Editorial: South African CFOs should drop the arrogance in 'Africa'

As an aside during our successful Moving into Africa event in the Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton, Sean Bennett, Head of UBS South Africa and Sub Saharan Africa, remarked that South Africans are not always welcomed with open arms in the rest of the continent. We are often guilty of talking about 'Africa' as if South Africa is not part of the continent, we are often guilty of arrogantly viewing the swath of land north of the Limpopo as largely undeveloped and we are often wrongly assuming that we have to import expats because of the purported lack of local talent.

In the photo: Greg Davis, CFO Standard Bank Africa and Bikash Prasad, CFO Olam International South, Central and East Africa.

In areas with lower education, like the rougher areas in the townships around Johannesburg, the antipathy against fellow Africans often leads to xenophobia, sometimes expressed as jealousy, sometimes as violence and sometimes even as murder. It is a heavy-handed comparison, but one I feel is justified: CFOs and other business leaders should not falll into the xenophobia trap when dealing with African corporates and governments. That goes especially for the fast-growing number of South African businesses that aim to make money in the rest of the continent. Respect and an effort to understand your fellow Africans are a great way to start - arrogance isn't.

Africa is not a country. Not only the tax environment in East, West and Francophone Africa is vastly different - as explained in KPMG's brilliant Master Class - languages, business cultures and government incentives also vary greatly. And the talent is there, especially in East Africa. At companies like Olam International expats are more and more making way for locals. Standard Bank's Africa CFO Greg Davis told me he develops future African leaders by rotating them between different African countries and it was telling that KPMG's tax experts all were born and bred in the country they were based (Nigeria, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo).

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