It’s a rough, tough, brutal business for an entrepreneur; you risk your neck in places where no one wants to go to find stories that everyone wants to know; it’s months of tedium and travelling where one slip can mean death.
This is the news business in Africa that is the life of Kenyan Salim Amin; it is also the cruel business in which his father suffered on his way to an early grave.
Amin will never forget November 23, 1996, the day word came through. His father Mo Amin, a legendary photojournalist, had survived many dangers in more than 30 years on the road, including the loss of an arm in an explosion in the Ethiopian civil war. His life came to a tragic end in the Indian Ocean.
“I was at the gym when I got a call from mum asking me to come home immediately as something had happened to dad’s flight. I only believed it after I identified his body in the Comoros,” he says.
Mo was on an Air Ethiopia flight home to Nairobi when hijackers took the plane. He tried to rally passengers to fight back but the plane ran out of fuel and ditched in the sea, off the coast of the Comoros, killing all but 50 on board.
“He was still on his feet when the plane crashed trying to get the hijackers off the pilot as he tried to land in the ocean. The hijackers claimed they had a grenade but no evidence of this was found. Mo was flying from Addis Ababa to Nairobi. He had gone to Addis for a meeting with Ethiopian Airlines as we produced the inflight magazine,” says Salim.
Mo died side-by-side with a friend and fellow journalist. Brian Tetley, who was 61, was a British-born, Nairobi-based, king of the keyboard and bon viveur.
“Brian worked with my father for over three decades and they were very close friends. Brian was often the writer while my dad photographed the major news stories, and they also co-authored/produced over two dozen books together. They were like brothers and travelled all over the world on assignments together,” says Salim.
The plane crash cost Salim his father and mentor; the man who remained a mystery right up to his tragic death, an oft told African story of father and son.
“We had a lot of love between us but I hardly saw him and didn’t really know him very well… we didn’t speak much about personal matters, more about work.”
Taking up the camera, for Salim, was bittersweet.
“I started taking pictures when I was eight years old… that’s when he gave me his first camera,” he says.
With this camera, Salim took a picture that appeared in TIME magazine, making him probably the only 10-year-old African to ever have a picture published in a global magazine.
“I was amazed when I saw it actually in print! If I had had any doubts about what I was going to do before that, then those went out of the window when I saw my work in print,” says Salim.
He started working for the media company his father founded – Camerapix.
“My first pay cheque was from Camerapix… he paid me Ksh5,000 for my first month at work in 1992 (then around $100).”
Salim has no regrets in an unforgiving business.
“I don’t think I would want to ever do anything else… definitely I would want to be doing the same thing in another life.”
This is a trade where you can very easily die, unsung, chasing a story. Salim had his fair share.
“I remember being bombed by government forces in Sudan during the civil war, which was terrifying, the dangers of covering Somalia in the 1990s during Operation Restore Hope, the loss of my friends and colleagues Dan Eldon, Anthony Macharia and Hos Maina in Somalia in 1993, and the genocide in Rwanda which was the most disturbing and brutal story I had ever covered,” says Salim.
Eldon, an English-born Kenyan photojournalist, with Kenyans, Macharia and Maina, were killed by an angry mob in Mogadishu in 1993, in the days when occupying US forces struggled to keep order.
Another journalist who survived that violent day is Angus Shaw, who spent 40 years covering eight wars, from his base in Harare, Zimbabwe.
“We were at the hotel that morning when we heard an explosion five blocks away. We decided to go down and have a look,” recollects Shaw.
“The Camerapix crew drove ahead of us as we headed to the compound where the explosion took place and as we got there, we saw a swelling crowd. The crowd erupted into extreme anger after seeing the carnage and deaths after the bombings of that narrow street, they started throwing stones at our small press convoy yelling ‘Yankies go home’. Eldon had disappeared inside this angry crowd when they started throwing stones. Every photojournalist wanted the best picture so they hardly paid attention to the possible dangers.”
What followed will haunt Shaw forever.
“I saw a handful of people armed with AK-47 rifles firing shots and I saw a nice young man, Macharia, going down. He had been shot. We realized this was getting out of hand and we started driving away and at that point, they had started shooting at our car which was about 25 meters away.”
Days passed with no trace of the 23-year-old Eldon, last seen disappearing into the angry crowd.
“One morning we woke up to the sight of Dan’s bloody shoes at the doorstep of our hotel. This was a warning to us.”
Shaw says, as they were wrapping Eldon’s belongings, Mo reminded the press corps that covering atrocities was more than reporting numbers.
“When you start wrapping the belongings of your own, then you discover that that’s what people go through all over the world,” says Shaw.
Salim wishes the continent that gave birth to many great journalists could spare a thought for their hardships.
“I wish Africans would celebrate journalists more… we are seen as ‘lowly’ people and in a corrupt profession by many around the continent, and unfortunately even African media organizations do not celebrate African journalists enough. My father was recognized and decorated more outside Africa than within. We should do more and maybe have a commemoration day each year for African journalists that is a celebration of their sacrifices and contributions.”
Salim found himself at the helm of his late father’s business at the age of 26.
“I had no experience at running a company; luckily my father was good at filing all his work so I had to study his documents and correspondences,” he says.
“The first day was chaotic. We had to re-register and restructure the company. We started by giving everybody their dues, close the company and re-employ them again under the new registered company with new shareholding. It never really struck me that I was now running the company, it just happened as there was no succession plan. I had no choice.”
Salim concedes he has to move with the times.
Media and development expert, Rashweat Mukundu, says the internet is changing the news business.
“Traditional models of doing business are being challenged, yet some traditional elements, that include the human touch, will remain necessary, yet more enhanced by ICTs. We are in an era of either business adapts or dies,” he says.
Bruce Mutsvairo, media professor at Northumbria University in Britain, says Africa should plough its own furrow.
“Our innovations should underscore, support and provide the basis for Africa’s cultural and economic needs. We have to come with our own innovations, even if they get rejected in the West.”
In Mo’s day, it was all about hard news, hotspots and wars. The news business these days is more about fashion and business, says Salim. With more than four million images of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and 8,000 hours of video footage, Camerapix Archive is the largest library in Africa.
“Our only asset is our archives. I am not so sure I would attach any monetary value on the company. It’s a family business that I would not dream of selling.”
Like many in the media industry, Salim struggles to make money as there is a lot of free content floating around.
“We are producing a lot of content; it’s not giving us much revenue as yet. So we have to sell our content to multiple broadcasters. There are more opportunities presented through mobile devices but expensive data remains the main impediment.”
Salim plans to ease himself out of the business to make way for the next generation.
“We did the first private-public partnership with a local university where we are also helping develop their postgraduate degree. We have just moved into the Multimedia University where our production team is housed; in exchange we are helping them develop their master’s program.”
Another chapter for Africa – a great story that many journalists have paid with their lives to tell.
Packing Light In School Bags
Former South African rugby star John Mametsa provides alternative energy solutions for the state. With his wife Tumi, he says their future in the business is bright.
In his prime, former Blue Bulls winger John Mametsa had rugby fans screaming in delight at his try-scoring exploits at Loftus Versfeld Stadium. Between 2001 to when he retired in 2010, he had brought smiles on people’s faces.
Hidden beneath the rugby bravura on display on a weekly basis were Mametsa’s entrepreneurial exploits, which led him to co-found Soltech, a solar technology company he started with his wife Tumi.
Soltech has bridged the gap between solar technology and user-friendly consumer products by creating school backpacks, outdoor umbrellas and lifestyle bags custom-fitted with solar power.
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The smiles are back but Mametsa has brought them in a different form.
Soltech’s main aim is to help companies achieve their corporate social investment targets and make a real difference in the lives of school children who might not have electricity at home, or whose access to electricity is limited.
“Generally, I love giving back. Just to see the kids smile brings joy to me,” Mametsa says.
“It is the best space I could have asked for. Other than when I was involved in rugby, this is the best thing I could have ever been a part of.
Putting smiles on kids’ faces is the best thing. Because we are dealing with children, we have aligned ourselves with people that want to make a difference.
“We don’t stop at just giving them the bags where they can charge phones and study at night but we also educate them about the social ills that come with roaming on the internet and social media.”
During this period of Eskom blackouts, uncertainty about South Africa’s energy and a widening chasm between the haves and have-nots, he says Soltech’s products make a difference in the lives of ordinary citizens.
In a sense, they’ve taken the might of solar technology and put it right in people’s hands. The school bags come with a solar-powered battery, which has a night lamp and cellular phone battery charger installed.
“With everything that’s going on at Eskom now, they (citizens) are using millions of liters of diesel per month, just to keep the lights on,” Mametsa says.
“Hence, it’s coming back to hit our pockets and they (Eskom – South Africa’s national energy provider) are raising the electricity prices again. Such things we have to read about so that, as we grow, we educate the people that we are selling the bags to.
“At some point, you need to convert [to reusable energy sources], you need to start using solar energy. We are still fortunate that there’s an Eskom in the first place. What about those countries that don’t even have electricity at all?
“Yes, we have power cuts but the people that really need the bags are people in the rural areas.”
Admittedly, Mametsa was the pretty face and Tumi conceptualized the idea when they started. But their partnership was perfect in more ways than one. Tumi, just like her husband, had a massive entrepreneurial drive.
While Mametsa was playing rugby, he would dabble in taxi and printing businesses – an uncommon trait among sportsmen and sportswomen who are at the peak of their powers. Tumi was no different. As a student, she would sell hair and cosmetics products, something that sharpened her business senses.
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And despite a successful 11-year career in corporate as an accountant and financial manager for companies such as Alexander Forbes and the Film and Publication Board, Tumi took a bet on herself and dedicated her time fully to building Soltech.
The result was that, in just the company’s second year, they have signed a memorandum of understanding with Finland solar technology company Tespack. Tespack founders Caritta Seppä and Yesika Robles were last year named in Forbes ’s 30 Under 30 Europe.
The joint venture will see Soltech come out, among other things, with a solar-powered, fast-charging power bank, which should totally disrupt the smartphone accessories market.
“There’s going to be skills and knowledge transfer,” Tumi says.
“The DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) is also backing us on the partnership because we need them and their funding to assist us. We will be hiring South Africans to work the machinery, which was something that was very attractive to the DTI.
“The Tespack partnership confirmed my belief that our company could grow from a small tree to a forest someday. Once we manufacture in-house we can streamline the process. And there are so many other ideas for products I have, such as ladies’ handbags and stuff.”
Here at home, Soltech has partnered in CSI projects with Liberty and Exxaro and they hope to grow their client base in the next couple of years. It is a huge endorsement of their products and should see them salve some of the hurt from the country’s electricity crisis, especially to those who need it the most.
‘Worth Millions And Billions’
Terence Terenzo, the award-winning South African hairdresser and founder of hair salon group Terenzo Suites, on his biggest investment decisions and blunders.
What is your investment philosophy?
One of my philosophies is to really analyse ‘is this an investment or is it a money pit… Are you sure you got a good investment and not a liability?’… Over the last 10 years, I’ve tried to invest in things that don’t absorb all my time and energy.
So if someone were to say to me, ‘you can work your butt off seven days a week and we will give you a million rand a month, or you can take it super easy and do the absolute minimum but you can have R400,000 ($27,700) a month’, I would rather take the R400,000 because that would free me up so much more.
I would have time to do things that are important and other projects. So, for me, it is about setting up passive income businesses instead of creating businesses that need huge amounts of management.
What are some of the big investments you have made over the years?
Most of them were in property but this, Terenzo Suites, is one of the biggest investments I have ever made. It was many many millions. And then on the stock market, I’ve played around on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange where we have invested quite heavily. I would use it, then look at the market and sometimes pull the money out and move it. I have also invested in Naspers.
Have you had any regrets?
If any entrepreneur tells you that he hasn’t had that [an investment blunder], he is lying. So, what happened was I bought a property in 2008, just before the [recession]. I was stuck with it for years and even when I sold it, I sold it many years later at the same price I bought it.
I bought it in an absolute inflated stop end, and it was really at an all-time high and I had to sell it at an all-time low… But the main thing for me about those kind of things is that you learn from them and you must not beat yourself up for too long.
Try and see what you learned from them.
Why did you invest in the hair business?
I think the hair industry is going to explode in South Africa and the whole continent, if you just think of the possibilities of wigs, hair pieces, hair colors and relaxers. Millions of women before weren’t so worried about their hair but as the world has changed so much, all of them want to look amazing and they want to look current, fresh, sexy, and that is all a part of the hair industry.
What should you consider first before you invest in your hair?
I think the one thing is to have a professional conversation with someone instead of just doing your own thing and, usually, hairdressers are quite happy to consult with you without charging you before you make a serious investment in hair pieces or wigs.
How big do you think the hair industry is in Africa?
I think it is worth millions and billions… and I think it is an undiscovered industry that is still going to explode. I don’t think we have scratched the tip of the iceberg with this.
A Germ Of An idea
The microbiologist-turned-entrepreneur Babajide Ipaye started making good-looking shoes to fit his size 48 feet but decided to create them for others as well.
Selling shoes was probably the last thing Babajide Ipaye, a microbiology graduate, envisioned doing. But when by the age of 10, he was already wearing his father’s shoes, a size 44, he knew that some day that he would step in that world.
The only child of his parents, who passed away in a car accident when he was only 11, Ipaye was raised by his grandparents and extended family members who shaped the early years of his life.
“I had a lot of people who were trying to nurture me and they had different professions. So for example, one was an artist and I was endeared to him, another one was a medical doctor, so my granddad wanted me to study medicine and another uncle was a computer scientist, so I was kind of confused growing up. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I kind of lived the life of almost everyone that influenced me,” says Ipaye.
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That confusion helped Ipaye cut his teeth in various industries early on in his career. His medical doctor uncle influenced his career as a microbiologist where he worked with Ideas International Bio Technology Services, spending his days cleaning up oil spills and bacteria.
Then followed a stint in Information Technology (IT), a move also inspired by another uncle, where he worked with Tranter IT Infrastructure Services and Computer Warehouse as an analyst deploying managed technology services for multinationals like Guinness, Total and KPMG.
“At this point in time, IT was very hip and we happened to be one of the early pioneers in the tech space which was a very exciting time and considering where I was coming from in microbiology, it was a new field for me, I was working with multinationals and the exposure was amazing, it gave me a very broad sense of how organizations function.”
But Ipaye soon became dissatisfied with being put in a silo. There was too much structure and rigor due to the size of these multinationals and he became bogged down with a lot of systems and processes, which ultimately stifled his creative juices. His solution was to start his own IT company, Torque Technologies.
The company began providing IT equipment and technology services in its early days to multinationals before quickly creating a niche for itself in the fiber optics space. In early 2003 to 2005, the Nigerian telecoms era had just started booming and Ipaye and his partner saw a first-mover advantage in fiber optics by providing training to firms in Nigeria, which they did for the next 10 years.
By 2015, Ipaye decided he wanted a new challenge outside the IT world. After parting ways with his partner, he began to ponder about his life-long struggle with footwear.
“So I said to myself ‘why don’t I make my own shoes?’ So I went on the internet, did a bit of research and came across a school in the Netherlands called SLEM. I called them up and found out about the shoe-making course and I said since I was on holiday, why don’t I take some time off the business and explore how to make my own shoes and I went to the Netherlands.”
Keexs was born. The goal was to make shoes that fit Ipaye’s size 48 feet but also looked aesthetically pleasing. But making shoes for him alone would prove to be too costly.
Ipaye decided to make shoes for others as well. He would focus on the athleisure market, which is a portmanteau of ‘athletic’ and ‘leisure’, a market that has grown to the stage where it is no longer a trend but a mainstay in Nigerian fashion.
To stand out in the competitive footwear market, Ipaye decided to add some African elements to his innovative footwear brand and focused on outsourcing the production to a factory in the Netherlands while he focused on the product and design to save on cost.
The aim in the long run was to move production to Nigeria where he could fulfill the brand’s social mission of providing employment and skills training to unemployed youth. However, to make the business viable, he had to make a minimum of 1,000 pairs of shoes to achieve economies of scale. Next came the challenge of securing startup funding.
“From my previous experience of starting my technology business in Nigeria, I came to realize that the cost of funding in Nigeria is very high and also there are a lot of businesses chasing funding and the risk level of most potential investors in Nigeria is very conservative and they don’t want to invest in stuff they are not sure about.
“So I read about crowdfunding and consulted a company in the Netherlands and I came across a site called kick-starter which is a US-based platform that offers a global crowdfunding platform to innovative ideas and projects, hence we started the first innovative and social focused brand in Africa,” says Ipaye.
In just over two years Ipaye has managed to grow the business through leading e-commerce sites like Jumia and Konga as well as via its own website which receives orders from countries around the world. The shoes sell for anywhere from $40 to $60, with over 8,000 pairs of shoes sold till date.
Keexs has about 18 outlets in Nigeria with retail partners in Kenya, South Africa and Guadeloupe and Nairobi.
The company also sells through social media channels where they boast over 15,000 followers on Instagram. The long-term goal for Ipaye is to secure enough funding to set up a factory in Nigeria, which he is looking to raise through an amalgamation of funding sources including grants and loans.
“We realized very quickly that economies of scale is critical to drive the growth of this business therefore there is a need for a lot of capital. There are four sides to this chain; production, design, distribution and retail. The problem with a lot of businesses in Africa is that they are expected to do everything from start to finish along that entire value chain and what that does is, it stifles the growth of the business,” says Ipaye.
The big-time hit when CNN profiled Keexs on its African Voices show. Since then, they have managed to establish themselves as an innovative social brand focused on empowering unemployed youth in Nigeria. Next on the to-do list for Ipaye is establishing a production line in Nigeria, and then taking his brand global.
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