A round plug in a square country... (At Mugg & Bean Lusaka)
A round plug in a square country… (At Mugg & Bean Lusaka)

I was recently in Lusaka and had to meet someone at one of the city’s popular malls (there are many sprouting up). Zambia has undergone a major middle class upsurge, spurred by a global copper boom and a major diversification of the economy. All key sectors from agriculture to manufacturing and hospitality are speeding ahead; a great deal of investment dollars are being put into the nation. Continental and global franchises are hot on the nation’s trail with majors like Pizza Hut arriving recently. Whilst this is generally positive, something I picked up while having my coffee meet points to a subtle but common problem.

As is normally the case, I tagged along with my mobile workstation (aka laptop and “mobile office”). The challenge came when trying to find a power point. It turned out that the coffee spot was a South African franchise. So keen were they to let this be known it seems, that they bolted in South African round plugs…I’ve come across this enough times to be able to conclude what’s happening here. Whole franchise systems, business models, uniforms etc are shipped off in a container with little thought about the dynamics of the local market.

At one time a telecoms operator in Harare got a big shot brand consultancy in Johannesburg to handle their rebranding. The fresh new identity was really great save for one major problem. It seems the smarts at “big brand agency” had picked such a “rare colour” for said telecoms firm, that all it’s stationery etc had to be imported as local printers were failing to match it. This in my opinion defeats the very objectives of having a “relevant identity”.  Such mistakes are being repeated across other core facets of business. This could be incompatible software systems (how many times have you been asked for a “Zip code” by an online banking system), equipment that’s not well suited for the local environment  (thus resulting in a relatively quick asset depreciation rate) or bringing in managers more suited to developed markets.

In Zambia, market "lifters" have modified their wheelbarrows with automotive tyres and a "longer" loading rack...
In Zambia, market “lifters” have modified their wheelbarrows with automotive tyres and a “longer” loading rack…

I once watched an interview in which Tunde Ogunrinde, the then COO of Chicken Republic (one of Nigeria & Africa’s fastest growing Quick Service Restaurant operators) was talking about the company’s rapid growth. The gentleman was a Nigerian who had worked abroad before coming back home to join the fast rising collective. He spoke succinctly about the attention to detail they pay to everything including the very chairs and surfaces used in their outlets. He captures the approach needed when “going to Africa”, bring global standards but pay attention to the local infrastructure and nuances. As the infamous saying goes; #TIA – This Is Africa – so arrive with an open mind and open eyes!



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