Religion In Africa, And What It Means For U.S., Global Business

Written by Dana Sanchez

Less than 2 percent of South Africans are Muslim, 86 percent are Christian and slightly more than 5 percent say they belong to ancestral, tribal, or other traditional African religions, according to a new Statistics South Africa report commissioned by the South African government.

What does this have to do with a company doing business in South Africa that doesn’t seek global customers, or a business in the U.S. that isn’t interested in Africa?

Even if a brand is not actively seeking global consumers, having an online presence means they are on an international stage, says Angela Hausman. They still need to manage global digital marketing.

What brands don’t know about other cultures with whom they engage could hurt them and result in public apologies, she said.

Hausman’s digital marketing agency, Hausman & Associates, focuses on serving clients in the U.S. “But, take a look at my Google Analytics and you’ll find my reach extends much further than the U.S.,” Hausman said in a guest column in Business2Community.

On Hausman’s website, Google Analytics shows that her second largest source of visits is India.”The U.S. features the highest goal completion or conversion rate, but South Africa and Kenya are also contenders,” she said. “I need these folks to build my business, as their engagement spreads word of my work to unexpected places I might not reach otherwise.”

It’s important to avoid disparaging comments about any culture, whether global or not, Hausman said. “Put yourself in your readers’ shoes by avoiding content others might find offensive to their culture, religion, leaders …”

Even if you’re not targeting visitors from outside your particular country, you need a global strategy, Hausman said. Global visitors contribute significantly to your SEO strategy and goal conversion. A mistake that insults a particular region can create a powerful negative image if social media posts go viral.

Company executives learn this by their mistakes, like a high-ranking Chrysler executive who tweeted disparagingly about Detroit drivers. The backlash was immediate and negative, forcing the company to make a public apology. “Definitely, the exec misunderstood the culture he’d been dropped into,” Hausman said in the Business2Community column.

“To compound the problem, this mistake is shared over and over, while people like me use it as an example of what not to do, extending the life of the original tweet indefinitely,” she said. “The take-away from this is to think globally as you craft content. Avoid disparaging comments about any culture, whether global or not.”

So how important is religion to African economies?

In Ghana’s rural areas, almost all the small-to-medium-sized businesses have Christian-inspired names, said Yomi Kazeem in a Quartz report.

Names like “My enemies are not God Stores,” “If God says yes who can say no Enterprises,” “Mount Zion Kline Water,” “Anointed Hands Beauty Care,” and “Yaweh Joy Ventures.” There’s also these: “Christ the Almighty Plumbing,” “Psalm 23 Catering,” and “Thank You Jesus Hardware.”

In the bigger cities dominated by multinational and corporate offices, this trend is not as prominent, Kazeem said.

“The store names are often a way to tell the faith of the business owners, and in some parts of Kumasi where there are lots of Muslims, you will find ‘Allah’ in the name of their stores as well,” said Matilda, a local journalist.

Christianity-inspired business names are also popular in Nigeria’s south. According to Quartz:

Some African pastors now base their sermons on financial prosperity and freedom. In some cases, they offer business and career workshops. Increasingly, the church provides an alternate rhetoric in the chase for economic prosperity. Across many parts of rural Ghana, the belief in self prophecy of a successful business (“God will provide Enterprises”) cannot be missed.

In South Africa, Muslims, who comprise 1.9 percent of the population, live mainly in
Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Hindus represent about 0.9 percent of the population of South Africa, and 3.3 percent of the population of KwaZulu-Natal.

Nechama Brodie is head of TRi Facts, the research and training division of Africa Check, which promotes accuracy in public debate and the media in Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, will be the geographic center of monotheistic growth in the next four decades, with high increases in population overall and for both Christian and Muslim populations, Brodie said in a guest column in Mail&Guardian.

Statistics South Africa reports 65 different codes for religious affiliations, the majority being Christian — from Methodist, Lutheran and Anglican to Pinkster, Presbyterian and Pentecostal. Judaism and Islam are given just a single code each. Nearly 86 percent of the country self-identifies as Christian, Brodie said.

The smallest religious group identified in the 2011 census was Taoists, numbering 371.