Flexible Mobility Policies Key When Moving Talent to Africa

By Pamela Babcock Feb 4, 2015
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JERSEY CITY, N.J.—Staffing positions in Africa with expatriates is challenging given security concerns, skyrocketing housing costs in some regions, limited education and medical options, and infrastructure issues. Flexible mobility policies and incentives that factor in these issues are key to creating successful assignments.

“One needs to be really creative,” said Vince Cordova, GPHR, principal at Mercer Global Mobility in New York City, on Jan. 22, 2015, at the New Jersey chapter meeting of The Forum for Expatriate Management here. “It’s very difficult to get people to commit long-term to any of these locations.”

Cordova, who helps organizations design and implement compensation policies and strategies for international assignments, said Africa is one of the firm’s most challenging locations for assignees: “It doesn’t really behave like any other place or any other region in the world,” he said.

Unique Issues

However, forum speakers emphasized the need to not paint the continent with a broad brush. There are unique differences between countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Angola.

“People often forget that these countries—which are among the largest in Africa—are very diverse and very different,” said Mercedes D’Angelo, director of global business solutions for Cultural Awareness International Inc., a Dallas-based training consultancy.

Here are things organizations should consider before sending foreign assignees to Africa:

“Hardship” premiums. Premiums of 10 percent to 35 percent on top of base salary are not uncommon to address quality-of-life issues that include crime and high cost of living. Crime and terrorism are common in much of Africa, Cordova said, noting recent accounts of Boko Haram militants’ attacks in Nigeria.

And while South Africa may look similar to a lot of developed economies, “this fear of being violently assaulted is really an ongoing threat,” Cordova added.

For employees headed to Cape Town or Johannesburg, organizations typically provide 10 percent premiums, while in less stable areas like Lagos, Nigeria or Luanda, Angola, premiums are typically 35 percent, Cordova said.

Family considerations. Some countries are so dangerous that expatriates’ family members decide to stay home. Cordova said he has seen families successfully deploy to South Africa, but many clients going to Kenya, Nigeria and Angola consider “split family” or commuter-type arrangements.

Some organizations provide a monthly allowance for family members who stay home and implement flexible home and rest-and-recreation leave for assignees. The employee may periodically be sent home or to another “less intense” place.

Housing and security. In much of Africa, it’s imperative that the expatriate live in a gated community and be around other employees to avoid feeling isolated.

Organizations typically pay housing costs, which can vary widely. In Angola, the most expensive city in the world for expats, monthly rent for a three-bedroom house is the equivalent of $28,000 USD and must be paid in full, two years in advance.

Housing is typically in a compound with full-time staff “guarding you with machine guns outside,” Cordova explained.

Housing costs in Johannesburg and Cape Town are also relatively high compared to the U.S., also because of security. In some countries, having an armored car and driver is imperative.

Education. Options for school-age children at private and international schools is limited and some schools are nearly impossible to get into, Charnel Francis, business development manager at Africa Mobility Services Angola & Nigeria Ltd., told seminar attendees via Skype from Angola. Space at schools is so limited in Angola that expatriates should ensure that their children are admitted before taking an assignment. Tuition and fees in that country also are high (up to $35,000 USD a year).

“There have been many failed assignments in Angola because the family has found a house … but could not get the children into the school,” said Francis.

Transportation. Kenya, Nigeria and Angola are very congested and, in many cases, lack roads. Driving is best done with a four-wheel drive vehicle. Companies often hire a driver for expatriates. South African roads are generally well-maintained. If not hiring a driver, then buying a vehicle for the expatriate and/or family is critical because public transportation is nonexistent, Francis said.

Health care. Health care is a concern in much of Africa, except for South Africa, but is improving in some places. Private health care in South Africa is excellent but public health care there is not recommended, Francis said. Many expatriates travel to South Africa if they have a major illness or need an operation.

Electricity and water. In Kenya, Nigeria and Angola, it’s imperative to have an electric generator, and many gated communities have them. Clean water is also in short supply, so expatriates will need their own tank or one supplied by the gated community, Francis said. Power outages also are becoming more frequent in South Africa due to an aging system, she added.

Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer based in the New York City area.

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