Heavy construction in Africa is not for sissies. A myriad of risks have to be dealt with, but it all boils down to three objectives: on time; on budget and on specification.
The route to success is dependent on three more critical aspects for the contractor: good people, good equipment and positive cash flow.
Getting the ‘Three by Three’’ right in Africa’s remotest locations means getting to grips with the risks that can include gun toting taxmen; more of that later.
Take the people: it takes a special breed to leave family behind and spend one to two years away from home, living in basic conditions, working on hot, wet and humid sites where communication is scarce and disease lies in wait.
Many sites are manned by a multicultural workforce. Providing traditional foods, ethnic, cultural and religious harmony is essential, and it happens all over Africa every day.
It’s the mosquitoes that get our people though – much of Africa is stricken by malaria and the good people we send to sites sometimes come home sick. It never really leaves your body and repeat infections are common. No amount of spraying work sites, medication, nets, creams, counseling and behavioral discipline guarantees immunity. In addition, if you are HIV positive, malaria is a death sentence – we voluntarily screened our workforce for HIV. The counseling was the tough part. Medical evacuation in severe malaria cases, and for other life threatening ailments, is a critical service that gives peace of mind to families back home. It’s the people that make for successful projects – mind the mozzies!
That said, construction leaders in Africa are a special breed and relish the exotic destinations they call home for a year or two. They love the freedom to operate, the responsibility they have and the life-changing challenges they experience daily.
Border posts are also a problem. Getting equipment across Africa is tough. No amount of planning and preparation is enough; you have to have the right paperwork and physically shepherd heavy plant equipment through Africa.
In my years in African infrastructure, getting plants to site and getting it home again without losing time, or being asked to pay exorbitant unofficial border duties, was rare. Ports can also simply let goods lie for weeks or even months, which piles stress onto projects.
Transport routes become toll roads as communities set up roadblocks and press for toll fees to allow heavy equipment to pass. Building a power line in Nigeria – a nightmare as the line passed through many communities, each of whom was promised work by the elders – meaning we had to divvy it all up and employ a military guard for each pylon to prevent sabotage.
We even hired nearby mobile police or ‘Mopol’ to ensure people and equipment got to the sites.
It’s a tricky situation which forces you to manage this risk; avoid compromising good governance, yet keeping the project moving.
Avoid all of the above and the taxman can still get you on cash flow and margin. Onerous tax regimes are fueled by hungry economies, fiefdoms masquerading as tax collection centers, corruption and western aid. Efficient tax collection systems are developed to lessen their future aid burden – a costly recipe for great creativity and duress.
No amount of technical competence, good governance, good people and good equipment on site can prevent the unexpected!
In the early years, in one large country struggling to emerge from its war-torn past, where we constructed many successful projects, the tax base was the primary source of regional government income. The published national tax code was the easy part – it’s the governor or taxman who you had to be wary of! The tax assessors would arrive in military trucks, with AK47s, to encourage payment of some creative assessments of the PAYE and company tax. Needless to say, we learned how to deal with this, never paid under duress, but tax clearance can run for years after the jobs were built and that’s an unexpected cost to the company.
Building in Africa? Sounds easy? If you are looking for rewarding challenges, seeing the world, excitement, personal growth and building something permanent –
Cryptocurrency for Africans
George Gordon is on a quest to revolutionize the financial system. The director of Africa Master Blockchain Company talks digital currencies, blind risks and board games.
What is this new African cryptocurrency you are offering?
Where the majority of current digital currencies are based on speculative models, AfriUnion Coin (AUC) and the AfriNational Tokens (ANT)are designed for a transactional purpose allowing international payments, remittances, foreign direct investment as well as day-to-day transactions at local retail stores and other outlets. While the option for speculative trade is available with AUC, the focus is not around that.
Each African country will have a specially-designed ANT which will allow users to pay for goods and services and bills easily through completely digital means without requiring any bank account. AUC and ANT will be fully interchangeable to one another and there will be no fees for the user.
It’s the natural next step for digital finance from mobile banking which most Africans are accustomed to. The ability to freely have the power to send and receive money locally and internationally will allow the freedom of choice and spending power many Africans don’t have currently.
What is your own investment philosophy?
I am a gambler! I believe in taking risks and putting things on the line. That being said, blind risk or whimsical guesses don’t get you very far. Always acquire enough information to understand to a reasonable level what the thing you are planning on investing is or how it works and then trust your instinct and gut feel.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs wanting to invest in blockchain?
First, do some research in terms of what the blockchain technology is being applied for or created in terms of its application to an industry or project. Thereafter, check the white paper for the design of the platform as well as its functionality and applicability to what it is trying to achieve. If it aligns with your personal investment rules, then go for it,however, remember that blockchain is continuously evolving and thus you need to explore outside the usual and standard.
First cash-less, now card-less. What is the future of online banking?
If we are looking into what is currently science fiction, I would say the future is digital contact lenses that will be able to connect you to all your social media accounts, internet, news as well as make payments by just looking at QR codes or specialized barcodes to approve and accept payments.
Now, realistically we are not far off from such innovation and technology, but for the time being, I think the next step is scanning of QR codes at retailers and having the transaction automated from your wallet to the retailers digitally.
What is your most prized investment and why?
My mind. I believe that the work I have put into developing my mind, and continue to do so every day, is the number one investment that I have ever done. It allows me to look at things in a unique perspective as well as provides me with the tools to push boundaries and create new opportunities.
Money, success, fame? Which is most important to you?
I would have to say success… because it is most likely going to bring the other two as well, right? But success in the form of starting something and letting it grow and succeed and knowing that something new exists because of your efforts.
What do you spend your money on mostly?
Board games. I love board games and believe it’s a fantastic way to expand your mind as well as have fun with friends.
King Price CEO On Why He Invested On Insurance
King Price Insurance’s CEO Gideon Galloway, who built an insurance company in South Africa worth over $226 million in six years, talks investments, industry trends and how self-driving cars will change the entire car insurance landscape.
Offering The American Dream
Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan of Atlantic American Partners were in South Africa recently looking for high-net-worth individuals wanting to invest in the US.
It’s a warm spring day in September, and Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan have just arrived in South Africa. It is Lippincott’s first time in the country, and he is jet-lagged.
A little over two months ago, he was booked to fly here from the United States (US) but was turned back at immigration.
“At Atlanta airport, the lady looked at Daniel’s visa and let him through and she looked at my visa and she said ‘I am afraid you can’t get on the plane because you have to have a blank page on your passport’. I said ‘I have three blank pages’ and she said ‘no, it’s supposed to be the one that says visa on it’. She said it’s the rules in South Africa so I had to sadly go back home… now when I was coming, I was told that’s not an issue anymore so I am happy they have made traveling into the country easier,” says Lippincott.
With a brand-new passport, he’s here with Ryan looking for people who want to invest in the US in exchange for a green card.
Lippincott, the Managing Partner of Atlantic American Partners, says he has always been keen on South Africa for its growth opportunities and prospects.
“From what I understand, the things that are causing short-term decline in the economy in South Africa are set up to provide long-term growth and hopefully people will understand this,” he says. Ryan, the company’s Managing Director of Emerging Markets – Africa, agrees: “I lived in Malawi for 12 years and South Africa is still considered the shining one throughout the continent. Even with all the problems, everyone still wants to come here because of the opportunities.”
According to an AfrAsia Bank report, South Africa comes second to Mauritius in boasting the highest number of high-net-worth individuals.
These are the kind of people Ryan and Lippincott target through their work at Atlantic American Partners. The company has real estate investors and professional private equity fund managers that manage money for banks, insurance companies, and pension funds. In addition, they help people get US green cards and ultimately US citizenship through the US government’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program.
“Basically we look for people who want to move to the United States and we help them do so legally by investing and the nice thing is, with our program, they are also able to get a nice return on investment,” he says.
According to Lippincott, for a $500,000 investment that creates 10 jobs for American workers, you could get a green card in about two years and be a US citizen in about six or seven years. “Twenty seven countries have an investor visa program but with most of them, it’s essentially a fee you pay, or you need to be actively engaged in the day-to-day operation of a business. For example, you invest $1.5 million in Australia, but you need to hire employees and generate a certain amount of revenue. One of the biggest advantages with our program is you actually invest the $500,000 into a fund. We act as a trustee of that money and within five to seven years, they get that money back with a bit of return on investment and you are a permanent citizen in the US.”
Atlantic American Partners invests the money in real estate developments like hotels, apartments and student accommodation.
“What’s nice about the program is it doesn’t only cover the investor; it covers the spouse and children under 21. Our biggest family was a Hungarian family with seven children so they got nine green cards for $500,000,” says Lippincott.
The company says it has had positive response in South Africa. “Two months ago, we were here and we had scheduled six presentations for 100 people and we ended up speaking to 450 people. Most were business people, people worried about the economy, people worried about the political future of South Africa and people concerned about the education future of their children,” says Ryan.
According to Lippincott, despite the news of the clampdown on immigration, the US economy is booming and will perish without immigration. In the era of Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant views, that’s heartening news indeed.
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