westerners in Africa’, World Evangelical Alliance, Mission Commission, (accessed November 6, 2014)

Henaff, Marcel, 2010. The Price of Truth: Gift, Money, and Philosophy. Translated by Jean-Louis Morhange. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Maranz, David, 2001, African Friends and Money Matters: Observations from Africa. Dallas: SIL International.

Mauss, Marcel, 1967 (1923), The Gift. Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. (Tran. Ian Gunnison, intro. By Evans-Pritchard.) New York: The Norton Library. (accessed August 30, 2012)

Prah, Kwesi Kwaa, 2009. ‘Introduction: winning souls through the written word.’ 1-34 In: Kwah, Kwesi Kwaa, (ed) 2009. The Role of Missionaries in the Development of African Languages. Cape Town: CASAS.

Tempels, Placide, 1959, Bantu Philosophy. Paris: Presence Africaine.

Weber, Max, 1947, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. London: Collier Macmillan Ltd.


This paper was first presented as, “Doing Business in Africa – a contextual approach” at the Faith Reliance Symposium, sponsored by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, the Acton Institute and TWR (also known as Trans World Radio). The theme for the symposium was “Instilling Healthy Interdependency Together” and was held October 8-10, 2013, at the TWR international offices in Cary, North Carolina.

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Category: In Depth, Summer 2015

About the Author: Jim Harries, PhD (University of Birmingham), is is professor of religion with Global University and adjunct faculty with William Carey International University. He works closely with a wide variety of churches in western Kenya in informal theological education. These include many African founded churches, Pentecostal churches, and the Coptic Orthodox church. Jim uses indigenous languages, and local resources in his ministry. He chairs the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission and is the author of Vulnerable Mission: Insights into Christian Mission to Africa from a Position of Vulnerability (William Carey Library, 2011), Three Days in the Life of an African Christian Villager (New Generation Publishing, 2011), Theory to Practice in Vulnerable Mission: An Academic Appraisal (Wipf and Stock, 2012), Communication in Mission and Development: Relating to the Church in Africa (Wipf and Stock, 2013), Secularism and Africa: In the Light of the Intercultural Christ (Wipf and Stock, 2015), New Foundations for Appreciating Africa: Beyond Religious and Secular Deceptions (VKW, 2016), and a novel African Heartbeat: And A Vulnerable Fool (2018). Facebook: Vulnerable Mission. Twitter: @A4VM.

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