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Where Do the Experts on African Business Come From?

Some time ago I came across a list published by Russian Forbes Magazine, of 10 most wanted professions for the next decade. According to that article, one of those top 10 professions is that of an expert in conducting business in Africa.

I have been working in African countries for about thirty-five years: first as a Soviet diplomat, later as an academic, and in the private sector during the last fifteen years. After all these years, I can proudly say that I do have some experience in the matter. But if you asked me: “What is an expert in business in Africa?” – I would not know how to answer.

Where do the experts in Africa come from? What kind of formation such specialists should receive? In USSR, the country where I was born, one’s job was determined by a purely bureaucratic decision.
In 1975, after the Rose Revolution took place in Portugal, its African colonies gained independence and started to build socialism. I was appointed to work in Soviet Representation for Economic Relationships in Angola, probably because I worked previously as Spanish-Russian translator in Cuba and, therefore was susceptible to learn Portuguese in short time (at that time, there were virtually no Portuguese speakers in USSR). And that is how I officially became a “specialist in Africa” or an “Africanist”.

Our Representation was managing the projects related to a multi-billion dollar credit granted by USSR to Angola. We had specific instructions to spend those funds to the last cent within a strict time limit.

Some of our projects were blatantly absurd. For instance, we built a mausoleum for the first president of the country, Agostinho Neto. We have spent more than one billion dollars (by eighties’ rates) on the works, including the maintenance of the embalmed late president’s body (which turned out to be an extremely complicated technical procedure). To build the mausoleum, a considerable residential area was demolished in the capital of Angola, a country already ravaged by civil war.

In early eighties, we received a visit from the USSR Minister of Economic External Affairs. While we were reporting on the accomplishment of our contracts (as you can imagine, a big budget required hundreds of contracts), the Minister had fallen asleep. When he woke up he told us that our work made no sense. Many of the present agreed.

I was young and thought that the Minister was going to give us a wise advice. And so he did.

‘You must start organizing “kolhozys”,’ he said.

The Counselor on the External Economic Affairs of Soviet embassy in Luanda was a resourceful character.

‘We are already on it,’ he answered.

The “kolhozys” were “created” by the citizens of the then Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan, sent to Angolan cotton plantations abandoned by the Portuguese. As specialists in socialist farming, the Uzbeks were supposed to share their experience on organizing collective farms with Angolans.

The area where the plantations were located, and where our government was sending these groups of Uzbeks, was not under control of the Angolan government, and was mostly occupied by UNITA guerrilla factions. Neither USSR nor the Angolan central government was willing to recognize the existence of anti-governmental guerrillas, the official statement being that any armed conflict on Angolan territory was provoked by “South African regime of apartheid, a puppet of American imperialist expansion”. In fact, Moscow preferred to send our “specialists” to the no-man land just to prove that said land was actually under control.

The Uzbeks were left to handle by themselves, which they did quite well under the circumstances. They grew vegetables and sheep, and hunted for living. They were wise enough not to bother with cotton plantations and never tried to organize the local population for that task. Before Angola became independent, work on cotton plantations was carried out by convicted criminals and the Angolans regarded this kind of labor as a new form of slavery.

The Uzbek colony received fertilizers, agricultural poisons and medicine from USSR. They shared their medicines with UNITA guerrilla, which did not harm them in return.

The Angolans found a good use for the fertilizers and poisons meant to be employed on the imaginary cotton plantations: they used them as poison for hunting and fishing. We were very lucky it never occurred to UNITA to use those products on Luanda’s water supplies.

Meanwhile, we kept reporting to Moscow on the progress of socialist’s transformations in Angolan agriculture.

Today our exploits in Angola might have been labeled with a popular term “synergy”. The Counselor on the External Economic Affairs called it by a more ideologically correct (by those standards) word “kolhoz” for which he was awarded a medal from the Soviet government.

During the eighties’ Gorbachev Perestroyka, USSR and USA tried to implement several cooperation projects for Africa’s development. In particular, one of such projects was aimed to prevent the desertification of the continent.

To be honest, it reminded me very much of the “kolhozys” we were building in Angola. All of our Russian-American projects were simply different takes on bureaucracy decisions on the distribution of aid.

One may say that is what happened in Soviet Union, a country which has proven to be economically inefficient. But I would like to ask you to give me one example of effective assistance to Africa by Western countries. Of course, there are hundreds or thousands of examples of water wells being drilled, solar panels and windmills generators installed. But how many of those installations left to be managed by local labor, are still working, at least two years after the foreigners who built them have returned to their homes to tell the stories about how they have helped Africa?

During the years of independence, African countries have received international aid on the amount of more than two trillion dollars. Most of these funds were not granted on ideological grounds – USSR has ceased to exist almost 20 years ago. Was this money well-spent?

With very few exceptions, the standards of living in Africa have worsened during the last 30 years and the economies have impoverished. Some countries have simply vanished. Others have been in a state of unrest and civil war for so many years, that the catastrophe has become a normal day-to-day life for the people living there and for the international public opinion.

For instance, has anybody lately heard any news not related to crime, civil unrest and piracy from Somalia? What about Congo, Guinea-Bissau or Côte d’Ivoire?

We cannot even be sure that the international aid will save Africa from hunger. There is a trend of continuous impoverishment and, with few exceptions, there are no reasons to believe that such trend will revert, regardless of how much more economical aid is injected into the region. Moreover, the existing system of international welfare favors corruption both in Africa and in donor states, and is greatly responsible for the further destruction of African economies.

One thing is helping people who have suffered from a disaster – be it a natural cataclysm or civil war. A completely different matter is teaching them to live off the international charity provided by the NGOs.
The reality is that so far the governments of the industrially developed countries have not been able to offer any constructive ideas, let alone a plan for structural investment in Africa, as an alternative to the disproportionally grown lobby of non-governmental organizations, which are asking for more funds so they can “aid” Africa.

This is to say nothing about such obvious publicity stunts as the so-called “solidarity caravans”, which covers the well-known Paris-Dakar rally route on trucks loaded with pasta and tomato sauce. Is it really necessary to traverse the whole continent on trucks, when this food can be delivered by a freighter in a couple of containers?

I did not regret losing my job when USSR ceased to exist – quite frankly, I deem I did more harm than good as an appointed “specialist in Africa”. I started a private business and became acquainted with people to whom, while I was a bureaucrat, I had never paid much attention before. I am talking about people who have been doing small and medium size businesses in Africa for decades: Europeans, Americans, Asians.
Some of these people have come, like I did, to work in Africa. Some have been born there. I have the pleasure to know several European and Lebanese families who are managing companies started by their grandparents at the dawn of the past century. These small and medium-sized businesses are creating actual employments and provide the much-needed working training in Africa, in fact being the only driving force for the building of what in USA and Europe is known as the middle-class.

As a side-note, the definition of the business size in Africa is very relative. For Western Europe, a company of ten-twelve million yearly turnover can hardly be called a big business. However, in any small Western or Central African country a firm of this size provides from 20% to 50% of food imports for the whole population.

The businesses I am talking about are generating little to none media attention: on one hand, the public does not seem to be particularly interested in them (unless, of course, there is a nasty story to tell), on the other hand, any press releases would surely create problems in the countries they are working with. They are also generally ignored by their governments, which are incapable of offering them any protection (the tragic story of English farmers in Zimbabwe immediately springs to mind).

The companies working in Africa and people behind them are nor saints nor Samaritans; they do not pretend to build a utopian society and do not think in terms of global solutions to global problems. Their stories are of strife and survival, and they are the actual pillars of the battered African economies.

Recently, I came across another article published in Forbes, “The Business of Africa” ( [http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2009/1005/opinions-marshall-plan-africa-ideas-opinions.html] ). The author, Mr. Michael Maiello states similar concerns on the role of the NGOs in the African impoverishment, and writes about the proposal of the “New Marshall Plan for Africa” penned by Mr. Glenn Hubbard, a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under George W. Bush and now dean of Columbia Business School and Mr. William Duggan, a former aid worker who spent two decades in Africa with the Ford Foundation and other charities.

Although I cannot avoid feeling certain skepticism about any new plans to aid Africa after all these years, the idea of implementing a structural aid package based on USA assistance to Western Europe after World War II, does seem like a glimmer of hope on what otherwise is a pretty bleak picture.

The main difference between the original Marshall Plan and the current system of economic aid to African countries is the former was structurally oriented. The US credits were offered to privately owned European companies, thus encouraging the private business and strengthening of the middle-class. By the same token, the returns from these credits were invested in re-establishing and development of the infrastructures of the western European countries, battered after the World War II.

Although it is hard to predict the success of the formula proposed by Hubbard and Duggan, I am certain of one thing – ignoring the interests and experience of small and medium sized foreign companies in Africa would be a crucial mistake of the New Marshall Plan or any other initiative for a structural recovery of African economies.

Moreover, such plan would only make sense if the creditor states agree on the actual aim of the economic aid. Are they actually intending to help the African countries in building their self-sufficient and competitive economies or to stage yet another experiment on pseudo-socialism?

The experiments with utopias have failed so far. Africa simply might not survive the new wave of pseudo-socialist populism – for instance, of the sort of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. It is doubtful that the NGOs, which mainly share the beliefs similar to the ideas of utopian Proletarian, Christian and, as of recent, Muslim socialism, will play a positive role in this process.

Two Secrets For Scoping Legitimate Home Based Business Opportunities

It is not a rare occurrence that folks new in the industry get scammed out by the hoard of B.S. Websites on the web that promise legitimate home based business opportunities.

Marketers now days have some pretty slick skills, motivating sales pitches, etc. and it is difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate opportunity and someone just trying to get in your pockets. Below are a few tips to steer clear of scammers and get closer to those opportunities that can actually help you earn money.

Trust The Voice Inside You

If something doesn’t sit right in your stomach, doubt the business opportunity. You can tell scammers from the legitimate ones by merely reading their websites’ landing pages. Most often, if your reading stuff that sounds oh too good to be real, it’s probably just that, garbage.

Check out the questions that you should ask below before you buy the concept of the business opportunity you are considering:

Does the company, its products, services and the home based business opportunities it present sound legit?

Are the Services and products they are bringing to the table sound like they are in demand and stable?

Is there a buyers market for the products or services?

Are you comfortable selling these products?

Would you buy the product or service if offered to you?

Watch or read the testimonials. What do they say?

Do they sound like they came from real customers?

What are the company’s credentials?

Do you have a backup plan in case the product or service bombs?

Is there a no questions asked money-back guarantee?

People are easily blinded by ridiculous promises thinking that money comes easy to those who pay fast. No, that sadly is not the reality. If you feel that you are deeply interested in a particular product, service or company and you feel like it is the best there is, take a moment to ask someone for his or her opinion.

Getting someone else’s view can help with the decision making process, just make sure your asking someone with credibility in the field. This also helps with the initial excitement that permits you from looking at the weak points of the business opportunity.

Don’t Be Taken In By The Scammers’ Dirty Tactics

Scam artiest have tons of tricks just waiting for you to bite on. One of the most effective you will encounter as you search for some viable home based business opportunities is the ‘limited offer only’ or ‘one time offer only’.

If you see this on the website of the business opportunity you are considering, don’t stop yourself from doubting the credibility of the site.

Not that it is a dirty tactic altogether. There are actually legit business opportunities out there that use this because they need to. But, scammers use this to bait unsuspecting victims.

It is a tactic they use to force you to buy from them now, without you asking any questions. Remember that when it comes to business or investments that need your money, you should not rush and you should not allow yourself to be rushed.

Another tactic that you should watch out for are website timers. Again, this is a very strong sales tactic that aims to get you excited and pressured at the same time.

Internet Business Strategies

The internet is the El Dorado of the twenty-first century. Lured by the siren call of easy money to be made, millions have tried their luck and a fortunate few have gone on to make the really huge bucks. So how do you go about getting your own heaping slice of the internet pie? Well, in order to start a web based business you first have to decide which of the many internet possibilities that you want to invest your blood, sweat and tears into and so, to help you along on this journey, I have made this list of top internet money makers and included links to sites of experts that can help you on your way to the big time. Just remember, there’s gold in them thar hills, but if you want to get it out of the ground and into your pockets you’d better pack a strong work ethic and loads of self-discipline; anything promising instant success is probably too good to be true.

Blog

Not long ago if you wanted to communicate with the world you needed expensive printing presses and even more expensive systems of distribution and promotion in place. Not so in the 21rst century, now you can set up a blog for free in under 20 minutes and the entire world, or at least the portion of the world that speaks English and has internet access, will be able to read your musings as fast as you can press “Enter.” Blogs have become mainstream and even big business and there are many who are turning tidy profits from this, just ask Businessweek. Yet, while anyone can read what you have to say why would they want to actually do so? This is the $100,000 blogging question. Fortunately, a raft of bloggers have popped up who’s main purpose in life is to help others blog. If you sign up with Erica.biz she will give you a free e-book called “Blog Success Manifesto” that was a great resource to me in getting my own blog started. Also, Problogger is dedicated to providing resources to the beginning blogger and even has a pretty decent book for newbie bloggers.

Store

The future of retail is online, where you can take advantage of the “long-tail” and sell specialized items that the Wal-Mart’s of the world have passed up on or just weren’t nimble enough to spot first. There are several different internet retail strategies including creating a store through E-Bay or from creating your own independent store. All have their pro’s and con’s and often the most effective strategy can depend upon the product. Do you have a great idea for a product that you would like to sell online but don’t know how to get started? Then I recommend that you read this excellent primer on starting an internet store by Steve at MyWifeQuitHerJob.com.

Magazine

Have you got a flair for writing and graphic design? Does the idea of working with sponsors and producing a quality product on a tight budget appeal to you? Well now, with the miracle of the internet, we can all be our own William Randolph Hearst or Hugh Hefner with very little cash invested, but a ton of sweat equity. Online magazines use similar software as blogs, and indeed the distinction between a magazine and a blog can be blurred. If you’re doing a magazine you will need to be pretty good at design and you will probably base your revenue model on advertising, so you will need to pick a theme that lends itself to advertisers. Openzine.com has some great examples and provides some great resources for learning the trade and Squidoo provides step-by-step instruction on getting started at becoming an internet magazine mogul.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing basically means that you are promoting someone else’s product and sending customers to them for which they pay you a surcharge. There are a number of different arrangements and a mind-boggling array of products available; anyone from your local car dealership to a giant retailer like Amazon.com. The advantage to an affiliate deal is that you don’t have to worry about stuff like shipping and handling or credit terms. Your job is to sell. The good news is that you won’t find any lack of sites on the internet telling how to make money through affiliate marketing. The bad news is that most are selling get-rich-quick services and are of questionable value. A good place to start would be to read blogs by Yaro Starak and by Shoemoney that should cast a little further light on the process.

We have barely touched upon all the possibilities of making money online or spoken of two of the most lucrative businesses, pornography and gambling. Tons of money are being made but for citizens of most countries internet gambling is illegal. If you’re interested in pornography then, well, that’s for your own conscious to decide. And there are many, many more businesses that could make you an internet millionaire, some of the best ways haven’t even been invented yet. So be willing to explore, to experiment, and to work hard and you might find yourself joining the big money crowd.