Trying To Do Business In Africa?
My business brings me in contact with people in top levels of government, military, mining, shipping and exporting. It also has me dealing with country village people and a variety of nefarious characters, some of who are out to scam the unwary and are very dangerous. These guys would not think twice about kidnapping and murder. I have had three close encounters in which I am lucky to be alive to tell my story.
This article is not about me or my adventures in Africa. This is an article to help American business people to successfully do business in Africa. I give my background only to show that I am speaking as a seasoned veteran and not an arm-chair analyst who has never set foot on the continent.
To begin with, Americans have to let go of the idea that the African people are “just like us.” They are not. Their customs are different, their daily experience is different, their way of conducting business is different and most importantly, their laws of business and redress of grievances are very different from ours.
We all know how the American business courts work in America, although, most of us would change that statement to how the American courts don’t work in America. In Africa, if your customer or vendor has cheated you, you are done. Do not waste good money after bad. No matter what you do, you are never going to see the money you lost again. The courts will not help you for a long list of reasons, and the law will do nothing to help you get back your lost money, although they will laugh about you behind your back.
And here is the bad news. If the buyers you have tried to work with cannot perform. It is your fault! It is your fault if a buyer cannot perform because you do not know how to qualify a real buyer.If the vendors you have tried to work with cannot perform. It is your fault! It is your fault if a seller cannot perform because you do not know how to qualify a real seller. If you have been in country and you paid taxes on the goods and did not get the goods out it is also your fault.
I have been in the diamond business as a gemologist since 1975. I have lost a lot of money because I too was too stupid, too lazy, or too cheap and trusted the wrong people. I have worked in South Africa, Namibia, Guinea, Angola, Sierra Leone, DRC, Botswana, Kenya, India, Israel, Dubai, Antwerp, New York, Los Angeles, Geneva, Zurich and all the rest.
I have made every mistake you can possibly make, and as I said, I have nearly gotten myself kidnapped and killed. I tell you of my failures because my experience has taught me how to qualify a buyer and a seller, and I have learned how to deal with governments, generals and ministers in these countries. However, it took me a long time to learn how to work in Africa.
If you want to succeed in Africa, and you are inexperienced dealing with African business methods, poverty, corruption, (at all levels), lack of electricity, internet, transportation, bad water and all the rest, then you have two choices. The first is, forget Africa. The second choice; vet out someone who has worked in Africa in your industry extensively. You have no choice, you must hire someone who has the right connections, knows what must be done, and knows from experience who to trust. Like me, this person has paid dearly to know who and what he knows. Don’t expect to engage this person cheaply. If he can protect you and bring you success in Africa, then whatever he is charging, it is well worth the money. This is the real secret for doing business in Africa. It is not only what your know, it is who you know.
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