Sunday, January 28, 2007

7 Lessons from Africa's Successful Entrepreneurs?

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So far The Benin Epilogue has attempted to tackle several different issues. Key among them have been:

  • Building awareness about the entrepreneurs behind a few of Africa's most thriving enterprises
  • Helping to illustrate why foreign firms should do more foreign direct investment in Africa
  • Attempting to showcase the diversity that exists in Africa's business environment
One of the topics which we have not touched on yet, here, is what can a entrepreneur in Africa do to find success? Have you ever asked yourself that question or wondered if the entrepreneurs being discussed on these pages share anything in common? Well, if you did, then we are on the same page-because that's what this post is all about. The reason that I have waited for so long in bringing it into the fold here is that it seems like such a complex question. After all, there are many different types of entrepreneurs in Africa. By this I mean that they come from different social and economic backgrounds, different ethnic and language groups, different countries and regions of Africa, some of them are exporting products, while others are serving local markets, and then there are the different educational backgrounds. Maybe, attempting to find such a commonality is like attempting to put a square peg into a triangle peg's slot-but then again there's only one way to find out.

Before we move deeper into this discussion, let me say this-I know that ten entrepreneurs in Africa (that's the number that we have done mini-profiles on) is a small number. However, my rational for starting here, with these ten, was that my hope to be unbiased and also to see whether we could spot a trend or two. For instance, if you had someone who just arbitrarily said that they think that doing x, y, and z could make someone wealthy, what would you think about that person? Now, what if that same person was able to say, "after studying the 5 wealthiest people in the world, I have found they shared they all shared the following 3 habits in common, which have contributed to their wealth" would you listen, then? My point exactly! So, let's see what these ten entrepreneurs share in common:
  1. Each of them has made their business into a platform or a bigger cause, almost taking on the an evangelistic role for their particular industry or products.
  2. These entrepreneurs have shown a degree of perseverance in the face of heavy obstacles.
  3. They have made building strong relationships a big part of building their businesses.
  4. Adapting thinking, processes, products, and/or services to their local environments.
  5. The willingness and ability to gain a very keen understanding of the overall social, economic, or political climate of the region in which they do business.
  6. Most of them built their businesses around their own personal experiences and as a result ended up creating niche-targeted businesses.
  7. Whether it was in obtaining start-up funds, seeking advice, or in finding others to help run the business these entrepreneurs were not afraid to seek help.
Now, those were the similarities found amongst the entrepreneurs who've been profiled here. However, this is probably no where near being exhaustive. Thus, if you an entrepreneur doing business in Africa and you'd like to add to this list or comment on it- we'd really like to know.

Of course, even if you are not an entrepreneur in Africa, your comments are still very much appreciated. But, if you can't comment at this particular time- but would like to let us know that you were here; please sign and View my guestbook


Thursday, January 25, 2007

From The Investment Safari

Take the Investment Safari: "Rwanda is a country that has been on my mind a great deal, these days.... As a matter of fact, my wife and I are planning a trip to Kenya this year and while there, we hope to make it into Kigali (Rwanda's capital). There are just so many fascinating things about Rwanda, these are a few of the things that intrigue me:

* They will soon be joining the East African Community, which is the regional intergovernmental orginazation currently comprised of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.

* They have taken a proactive approach to investment promotion-coffee (often through fair trade ventures) and IT have been two of their major focal points.

* They have gotten rid of capital punishment.

* Rwanda's tourism sector is beginning to rebound nicely.

* The country's 'turnaround' from massive civil strife and turmoil to beacon of hope."


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Today's Profiles in Entrepreneurship: Magatte Wade-Marchand

Today's Profiles in Entrepreneurship takes us halfway across the globe and back again through France, Germany, and the US (Silicon Valley). Fortunately for Magatte Wade-Marchand this story did not begin there, but rather it began at the time and place of her birth in Senegal, West Africa. That's because this Founder and President of Adina Worldbeat Beverages found the inspiration for the business that she founded on a trip back home to Senegal.
So let's see if we can find out how she got there. But first, you may want to go an find your world atlas for this one. Magatte Wade-Marchand's background includes being born and spending part of her childhood in Senegal. Then moving to Germany where she spent the rest of her childhood and school years. That was until she moved to France and earned her MBA there. After earning her MBA in France she moved to the United States. Along the way Ms. Wade-Marchand became an expert at sourcing African products and directly helping farmers in the process. Also notable is the fact that she managed to keep her love for Senegalese juice beverages close to her heart after so many years abroad.

During a visit to her homeland in 2003 Ms. Wade-Marchand an interesting observation. To her dismay the healthy juice drinks that embodied everything that Senegal meant to her had been replaced by their western and carbonated counterparts-soft drinks and colas. This set in motion within Magatte the desire to continue the Senegalese tradition and share it with the world. In doing so, she also hoped to also re-awaken within the people of Senegal the yearning for a beautiful flicker of light that this juice drink embodies-a love for Senegal's culture and traditions. It wasn't long after this that she met Greg Steltenpohl. He was the entrepreneur behind the Odwalla juice empire, which started from humble beginnings as a hand squeezed juice company and later went on to become part of a multi-million dollar deal with Coca Cola Company. After Mr. Steltenpohl's departure from the company that he helped to build he was very reluctant to get involved in an executive capacity in another start up. In fact, this was one of the first things that he told Magatte during their initial conversation. However, after hearing her story he was convinced that he'd found something different. They went on to raise over $1 million in start up capital and have expanded their vision to include "reviving authentic beverages and improving the livelihood of rural communities".

They have been making history every since. Below is an excerpt from their vision page, which can be found on their website:

"In Senegal, beverages like Bissap used to welcome you into every home with warmth and hospitality. When Adina founder Magatte Wade-Marchand returned to her tropical homeland of Senegal, she noticed that something was missing. The juices she loved as a child were being replaced by the trendy soft drinks of the western world. Upon her return to California, she met with Odwalla founder Greg Steltenpohl and vented her frustration over the disappearance of these traditional recipes. Together with Greg's French wife Dominique and a tightly knit group of experienced partners, they decided to dedicate themselves to reviving these authentic beverages and improving the livelihood of rural communities...In Wolof, Senegal's primary indigenous language, Adina means life in its creative and spiritual dimension."

Well, I hope that you enjoyed that you have enjoyed this mini-profile of this driven and innovative entrepreneur and as always I love your comments. But, if you can't comment at this particular time- but would like to let us know that you were here; please sign and View my guestbook


Carnival of Capitalists

David Maister has the latest version of the Carnival of the Capitalists. This week's posts seem to be an above average group, so be sure to pop over and check it out.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Friends of African Business Profiles-Phillip Nganga

Recently, I have had the pleasure of meeting someone really special. His name is Phillip Mungai Nganga. He is unique in that he is involved in two really huge projects, at the same time. There are many things which make Mr. Nganga
unique, but I suppose what strikes me the most about him is that he is doing
both jobs extremely well.

This gentleman is a social entrepreneur, bridging the gap between government, businesses,
and children in need. He also maintains an active role as a coordinator for the Kenyan government's Ministry of Youth Affairs Steering Committee for the National Youth Council.

The reason that I invited him for a Q & A on The Benin Epilogue is that although he is not a for-profit entrepreneur, his work for both offices helps Kenya in the area of regional economic development. The other reason that he is here is that starting a non profit company is also a form of entrepreneurship, it just so happens that we haven't really discussed it much here,
until today. Below is the transcript of our question and answer session. By the way, I owe
the pleasure of meeting this gentleman to my very thoughtful wife, who introduced us.
Mimu-Asante sana, mpenzi!

. What are your actual job titles?

1. CEO, Vizazi International, Kenya and Germany
2. Coordinator, National Steering Committee on the Kenya National Youth Council and
the Youth Council formulation process.

Q. What aspects of your two offices relate to economic development?

A. Vizazi International is bringing into the country foreign currency, and investing into
the social development of Kenya’s young ones, which is a path to a future economic independence for the children and youth, who would otherwise lack such an

. What part of Kenya are you from, what was your childhood like, and how did it
influence you?

I was born in Central Kenya, in a small agricultural community, where I learnt to work in
the farm, to graze and to milk the cows at the earliest opportune time. To me, it was not
child labor…it was what I had to do to earn an education and a better life. As my parents
would put it, only education would liberate me. It made me a strong person, it made me
build a spirit of determination, it made me want to better my position, it made me want to
break out of that cycle of lack, and be able to give back to the people. Many times, I would
fold my arms, put my face to them and cry. It is hard to say why I did that, but now when I think back, I had a passionate anger about my condition, and my tears were tears of anger, which motivated me. Yet, my parents were not the poorest in the village.

Q. How did my family affect my career goals?

My father wanted me to be a lawyer. I wanted to be more than just a lawyer. I did not
want to one day leave this world and have a plaque on my grave saying, “He was a
lawyer”. I wanted something different from life. And so my father and I didn't agree
most of the time. But, my father gave up so much for the community, and that has taught
me a lot. However, many times when we were young we wished our father was
not a pastor but a hot-shot businessman. When I look back now, I am proud of who
he is and who he was then. Recently, he told me am just a preacher man like him, only
that we have two different types of congregations. He is right.

Q.What are your short term goals?


1. Help our government complete the it's work in progress-the National Youth Council
2. Set up an international network of professionals working together for a
better Africa.
3. Build a village of Hope for Kenyan Orphans, through the family model.
4. Educate the world on the positive sides of Africa.

Q. What's your long term goal?

My long term goal is to help lead Africa into a new social and economic promised land.

Q. What is your outlook on Kenya's youth, do I think their conditions will change,
and why?


Kenya's youth are amongst the some of the most learned in Africa; they have what
it takes to be agents of change in our country. All that they need is a visionary
master plan, and a great inspiration, which I believe we are helping to facilitate
right now.

Things are changing in Kenya. There is a new awakening for the Kenya's youth.
They have realized they need to rise up to claim their position in helping to develop
our beloved country. The national Youth Policy is the blue print for youth development.
Our government has recognized the role the youth play in the political and socio-economic dynamics of our country. The government is very serious on Youth Empowerment,
hence the setting up of the Youth Development Fund.

Q. The biggest obstacle I have had to overcome to bring change to Kenya’s youth.

Many people thought that what we are doing would never happen, because the
process took so long. But with resilience, and determination, we are making change and
it has happened. It hasn't just been myself, these accomplishments have been brought
about by a team that worked tirelessly, even before we had the ministry of youth!
Now people are happy that we did not give up. So, looking back I would say that our
biggest obstacle has been pessimism, but now that's starting to change people are
seeing a difference.

To learn more about Mr Nganga, Vizazi International, or Kenya's Ministry of Youth Affairs
click [here].

Of course, I love your comments. But, if you can't comment at this particular time- but would like to let us know that you were here; please sign and View my guestbook


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Business News from Botswana

This, I thought, was an interesting story about a business person in Botswana whose company offers an innovative answer to old furniture and upolstry eyesores.

"...Raptec Investments specialises in the manufacture and renovation of furniture and vehicle interiors. Kgotla Rapitsenyane, the company's managing director identified a need in Palapye for upholstery services. 'We repair car seats, repair car floor carpets, car roofing according to clients' requests. We can match colours to make an impressive interior d├ęcor. My company also repairs car door panels,' Rapitsenyane said. Old home and office furniture is also given a new lease of life at Raptec Investments. The company manufactures couches, with some made out of cane from Zimbabwe. However, Rapitsenyane says the leather couches have proved to be popular with the Palapye community.

Beanbags, which he says are also a favourite with the community, are designed according to clients' requests.

'We also make leather handbags, polish leather jackets and leather sofas and restore their colours,' he said.

At the company's workshop, situated at Palapye's old mall, they also manufacture television stands and chest of drawers using cane. He says that they make almost any furniture, from reception office furniture to home furniture..."

Source: AllAfrica

The company refurbishes old furniture and upolstry, they also offer new light-manufactured furniture items, as well. If this business concept was transplanted, if you will, to other parts of Africa whether the local economies are strong or weaker, this would probably be a success therealso. I say this because this is just the type of creativity (local solutions for local demands or local demand for local solutions) that I observed in both Kenya and Ghana; it is part of the reason that my level of optimism for African business is so high.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Nigeria's Diamond in the Ruff?

What if....what if there was a product that could be made in Africa, boost local employment, earn foreign exchange, and enhance Africa's image outside of Africa all at the same time? That would be tremendous, am I right? In fact, just performing one of these items in good fashion, in any part of the world, would probably earn the business person or persons behind the effort major recognition. So, it should follow that anyone whom is able to simultaneously do all five of these functions, plus do it in Africa, should attract major international press covergage-right? If you are nodding your head "yes" that's exactly what I did too. However, there is such a product-that is made in Africa. Many of you may not have heard of it before, but I am sure that most of my readers who are from Africa are at least somewhat familiar with it. This brings us to today's topic-Nigerian cinema.

You see, whether we are talking about employing from local labor pools, earning export revenues, or allowing Nigerians to tell their own story this industry has been doing each of the above for at least 30 years. Below you may find a few facts about Nigeria's cinema industry:

  • Africa's largest cinema/films producer.
  • Nigeria is the third largest films producer in the world, after America and India.
  • Many people both inside and outside of industry circles refer to Nigeria cinema as "Nollywood".
  • Produces roughly between 1,000 and 2,000 films per year.
  • On average, 15,000 to 20, 000 DVD's is what one might expect from in sales from the typical Nigerian movie. However, blockbusters may sell up to ten times or more that amount or 200,000 - 300,000 copies.
  • Average production budget is between $15,000 to $25,000 per title.
  • This is a fully privatised industry in Nigeria and employs over 300,000 people annually.
  • This industry brings $250m into Nigeria's economy every year.
  • Most of these films are completed within a few days, they can be found throughout Africa and penetrate the African market outside of Nigeria, while also making their way abroad.
  • Most of these films go straight to video or DVD and sell for $3 each.

This is but a sample of information about cinema in Nigeria and since I wanted to specifically highlight Nigeria's achievements; the focus of this post is on Nigeria, as opposed to Africa as a whole. However, if I didn't at least mention a few points about some of Africa's other players in this arena, I might be doing them a dis-service. So, if you'd like to catch a glimpse into some of Africa's other promising cinema/film creation hubs, plus find relates links click [here].

In conclusion, I'd say that Nigerian cinema is already a diamond. But what do you think?Also, do you think that the same could be said for African cinema outside of Nigeria? And just out of curiousity, could you ever see yourself investing either in Nigeria's film industry or in any of Africa's other cinema hubs? Well, if you said yes, you might not be alone. In fact, you might find yourself having some unlikely company-Wesley Snipes and Danny Glover, both of whom seem to be very interested in playing a huge role in the future of African cinema. Hmmmm.....

One last thing that I'd like to say is that I think this dovetails very nicely with a post that Black River Eagle recently added to his blog over at Jewels In the Jungle. This post discusses the perception of Africa -vs- the reality-please check it out. I bring it up because, like my post his also deals with Africa telling her own story and possibly improving her image simultaneously.

As always, I love your comments. But, if you can't comment at this particular time- but would like to let us know that you were here; please sign and View my guestbook


Sunday, January 07, 2007


Today marks an important milestone in my life, today is the day that I helped an entrepreneur in West Africa get funding to start a micro-business. It was not much but, knowing that this business person will be able to fufill his dreams, just because of my conversation with an American business person is wonderful.

My hope is that in the future many more entrepreneurs in Africa receive some type of tangible benefits as a result of networking on this blog-whether it is making an important contact, finding a new partner, buying or selling products, or etc. At any rate,
just thought I'd share that with you.

Do you have a success story such as this one, please let us know.

Of course, I love your comments. But, if you can't comment at this particular time- but would like to let us know that you were here; please sign and View my guestbook


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Drumroll....Tag-You Are It!

To all of my readers this post is a bit of a departure from the normal content that you find here. But, every now and then, it's really nice to just unwind and spruce up the day with something really different. A few days ago a prominent blogger (and an exceptional business person) reached out to me on his blog and challenged me (tagged me) to list 5 or 6 "bare all" facts about myself and then go out and tag someone else-so that they can do the same thing.

So let's begin, here are a few things that you may not have known about me:

  1. My name-Benin. It comes from an ancient empire or nation state in West Africa called Benin.
  2. I am a second( in my family) , not first generation Africa enthusiast. My father and his brother began learning about and visiting Africa before I was born.
  3. Before I became interested in business as a profession, my eyes were set on being an engineer or a detective.
  4. My favorite past-times outside of blogging, of course, are eating and drinking coffee!
  5. My favorite entertainers are Cedric the Entertainer and Michael Blackson-their stand up rocks!
  6. Outside of Africa, the place that I'd most like to visit is Paris, France.
  7. If I was a professional athlete the sport that I'd most likely compete in would be wrestling (the Rock, consider yourself fortunate!). During high school and briefly in college I competed in Roman Graeco-and was actually really good at the sport.
Passing It On-Consider Yourself Tagged:
Now that wasn't so bad was it? At any rate folks, I hope this was as good to you as it was for me (laugh) and please join us again soon for more African business blogging!

Of course, I love your comments. But, if you can't comment at this particular time- but would like to let us know that you were here; please sign and View my guestbook


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2006 In Review: African Business & Blogging

2006 was quite a year, wasn't it?

Both for myself and for Africa's business climate as a whole. As for me, the year 2006 did provide it's share of ups and downs. However, all and all...I'd have to say that the ups far outweighed my downs. For starters, 2006 was the year that I decided to stop waiting...and that now is the best time to make a serious effort to promote business in Africa. Up until 2006, my plan was to wait until after all of my other goals were already in place and then start an organization to do something in Africa. Now, that that my goals have been re-prioritized everything just seems so much clearer. Then there is the blogging, prior to November 2006 if anyone had asked me what is a blog, they may as well have been asking my 4 year old daughter. But now blogging is so much a part of my everyday life that it is almost impossible for me to go one day without doing something that relates to blogging.

Anyway, to make a long story short I figured it would be really cool to summarize a few of blogs that helped me in many different ways in 2006.

These blogs inspired me in 2006 (as it relates to Africa or Business in Africa, in no particular order)

As far as business news from Africa in 2006, the topic that provoked the most thought in me was the China Africa Summit. From the looks of it I would say that this Summit had a lot of bloggers thinking hard in 2006. Prior to the summit the news story called, "Africa Open for Business" was a major turning point for me, as well.

Now, we that we are in 2007 let me just say, I am happy to be here! No deep soliloquy's here in what 2007 will hold in store-just my hope that I can be a catalyst and help business people outside of Africa to realize what they could be missing out on.

Of course, I love your comments. But, if you can't comment at this particular time- but would like to let us know that you were here; please sign and View my guestbook


Monday, January 01, 2007

Todays Profiles in Entrepreneurship: James Makawa

For the last entrepreneur profile of 2006, we will look at the life of someone whose most recent work impacts my life on a daily basis. In fact, this gentleman together with a small group colleagues has given America a wonderful gift.

The gift that I am referring to is that of another view of Africa, from the urban perspective and also from an insiders point of view. This means that Americans may now get to know the people of Africa on an individual person-by-person basis. Are you wondering just what exactly this gift might be? I am sure there must be a few of you who already may know. But without delaying much further James Makawa is the co-founder of The Africa Channel.

Mr. Makawa's achievements are many. So many, in fact, that if we were to go into each one of them, this post would be nearly never-ending. To avoid this, I am trying something different. If you would like to view my makeshift time line summarizing some of his accomplishments you may click here.

I hope that 2006 has been good to you; it is also my sincere hope that you have enjoyed everything brought to you by The Benin Epilogue in 2006. Happy New Year and let's see you again very soon!

Of course, I love your comments. But, if you can't comment at this particular time- but would like to let us know that you were here; please sign and View my guestbook



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