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Oil’s Fair In Ice Cream And War

Pedro Godinho started a business selling ice cream during the Angolan civil war. It has grown into a conglomerate chasing returns of $100 million.

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Ilha de Luanda, the tongue of land that stretches out into the sea from the bay of the Angolan capital, is littered with palm trees, upmarket beach clubs and restaurants. This is where Pedro Godinho started selling ice cream during Angola’s civil war, when the island was a clean, peaceful getaway from Luanda’s crowded chaos.

Godinho’s company, Prodiaman, is headquartered on Jango Valeiro, on the seaward side of Ilha de Luanda—the site where he sold his first ice cream during the war decades ago. Prodiaman employs 370 people in oil and gas, diamonds, security, engineering, real estate and restaurants. Next to the office, where accountants are plotting the company’s target of $50-100 million in annual turnover within two years, is the small shop that still sells the best ice cream in town.

Godinho, 49, looks almost half his age. He is tall, slim, wears an elegant, obviously expensive suit and a pristine white shirt. An air of smooth sophistication swirls around him, but there is something about his laid-back, slightly hoarse way of speaking that suggests he has been through a few rough patches on the way to riches.

“Since independence in 1975, Angola had a communist regime. After the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, we saw a big change in our political system. I joined Sonangol in 1980, when I was still studying to become a civil engineer,” he says.

“Sonangol at the time was implementing a philosophy which stated that all operations should be Angolanized. And Texaco was operating a brand new platform, for which Sonangol also wanted to recruit Angolans. It was almost impossible back then to find local skilled people. In 1981, Sonangol asked me to work on Texaco operations. That is how I joined Texaco.”

Working for an international company from a capitalist country was the best possible decision Godinho could have made at the time. His secretary walks in with a contract. He signs it casually, without missing a beat.

“I stayed with Texaco offshore on block 2 until 1987. That year I quit and earned my engineering degree at university. I was then invited to join Chevron. But Texaco also invited me, and I decided to go back. My salary at Texaco as an engineer was $300 a month.”

As his story unravels, Godinho launches into colorful memories of wartime Angola in the 1980s.

“Buying a car in those years was extremely difficult. To get one, you had to write many letters, which had to pass through various official institutions. But at one point, the Angolan government sold a Nissan Patrol at a very low price by Angolan standards. The exchange rate on the street at that time was 10,000 kwanzas [to the] dollar. Just to give you an indication of what prices were like: by selling two boxes of beer you could buy a round-the-world flight. Angola’s economic situation was abnormal.

“There were only two ice cream stores in Luanda in those years. I used to take my kids there. While I was waiting, I saw many people walk in and out. That’s when it dawned on me. ‘Bingo!’ I thought, ‘I will start an ice cream business.’ A friend of mine insisted that I should buy the Nissan Patrol. I said: ‘With my salary, I’d regard it as my second wife! I’d rather buy an ice cream machine.’”

From then on, things moved quickly. “I didn’t know a thing about ice cream, so I asked around. A week later, I called a friend who worked at a bank and told him about my plan. ‘But you’re a Texaco engineer!’ he said. ‘I’m only going to sell ice cream in my free time,’ I told him. My friend agreed to help, and bought me two ice cream machines. Now all I needed was a place to put them.

“I wanted to be on the Ilha. Angola is a hot country, so you need to be at the sea. One day, I took a car and drove all along it. I remember knowing: ‘Today is the day.’ I knocked at every restaurant’s door with my two ice cream machines. They all said: ‘Are you crazy?’ But at Valeiro, a restaurant built in 1935, they said ‘Yes’.

I only wanted 12 square meters, and they charged me $1,000 a month. I could have flown around the world and come back with goods instead. But I didn’t want to lose this opportunity, so I said: ‘Okay, I’ll do it,’ and we signed a contract. For 18 months we just worked to pay salaries and build our store.”

Godinho was innovative enough to outshine his two competitors. “The others were making ice cream with 50kg bags of UN refugee milk powder bought on the black market. It wasn’t good quality milk; at times it even caused diarrhoea. I wanted high-quality milk—Nestlé—although it was very expensive.

“Twenty years ago, ice cream in Angola was sold in cones. But because of the sun, it melted within two to five minutes. So we used plastic cups instead. We also sold our ice cream at half the price of our competitors. That’s why it took us 18 months to start making a profit.”

Soon, demand outstripped supply and Godinho embarked on new adventures. “We had 12 ice cream machines by then, and decided to diversify our economic activity. The Angolan government offered companies the opportunity to invest in diamonds, so I created Prodiaman (Produção de Diamantes) in Lunda Sul, a partnership with the South African company Petra Diamonds.”

Then disaster struck.

“In 1995, the Angolan war intensified. Five of Prodiaman’s employees were killed, UNITA burnt all our equipment and our partner left the country. Our next quest was a safer business. The answer to that was oil, because the Cubans were protecting American interests in oil-rich Cabinda. We identified services we could offer these oil companies. Again, the Angolan government and state oil company Sonangol provided opportunities for private investment.”

Godinho began representing the English company Axia Serck Baker and sold $30 million worth of equipment to Exxon Mobile in block 15 on their behalf. American company NATCO bought Axia, and Godhino stayed as their representative.

“NATCO had a subsidiary: Test Automation Control. This company requested our support in getting Sonangol interested. Sonangol suggested forming a joint venture on block 0 in 2003, which was the first joint venture we created. We got a contract on block 0, which is operated by Chevron and employs about 90 expats and 120 Angolans. In 2006, one of our companies—Prodoil SARL—successfully made a bid for 20% of block 1/06. That block was operated by Tullow Oil.

“In 2004, we formed a joint venture between Prodoil (40%) and American engineering company Paragon Inc (60%). We are now also involved in projects on block 0 with Chevron, and on block 15 with Exxon.”

Godinho’s steep journey uphill was interrupted a second time, during the economic crisis of 2009 and 2010. “Our business was seriously affected because most of our projects are financed by international lenders. In real estate development, loan approval procedures were extended to years instead of months. In the oil and gas industry, operators struggled to get financing. That either left us—the service provider—without contracts, or tremendously delayed the contract and the project’s execution.

“Our joint venture partners also struggle when operators stop investing, which decreases the number of projects and contracts. During the oil price crisis in 2008, projects worth $140 per barrel stopped being viable. Oil prices reached $30 per barrel at a certain point. That led to the suspension of many projects.”

Godinho says that despite the economic crisis, doing business in Angola is a daily battle. “Something you normally do in a year takes five to six years in Angola. Only 5% of your time is dedicated to business. It’s a nightmare.”

This is supported by World Bank research. In its Ease of Doing Business report for 2011, Angola ranks 163 out of 183 countries. On the other side of the coin, Angola has a healthy 12% economic growth forecast for 2012—at a time when many countries are struggling for growth.

Bureaucracy is a major problem and connections, Godinho says, are key.

“I believe the government wants to support the private sector, but only multinationals in the oil and diamond sector are seeing the results so far.

“The problem is that the government consists of two to four guys, while the system consists of millions of people. You can’t expect a mosquito to carry an elephant.”

Entrepreneurs

Enterprise And Traceable Tea From Tanzania

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Tahira Nizari; images supplied

How this Tanzanian entrepreneur’s tea startup is weathering the Covid-19 storm.

When Tahira Nizari started her social enterprise Kazi Yetu in Tanzania’s bustling city, Dar es Salaam, with her business partner and husband, Hendrik Buermann, almost two years ago, she didn’t anticipate the sheer scope of her big idea.

But she also didn’t expect that, because of an employee’s exposure to the coronavirus in April, she and her entire team would be quarantining for two weeks, stalling work in a year that she had projected growth for her company. With the pandemic’s onset, she lost most of her customer base in Tanzania, albeit temporarily, and was forced to come up with a game-plan and quickly pivot.

“It’s been an economic recession overnight, more or less,” says Nizari.

With family roots in Tanzania, and armed with formal degrees from Dubai and Canada, and experience in economic inclusion in the non-profit development sector, Nizari aimed to set a benchmark in the agribusiness sector in Tanzania through value-addition and by employing local women in her factory based in Dar es Salaam to produce “a traceable product” for the local and international market.

“Right now, tea is just exported in bulk completely (from Tanzania) and then all the jobs thereafter in that value chain are done abroad. So what we said was ‘let’s redistribute that job creation, let’s bring it back to Tanzania and let’s create a facility in which we can hire workers all locally and have a product that is 100% made in Tanzania’,” says Nizari. After extensive research in multiple target markets, both locally and abroad, building relationships with 250 Tanzanian farmers, setting up a factory exclusively employing local and previously-unemployed women, and many iterations of the seven blends of its flagship Tanzania Tea Collection using local flavors and spices, Kazi Yetu was ready to expand its scope in 2020.

“We were following our business plan… but we were really cautious and risk-averse (in 2018 and 2019). And then, we said, ‘you know what, when 2020 hits, it’s going to be growth’.”

Nizari was planning on reaching up to 4,000 farmers, buy machinery from China, grow the local B2B customer base, permanently employ all the women at the factory and begin to export on a larger scale after the launch of Kazi Yetu’s online store.

But when the coronavirus hit the local and international markets, things started looking very bleak, especially since Kazi Yetu is currently fully self-funded.

 Not only did it lose almost all of its monthly income, but the farmers stopped meeting in groups for the training, so the supply chain was disrupted.

“In Europe, people are all sitting at home. They’re looking for products to build their immunity – tea is a great solution.”

The factory also had to introduce safety protocols for employees at work and at home, as well as reduce the number of people working at any given time in order to adhere to social distancing.

An employee’s father also died of the coronavirus, which forced Nizari to ask everyone involved with Kazi Yetu to quarantine at home for 14 days.

“So what we said was, ‘look, we don’t want to risk their safety, but we also don’t want to risk their economic well-being’. So we just paid all of them their full-time salary,” says Nizari.

“Generally, our operational costs have been really hard to cover right now… but it’s okay, because it made us pivot.”

It inspired Nizari to expedite Kazi Yetu’s plans to export, kickstart the online store sooner than anticipated and build up stock to send to Germany, rather than just focus on the Tanzanian market, which is temporarily quite small. Exporting has been an issue, given limited shipping at the moment, but the European market proved to be a pleasant surprise for Nizari.

“In Europe, people are all sitting at home. They’re looking for products to build their immunity – tea is a great solution,” she says.

Slowly, the factory is moving back to normal operations and Nizari is trying her best to ensure a steady income for the employees. Kazi Yetu is also now available on local delivery applications in Tanzania, so people can order tea to their doorsteps.

Looking ahead, Nizari hopes to scale up exporting through the online store and retailers, whether in Europe, or also in markets like South Africa where products from sub-Saharan Africa are popular, and North America where innovative African products are in demand.

“We want our product to be competing with products made in Europe, and for example, Sri Lankan tea, Indian tea and Chinese tea. We want Tanzanian products to be well-regarded,” she adds.

Since the teas are traceable, which is a unique selling point, Kazi Yetu is also working on an app that uses blockchain to allow customers to access data on the tea they purchase, from the farm level, all the way to their cups. This way, they will know first-hand the impact the product has.

In addition, Nizari is working on a farm-hub model to build Kazi Yetu’s supply chain by helping them produce better raw products through a no-interest investment that can be paid back with their final product over time.

“The whole ‘economy versus safety’ debate… it’s something we have to think about moving forward… You can’t just operate as a business that makes money, you have to think about… the well-being of your workplace, the well-being of everyone in your supply chain… And I think this is where social enterprises really come in,” Nizari adds.

And a hot cup of locally-produced tea can certainly help take forward any such deliberations.

By Inaara Gangji

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Entrepreneurs

Farmer Forays: ‘Creating A New Line Of Business’

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Shola Ladoja; image supplied

Nigerian agripreneur Shola Ladoja, the founder of Simply Green, says the pandemic-induced lockdown brought with it logistic adversity, but also more local sales.  

With the marauding coronavirus disrupting lives and businesses in Nigeria, the financial stability of a majority of the country’s 200 million inhabitants has been severely affected.

The significant toll it has taken on economic activities has forced many small and medium enterprises to reimagine new ways of staying afloat. Covid-19 is also set to radically aggravate food insecurity in Africa. In spite of Nigeria’s dependence on oil, agriculture remains an important cornerstone for its economy, providing employment for millions especially in the informal sector.

The threat of starvation is so present that in a public address in May, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, urged Nigerian farmers to produce enough for the country to eat, saying that the country has “no money to import” food.

But every cloud has a silver lining. The food shortage has presented some agripreneurs in Nigeria with serendipitous opportunities.

Shola Ladoja is the founder of Simply Green, which is a farm-to-table company specializing in vegetables, fruits, juices, spices and herbs. The border lockdown has meant that many of the retail and supermarket chains can no longer import foreign produce into the country.

But this hurdle created a new opportunity for Ladoja.

“[Previously], I tried to get my juices into local stores in Nigeria but they all turned me down and most of them wanted to buy imported juices. The lockdown meant that they had to buy a local brand like mine because they could not get them from abroad anymore. We are now able to sell a lot more during this time than previous years,” says Ladoja.

On the logistics side, however, Ladoja has also felt the pinch of the pandemic like most business that require consistent movement of goods and services. The lockdown scenario prevented his workers from coming in and as a result, the company’s daily delivery of juices, has come to an abrupt stop.  

Ladoja has had to start thinking outside the box to make ends meet.

“We have come up with a fruit and vegetable box, which we sell directly on our website to our customers. So, they can now buy lettuce, kale and carrots, which we have never done before. So, this period has forced us to think about how we can expand the business and this time we actually created a new line of business, which was not in the plans for this year,” says Ladoja.

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), even before the Covid-19 crisis, farmers had not been able to satisfy the demands of Nigeria’s population.

“I feel like the government should give out grants and loans and support for small businesses so that they don’t crash. I have friends who have complained they are going to shut down their businesses because they haven’t been paid for two months. A lot of people cannot sell their produce in Lagos because the markets are closed which is going to affect a lot of farmers at this time,” says Ladoja.

Nigeria used to import over a million tonnes of rice from Thailand annually. That number has been significantly reduced with the implementation of high import taxes. This has led to an abnormal increase in food prices in Nigeria since the onset of the coronavirus with the UN estimating the number of people facing acute food security stands to rise to 265 million globally in 2020 as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Nigeria has substantially increased domestic rice production in the pandemic but is still a long way from reaching the levels needed for the country to sufficiently feed itself. Coupled with the decline in global oil prices, it is safe to say the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 on Africa’s most populous country is going to be felt for a long time to come.

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All For Grooming Future Leaders

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Katlego Thwane has had to dip into his own savings, with the Covid-19 crisis, to fund his noble cause, teaching the underprivileged in a South African township.

He is in his twenties, yet turning around the destiny of underprivileged young people around him.

Katlego Thwane, a 28-year-old born and bred in South Africa’s lively township of Soweto, is an educator and founder of the Atlegang Bana Foundation here that caters to primary school learners who struggle to keep up at school and need additional help.

“Our foundation also provides for needy learners from underprivileged backgrounds. One of my biggest campaigns at the foundation every year is to give confidence and motivation to learners for the year ahead,” says Thwane.

He has bagged numerous awards and accolades for his work, as a 2017 Young Community Shaper, 2018 Lead SA hero and featuring on live television show Big Up on SABC Mzansi in 2018.

Growing up, he was a “naughty boy”, as he describes himself, but says many are now astonished at the serious, ambitious young man he has become.

“Teaching has always been a passion of mine. I love seeing change, transformation and grooming leaders, and value their education while being innovative in taking our country forward.”

Thwane has recently established a clothing brand, BANA, under the Atlegang Bana Foundation. He is also currently handing out food parcels to the needy in his community, in partnership with Hollywoodbets.

“The virus has affected us immensely with many parents losing their jobs or taking salary cuts, we are not receiving the financial support as before. This has led to me [dipping] into my own personal pocket and [using it] to buy tutors data for teaching virtually,” says Thwane.

Most schools continue operating online because learners haven’t as yet returned to school, however, this has come with its share of setbacks.

Makosha Masedi, a parent of a Grade 4 learner, says her challenges come with network issues and understanding the tasks given to the child.

“Some of the programs that the work is loaded on to is not friendly for all devices, so submitting and retrieving becomes a problem, as also understanding some of the work,” rues Masedi.

But Thwane powers on, hoping for a better tomorrow, for himself and his country.

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