Africa has been earmarked as a big growth market in which to operate, but you need to know what you’re doing to achieve any kind of success in this dynamic environment. This is especially true in two of the largest sectors on the continent: mining and manufacturing.

Assuming improvement in the global economic condition, the Economist predicts that Africa’s economic growth, which stood at 4.2% in 2012, is projected to accelerate to 4.5% in 2014. The outlook for Africa’s mining sector remains equally bright, according to a KPMG report, which states: “Huge tracts of Africa remain largely unprobed. The African continent contributed 6.5% of the world’s mineral exports during 2011 from mining 20% of the world’s land area.”

However, while the continent as a whole is mineral-rich, the regulations and business environment within each African country differ, so companies looking to invest in African mines or supply them with products will require an understanding of the cultures and societies in which they wish to operate, says Louise Robinson, MD of CG Consulting and Database360, a Cape Town-based strategic marketing consultancy specialising in lead generation and business-to-business (B2B) database creation across the African continent.

“Rich with opportunity, Africa is still largely considered uncharted territory for the business world compared to other regions, so getting to know the challenges and intricacies of working alongside African colleagues and their traditions could provide your company with an edge. While poor infrastructure can make logistics a headache, a lack of understanding of the local business environment can stop a venture in its tracks.”

Robinson points out that research is as vital as mapping out a strategy, and that a real understanding of the pitfalls and opportunities is the best way to approach business in Africa. “In Africa, you can’t be sure what you’re in for unless you have researched the country first. Each African country operates differently.”

For example, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) produces two-thirds of Africa’s mineral exports by value. SADC has 15 member countries, each of which has different investment requirements, mineral ores, and regulations; and each of which has a different approach to business.

Similarly, the East African Community (EAC) has several mineral belts that produce tanzanite and gold among other commodities, and is made up of five equally divergent countries.

She adds that researching what your competitors are doing will also help highlight opportunities, but that the cornerstone of success lies in relationships. “Communication is paramount, and building up relationships requires a good understanding of cultural differences. Mining is no different to any other business – relationships are key, and speaking to the right people will make or break a nascent business relationship.

“This is especially important in the case of winning tenders – business is not necessarily awarded just on the basis of the best price, but on relationships built on trust. You win people over with personalities, not technicalities.”

She adds that China accounted for almost 17% of the world’s mineral imports by value in 2012, and 16% of Africa’s exported commodities were shipped to that country. Other countries, like Canada and the US have likewise spent decades building relationships in Africa’s mining sectors.

“As Africa becomes an increasingly attractive location for international business ventures, we are seeing an increase in the number of corporate and public sector clients who ask for training in operating in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and Zambia.

“These organisations are leading the way in ensuring that their employees have the right level of cultural support and intercultural training they need to successfully adapt to their professional and daily life in Africa.

“Investors that are considering moving into mining industries in various African countries but have not done so yet, or those that are trying unsuccessfully to make inroads using traditional Western business practices, are losing the opportunities to those companies that are already putting in the time and the effort to learn how various African countries work.”