Even with its corruption, poverty, medieval fear of homosexuality and civil wars, sub Saharan Africa, for its that part of Africa that’s almost always what’s referred to when the descriptor ‘Africa’ is used, is, in its day-to-day affairs, a rather easy and, yes, simple part of the world to live in.
Well, almost always. As an expat, whether you find yourself in Sierra Leone, Uganda, Zimbabwe or even South Africa, one aspect of African life you will soon understand is that, seldom, it’s customary to ‘say it as it is’. People beat around the bush; say the opposite of what they mean; use euphemisms wherever possible; avoid losing face at all cost. It’s this what can easily make life in Africa so infuriating, as, as a visitor, it’s hard to know what’s really going on behind the veil.
But, not only does this almost enforce, if not just induce, a laissez-faire attitude, it also means that, with the underlying apathy, it takes very little to be successful in much of Africa:
1. Be reasonably ok in your work. Being great or good is not necessary, you only need to be ok.
2. Be reliable. That is, always deliver the same quality work, and be there when called upon.
For many westerners as well as for many of the internal African migrants, with that fanning the flames of xenophobia, this means that it’s easy to be a somewhat larger fish in one of the many very small ponds.
And, with the almost complete absence of meaningful intra-Africa cross border trade, even the big fish in one of Africa’s ponds will have a very hard time making the crossover to any of the other markets. In other words, if you make it big in one market, you can rely on being pretty comfy.
Sure, the intentional obfuscation of the border between personal and professional life means that conducting business of any serious size can also be risky. Hence, the typical short time frames in which investors in Africa want to earn back their investment. One change of government, one official removed, one politician changing his mind, can have quick and far reaching consequences for your already risky business venture.
But, not only does this significantly hamper African growth by keeping many investors away, the personal nature of politics and business, by design, also makes it much easier to keep track of what’s really going on, ‘behind the scenes’.
As a result, much of Africa, though mostly tiresomely underdeveloped, is also notoriously easy to deal with. And, for that, for many a foreigner, a tempting place to make their home.
And the countryside sure is pretty.