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The Africa nexus – intra-trade and investment as drivers of African development

BRAND South Africa hosted an Africa nexus research reference group webinar with key objectives to determine insights and perspectives on how the African Continental Free Trade (AcFTA) could enable economic recovery and development in the context of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The purpose of the research reference group was to bring South African companies together that have experience of doing business in peer African markets. Over the years Brand South Africa has conducted extensive research in peer markets to determine the reputation, and profile of South Africa as an investor and trade partner.

Through this research, it has emerged that market entry strategies adopted by South African companies when they enter peer markets is a critical focus area if the country is to deepen its business relations across the continent. This is especially important in this period where the AcFTA is gradually being operationalised.


The participants in today’s research reference group were asked to share insights and lessons learnt from their work across the region as either practitioners or business experts. In this context several major lessons emerged.

One of the major insights from the session is that African case studies regarding doing business and market entry is in high demand in other regions of the world. This is a result of growing interest in opportunities in the African region. In terms of developing successful market entry strategies it also emerged that the development of local partnerships, networks and relationships of trust is a must-have in ensuring one’s success when entering peer African markets.

In addition to the lessons shared pertaining to market entry, is the critical importance of developing an in-depth understanding of local culture and business practices. It was indicated that South African companies do need to pay much more attention to developing an understanding of local culture, especially when employing- and engaging with local stakeholders.

Participants in the reference group emphasised that one cannot understand peer African markets from the perspective of an air-conditioned office in Cape Town or Johannesburg. Every market and the sector dynamics in those markets are unique, meaning that a ‘one size fits all approach’ to market entry will most definitely not lead to success. It is critical to immerse oneself in markets and to walk the proverbial pavements. It was noted as well that in some peer markets data and information regarding specific sectors is not readily available, meaning once again that a company has to immerse itself in the local reality and develop relations of trust with business partners that can assist in filling the information/data gaps that may exist.

It was also noted that South Africa’s diplomatic relations can play a critical role to support South African companies when establishing themselves in environments where one may sometimes find either an over-regulated or completely unregulated business environment or sector.

Further to this point, it was also indicated that South African companies are practising a ‘network approach’ when entering peer markets. The lesson taken from this is that much more cooperation is needed not just between the public and private sectors, but also between South African businesses when they attempt to enter markets on the continent. This could take the form of closer cooperation between South African business chambers, businesses, associations, and export council.

Participants in the session also noted that South Africans themselves have to change their perception of African peer markets. It was emphasised that South Africans need to re-imagine Africa, and re-define their place in the continent. Often times South Africans are criticised for the fact that they tend to think Africa starts North of the Limpopo River.

Brand South Africa, together with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition will in the coming months be developing case studies on market entry strategies, with the goal of sharing this knowledge and insights to strengthen the country’s efforts at expanding business across the continent.

Outcomes from this Africa nexus research reference group will inform a global facing media engagement in the following week on the reference group. This post engagement in collaboration with Reuters will drive further debate. The Reuters webinar is scheduled to take place on 16 September 2020. The Reuters panel discussion will explore the challenges and opportunities for African nations post Covid-19, and how South Africa can be instrumental in creating the necessary conditions for a more self-sufficient and globally competitive continent.

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