Academic journal article International Journal of Purchasing and Materials Management

Supply Challenges in Africa

Academic journal article International Journal of Purchasing and Materials Management

Supply Challenges in Africa

Article excerpt

The purchasing and materials managers in the poorer countries in Africa face a complex set of challenges. The full extent of their problems is difficult to grasp for supply professionals in the developed world. Nevertheless, it is clear that some of their challenges are not unique. And, perhaps, opportunities exist not only to assist fellow professionals but also to learn from them.


The following four situations encountered by a North American materials management consultant during one trip are representative of the context in which African materials managers have to operate. First, a "regular" flight of the Zaire (former Belgian Congo, 34 million inhabitants) national airline between Libreville, Gabon, and Kinshasa, Zaire, was delayed three days because Zaire did not have enough hard currency to pay for the jet fuel required for the flight. Needless to say, there are also major concerns about preventive maintenance on the airplanes, because of the difficulty to obtain spare parts on credit and because of the lack of training of mechanics.

Second, top managers of the Congo national airline, which owns only a few aircraft, decided to rent out one of its airplanes for a few months, although this decision put a lot of pressure on aircraft availability for its regular flights.

Third, the director of a major hotel in Congo had to delay sending telexes for many days, simply because there was no more appropriate paper available.

Fourth, the director of procurement of a public utility company in Zaire--one of the first persons met from that country--had to wait more than three months to get a major component urgently required to continue operations. The main reason for the delay was the time it took to unload the ship and to clear customs; the harbor was simply too busy.

These kinds of situations, unfortunately, are typical in many third world countries, with the result that one lowers his or her own level of expectation, not taking as much for granted. In industrialized countries, most materials managers assume availability to be no problem and are able to focus on quality, service, and price.


The purpose of this article is to report on preliminary research into purchasing and materials management experiences in most African countries. Based on personal interviews with 35 supply managers from 12 countries in East, Central, and West Africa, this research reveals a substantial range of problems not usually faced by supply managers in the more developed parts of the world. The information gathered to date is far from complete, and it would be presumptuous to suggest solutions based on such scarce data and lack of understanding of the social, cultural, economic, and political environment. It is hoped, instead, that through a better understanding of supply situations in the African context, it may put supply professionals in the developed world in a better position to be of meaningful assistance to their counterparts in the less developed nations. Moreover, opportunities may well exist to understand better some persistent challenges to the management of acquisition in the more developed world by a good look at the other side.

Care should be taken to recognize that even in the poorer countries of Africa, high technology in the form of computers and sophisticated equipment is available to some organizations, if not in the same abundance as elsewhere. Also, some materials managers interviewed were well trained, fully aware of the latest developments in the supply field, and trying their very best to perform a fully professional task in a difficult environment.

The interviewees represented most of the poorer countries in Africa. And, even though each country had its own unique set of conditions, for the purpose of this article the common challenges faced by materials managers have been highlighted, rather than the country-specific ones. …

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