For much of 2017, two of Africa’s biggest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, have struggled. Nigeria is only just stuttering out of a recession, while South Africa’s economy has just returned to stability following several quarters of turbulence. Against this background, there is a need to ponder the implications of such periods of economic turbulence for entrepreneurs in these countries.
I have always said that Africa is the business frontier of the future, the market that holds out the most promise for investors. However, in Nigeria, where the bulk of my business takes place, I have watched entrepreneurs struggle since our economy took a dip. I have seen promising businesses closed down. Some of these could have survived if there were avenues for entrepreneurs from different African states to exchange ideas and collaborate.
As an entrepreneur that operates a real estate business in Nigeria and South Africa, I have never found a more important moment to reflect on my own experience, and to highlight how a transnational collaborative platform can offer entrepreneurs from these two African economic powerhouses an opportunity for substantive engagement.
I have come to appreciate the peculiarities of the Nigerian and South African business environments, with each presenting their own challenges and opportunities.
In Nigeria, I have to rely on wealthy individuals to pay the full sum on any of my buildings. Yet, in South Africa, anyone with a good credit rating can acquire a payment plan and get backing from a financial institution.
In Nigeria, the challenge of not having a reliable and standardized database system and inability of banks to offer a payment plan for clients makes it harder to trade a property. It also means that more Nigerians were willing to pay a full once-off sum.
The downside, however, is that when there is slow growth in the economy, fewer people buy properties. With a payment plan, there could be adjustments that allow them to continue the financing, or in the worst-case scenario where they cannot make payments, the bank repossesses. Either way, the entrepreneur’s business is never in serious jeopardy.
I feel that many businesses in Nigeria would’ve survived the country’s economic stutters if opportunities for a payment plan existed. Invictus Real Estate, for example, has like many other Nigerian businesses suffered the pinch of the time. The company had to rely on its energy offering, Invictus Energy, to weather the storm.
Meanwhile, uncertainties about the South African economy have led to a lack of confidence from entrepreneurs to start new ventures. But there is no entrepreneurship if one isn’t prepared to take some risks. What these periods of economic volatility emphasize is the need for a platform for entrepreneurs to cross-pollinate ideas and enrich each other’s perspective.
The transnational entrepreneurship collaboration would set the agenda for a promising Rwandan entrepreneur to learn about the resilience of their Nigerian counterpart; the Nigerian entrepreneur would be able to tap into the experience of their South African colleagues in attracting venture capitalists, and so on. Each would bring their knowledge, experiences and expertise to bear. With this, there is an opportunity for important ideas to be shared and joint ventures to happen. The Forbes Under 30 Summit in Israel in April introduced me to forward thinking young entrepreneurs. One in particular was interested in doing business in Nigeria, and we discussed establishing a joint venture. Unfortunately, we discovered that the Nigerian Central Bank had imposed restrictions on outbound dollar transactions, making it difficult for foreign firms to repatriate their profits.
This could have proven an end to our project until I suggested that there might be a way to establish the venture with my company in South Africa. But, if I had no registered company in South Africa, wouldn’t it have been an opportunity to pitch the venture with a South African who would also take into account my own interest? This would be some of the opportunities a transnational entrepreneurial collaboration would create.
The time to create a transnational collaborative platform for African entrepreneurs, one that provides a guided approach for sustained collaboration, is now.
This transnational collaboration would guarantee a broadening and enriching of the imagination of the African entrepreneur. It would free the African entrepreneur from the shackles of borders, time and space. It would redefine business for the African entrepreneur. – Written by Obinwanne Okeke