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The African Business Person

A common thread lies within every African story. It doesn’t really matter whereabouts on the African continent you are, the stories are somewhat the same. Dictatorship, corruption, selfishness, scandals, lies, the list goes on. What lies at the bottom of this whole mess may be described by a small five letter word, GREED. Ever watched the reports on aid going out to Africa, the scramble that takes place, one thing for sure is nobody is thinking about the next person. Every person is trying to get as much for themselves as they can get,’ GET WHAT YOU CAN AND CAN WHAT YOU CAN GET’. Even when there is enough for everyone, there is always a stampede. Everyone needs to be first in line and get as much as possible even at the expense of others.
Going to a wedding is hilarious, the stampede that takes place to be the first to get served is quite shocking, then there is a long winding queue that does not move because all the food is being served to some special guests who are not in the queue. By the time it is your turn, the food is finished!! Often, not because there wasn’t enough food, but because some people were hoarding and storing for later.
So anyways, this a long winding way to get to the crux of the matter. The way that people behave in aid lines and food queues at weddings, is exactly the same way they behave in a business environment. These are the traits of the African Business Person!!  Surely, how can you push and shove for some food and then be a gentleman doing business. So maybe I will support myself because some people may be thinking I’ve got it all wrong. I use coaches a lot when travelling, when everyone has purchased their ticket and have seat numbers, there is still a stampede. I’ve seen the same thing at airports, when a shuttle comes to take you to the terminal, there is still a stampede. I have observed all sorts of forms of queue jumping. Anything from paying a tout to just blatantly walking confidently to the front of the queue because you a big shot and can’t wait in the queue. I’ve been waiting in bank queues and Mr. Important walks in and goes straight to the front as if his business is more important than everyone else’s. This happens in banks, governments offices, supermarkets, some people feel more important than others and think they don’t have to follow protocol.

So I think I’ve made my point, most African’s think only of themselves. The question is, can we take someone with this ’jump the queue’ mindset and tell them to pay their workers the correct wages? Can we teach them that the customer is king and that doing business doesn’t mean ripping someone else off. Can this business owner communicate truthfully with customers? I can name endless stories of instances where I have been ripped off, lied to conned and just taken for granted!! Business people do all sorts of things to get you to buying from them, even if it means risking their reputation and the customers. Think about going to the bus station. I was reading a blog on transport in Africa and had quite a laugh. One reader said, DON’T GET ONTO A BUS BECAUSE THE ENGINE IS RUNNING, THE BUS ISN’T ABOUT TO GO, ITS JUST A GIMMICK. I’d say, it’s a lie, you have been conned. There was a bus ready to leave, but you got conned. There are no timetables and these buses run on a pack of lies. From the moment you get in, the lies begin, you are being conned from the minute you decide to take that bus. You may find that you buy your ticket at 8am and you leave at 8pm, all your connecting arrangements thrown out of the window. The greatest part of this story is there are never any apologies, this is the way the business is operated, this is the way of the African Business Person!
I’ve travelled with reputable coaches and its still the same kind of lies. I asked a driver of Eagle Liner at Park station once why they don’t communicate with the customer and when they do communicate it’s all lies. His reply to me was we’ve tried that before but communicating with the customer gives us more problems, customers are a problem. Think about Air Zimbabwe, think about the plumber fixing your broken toilet, the mechanic fixing your car, everywhere you turn, you are being fed on lies.

In this internet age, businesses are increasingly finding themselves being accountable to customers. If customers are not satisfied, they blog or tweet their opinions. There are countless forums discussing different companies in different industries. Today’s world required business with integrity because if the customer doesn’t trust you, your business is standing on shaky ground. If the customer loses your trust, it is very difficult to regain that trust. A reputation lost is very hard and expensive to rebuild.
So what hope does Africa have? Will we ever get to the place of no corruption, no short cuts, no lies, but business with integrity. Maybe only time will tell, but all I can say, is I hope that things change for the better. All I can do is change the way I run my business, do business with integrity and maybe by teaching others, we will get there. Maybe as we learn to respect others, to have integrity in our personal lives, we’ll rise up to the place of integrity. Maybe it starts by just honoring someone else and allowing them to go ahead of you in a queue. We cannot continue to do BUSINESS THE AFRICAN WAY. The world is now a global village, you cannot afford to coninue to do business this way.

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