January 28, 2008

Africans Don't Trust Africans with Technology

One would logically think that the most likely consumers of African technology would be Africans. Not so. Africans do not trust each other to provide quality technology.

Last year, we heard that a large company that is almost across the street from us wanted to implement a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. Since we are one of the few companies with experience in that area and given that we worked with several of this company's sister companies in various countries, including the US, we thought we had a good shot at getting the project. We approached them and offered to make a presentation. They explained to us that we were way too small for them and that they were going through an invitation only bidding process. Only European companies would be invited. Because there are few CRM implementations in this country, we thought that we would offer to assist them, at no cost, so that there would be a reference for a CRM project in the country. They refused. They were hiring consultants from Europe to provide project support. OK. Even free, our services are not worth it. Jeez.

A few months later, we received a call from a European company that was bidding on a CRM project in Africa. They did not have any experience and did not have any resources and they wanted to know if we would partner with them. You guessed it. Same client. Same project. We agreed.

We had to prepare the entire proposal and provide OUR references. Our partner company prettied up the proposal with their logo and made no reference to us. They redid the resumes so that our name would not appear anywhere. The proposal was shortlisted and the client requested a presentation. Oops. Our partner's sales folks flew in but, unable to answer any technical questions, had to include us. So we accompany them across the street for the presentation. Client did not hide their surprise. Our proposal turned out to be the best one. We (our partners) won. So here it was. We were not allowed to interact directly with the client so our partner sent a "project manager" to this country. Over a period of six months, we actually saw 4 different ones.

So here we were in this ridiculous process of having to send the project manager emails that he then copied and pasted into his emails to the client. The client would answer and he would forward the emails to us. Then, in the fine European tradition, our partner's project manager had to go on vacation so the project was at a standstill while he went on holiday. Then they sent someone new (after all, this is an African country, you send the people none of your European clients would accept). We lost 4 months on a project that should have lasted 3 as a result of the project management problems.

We would get sign off, send it to Europe, send them our bill. They would send their bill (our bill multiplied by 3) to the client. Client would wire the money to Europe and then, eventually (sometimes months later), partner wired money back to us. We eventually finished the project and the client was very pleased. Of course, our partner gets the reference and they profiled their success on their web site. As logical as it might seem for the client to contact us directly next time, they probably won't. They are too ashamed.

This was not the first time we faced the distrust of an African client. Before this subsidiary opened, we were contacted in the US by a large American software company for training on their technology in an African country. They knew that we had resources that could train in French (language of the client) and asked for some resumes. We sent the resume of our most qualified instructor. I got a phone call from the software company's African training manager. She asked if there was another resume I could send because our instructor's name sounded African. She said the African client complained that for the daily rate we were charging they "expected a White person." We did not do the training.

We do expect some push back from American and European clients when we, Africans, show up telling them we can provide them the best technology. Africans are poor starving people, not innovators or technology experts. We are prepared for that and have been succesful selling to large multinational clients or government entities outside of Africa.

To get this from our own African brothers and sisters is all the more frustrating. And we are no exception. Many other African entrepreneurs have shared similar stories with me. How can we progress if we so distrust our own people?


  1. Welcome back.

    Does this distrust spill over into other sectors/areas, or is it primarily distrust over technology and technology-related services? It sounds like a major hurdle, if for no other reason than it raises costs dramatically. Do you have a sense what the root is of the distrust, and can it be countered through repeated positive experiences (such as the one you had with the client across the street) or is it more ingrained than that?

  2. I think it applies to "intellectual" type areas where the value is intangible. Somehow our brains are not deemed to be as valuable as those of Europeans or Americans. When you are selling a thing like a glass, the price is the price but when it comes to a "solution" it is much more difficult. That was the greatest challenge in doing business in the US too but our team was much more mixed and there were a number of White males. We had not hired them to be a "front" but because they were talented and dedicated. However, customers just assumed they were in charge and by the time they figured it out, we were already in the door. I sometimes want to hire a White male here to get over the same hurdles but it would seem hypocrital to do it just to appease insecure clients.

    I think repeated positive experiences, as you asked, can contribute to a climate of trust but that is very long term. In the meantime, Africans are losing out to Europeans for most meaningful projects.

    Thanks for the feedback. I have been slack in updating the blog...

  3. What fascinating reading. I run a group in JHB called POWERWOMEN TECHNOLOGY and would love to invite you to join. you can find me on www.g3mobile.blogspot.com. there you will also see a related blog I wrote about American's undermining the forward movement of Africa with regards to mobile technology. Would be great to meet you. Gloria

  4. Quite a blog. Thank you so much for getting this ridiculous situation out in the open. Being an entrepreneur, even with solid financing and a good, supportive business network is daunting. Being an African entrepreneur, usually with no venture funding, no business network and willful legislative discrimination, is a near impossible task.

    The situation will not change unless African entrepreneurs and their supporters do something about it. I think we need a campaign of awareness to demonstrate that African entrepreneurs are as capable as any other and that we need support. Most important, we can enumerate the benefits of supporting African entrepreneurs. These are just starter ideas. Anyone interested in doing something about turning this undesirable situation around may contact me. If there is enough interest, we can move forward with concrete ideas. My email appears below.

    Thank you for the blog.
    Emeka Akaezuwa
    CEO and Founder
    Gaviri Technologies, Inc.
    emekaa at gaviri dot com

  5. African Entreprenuer, we have to really exude patience beyond understanding with Africans in regards to technology-related services.

    Trust treally takes time to build with Africans. Our distrust of ourselves started with slavery.

    So many African's believe that once they have a website or Face Book account, they have conquered the internet.

    We are not belittling the value of having a website, because for many Africans this is an immense and important step.

    However with the emergence of increased internet globalization- the real world in Africa needs to be educated in order to involve ourselves with the infrastructure of the virtual urban world and its global blend of thinkers

    In fact, Africa’s wealth depends on it. So please don't give up on Africa-are yet to shock the world.

    Hey get un-slack with updating, we need more bloggers like you.

  6. Such an amazing and painfully true article.

  7. This blog is is good and very impressive thank you

  8. I will prefer this blog because it has much more informative stuff.mark curry


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