Posts Tagged ‘Africa

21
Dec
09

Best Airfares and latest Airplane configurations on flights to Africa…

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.

Africa’s consumer market exceeds 900 Million people, the fastest growing market in the world.
For the purpose of this article  I will join those who often talk about Africa as if it was one country. Africa is not just a fast growing market it is also the 10th largest world market. According to the world bank the 2006 Africa Gross National Income was 978.3 B $, just after Canada at 9th position and before India, Brazil, Korea, Russian Federation, and Mexico who had the 11th until 15th position.

This being said I consider the 54 countries to be very diverse.  I recommend you have a look at http://www.gapminder.org/ where Professor Hans Rosling  provides the statistical facts in an exiting way that will make you understand the importance to look at African countries rather then to look at it as one Country.

The informal economy on average in Africa according to Friedrich Schneider accounts for 42 % of GNP in a survey of 1999/2000 where the US accounted for 9%, the UK 13%, Canada 15%, Sweden 20% and Greece 29% by comparison.
If we look at Africa  using the typical statistical data that is available to be factual, or if we want to go by the average notion on Africa based on the media, even in a worse case scenario the opportunities in reality are much better than what one expects.

The limited amount of suppliers that this growing amount of consumers can chose from however allow the vendors to provide very poor service, to dump dangerous products on the market, to overcharge customers for services and products and not to respect warranties or guarantees.The consumers have no proper legal framework that protect them from these practices to claim their rights. Governments do not proactively protect their citizens either from dangerous or poor quality products and services
France and the UK know this all too well and continue to protect their old vested interests stemming from the old colonial days and this translates into situations where the average African consumers have to take it or leave it with hardly any functional or affordable system in place to protect them.
Deutsche Telecom wanted to buy Sonatel in Burkina Faso, The French Minister of ICT told his German colleague to stay out of his territory and the deal was called off.  Vivendi took over with Maroc Telecom as the fronting company. Today the service has badly deteriorated and one can complain about the service but to no avail. New subscribers are accepted daily while insufficient investments are made in the total infrastructure causing very unstable networks.

New players like China have discovered the African market as well and do not meet many obstacles selling low cost and poor quality products including pharmaceuticals with Chinese descriptions leaving consumers at the mercy of the retailers guidance instead of being protected by health care regulations as is the case in most places in the world.

A few more examples across industries:

If you buy an airline return ticket with British Airways in Africa to the UK it will on average be more expensive than buying the same return ticket in the UK in countries where BA face little competition. The same is true for Air France or KLM.  While the flights to some of the destinations to Africa are shorter in miles and travel time the rates are higher than flights to the USA for instance that are longer in distance and time.  All the mentioned airline carriers in this example use the best airline configurations to the destinations where they face stiff competition and they continue to use their oldest configurations to places like Accra, Ouagadougou, Bamako where they almost still maintain a monopoly.
Each of these airline companies do face competition on destinations like Lagos, Nairobi and Johannesburg and therefore you will get a flat bed configuration flying BA to Lagos in business class, but not to Accra while the rates are almost the same. On flights to Lagos the mentioned carriers have US inbound passengers that work in the energy sector who have lots of alternatives to chose from once arriving at London, Paris or Amsterdam before continuing their destination to Lagos.
But what if you fly to Paris starting your journey in Ouagadougou, you have been a loyal frequent flyer of Air France and you want to use your air miles to upgrade your ticket or you want to sit in a business class lounge at the airport of Dakar using your club 2000 card ?
Well you can’t. Sorry sir on this route these perks are not available.  I was recently rejected even in transit at the airport in Paris to sit in the airport lounge coming from Ouagadougou. If you read the terms and conditions Air France clearly state that your club 2000 card gives you world wide club access regardless of the class you travel in and you have the right to invite a fellow passenger. Air France does not mention “except for the following African destinations”.
When you complain, you get letters explaining how terribly sorry the company is and they hope to soon welcome you on board of their flights again because they know that you have few or no alternative.
Emirates Airlines are expanding their network of destinations across the continent but frequent flyers of Emirates will notice that the cash and miles service does not include destinations like Ghana even if they have a daily direct flight between Dubai and Accra. How come ?

What about ordering through Amazon.com if you live in Africa where bookstores are not a commodity and the population is young and eager for knowledge ?
Well you can order books, but in todays technology driven world where youngsters increasingly look for multi media alternatives, unfortunately you cannot order any multi media nor software, nor any electronics that are on offer at Amazon.com.  The excuse in this case is the fear for piracy, but this is taking a short cut in my opinion. Today’s technology offer enough solutions to counter piracy if only one is willing to invest. Apparently 450 million youngsters is not a big enough market opportunity for Amazon to at least explore some alternatives.

What if you want to transfer money to relatives ?
Up until some years ago Western Union was the only viable solution for the large diaspora community to transfer money to and from Africa. The costs associated to the transfers exceeded even the highest fees one would pay using bank transfers anywhere around the world.  When Moneygram started to operate in Africa fees came down overall, but with only two service providers the fees are still disproportional if you consider the purchasing power of the majority of the beneficiaries and the main reason for these money transfers. Most of the transfers are made to support families in their most basic needs. The banking sector in Africa is still mainly focusing on corporate banking and the continent has the lowest bank account penetration rates in the world. Western Union and Moneygram can therefore charge any fees they like without too much risk of losing customers.  While central banks do control foreign exchange and limit currency outflows from some of the African countries, they don’t seem to feel a need to protect their population from being overcharged.
A few banks do have retail branches and for a handful of their client base they offer premium services, meaning that these clients have access to air conditioned areas to do their banking transactions, while the majority of the clients have to queue in long lines in the heat often moving from one counter to the next to queue again to conclude very outdated manual procedures to make a money draft.

What if you buy a computer or a cell phone while traveling overseas from world renowned vendors like HP or Nokia, just to name a few, and you use it in Africa?
Although the vendors when selling you the items claim that they offer world wide guarantees and warranties the reality check comes once your equipment fails on you back home in Africa.
Even when the vendor has a local distributor, the world wide agreements are not always respected and consumers either have to travel back with their equipment and have it repaired where the items were purchased or pay for the repair. Either way they lose.
Africans use places like Dubai and  China extensively to buy items that they cannot find in their home countries. On arrival the consumers often are charged high duties.
Guarantees and warranties very often are not respected in Africa and if you read the small letters you will see that some vendors exclude Subsaharan Africa all together.
The price does not reflect this exclusion and again considering purchasing power of average African consumers, they end up paying a premium for non-warranted items.

If you buy a Toyota in Ghana and export the car to say neighboring Burkina Faso, warranties will no longer apply and spare parts have to be imported at surcharges from the country where you bought the car because the local Toyota dealer will not keep parts in stock for different care types. Most car makers sell different versions of types of vehicles in different countries.

Pharmaceutical scams of trials using African human beings to test new drugs have been headline news items in many newspapers and cable new stations over the years.
Today anybody can buy drugs over the counter that would normally require a prescription. Drugs that are imported from China with only Chinese descriptions that nobody in Africa can read and that no health care institution has approved since  controls are either not in place or not enforced are sold even through small Chinese retail outlets exposing vast amounts of people to medical side effects in a place where medical care is unaffordable for the majority of the population in any event.

In Africa consumers have not yet found ways to organize themselves. Most governments are happy to see investors come and apart from tax and duties there are not too many regulations that have to be respected. But in the end the consumers who pay for the government services indirectly via their taxes have rights that need to be protected.
Hopefully we will see a private initiative take off soon somewhere that will set the example for others to follow protecting consumers interests…

© Desi Lopez Fafié

28
Oct
09

A weekend in 2002 on top of Mount Cameroon

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After a carbohydrate meal I went to bed and tried not to think about the next morning so that I could get as much sleep as possible. Another week of work completed but I was not looking at another usual weekend. Last time I went to bed on a Friday night at 8 pm goes back to my childhood. The room at the lodge in the village at the foot of Mount Cameroon was humid and warm.
The AC was noisy but after a while the room chilled down. I came totally unprepared and was not sure if I could deal with the physical strain I was about to endure the next two days.
I thought about how I had gotten myself into this and how the hike would be and I finally managed to fall asleep.

We were stretching our lazy muscles in the early morning sun outside in the garden of the lodge for a good 30 minutes and at 5.30 am we started our hike. Soon we left the paved roads of Buea and entered a path that marked the start of a climb that would go on for the rest of the day. My guide was a cheerful sporty guy who did not have one gram of fat on his body, only solid muscles. While he wasn’t a body builder, he was strong like a horse. He explained how he often climbed the mountain as we made our first attempts up. We started a conversation about the surroundings and the local customs of the people of West Cameroon the region where people speak English instead of French as they do in the rest of the country.

Trees of the tropical rain forest gave us comfortable shadow to protect us from the immediate impact of the burning sun, the humidity was intense and I was trying to find a pace that allowed me to keep my breath. After a good hour’s walk up the steep and winding path I had found my rhythm and began to feel more at ease to respond to the questions of my guide who wanted to know everything about Europe. Like many people in Africa he had a glorified image of the place similar to the way many people in Europe have an underrated view of Africa.
The rain forest was just an amazing place and as we were getting deeper into it I was fascinated by the way the sunbeams colored the place one moment while thick branches of trees provided deep dark shadows the next moment. We were walking under an enormous umbrella where the sun managed to shine through only from time to time.

We were making slow but steady progress up and at around 10 am we reached the first camp on the trail.

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Mount Cameroon’s summit has two peaks one at 4070 and one at 4095  meters above sea level and the trail we used had two camps. Like Kilimanjaro, Mount Cameroon is a volcano, the most active on the West coast of Africa and the climb does not require any specific climbing techniques like one would need to climb some of the mountains in say the Alps. I recommend however to come prepared because the climb is a steep and long walk in humid terrain and warm temperatures.

As we all gathered together to have a rest, I decided not to sit down, but to stay on my feet. I walked around the camp’s grounds and had chats with some of my fellow climbers.
A friend of mine, chairman of a sports club, was responsible for organizing the climb and in total we were about 25 people. We decided not to stop too long to benefit from the relative cool temperatures of the morning and before long we were on our way to the second camp.

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About a good hour after we left the first camp, the tropical rain forest gradually changed into a savanna landscape, and another two hours later were walking under clouds this time, that gave us some protection against the sun. The terrain became rougher and I needed to pay close attention where I placed my feet, in order not to slip and make a nasty fall. Short plants with sharp spines were all over the place and you could easily hurt yourself if you were not careful.

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We reached the second camp around 3 in the afternoon. All this time we had been living off chocolate bars and water and as we reached the second camp ground a nice smell of food was coming our way. Porters had reached the camp earlier and had started to prepare food for the group. We sat together and were joking about the hardships making it this far up while we were waiting for the food to be served. After the meal, I went straight to sleep to regain energy for the final climb to the summit.

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There was a small hut that consisted of four walls with a tin roof, a small door and the entire place was divided into two layers by wooden planks. I decided to put my sleeping sack on top of the planks and fitted myself between two of my friends and fell asleep almost instantly. When I woke up I saw that the place had filled up and underneath us people were still sleeping and snoring.

At 3 am we prepared ourselves for the final part of the climb and with torches we started our walk in an otherwise pitch dark space. Clouds were between the stars and us and since it was half moon the light was very dim. We were at about 3300 meters altitude and the outside temperature was down to about 18 degrees Celsius. Although initially I felt cold, soon I started to sweat again like I had done the entire previous day because of the strain this final part of the climb was putting on me. Walking rough terrain required my attention but trying to walk this terrain in the dark with only a very small light coming from my torch added another challenge to it. Every step required concentration and by now I started to feel the effects of the altitude and increasingly I realized that I had come totally unprepared.
My guide had not shown any sign of fatigue and was walking calmly and steady as if he was strolling in a park. He kept telling me that we were almost there. He started to tell me this at the beginning of the hike and kept on telling me the same thing to encourage me to keep going.

Although the last stage of the climb only took us up another 900 meters, I felt it was worse than the entire first two stages, until just before 6 am the sun came up and I could see more clearly where to place my feet. We reached the summit by 7 am and I had difficulty not to through up. I was clearly suffering from the altitude and from the fact that I had not trained at all in preparation to the climb. After drinking some water I sat down this time to enjoy a magnificent view that was unfolding itself all around me. Slowly I started to regain my breath and to forget my fatigue and I was taken by the way the sun placed a golden layer over this top of the world. We were lucky that there was not too much wind. My guide came and sat next to me and for about 20 minutes we just stared in the distance without really talking much. The morning silence was so loud that we did not want to break it afraid to spoil the serene and peaceful scene.

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After a good final look we decided to start the descent and after two hours we joined some of the fellow climbers who had decided to stay at the second camp. Now we walked with bended knees downhill using a walking stick to keep our balance. After hours of walking this way my thighs were getting more and more painful. It was 6 in the evening when we reached the village again and on return to the lodge I took a shower that I still remember years later.

Once cleaned up, I got myself a good massage before getting ready to celebrate with the rest of the group. Africa would not be Africa without music and dance. While food was served people from the village came to share the moment of fulfillment with us and with my complete soar legs I pulled myself together to join the dancing crowd. Not sure where the energy came from but for a few moments I forgot about my soar legs.

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At 9 pm my friend told me that the car was ready to take me back to the airport. On arrival in Paris the next morning at 6 am, I was checked twice since I was carrying rucksacks, climbing boots while at the same time I was carrying a suit bag and brief case. I did not have the energy to argue much which probably was better anyway. I made it just in time to catch a flight to Montpellier in the south of France, where I had to host a Nigerian customer delegation that wanted to visit our competency center.

The customer asked me if I was feeling alright since I made funny faces when walking. I told the customer that I had overdone the morning exercises a bit. Nobody would have believed my story and I just wanted to get through the day and to my bed as soon as possible. It took me another good week before I managed to walk normally again.

If you go hiking mountains please take your time to prepare and take your time to hike so that you can adjust to altitude effects. If you want an out of body experience that you will remember for as long as you live just get on a plane and get off somewhere near a mountain and start hiking!

© Desi Lopez Fafié

08
Sep
09

We don’t want money, we need Skills!

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.

“We don’t want money, we need skills” was a comment of some of the attendees during the Ghana Competitiveness Forum that was held in Accra in August 2009.

Following the visit of President Barack Obama to Ghana the Business Council on International Understanding organized the forum. A delegation of Members of the House of Representatives of the United States and participants from the public and private sector met over a round table discussion to seek solutions to make Ghana more competitive and attractive to foreign investors.

Not only has Ghana transitioned peacefully to a new government after its recent elections but today you will find that the private sector is taking a leading position as well to drive the economy forward. A new generation of business men and women are now limited by available skills more than by venture capital or other financial impediments.

With the discovery of oil in Ghana an entire new set of skills are required and some international companies operating in Ghana have already started to train people to get ready to embark on deep sea oil exploration.

If you drive around Accra you will also see a lot of activity in the construction sector. New hotels and office buildings are under construction and houses in the residential areas are being built to accommodate the increased demand.

Tema, one of the ports of Ghana receives cargo that finds its final destination in some of its neighboring and land locked countries such as Burkina Faso for instance.

Most of this economic activity also requires information. Here lies in itself another great opportunity for improvements on productivity and efficiencies to become more competitive using today’s information technology.
Border formalities for the most part rely on paper based systems and delay a swift passage. Trucks lose a lot of time during this process. This is just an example of course to illustrate the vast amount of opportunity that exists and at the same time the challenge we face to get enough skilled labor to fulfill the demand.

Golden times for training institutes, vocational education centers, universities and business schools.
Golden times for the Diaspora as well who would like to return to their country and exploit the opportunities benefiting from the acquired international experience.

Training however is only part of what a country like Ghana needs. Some of those who are driving business in Ghana are either locally trained staff or staff trained overseas but in both cases these business leaders have enjoyed international exposure that has provided them experience to deal with complex business situations. These leaders can run businesses up to international standards. They have the capacity to compete internationally. If companies are certified to international standards they will find it easier to export their products and services. Skills and standards are key to achieving sustainable growth in today’s global business.

One of the requests to the members of the House of Representatives was to support an exchange program that will allow for talented Ghanaians to work for a period of time on overseas projects and to receive skilled labor from the US in this case, to work and transfer skills in Ghana so that both business leaders and companies become more competitive.

Of course there are areas where foreign direct investment and loans are still required to assist the development efforts that Ghana is undertaking and where the public interest is better served by a public sector owned solution rather than a private sector one.

When the business community starts asking for skills rather than for money as a first priority it means that its leaders clearly see the opportunity. The opportunity has probably been there for a long time, but today the country is enjoying the fact that democracy and private initiative have both evolved and met each other ready to execute.

Things are changing in Ghana and in Africa and for the better.

© Desi Lopez Fafié

23
Jul
09

African Cuisine for the die hards…

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Do you like spicy food?
Do you plan to go to Nairobi ?

I recommend Handhi’s to you. It means “clay pot” in one of the Indian languages and the restaurant serves a number of dishes using these clay pots. The variety and quality of the food is superb and among the Indian restaurants in Africa that I know I rank it within the top 5.

Those of you who chose to sit inside the restaurant instead of at their terrace, can see the cookes at work through a hugh glass wall that separates the kitchen from the main restaurant dining area.

In East Africa it is mostly the Indian cuisine that offer some very spicy dishes.  The African dishes in this part of the continent are generally mildly spiced. In West and Central Africa however the African dishes can be extremely spicy.

poulet yassa

Poulet Yassa

In Senegal you can order Poulet Yassa, stuffed chicken with lemon and onions served with rice and you have a choice to have some yellow chillies on the side and mix these with the food.

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Africans enjoy their food most when sharing a dish with their family or friends.

Pepper sou[

In Nigeria,  Pepper Soup can be made of any kind of fish or meat depending on your preference.  If you are a Non African Adult with strong taste buts you may try it, but I recommend you take a very small sip first to see how you respond before going for the big spoons.

Pepper Soup

These are just a few examples since spicy food is very common in the West- and Central African cuisine.

Those of you who are not used to chillies should start carefully.  It is an acquired taste that you develop over time and gradually you can deal with larger quantities of chillies or use stronger varieties of chillies.
The Naga Jolokia and the Red Savina Habanero are the strongest versions and contain the highest levels of capsaicin 800.000 – 1000.000 and  350.000 – 570.000 respectively. The Naga Jolokia originates from North Eastern India and holds the Guinness World record. Compare this to white pepper that has 500 units of capsaicin or green tabasco sauce that has about 600 to 800 units.
The Scoville scale measures the heat levels in food by measuring the amount of capsaicin present.

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One of my colleagues from Europe asked me if she could have a sip of my crab soup I was having at a restaurant in Dubai that had made some special orders on our request. Four of us were living in or originated from Africa while we had  two Europeans with us that evening ,my colleague being one.
We had ordered two separate bowls of crab soup, one hot one not. I warned my colleague and told her that this was seriously hot. She insisted.
The next 10 minutes or so all the waitresses were running back and forth to calm the effect of the chillies.
When she recovered somewhat and regained her ability to speak she started to call me names and asked me how someone could enjoy something like that ? We felt sorry for her but at the same time we could not stop laughing either. When she ran to catch her flight she was smiling again.

If you like spicy food I advice you to learn the traditional name of chilly for each country you visit. If you go to a local restaurant as
a Mzungu (white man)  and ask for very spicy food, you may otherwise not get what you ask for. Since not every European or American that visits Africa can handle the intensity of some of the dishes, waiters are careful and will bring you a very mild version of what you requested.
In Nigeria I asked for red chillies and got sweet red peppers instead. So I asked the waiter the name of red chillies in Yoruba. Now I got my “atta rodo”, as they call it and  every time I visit a restaurant in Nigeria and ask for fresh chopped atta rodo I am in business.

An Indian friend of mine once advised me to have some raw onion on the side whenever you are not sure of the food you are about to have. This simple addition will keep you out of trouble in most cases. I realized the effect of it when on another occasion I had dinner with four of my colleagues in a nice restaurant in Ghana. We all ordered shrimps and lobster, the specialty of the house. I was the only one who ordered a salad on the side with some raw onion because I happen to like salads not so much because I questioned the restaurant or its food.  Our host, a Ghanaian did not approve of my addition to this dish, since he felt you should not mix the taste of the fresh seafood with anything else.
The next day all four of my colleagues, including our Ghanaian host were not feeling well and had to run to the bathroom a few times for a couple of days. I was very happy to have ordered my salad on the side and remembered the advise of my Indian friend.
Since then I have made it a habit to order some raw onion every time I doubt the quality of the food.
If you think about it, the Dutch dip their raw herring in chopped raw onion. If you order a steak tartare the cook will propose raw onion as one of the spices to mix the meat with.
I don’t have the scientific proof to back my story but in all the years of my travels all over the world I have hardly ever had food problems and I am grateful for the advice of my Indian friend.

Back at Handhi’s one evening we had ordered more food than we could finish and before we left one of the guests asked the waiter to wrap the food.  I was a bit surprised since all of us were very satisfied and unable to finish but I was soon to learn another lesson of the African way of live.
We walked out of the restaurant and the guest who was carrying the bags with wrapped food saw a poor person walking by.
Without even thinking twice he gave some of the bags to this person.  Before we reached the car he had distributed the remaining bags to a few other poor people that we came across.

Have you ever considered asking to wrap the food to give it to a total stranger in the street on your way home?
I admit I had never done so before but I suggest you try this and I am sure you will enjoy the  experience…

© Desi Lopez Fafié

16
Jun
09

Money Talks In Africa Like Anywhere Else!

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.

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If you consider doing business in Africa you have to ask yourselves the question:

Do we really want to do business in Africa?

If the answer is yes, you should approach the opportunity just like you would approach any investment decision anywhere else on the planet and prepare yourselves accordingly.
A cost-benefit analysis can give you a go or no-go, based on what you feel is an acceptable level of return on the investment you are willing to make, considering possible alternatives.

Recent studies have identified that some projects in Africa yield up to four times the returns these projects would yield in Europe and twice as much as they would yield in Asia.
exploring oil fields

When the opportunity is there and the understood risk is high, the measures that should be put in place to manage the associated risk, should be properly defined.
The initial cost of identifying exploitable oil fields are significant but the returns of the production side of the business are hugh as well, if the studies turn out correct.
Needless to say what the impact can be of mistakes….

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Some companies make half-hearted decisions when it comes to running their operations in Africa and may end up getting disappointed after a while because they are caught by surprise on various fronts from productivity and efficiencies to facing infrastructural issues nobody had even thought of as potential challenges.

A recent CNBC broadcast titled “Dollars and Danger” had the intention to portray Africa as the final investment frontier.
The first 3 minutes of the program give an example of a Chinese project in Libya where China is accused to export their labor problems to Africa running more Africans into unemployment.
I think it is well understood by now that the US and China are both competing for African energy resources and one can read this between the lines here again.

Not to mention that the US is slowly losing its first trading position with Africa and of course this is not something that the US is happy with.

Most people in the US still believe that the investment and official donor assistance their country provide to Africa are among the highest in the world.  Facts have proven the contrary.

The next 4 minutes discuss the risks and dangers of doing business in Africa, where one could end up believing that you cannot walk the streets of Africa without at least one bodyguard because of the way that one conflict zone, limited to a small region of one country, is blown up to a level as if this is the standard across the continent. The reality is that the number of wars and conflicts at this point in African history are lower than ever before and lower than in Asia for instance.

I am not sure how many potential investors made it all the way to the end of the program. If there still were people watching I wonder how many of those ended up seriously considering Africa as an investment opportunity.

It is sad that this has become the standard of portraying a continent that has never been given a fair chance for as long as the developed world has been interacting with it.

I will share some of the considerations I made, with you,  when I started to work in Africa that have helped me  to exceed my expectations.

Africa is big

The first thing one need to realize is that Africa is a continent that consists of 54 countries and I am showing you a picture that will help you understand the size of the continent to put things in perspective.

You can read more on this topic in my post of https://dfafie.wordpress.com/2008/11/30/balance-the-view-and-opinion-on-africa/
Arabic, English, French, Portuguese and Spanish are the imported languages depending on what part of Africa you are at, apart from the thousands of local languages that are spoken by the African people.

Unless the nature of your business is linked to available natural resources, you need to decide on a location or multiple ones where you want to operate from.

Here you will have to strike a balance between business opportunities and cost of operation given that the level of available infrastructure differ from one country to another.

nairobi airport

If the nature of your business requires mobility for instance you have a limited number of airports that will allow you to reasonably connect across a region. You may not have the business volume in the country from where you operate but you have the convenience of a workable infrastructure. The safest bet therefore in this case, is to consider offices to play a regional function rather than a local one, right from the start. You can read more on this topic in my earlier post: Africa is big and flights are short in supply at  https://dfafie.wordpress.com/2008/12/19/africa-is-big-and-flights-are-in-short-supply/

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Companies that require skilled labor will have to make a decision to bring in the skills from overseas or to invest in local staff or a combination of these. When skills are a determining factor you also need to consider where you want to train your staff, on-site or overseas.
If you have to sent staff overseas for training you may face challenges obtaining visas for your staff based on where staff originate from unfortunately.  This is one of the so many imposed barriers to Africa’s development by the developed world, but one that should not be underestimated. Sometimes visa requests are rejected without even a plausible reason.
A more local consideration is that it can be more difficult in some African countries to obtain work- and residency permits for neighboring nationals because the hosting country wants to protect employment for their local citizens.

See my post on visa related issues at  https://dfafie.wordpress.com/2009/05/

African partners

Some companies work with or via local partners. My recommendation is to look for business partners on equal footing so that the partners can organize themselves similar to meet each other’s expectations in terms of investments, organizational structures and quantitative and qualitative standards.
If you are new to a region, working with a local partner can help you to get the local know how faster incorporated into your company.

The good news for Africa is that more nations have started to invest in Africa. While historically the Europeans were the main overseas players, today US, Chinese and Middle Eastern companies are present and compete for the business opportunities.

I see different approaches to doing business from some of the companies depending on where they originate from.
Knowledge transfer is a common practice for US based companies for instance, where the Chinese companies bring in most, if not all the work force from China thus providing less long-term benefits to the local population.

Not all companies will work with local staff at all levels of the organization and some even have different levels of employee standards for staff that come from overseas versus local staff.
This creates all sorts of human resource problems in the long run. This is not a specific problem in doing business in Africa.
There are plenty examples of companies applying duality everywhere in the world.
The average age of Africa’s population ranks very young and with proper training, skills can be developed. While doing business, we have a great opportunity to invest in Africa’s future at the same time. If there is one way we can make a difference in assisting the development process from within the private sector, it definitely is in the area of capacity building.

The size of a company will determine to some extend the possible investments that can be made. It is the initial cost of exploration that will represent more of a challenge to smaller companies than it will to larger ones. Given the many additional factors companies have to consider when doing business in Africa, it is a conditio sine qua non to have a chance for success. If your company does not have the means to do proper due diligence, you may be better off exploring easier terrain.

There are some conditions that we have to accept for the time being since in most cases companies can do little or nothing about these.
Some countries still have state owned utility companies that hold a monopoly position providing poor service while overcharging the consumer, to mention just one.

Similarly there are government owned cooperations for some of the natural resource related economic activities, that impose price and conditions to the producers. Cotton and cacao are good examples where the farmers work very much under cooperation’s set rules. Since these cooperations are most of the time the only one in its kind in the country, providing fertilizers, pesticides and some other basics to the farmers who have no access to capital,  it is difficult to change the conditions for some of these primary producers. Even with micro financing support, the farmers would still be stuck with price cartels once they want to sell their crop.

It is difficult to break this model as long as these monopolies exist.
If you are part of such a chain the basic conditions will be very much set for you when you approach your suppliers.

If you work regionally and you have to transport goods by trucks, crossing borders requires a skill all by itself, to ensure that your cargo does not lose time dealing with the formalities.
Specially perishable goods require close attention and working with solid partners will proof useful in most cases.

The public opinion on Africa is based on what the media cares to show and more often than not this is a very negative single sided reflection of the reality.
When there is a conflict in one part of one country the news headlines will state that there is a problem in Africa and thus the issue gets amplified by a factor of 54!

body guard

In all the years that I have lived and worked in Africa I have always applied a simple rule. If you are in Rome do as the Romans do!  So if you are in an unfamiliar place, you should pay attention to good advice from your local staff or local partner and you should not go experiment on your own. I have never used bodyguards nor any security personnel and I have worked in over 34 countries in Africa for years and I am enjoying my work and my life. I have come to terms  with the fact that sometimes there are power cuts, water cuts and other inconveniences but the flip side is that if you do, you can enjoy a very hospitable environment where nobody ever complains even if they have all the reason to do so at times.

man in rain

If you are in London, people will complain about the rain or the sun. It is either too wet or too hot but it is never going to be fine..

man smiling

You run into any person anywhere in the streets of Africa and you ask them how they are and they will tell you , I am fine and will do so with a sincere smile.

Of course there are issues. It would be naive to think that there wouldn’t be any issues across 54 countries. More so if we realize that there are so many issues with the rest of the world.
Somehow we have become myopic and we only manage to see what does not work in Africa, while we are stuck up to our eyebrows with issues in the developed world.
Did Africa create the economic crisis most of the western countries are currently struggling with just to pick on a recent one ? When these problems, that the western world created itself,  happen,  overnight billions of dollars can be found to fix the problems and everybody turns back to autopilot.

Those of us who are successfully working in Africa often ask ourselves the question how come “those back home” fail to see what it is that we see…

I have come to the conclusion that often the problems come from a pre-conditioned mindset that forgot to do due diligence before taking up the new challenge, irrespective of the location of the activity.

For you to proof me wrong!

© Desi Lopez Fafié


22
May
09

Expatriate or Immigrant ?

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.


girl and paf

The answer to this question depends on the direction of the airplane that carries people around the world.
If  the airplane leaves New York or Paris and arrives in Accra, the disembarking passengers are called Expats, but arriving back in New York or Paris the passengers disembarking there are called Immigrants.

At one of the Infrastructure conferences organized by the Corporate Council on Africa  I asked the same question to the audience. Afterwards I was approached by a representative of the US State Department who explained that the US legislation has different terminology to describe movements of people.
Although the statement in itself most likely was correct, my point was not to find out the morphology nor the meaning of the words but to expose the spirit in which these different words are used when dealing with people.

Because of the nature of my work I travel frequently across continents and I have witnessed many instances where I felt that immigration officers practiced borderline behavior “welcoming” passengers, not adding any kind of security value to the process.

Up until recently Air France flights arrived for instance in Douala  accompanied by officers of the PAF (Police Nationale PAF), the police unit that deals with immigration at the French airports. Their task was to check passengers at the door of the airplane on Cameroon soil just before boarding the flight.
Passengers had already gone through all the local formalities and controls of the Airport of Douala.
Upon arrival at the airport in Paris at the gate of the plane, another team of the PAF unit, once  were shouting the word “Passeports” to the disembarking passengers, before allowing the passengers to join the queues at the immigration booths where , like every other passenger arriving in Paris, people’s passports were checked.

I asked a lady PAF officer why she was shouting at us, since in my opinion this did not add any value to the procedure other than creating a hostile setting between the officer and the passenger and I wanted to know if this was the first impression that she wanted to leave the passengers with. Instead of receiving an answer her superior officer took my passport and after examining he pointed out to me that my passport was in a bad shape. I acknowledged and suggested to the officer that he should complain to my government while I had taken notice of his badge number and name. I would gladly report the incident to his government officials likewise. Based on this the officer asked me to proceed and started to check the next passenger.

The incident worried me because I felt that if this was the way I, as a European,  had been addressed,  I could only imagine how my African fellow passengers were going to be treated.

All in all  passengers arriving from Douala were therefore checked four times ( once by the local authorities in Douala and three times by officers of the PAF) as opposed to passengers arriving from New York who’s passports were not checked leaving the US and were only checked at the Paris immigration booths for the first time since they left home.

Some of the flights from Africa to Europe take about 5 to 6 hours. Not long enough to sleep while too long to feel as if nothing happened. On top arriving in winter time in Europe at 6 am in the morning at around freezing point coming from tropical zones is a challenge in itself to put a smile on your tired face on arrival.  An incident like described can therefore result in a lot of needless frustration.

What this behavior and procedure illustrates is contempt for anybody arriving from Africa to France in this case and an expression of doubt about the intentions of the passengers arriving into the country. Similar incidents happen around Europe and the rest of the world.

Most countries in Europe apply the rule that someone is not guilty until proven guilty. This rule seem to be forgotten at times when passengers arrive at the airports of some of the European destinations. Not every passenger arrives planning to stay illegal in the country.
Given the old ties that Europe has with some of the African countries it is to be expected that people like to visit their relatives or come and do business with their European partners.

Many people arriving in Europe feel embarrassed or at times even humiliated by the way they are received after a long journey.

finger print reader iris scan handpalm

From a security point of view I don’t understand that in this day and age our identity documents are still not including biometric information.
Some airports like Amsterdam and Dubai use biometric data at their e-gates but only with those passengers that have subscribed to the service.
It would speed up immigration procedures at a fraction of the costs and eliminate all the emotion and frustration that passengers have to go through if biometric data could become a standard part of our travel documents.
To include visa requirements in this procedure,  barcodes or similar easy to incorporate tools can be used and checked before boarding a plane using barcode readers. The technology is there to provide an effective and practical solution.

To agree on standards across nations and deal with privacy legislation are probably the biggest challenges but if these can be overcome the rest is just a matter of volume and implementation.

Immigration staff find it difficult at times to compare pictures with faces if the person is from a different racial origin than he is himself. With biometric tools any doubt is eliminated and any fraud immediately exposed.

CL

On a flight to Washington DC,  I ended up sitting next to Mrs. Christine Lagarde, who at the time was still Minister of Trade of the French Government. I shared my concerns regarding the immigration practices since many of my African colleagues have to travel to Europe and or the US to get trained.  Even with our companies supporting documents they struggle sometimes to get visas and if they do they may face an unfriendly welcome nevertheless.

Mrs Lagarde felt that it was important to ensure proper training for the immigration staff so that borderline behavior could be reduced to the minimum. I felt this was an encouraging statement and I hope that training is being provided adequately and other countries will follow this example so that all world citizens can travel and won’t have to worry if they will be received with respect and dignity upon arrival at their foreign destinations.

French tax payers may wonder why one PAF team had to check another PAF team before the final check at the Airport immigration booths if a decision was made to fly the PAF officers up and down to African states and maybe ask Mrs Lagarde, who now owns the French Budget the question when the government will implement biometric data in their identification documents if immigrants are of such a concern.   The French Embassies could start providing visas that include data that can be processed electronically and limit the risk of fraud.

Not only will this cut costs but it will improve security. It may set an example for other countries around the world to follow. The passenger will no longer be subject to humiliating behavior of some of the immigration officers.

© Desi Lopez Fafié


21
Apr
09

Question for Presidents Obama, Hu Jintao and or Pratibha Patil ?

539w

The challenge:

In order to make Africa the best place to be, we still have some homework to do and therefore I am hoping soon to see your questions for those leaders of nations that will impact the African economies probably most, appear on this blog or you can join my discussion board on facebook under the same title, Africa the place to be.

Here is a statement that may be provocative but hopefully will stir up some discussion:

The Global economic crisis according to some, is the result of the imbalance between Capital and Labor, or if you wish company profit ratios and employee wages. Companies have over-invested and wage increases have not followed accordingly and therefore demand fell short on the supply. Governments wanted to portray economic growth at all cost and found Housing as a target to fill the gap of demand, accepting unsustainable debt levels. The US and the UK copied the mistakes that Japan made earlier and after more than two decades is still trying to recover from.Once the housing bubble burst, we found ourselves where we are today.

Now some also say that Companies have been given too much freedom to outsource labor to low cost countries like China and India as part of free trade and globalization without any oversight. Free trade is seen as part of the problem since the lost purchasing power in the developed world is not compensated by the gained purchasing power in the developing countries where companies have outsourced to.

Early in the crisis President Obama’s administration made some maybe premature statements about “Buy USA made products” and the media picked this up as a possible new wave of protectionism. If the developed countries were to embrace protectionism I am concerned that this will worsen the chances for the developing countries on top of all the other effects that this part of the world will have to deal with as a result of economic imbalance between the haves and the have-not. Global warming effects will hit Africa probably more than any other region while those who contribute to the global warming are outside Africa to mention just another challenge we put on the overloaded shoulders of Africans.

Over 1.7 million Australian jobs  are directly or indirectly connected to exports according to the  Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)

fta_factsheet_web_map21

The picture illustrates Australia’s top 10 agriculture export destinations.

In Africa on average Agriculture contributes to more than 85 % of the economic output but exports are still marginal compared to the big players.

How many millions of people in Africa would be able to make a living if their agricultural products could reach overseas markets ? What effect would this additional supply have on the current food prices that clearly indicate the shortage in supply with a world population that is still growing too fast.  So finding additional supply resources in agriculture should not be considered a threat to any current suppliers who cannot cope with the demand anyways.

I still am convinced that free trade and free market access is the only incentive to create a higher value chain otherwise Africa will remain condemned to export raw materials and will never be able to develop industries and services.  Cacao Farmers in Ghana pay 8% duties exporting raw cacao beans, and would have to pay 38% duties if exporting cacao powder. Not a great incentive considering cost of freight and all other competitive disadvantages that the farmers in Ghana have to face ?

fta1

Today US labor is outsourced to China, after finding an even cheaper labor force then in India. As you can see from the illustration of the US Department of Labor, free trade agreements are in place with labor provisions but the current picture does not yet include such provisions with China nor with India.

The African leaders who today have found China as a willing investor,  in my view, should also insist in agreements that provide for a fair deal. South Africa has seen a surge in unemployment as a result of cheap Chinese products being dumped on their markets. Dealing with the World Bank and IMF has never been easy for African leaders. The offers coming from China may be very tempting but like always one should be on alert if cheap and easy money is offered as to what the conditions are and how this will ultimately affect people.

Hopefully we will have pictures where the leaders of the developed world will shake hands with the leaders of Africa, like in the above case between the US and Korean presidents at the G20 in April,  to try and reach free trade agreements with proper labor provisions providing a fair deal for every world citizen.

So who wants to give his or her thoughts on how to handle this issue and what would be the best  question to Mr. Obama, Hu Jintao or Prahib Patil ?

Feel free to comment this blog or to participate in the discussing board on facebook at:

http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?topic=7963&post=30586&uid=87956082428#/topic.php?uid=87956082428&topic=7963

© Desi Lopez Fafié





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