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Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing

African culture and business markets: implications for marketing practices


William K. Darley, Charles Blankson,
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African culture and business markets:
implications for marketing practices
William K. Darley
Department of Business Studies, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Millersville University, Millersville, Pennsylvania, USA, and
Charles Blankson
Department of Marketing and Logistics, College of Business Administration, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, USA

Abstract
Purpose – This paper seeks to focus on the key underpinnings of African culture and its implications for business marketing practices.
Design/methodology/approach – Using Kluckholn and Strodtbeck’s and Hofstede’s conceptualizations as a backdrop, the paper provides a synoptic
view and modal focus of African culture. Covered are the culture’s implications for organizational behavior, buyer-seller interactions, collaborative
partnerships and negotiations.
Findings – The study shows that African culture promotes the principle of reciprocity. In buyer-seller interaction, respect for the elderly is an important
guiding principle. In collaborative partnerships, preference is for the terms of the collaboration to be reached through consultation and consensus. The
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foreign company needs to pay attention to the softer issues surrounding the relationship and to send a high-ranking employee-team. In negotiations,
long-term relationship and win-win outcome are preferred and encouraged.
Research limitations/implications – The paper uses the term “African culture” as an overarching concept. However, the fact that to propose a
monolithic African culture may be inaccurate because of strong national differences is acknowledged. Nonetheless, there are some cultural dimensions
common to the sub-region, including a hierarchical social structure, the importance of kinship, the primacy of the group, the belief in ancestry and
existence of a supreme being, and the value attached to the extended family.
Originality/value – The study provides useful and candid insights into African culture that international marketers may take into consideration when
dealing with African business markets. It also responds to Nakata and Sivakumar’s suggestions for marketing researchers to deepen the study of culture
and its implications for marketing in view of the increasing globalization of markets. It is to be hoped that this study leads to further discussion and
research on African culture and its implications for marketing.

Keywords Africa, Culture, Marketing

Paper type Conceptual paper

Introduction In an era of economic interrelationship in Africa that is


fueled by global financial transactions and joint ventures
Since marketing involves an outlay of resources, marketers are between businesses in industrialized and businesses in
expected to be more receptive to cultural differences. There is developing countries in Africa (Ofosu and Hansen, 2002;
consensus that culture has a fundamental influence on Mmieh and Owusu-Frempong, 2004) and the growing
marketing practices and that cultural differences affect attraction of foreign direct investment to developing
marketers’ behavior in ways parallel to their effects on economies in Africa, it is surprising that little is documented
consumers (Omar et al., 2003). The dawn of the phenomenon about African culture and its interface with business-to-
of “global village” (Levitt, 1983; Keegan and Green, 2005) business marketing practices. Moreover, with the passing of
with its associated transfer of investment from industrialized the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) by the
economies to African nations (Debrah, 2002; Mmieh and United States Congress in 2000 and the recent G8 (Club of
Owusu-Frempong, 2004) means that understanding and Eight Industrialized Democracies) debt amnesty deal,
appreciating African culture is not an option but a necessity markets in Africa should open up as emerging markets for
(Nwankwo, 2000). As stated by Iguisi and Rutashobya foreign investment. The debt relief program comes with a
(2002), the lack of proper integration of culture in conditionality that is designed to “encourage countries to
management in Africa is denying Africa the resultant tackle corruption, boost private-sector development and
synergy needed in national economic, managerial and social eliminate obstacles to private investment” (Davis, 2005,
development. p. 1). Thus, this study aims to provide an understanding of
culture (i.e. African culture) with a focus on the implications
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at for business-to-business marketing (i.e. business marketing)
www.emeraldinsight.com/0885-8624.htm (House et al., 2002; Yang, 2005).

The authors are indebted to the two anonymous JBIM reviewers for their
Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing
23/6 (2008) 374– 383 insight, constructive criticisms and suggestions on an earlier version of the
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited [ISSN 0885-8624] manuscript. They also thank the Guest Editors for their constructive
[DOI 10.1108/08858620810894427] criticisms and directions throughout the review process.

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African culture and business markets Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing
William K. Darley and Charles Blankson Volume 23 · Number 6 · 2008 · 374 –383

A “new scramble for Africa” is ensuing, driven by African cultural values and underpinnings
perceptive investors who are beginning to look for ways to
In the subsequent sections, we describe African culture along
diversify their portfolio as they face up to the prospect of
cultural orientations and dimensions. Specifically, five
lower returns in more mature markets (Nwankwo, 2000).
orientations from Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961) and
According to Nwankwo (2000) Africa’s business environment four dimensions from Hofstede (1980) are discussed. We
is rapidly changing and multinationals willing to make serious, review the extant literature by African cultural anthropologists
long-term commitments, are likely to reap attractive rewards. and African philosophers to provide the necessary backdrop
Over the next decade, a number of multinational for positioning African culture along Kluckhohn and
enterprises (MNE’s) expect a significant proportion of their Strodtbeck’s (1961) orientations and Hofstede’s (1980)
revenues growth to come from the emerging markets dimensions.
(Steenkamp, 2005) and from developing countries in Africa
(Nwankwo, 2000; Mmieh and Owusu-Frempong, 2004). Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s theory of value
Firms seeking new opportunities outside their traditional orientations
Asian-Pacific markets will most likely consider Africa as a Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s (1961) theory of value
potential market. “It is worth noting that the continent of orientations was selected because it forms the foundations
Africa has a population of 877.5 million” (Vence, 2006, p. 10). of our understanding of cultural patterns and has been
Thus, these firms will need to re-assess their business influential among scholars in multicultural communications
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strategies within the context of African culture. (Lustig and Koester, 1999) and has been suggested to be
It is important to note that while the study of marketing important in assessing implications of culture and marketing
practices and market orientation have received an appreciable practices (Nakata and Sivakumar, 2001). Kluckhohn and
level of attention (see for example, Akaah and Riordan, 1988; Strodtbeck (1961) present five cultural orientations common
Dadzie et al., 1988; Okoroafo and Kotabe, 1993; Appiah- to all human groups:
Adu, 2001), these works have dwelt on the broad subject of 1 human nature orientation;
marketing practices and not on business-to-business 2 man and nature orientation;
marketing practices. Additionally, implications of African 3 time orientation;
culture for business marketing practices appear to have been 4 relational orientation; and
overlooked by marketing researchers. 5 activity orientation.
While companies in the West have responded to the They argue that each culture addresses common human
challenges of building collaborative relationships with issues with a preferred set of choices but acknowledge that not
customers and suppliers (Kalafatis, 2000), it is not clear all people in a culture will make exactly the same choices
whether the latter can be said about companies in Africa (see (Lustig and Koester, 1999).
Iguisi and Rutashobya, 2002). In addition, the business-to- Human nature orientation. Human nature orientation
business (B2B) literature lacks consideration of African addresses the character of innate human nature and what
culture (Moller and Wilson, 1995; Naude and Turnbull, the innate “goodness or badness” of human nature is. “People
1998; Ford, 2002). To succeed in the African marketplace, we are inherently good, evil, or a mixture of good and evil”
argue that multinational firms must understand the beliefs, (Thomas, 2002, p. 48). In the African context, the belief is
attitudes, and perceptions that characterize African culture. that the innate human character is endowed with both good-
Thus, the objectives of this paper are, first, to highlight the and-evil. According to Omenyo (2002), the African concept
cultural underpinnings of Africa. Second, following the of the universe is a ring of both benevolent and malicious
suggestions of Nakata and Sivakumar (2001), we use spirits that influence human life towards good and evil. For
Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961) and Hofstede (1980, example, Mbiti (1990) notes that the African is not inherently
“good” or “evil”, but he/she acts in ways that are “good”
1983) as backdrop to provide a synoptic view and a modal
when his actions conform to the customs and regulations of
focus of the African culture by synthesizing the extant
his/her community, or “bad” (evil) when his/her actions do
literature on African culture. Third, we summarize insights
not. Mbiti (1990, p. 209) further elaborates:
from this cultural value system and assess its implications for
The essence of African morality is that it is more “societal” than “spiritual;”
business marketing. The implications for business marketing it is a morality of “conduct” rather than a morality of “being.” This is what
cover the following areas: organizational behavior, buyer- one might call “dynamic ethics” rather than “static ethics,” for it defines
what a person does rather than what he does not because of what he is.
seller interactions, collaborative partnerships and
negotiations.
Character is a building block of the African personality. Doing
For the purposes of this paper, the term “African” is used
good or doing what is right is an essential ingredient of the
to represent Black Africans or indigenous African peoples
African personality. To the African, character makes a man’s
south of the Sahara (i.e. sub-Sahara Africa) and who live in life a joy simply because it is pleasing to God the Almighty. It
countries such as Benin, Botswana, Congo, Ghana, Ethiopia, is character that distinguishes the man from the animal
Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia, to (Sofola, 1973) and good character must be the dominant
name but a few. Thus, in geographic terms, the discussion is feature of a person’s life.
restricted to Africa south of the Sahara and excludes the Man-nature orientation. Man and nature orientation dwells
countries on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea (Okeke on the relation of man to nature. “People have a needed duty
et al., 1999). In the ensuing sections, the term “African”/ to control or master (domination), to submit to nature
“Africa” is used to avoid the unending repetition of sub- (subjugation), or to work together with nature to maintain
Saharan Africa. harmony and balance (harmony)” (Thomas, 2002, p. 48).

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African culture and business markets Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing
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High-mastery cultures “actively seek to master and change the conceive of the future or plan for the future. For example,
world, to assert control and exploit it in order to further Boon (1996, p. 17) contends:
personal or group interests” whereas high-harmony cultures The African takes a circular view of time, in which the past is more
“accept the world as it is, trying to preserve rather than to important than the future. The African circles into the past, then the future,
and back through the present to the past. There is an acceptance of an
change or exploit it” (Munene et al., 2000, p. 341). In the external locus of control. In other words, there are forces operating in every
African context, man lives in harmony with the universe. As person’s life over which he or she has absolutely no control. Traditionally, the
Mbiti (1990, p. 39) notes: ancestors play an ongoing and complementary role in every aspect of life.
Man is not the master of the universe; he is only the center, the friend, the
beneficiary, the user. For that reason he has to live in harmony with the Time within the African culture is also socialized. Socialized
universe, obeying the laws of natural, moral, and mystical order. If these are
unduly disturbed, it is man who suffers most. African peoples have come to
time is “the use of time that does not sacrifice social duties
these conclusions through long experience, observation, and reflection. and human relations on ‘the alter’ of clock-time punctuality.
Time is programmed into socio-cultural norms of human
In West, Central, Eastern and Southern Africa, Djangrang behavior and inter-personal relationships” (Onwubiko, 1991,
(1998, pp. 6-9) notes: “human beings are regarded as an pp. 25-27). Socialized time emphasizes interdependence and
integral part of nature. The idea of dominating or using shared heritage. Thus, time is most important when one can
nature does not exist.” Nature has its own order that regulates share it on family and social relations. Using time in social
events in the world; the “external nature exists as a symbol of contexts takes precedence over the use of time in other
the deeper meaning of life: it is not there to be tamed or to be contexts.
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looked at for any lofty purpose, but to yield what it can for Relational orientation. Relational orientation refers to the
man’s subsistence” (Mphahlele, 1962, p. 112), and it is fairly modality of man’s relationship to other men. Kluckhohn and
predictable. There is a moral order believed to have been Strodtbeck (1961) identified three divisions of relational
instituted by God, a religious order believing that the Creator orientations: the individualistic, the collateral and the lineal.
created the universe and mystical order that reflects a When the individualistic principle is dominant, individual
mysterious power tapped for both good and evil purposes. goals have primacy over the goals of the group. When the
Thus, man must live in the universe, obeying the natural, collateral principle is dominant, a primacy of the goals and
moral, and mystical order (Opoku, 1982). welfare of the laterally extended group prevails. When the
The African is also nestled in a “religious universe”. lineal principle is dominant, group goals have primacy and
Writing on the religion of the Akan people of Ghana for continuity of the group through time and ordered positional
instance, Opoku (1974, p. 286) notes: succession within the group are both crucial (Kluckhohn and
The phenomenon of religion is so pervasive in the life of the Akan, and so Strodtbeck, 1961, p. 19). The African social structure is
inextricably bound up with their culture, that it is not easy to isolate what is collateral because the greatest concern is for one’s group,
purely religious from the other aspects of life. It may be said, without fear of
exaggeration, that in the life of the Akan, a thorough knowledge of his extended family and/or clan (Dia, 1991).
religion is imperative. To elaborate on the collateral relational orientation, we
present two characteristics common to Africans and serving as
Religion is an integral part of the entire culture and permeates the building-blocks of African personality:
every aspect of the African’s life. It accompanies a person 1 respect for elders; and
from conception to long after his physical death. There is no 2 sense of community (Sofola, 1973; Onwubiko, 1991).
separation between religion and philosophy, religion and
society, and religion and art. It is within this religious Respect for elders is an important guiding principle for
framework that the entire culture resides (Mbiti, 1990). behavior. There is a premium placed on the inherent worth of
Time orientation. Time orientation covers the temporal focus man, even at the decline of his virility in old age. The elderly
of human life and whether time is directed at the past, are seen as the true repositories of wisdom and knowledge,
present, or future. People “make decisions with respect to examples for the youth to emulate (Moemeka, 1996),
traditions or events in the past, events in the present, or events forbearers or gate-keepers of society and treated with
in the future” (Thomas, 2002, p. 49). deference, respect and dignity. For example, among the
To the African, “time is simply a composition of events Igbos of West Africa, there are statements that point to the
which have occurred, those which are taking place now and unique place of the elders and to the fact that one cannot
those which are inevitable or immediately to occur” (Mbiti, pretend to be wiser than one’s elders: “nwata anaghi ebu nna
1990, p. 16). Traditionally, “time is a two-dimensional ya uzo epu isi awo” (The child cannot grow gray hair earlier
phenomenon – with a long past, a present, and virtually no than his father), and “Ihe okenye no nani wee hu, nwata kwuru
future. The linear concept of time in Western thought, with oto ogaghi ihu ya” (What an elder sees while sitting down, a
an indefinite past, present and infinite future, is practically child cannot see while standing up) (Nnoruka, 1999, p. 412).
foreign to traditional African thinking” (Mbiti, 1990, pp. 16- A socio-centric orientation (sense of community) is also
17). The future is virtually absent because events that lie in it prevalent in African cultures (Okeke et al., 1999). The African
have not taken place, have not been realized, and cannot, is known and identified by and through his community, which
therefore, constitute time. Thus, actual time is what is present offers him psychological and ultimate security. Because the
and what is past. According to Mbiti (1990), this time African finds meaning of social reality in the realm of
orientation dominates African understanding of the collective beliefs, “no African society is lacking in kinship
individual, the community, and the universe. groups or regards them as unimportant” and everywhere in
However, this two-dimensional view has been questioned sub-Saharan Africa, “the African is defined by reference to his
by Onwubiko (1991) and others who argue that while ancestor” (Maquet, 1972, p. 60). For these reasons, “lineage
Africans, like any other group, may not have a clear and its solidarity constitute an important content of
understanding of the future that does not mean they cannot Africanity” (Maquet, 1972, p. 60).

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African culture and business markets Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing
William K. Darley and Charles Blankson Volume 23 · Number 6 · 2008 · 374 –383

Africans tend to gravitate toward people since a man is what societies is proverbial social thought. Whereas theoretical
he is because he lives in the company of others (Anyanwa, thinking is “mystical thinking” based on the world of spirits
1983; Mphahlele, 1962). This outlook is reflected by an and gods, common sense knowledge is based largely on
often-repeated phrase, “Umuntu ngu muntu nga bantu” (a African social thought, which revolves around proverbs,
person is a person because of (or through) other people) legends, and ballads (Ahiauzu, 1986). For Africans, proverbs
(Mangaliso, 2001, p. 24; Shutte, 1993, p. 46; Mufene, 2003, may support generally accepted norms and values, express the
p. 21). Thus, the individual’s identity interweaves with traditional beliefs and truths about matters, and be applied in
group’s identity. Shutte (1993) notes that a person is defined conversations (Okeke et al., 1999). Proverbs also give a
not by a set of properties but by his relationships with others. suggestion, advise and/or impose a mode of conduct
This view “gives expression to the whole idea of communal (Nnoruka, 1999). For example, among the Akans of Ghana,
responsibility and interdependence: a concept which is the proverbs cover all facets of life, define acceptable modes of
basis of the whole structure of the African’s cultural life” behavior, and codify customs and values (Ross, 1982) and can
(Mphahlele, 1962, p. 112). This collectivistic view has been be used to support generally accepted norms and values in
extended and presented in detail by Otite (1978, p. 10) in the various areas of social life (Christensen, 1958). As Tiawo
context of reciprocal relationships: (1967, p. 26) explains:
The African society is a system of mutually benefiting reciprocities. Society, Proverbs deal with all aspects of life. They are used to emphasize the word of
to the African, exists for the good of all its members in a system of role the wise and are the stock-in-trade of old people, who use them to convey
reinforcements. This involves myriad reciprocal relationships... The interplay precise moral lessons, warnings and advice, since they make a greater impact
between the moral element and the principle of reciprocal relationships is on the minds than ordinary words. The judicious use of proverbs is often
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critical in distinguishing what is African. regarded as a sign of wit.

Activity orientation. Activity orientation focuses on the Hofstede’s cultural dimensions


modality of human activity and centers solely on the nature We now present Hofstede’s (1980, 1983, 1991, 1996)
of man’s mode of self expression in activity. It can involve a conceptualization of four cultural dimensions (i.e. power
“being” orientation, a “being-in-becoming” orientation or a distance, individualism-collectivism, uncertainty avoidance,
“doing” orientation. “Being” orientation values a passive and masculinity-femininity) to examine the African cultural
acceptance of the status quo and the preference is for the kind milieu. Hofstede’s dimensions have been widely used by
of activity which is a spontaneous expression of what is business scholars (Sondergaard, 1994), and proven to be
conceived to be given in human personality. It is “non- stable and meaningful (Peterson and Smith, 1997; Lustig and
developmental conception of activity.” (Kluckholn and Koester, 1999).
Strodtbeck, 1961, p. 16). “Being-in-becoming” sees humans Power distance. Power distance refers to the appropriateness
as evolving and changing. Development is paramount in the of power within a society and acceptance of inequality among
“being-in-becoming” orientation and emphasizes that kind of individuals in a society. In high power distance cultures,
activity “which has its goal the development of all aspects of authority is inherent in one’s position within a hierarchy.
the self as an integrated whole” (Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck, There are strong dependency relationships between parents
1961, p. 17). The “doing” orientation indicates it is important and children, bosses and subordinates and a significant social
to get things done (Lustig and Koester, 1999). The most distance between superior and subordinate. In low power
distinctive feature of the “doing” orientation “is a demand for distance or power tolerance cultures, individuals assess
the activity which results in accomplishments that are authority in view of its perceived rightness.
measurable by standards conceived to be external to the According to Hofstede (1996), most sub-Saharan African
acting individual” (Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck, 1961, p. 17). societies exhibit high power distance or power respect
African culture is generally viewed as a “being” culture. (Kiggundu, 1988). Grzeda and Assogbavi (1999, p. 417)
People of Africa can be identified by certain common concur by stating, “indeed African cultures are most
characteristics in their way of life that reflect their thought- accurately described as high power distance, since authority
system (Otite, 1978; Ahiauzu, 1986). Three attributes is assigned on the basis of age and experience, and is enforced
characterize the African thought system: high degree of by a political system that centralizes power”. East Africa and
harmony within the system, the use of symbols, and West Africa scored 64 and 77, respectively, compared with 40
proverbial social thought (Ahiauzu, 1986). To elaborate on for the USA (Hofstede, 1980, 1983).
the “being” conception of the African, we examine the Individualism-collectivism. Individualism-collectivism refers
African thought system. to the relative importance of the interests of the individual
First, in the “African thought-system”, there is a high versus the interests of the group. In collectivistic societies, the
degree of harmony among elements that underlie the system interests of the group take precedence over individual
and every aspect of life is interrelated. Africans are inclined to interests. People see themselves as part of in-groups and the
integrate their experiences into an inclusive whole. Global, in-groups look after them in exchange for their loyalty. In
holistic, intuitive, and expressive cognitive operations prevail individualistic cultures, the interest of the individual takes
over fragmentary, isolated, or detail-oriented mental activities precedence over the group’s interest.
(Okeke et al., 1999). The second attribute of the African According to Hofstede (1991), sub-Saharan African
thought-system is symbolism. Symbolism is a natural societies exhibit high collectivism “because of the prevalence
expression of the African mind. According to Mobana of the extended family social fabric that characterizes most
(1960), the African is symbolistic, universalistic or societies in Africa” (Kiggundu, 1988, p. 171; Munene, 1996;
transcendentalist in mentality. Dia, 1991). East Africa and West Africa scored 27 and 20,
The third aspect of the African thought-system deals with respectively whereas the USA scored 91 (Hofstede, 1980,
the way the African organizes his world of common sense. A 1983). Also, the finding of collectivism or sociocentric
major source of the common sense knowledge in African orientation among Africans has received corroboration from

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African culture and business markets Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing
William K. Darley and Charles Blankson Volume 23 · Number 6 · 2008 · 374 –383

a variety of sources, with samples from across the continent high collectivism in urban areas because of economic
(Ahiauzu, 1986; Okeke et al., 1999). hardships and the influence of Western business and
Uncertainty avoidance. Uncertainty avoidance captures the marketing practices (see Appiah-Adu, 2001; Iguisi and
degree to which individuals in a culture feel threatened by Rutashobya, 2002). The rapid urbanization, to some extent,
ambiguous, uncertain, or new situations. Cultures are undermines the traditional African culture and poses a
characterized as either high or low on uncertainty challenge for any discussion about African culture and its
avoidance. Whereas low uncertainty avoidance cultures implications for business marketing practices.
prefer positive response to change and new opportunities, Notwithstanding the foregoing caveats, the following
high uncertainty avoidance cultures prefer structure and generalizations can be drawn from this review. First, the
consistent routine. innate African human character is imbued with both good
There are signs that African cultures are characterized by and evil. The African is perceived good when his/her actions
moderately high uncertainty avoidance (Kiggundu, 1988) and conform to customs and traditions of the community. Thus,
prefer structure and consistent routine (i.e. uncertainty doing good and being of good character are essential
avoidance). There is also preference for stability and precise ingredients of the African personality. Second, in terms of
managerial direction. man and nature orientation, man must live in harmony with
In Hofstede’s (1980, 1983) survey, the multi-country the universe, obeying the natural, moral and mystical order.
regions of East Africa (i.e. Kenya and Ethiopia) and West In addition, religion is an integral part of the entire culture
Africa (i.e. Nigeria, Ghana, and Sierra Leone) scored at the and permeates the African way of life. Third, in terms of time
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intermediate position on the uncertainty orientation orientation, the African takes a circular view of time, where
continuum. East Africa and West Africa scored 52 and 54, the past and present are more important than the future. The
respectively compared with 46 for the USA (Hofstede, 1980; focus is on the past and present. Also, emphasis is on
1983). fulfillment of social obligations and using time in social
Masculinity-femininity. Masculinity-femininity or goal contexts takes precedence over the use of time in other
orientation pertains to the extent to which “traditional” contexts. Fourth, African culture reflects a collateral relational
male orientations of ambition and achievement are orientation that supports respect of elders and sense of
emphasized over “traditional” female orientations of community. African culture recognizes respect for elders and
nurturance and interpersonal harmony. Cultures differ on a relevant trait is the upholding of group rights. Fifth, in terms
what motivates people to achieve different goals. Cultures of of activity orientation, the cognitive style is oriented toward
the aggressive goal behavior type (masculinity) value material synthesis, and the African thought system reflects a high
possessions, money, and assertiveness whereas cultures of the degree of harmony among elements within the system, the use
passive goal behavior type (femininity) value social relevance, of symbols, and proverbial social thought. Sixth, African
quality of life and welfare of others. culture exhibits high power distance. Authority is inherent in
The high affiliation orientation and interpersonal harmony one’s position within a hierarchy. Seventh, African culture
in relationships within African groups strongly suggest that tends to be collectivistic. The interest of the group takes
African societies will exhibit some degree of femininity. This precedence over individual interest. Eighth, African culture
view is supported by Grzeda and Assogbavi (1999), Kiggundi exhibits intermediate uncertainty avoidance, with preference
(1988), Hasan and Ditsa (1999), Nnadozie (1998) and for structure and consistent routine. African culture
others. For example, Grzeda and Assogbavi (1999) assert that recognizes preservation of customs. Finally, African culture
in most African countries characteristics such as the quality of shows characteristics that reflect slight femininity. They value
life, the value attached to personal time that exceeds any social relevance and welfare of others. Tables I and II provide
desire to accumulate wealth, the positive interpersonal a brief summary.
relationships that are valued above money, and the priority
assigned to satisfying social needs, result in cultures with African culture and implications for business
predominately feminine dimensions (Hasan and Ditsa, 1999).
marketing
Also, the work of Hofstede, (1980, 1983) suggests a slight tilt
in favor of a feminine culture. East Africa and West Africa Bearing in mind the importance of business marketing and
scored 41 and 46, respectively compared with 62 for the USA specifically, upstream (suppliers) and downstream
(Hofstede, 1980, 1983). (customers) business relationships (Kalafatis, 2000); this
section deals with the implications of African culture in
business marketing. We explore four areas: organizational
Modal focus of African culture: a summary
behavior, buyer-seller interactions, collaborative partnerships
We offer two caveats before presenting a summary. First, and negotiations. We argue that culture has important
there is no empirical evidence to suggest that Kluckhohn and implications in business-to-business marketing practices.
Strodtbeck’s (1961) cultural orientations and Hofstede’s The business market comprises natural product providers,
(1980, 1983) dimensions “are relevant or comprehensive goods-producing firms, service-producing firms and
enough to capture the essence of African cultural milieu” governments (Brierty et al., 1998) and the interfaces they
(Kiggundu, 1988). Second, in anthropological studies of bring to bear (Kalafatis, 2000). The latter is also evident in
African societies, researchers (e.g. Beattie, 1980) have small business-to-business orientation (Blankson and Cheng,
suggested that African societies are among the most 2005) – a sector prevalent in African business environment.
collectivistic (Mpofu, 1994). Such claims, in general, have In the African context, firms may range, in size, from small
yet to be empirically tested (Eaton and Louw, 2000). It is also to large. They may also range in type, from small family
important to acknowledge the shift in rural-urban interface. owned businesses to large private corporations. Others may
There appears to be a gradual shift away from the traditional include large state owned corporations to large multinational

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African culture and business markets Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing
William K. Darley and Charles Blankson Volume 23 · Number 6 · 2008 · 374 –383

Table I Comparison of African and American cultural orientations based on Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s theory of cultural orientations
Cultural orientations Sub-Saharan Africa Americaa
Human nature orientation: good-mixed-evil Mixed Basically good and changeable
Man and nature orientation: domination-harmony-subjugation Harmony Domination
Time orientation: past-present-future Circular, past and present Future
Personal-activity orientation: being-being-in-becoming-doing Being Doing
Relational orientation individual-collateral-hierarchical Collateral Individual
Note: a America is added to provide appropriate cultural context (Lustig and Koester, 1999, p. 102)
Source: Adapted from Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961)

Table II Comparison of African and American cultural orientations based on Hofstede’s cultural dimensions
Cultural dimensions Sub-Saharan Africa Americaa
Power distance Respect Tolerance
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Individualism-collectivism Collectivism Individualism


Uncertainty avoidance Moderate Low
Feminine-masculine Slight tilt in favor of passive goal behavior or femininity Slight tilt in favor of aggressive goal behavior or masculinity
Note: a America is added to provide appropriate cultural context (Lustig and Koester, 1999, p. 102)
Sources: Adapted from Hofstede (1980) and Griffin and Pustay (2005)

enterprises and the government markets may be at the recognize the role of structure and consistent routine, and
municipal, district, regional and state level. The group of value social relevance, should facilitate organizational
firms comprising the multinational enterprises operates along behavior. This should be true not only for human resource
Western lines, whereas the second group of firms consisting of policies but all interactions among African individuals within
the small commercial upstarts, family owned enterprises, the the organization.
large indigenous-owned corporations and the state owned
corporations are managed along the lines of African cultural Buyer-seller interaction
dynamics. Hence, the latter group and the government It has frequently been noted that buyer-seller or customer
market are more likely to be influenced by African cultural supplier interdependence is an integral part of business
values and belief systems. However, one cannot ignore the marketing and that the effectiveness of business marketing is
cultural influences even for multinational enterprises largely determined by long-term relationships between buyers
operating in Africa, since the individuals working for these and sellers (Kalafatis, 2000). There is also evidence to suggest
organizations are social beings and are influenced by culture. that, in business marketing the nature of buyer-seller
interactions has changed from adversarial to relationship
Organizational behavior building (Kalafatis, 2000).
Since culture shapes assumptions about what is important, Culture influences relational and interpersonal interactions
useful and relevant in organizations, helps to define individual in the global market place (Yang, 2005). Differences in
interests thereby mediating the relationship between the culture reflect on values, which affect the way people think in
individual and organization, creates the rules for social society, and behavior, which affect the way people act in a
interaction that conditions how people will react to others society. Thus, it is imperative that marketing and sales
within the organization, and shapes processes of power and managers understand the impact of cultural differences from
how it is distributed and legitimized within the organization the African perspective in order to better understand African
(DeLong and Fahey, 2000; Mufune, 2003), African culture business markets. Bush and Ingram (1996) provide a
should influence organizational behavior and management conceptual framework and matrix revealing the potential
practices in Africa. For example, African culture promotes the problems and opportunities that marketing and sales
principle of reciprocity which is reflected in the concept of managers face when sending salespeople to Africa.
ubuntu as applied in organizational behavior in Southern In sales presentations, particular attention ought to be paid
Africa. Ubuntu “emphasizes the principle of helping others as to context and non-verbal communications. Whereas a sales
a away of helping oneself, collective activity and well being presentation that details a large amount of facts about a
rather than individualism, unification rather than division, product may be quite effective in some cultures, the cognitive
respect for elders and sharing” (Mufune, 2003, p. 21). style of the African also would encourage taking a holistic
Management policies that conform with good character, are approach. Aside from organizational culture and the
in sync with nature, reflect religiosity, allow for fulfillment of individual personalities, the content and style of the
social obligations, respect elders, recognize the role of interaction will be shaped by culture.
symbolism and proverbial social thought, recognize the African authority flows, in general, from the old to the
authority inherent in one’s position within a hierarchy, young and respect for the elderly is an important guiding

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African culture and business markets Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing
William K. Darley and Charles Blankson Volume 23 · Number 6 · 2008 · 374 –383

principle. Thus, the age factor is relevant when selecting listens and provides information about his/her own priorities.
people for important assignments and when selecting and The strategy of negotiation, however, is likely to be a problem
hiring sales staff in Africa. Using socialized time, respecting solving approach in which an attempt is made to locate and
elders, and paying attention to the softer issues of the adopt options that satisfy the goals of both parties.
relationship should help build and maintain mutually The high power distance nature of the culture suggests that
rewarding long-term relationships. Also, there should be the intervention of a high-status third party in a dispute is
personal trust, extensive communication, and increased deemed legitimate and people lower in the hierarchy are less
interaction. likely to confront people occupying more senior positions and
less likely to argue against their superiors’ decisions
Collaborative partnerships (Carnevale and Leung, 2003). Negotiators from the high
Cultural sensitivity and intercultural communication serve to power-distance cultures of Africa will tend to seek approval
improve trust between cross-national partners and enhance from their superiors. Thus, it is important to understand the
the prospects of successful inter-firm collaboration. Cross- power-distance mind-set of the negotiating teams (McGinnis,
cultural researchers have strongly emphasized intercultural 2005).
competence development as a prerequisite for successful The relational orientation of African culture appears to
performance of international business alliance and expatriate support the notion of a problem solving approach. The
assignments (Kuada, 2002). Doole and Lowe (2003) also African expects a long-term relationship and wants a
note that in global marketing, relationship development and negotiated outcome that promotes a long-term relationship.
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collaboration play an important role in enabling firms to build Negotiators from the collectivistic societies of Africa will tend
the capabilities to achieve sustainable competitive advantages to spend more time on long term goals, make more realistic
over the long term. These relationships improve the quality of offers, to be cooperative (McGinnis, 2005), be less
their decision-making by seeking assurances that the decisions confrontational and seek win-win outcomes. In terms of the
they make are valid and appropriate for the culture of the moderate uncertainty nature of African cultures, whether
market in which they are competing. Within the African negotiators seek specific commitments with respect to
cultural context, such networks and relationships can be volume, timing and specific requirements or are comfortable
critical to the success of small medium sized organizations’ with rough estimates of volume and timing and constantly
business endeavors (Doole and Lowe, 2003). changing requirements (McGinnis, 2005), will depend on
There is evidence of successful collaborative partnerships factors such as trust, religiosity, social network
between Scandinavian and African businesses (Kuada, 2002; recommendations and past business relations.
Owusu, 2002). For the African firms, the importance of these Also, the feminine nature of African societies appears to
business-to-business collaborations has been the acquisition support the notion of a problem solving approach and seek a
of new technical skills or technological capabilities from negotiated outcome that promotes a long-term relationship.
partners. For the Scandinavian companies, these relationships Negotiators from the feminine cultures are more likely to be
serve as prelude to market entry and offer opportunities concerned with agreements, aesthetics and longer range
through which they learn more about African market effects; they will tend to feel that the details can be worked out
environment and establish local relationships that enhance later (McGinnis, 2005).
greater involvement at a latter stage (Owusu, 2002).
In a recent study, Kuada (2002) examined 12 collaborative
Conclusion and future research directions
relationships between Danish and Ghanaian firms. He found
that differences existed in partners’ expectations and In an age of globalization, examination of cultural factors and
assumptions about performance of their co-partners. the subtle ways in which culture affects marketing practices
Whereas the Ghanaian managers viewed social networking and patterns of market behavior should command increased
in Ghana to be an important aspect in the relationship, the attention from marketers. Foreign companies need to think
Danish managers did not see it that way. outside the proverbial box when formulating their marketing
To take into account the collectivistic, slight feminine and strategies and when collaborating and forming business
high power distance nature of the African culture, partnerships in Africa (Koku, 2005). As companies move to
arrangements and conditions that conform with good do business in Africa, a greater sensitivity to African culture
character, allow for fulfillment of social obligations, respect will be required and an understanding of African cultural
elders, and value social relevance and welfare of others, realities should facilitate business transactions in this region.
should facilitate collaborative partnerships. There should also African culture differs from other cultures in the way Africans
be extensive communication, increased interaction, and on- construct meanings, negotiate social contexts and make sense
going consultation. In addition, the foreign company should of their environment (Ahiauzu, 1986).
send a high-ranking employee-team and should pay attention From the extant and allied literature, we have offered
to the softer issues of the relationship and social networking several impressions in the context of African culture and
(Fadiman, 2000). implications for organizational behavior, buyer-seller
interactions (relationship marketing), collaborative
Negotiations partnerships and negotiations. In this paper, we have used
Negotiation is an important aspect of selling. A central the term, “African culture” as an overarching concept. We
element of relationships in all societies is that people negotiate acknowledge the fact that to propose a monolithic African
(Carnevale and Leung, 2003). Culture affects the standard culture, however, may be inaccurate because of the strong
procedures of negotiations. Negotiations serve as a way to national differences. Nonetheless, there are some cultural
resolve disputes and a means of determining the terms of a dimensions common to the sub-region (Grzeda and
business venture or a sales package. The African actively Assogbavi, 1999). These commonalities include: a

380
African culture and business markets Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing
William K. Darley and Charles Blankson Volume 23 · Number 6 · 2008 · 374 –383

hierarchical social structure, the importance of kinship, the Studies of Management & Organization, Vol. 16, Summer,
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What makes an African person African, African Resources Charles Blankson can be contacted at: Charles.Blankson@
Publishers Co, Ibadan. unt.edu

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