Chinese investments in Africa have been gaining pace since the turn of the century. And Chinese people have immigrated onto the continent along with their investments. That much we knew.
What I didn’t know is that Africans are also migrating to China, according to articles in The Africa Report. One of them, called “People are at the heart of China-Africa engagement”, led me to ask: how do the Chinese and Africans mix?
Mingling of Chinese and African people in a business context is anything but easy (see related post on the Chinese presence in Africa). According to my (Chinese and African) interviewees in Ghana and Kenya, cultural differences are huge. To name a few – at the risk of over generalization:
- The Chinese go to Africa ready to work 6.5 days/week; Africans want to dedicate time to other pursuits (e.g., family life, religious practices);
- The Chinese stick to deadlines strictly; Africans may not;
- The Chinese focus on profit-making at the expense of overall development; Africans have a broad perspective; they are interested in the socioeconomic development of their community.
How did these differences evolve? Where do they come from? To find out I went to an expert source: The Hofstede center. It scores countries on a number of cultural dimensions (meanings below graph). Take a look at the scores for China, Ghana, and Kenya:
Meanings of the cultural dimensions:
- Power distance: the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally;
- Individualism: the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members;
- Masculinity: the extent to which a society is driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the winner / best in field;
- Uncertainty avoidance: The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these;
- Pragmatism: extent to which a society adapts its past traditions to deal with the challenges of the present and future;
- Indulgence: the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses (high score = weak control = indulgence; low score = high control = restraint).
The most striking differences are pragmatism and indulgence (unfortunately, not listed for Kenya). These clearly demonstrate the claims made by my interviewees – that the culture gap is vast.
What do you think?