Into the MENA: Entering the African and Middle Eastern Economies

Atsu Okeke is an African-based business and financial writer and has previously been a business consultant for a number of small- and medium-sized enterprises.

When your business is thriving at home and you’d like to expand, it’s forward thinking to seek new locations abroad. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Africa and United Arab Emirates are the place to look for potential business opportunities, and research and company checks will help you with preparation.

This article will provide tips on how to expand your business in these regions, along with information and research ideas to give you a helping hand.

Middle East and North Africa

This area has one of the world’s most rapidly expanding populations in urban areas, which can only mean good things for businesses. The populations are generally well-educated and young, providing you with a talented potential workforce if needed. This is a region on the verge of economic prosperity, and it’s the right time to consider this region for your business move.


US companies have begun looking for business opportunities in Africa, a signal that the economies are ripe for expansion into this continent. Sectors such as aviation, health, construction, agriculture and energy are all promising areas for expansion, and the US and China have already spotted this opportunity.

United Arab Emirates

The UAE is a major prospect for businesses, with efficient and established air and sea connections and a well-developed infrastructure allowing a solid base for any business venture.

Although in the past the UAE has been primarily oil-driven in its economy, the state has begun to diversify and expand its economy. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are of most interest to investors, with a great business environment and an excellent investment portfolio.

Doing the research

It’s important to find out as much as you can about the country, region and customs of the place you’re planning to expand into. There’s no such thing as too much research, whereas there’s a definite danger of under researching if you’re not careful.

— Learn how people do business, and if there are any customs or potential faux-pas that you need to be aware of. Be prepared for cultural differences. Research customs and common business practices in your chosen location.

— Wherever you decide to locate, try to learn the language of the area you’re diversifying into. It will be appreciated, and also may earn you new business partners and connections.

Find out too about that region’s economy and the way it has developed over the past five to ten years.

A few extra tips

— If you’re finding it hard to penetrate established organizations or create contacts, consider hiring an intermediary associate or friend who can help you find a way in. Ultimately this will save you time and money.

— Be patient: particularly in many MENA/UAE countries it is common for decisions to take a long time. Patience is valued, and it is important to be accommodating.

— Value face-to-face communication: often the written word is not considered as important, so face to face talking will elicit the best response, with the phone a close second. Letters and emails are not as effective.

— Start small: if there’s a company you’d like to make a large deal with, propose a smaller pilot project first. It’ll help you to build a relationship with the client, along with establishing trust and allowing you to learn more about their business without huge risk.

Your business is on the right track if you’re looking to expand into new economies. This is an excellent time to be thinking of the Middle East, North Africa, UAE or African regions for your business.


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