You can look good on paper and have all the right policies, but it’s having the right attitude that really
counts says msafiri’s business columnist, Komla Dumor.
These days it is quite en vogue to talk about the amazing business opportunities that exist in Africa; the tremendous changes that have occurred over the years and how everyone from far and near is taking a second look at the continent with renewed expectation.
Doing business in Africa still has some degree of risk, depending on where your ambitions take you. But with risk comes great reward and quite frankly the risks are diminishing in some countries. More countries have strong democracies and legal systems. Political disputes in Ghana and Kenya were taken to the courts and not the streets. More countries have fast track commercial courts and a range of legal services and expertise is available.
However, having the right policies is one thing – the right attitude to business is another. I recently attended Africa’s biggest travel event, Indaba 2013, in Durban, South Africa. Tour operators, hotel companies, national tourism authorities, infrastructure developers, everyone who is serious about the multimillion dollar tourism business in Africa was there. As I walked through the maze of slick stands I was immediately struck by the difference in the attitude of some of the participants. With my cameraman in tow I approached one stand occupied by a smiling young lady and asked for some information. She smiled and said she didn’t know so I should ask someone else. I walked away wondering why she was there.
One of the ministers from the big players in African tourism walked into the hall with his entourage. I grabbed my microphone and asked if he could give us a few words. His assistant jumped in and said, “We have a press conference coming up for that.” I moved on.
Then I got to the Swaziland stand, representing one of Africa’s tiniest nations with a population of around a million. I met a young lady who couldn’t have been more than 20. I asked her why anyone should visit. For the next two minutes she smoothly rattled on about beauty and landscape and culture and opportunity. She emphasised the differences between Swaziland and her neighbours. She was competent and confident.
Through the day I met several ministers and high ranking tourism officials but with the exception of a few they delivered boring statistics and vague economic data. It was often the young people manning the stands who had the right kind of attitude. One lady from Zimbabwe virtually followed me and my cameraman around the floor, intermittently asking me: “When will you talk to me about Zim?”.
Eventually I succumbed and engaged her in a vigorous conversation about tourism and investment in a country where the focus on political events tends to trump everything else. She had an answer for everything. I disagreed with some of her answers, but couldn’t help but think that anyone who had doubts about doing business in her country could be swayed.
It came as no surprise when I later met a minister from the Seychelles who told me, “We have just agreed on a deal with Zimbabwe.”
As some of the ministers trooped about in their suits playing the ‘big man’, the young folks were selling business opportunities in Africa to investors from Chicago to China.
I guess it doesn’t matter how big your delegation is, but the attitude of the people on it.