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‘Life Is Not Complex If You Stay Positive’

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Rakesh Wahi recounts a deeply personal journey that culminated in an opportune meeting with the Dalai Lama.


Life is an interesting journey made up of events, experiences and interactions that collectively teach you some important lessons. All of them consciously or unconsciously have an impact on your life; some more than others. There are some events that impact the inner core of your being.

One such is the loss of a parent. This is a nightmare for any child irrespective of age. I lost my father, Col SP Wahi, on February 13 2017. He had lived his life to the full and left his mark on everything he touched – a true legend.

Grieving is a process and we all deal with grief in our own way. Going through the Hindu rituals around my father’s cremation took its toll on me. I had been through many such rituals, watching other sons grieve their fathers, but living my own was heart-wrenching.

The flight to New Delhi from Johannesburg was 16 hours including a stop-over in Dubai that seemed like eternity.

Even at 58, I was numb, with memories flashing through my mind, but most of all, with the fear of not knowing what to expect. My thoughts were with my mother and two sisters as I know how close we all were to my father.

Saloni Wahi being blessed by the Dalai Lama. Picture: Supplied

The most important lesson from this was how a family comes together dealing with the loss of a father, the head of the family. We rallied around our mother through the personal emotions and yet put on a brave front as we dealt with the thousands of well-wishers who poured in to join us in mourning.

As we started going through the motions of accepting what had happened, an invisible, remote-controlled switch flipped inside me, rebooting me to become a vegetarian and teetotaler. These were my mother’s choices all her life; but it wasn’t just these choices but my thinking that was rebooted, to go back in her service.

Was this divine intervention for realigning your relationships, or was there something psychologically more profound with one day having to deal with another loss? I have no answer to this question yet.

What, however, followed from this rebooting was a desire to begin planning a schedule for my mother so she could continue her life as usual whilst coming to terms with the irreparable void.

My mother has been extremely religious all her life and is a devout Hindu who believes in embracing all rituals. Her faith and philanthropy brought her close to many religious leaders including Mother Teresa. The one place she had visited 19 times on pilgrimage was the Vaishno Devi temple in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

This has been her calling, to worship the Indian goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi and Mahakali, all enshrined in Vaishno Devi. Along with my wife and two sisters, I decided to take her on this pilgrimage, for what would be her 20th visit to Vaishno Devi. I had passed through Jammu many times during my military career but as one seldom swayed by rituals, I never deviated from the path.

This was perhaps my calling.

Vaishno Devi was, as expected, a blissful experience. There is a message when He chooses to test your faith and endurance, and He did test ours. The weather took a nasty turn and a helicopter charter from Katra (a small town in Jammu and Kashmir) was not to be, on our return.

The Wahi family with the Dalai Lama. Picture: Supplied

My mother, who turned 80 this year, managed the walk down from the temple to the helipad at Sanjichhat and then to Adhkuwari, from where we got her a palaki (palanquin). The four-hour turnaround took us 10 hours.

This was a highlight, but what followed was even more so – a confirmation that the Dalai Lama was in residence at his monastery in McLeodGanj in Dharamsala (a hill station in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh),and had agreed to give us an audience on September 28.

This date has always proven auspicious for me, as,coincidentally, a number of my life’s turning points have happened on or adjacent this date. For instance, on this day, 30 years ago, I had finally stepped out of my military fatigues.

This year, on the same date, we were ushered into His Holiness, the Dalai Lama’s ante-room for a private meeting for the family with him. A stream of monks and visitors before us had been granted an audience, so we waited anxiously for our turn.


Meeting the Dalai Lama is no longer easy, owing to his numerous commitments and busy schedule.

As His Holiness entered, a few assistants milled around and a photographer frantically clicked away. As briefed, we each held a white satin shawl in our hands that he placed around our necks and then touched our heads in blessing.

When it came to my mother, he put the shawl around her neck and placed her hand on his head to seek her blessings, after which he touched her head.

This departure in protocol showed the mark of a great human who recognized another enriched soul.

In the one hour we got with him, he spoke about his beliefs. His first thoughts were on secularism and the reason he continued to live in India – because of tolerance, and the need for all humans to show tolerance to others. He said religion is a subset of spirituality and being good is more important than being religious – “Follow your faith but do not fail to do good as that helps mankind.”

He spoke briefly about his views on Buddhism in China, where 300 million Buddhists live. He expressed the hope that someday the intolerance would end and people would embrace this noble way of life.

What he was most disappointed about was how the western world had moved away from the basic norms of family and spirituality into a society entrenched in materialism; the loss of basic human values where ever it occurs is a misfortune, he said. He traveled extensively to remind people of their responsibilities, to restore faith and practise spirituality.

His final words to us were about optimism, and inner peace.He advocated seeing everything through a positive lens to be at peace with oneself. This was the only way to progress and to remain strong.

“Life is not complex if you stay positive, stay at peace and do good,” he said. Simple but profound words that make a difference in our lives; we all know these only too well but in our everyday pursuits overlook what is indeed important.

He blessed us by giving us copies of his book, and obliged us by posing for many photographs. Before we left, my wife, Saloni, spoke to him about Tonglen (something she has been reading and practising) and he was surprised someone knew about this teaching. He blessed her and immediately asked his staff to present two books to her that he personally signed.


What resonated most for me was his belief about actions being louder than words. Being good, doing good and helping others are a way of life that should be our religion and not just rituals.

This was the belief of my late father and perhaps this opportune meeting with His Holiness completed a circle in my life for which it was destined.

I have always said that you meet people for a reason and that they come into your life for a reason. There is immense pride in me to have met Madiba (the late Nelson Mandela), in 2006, and now His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. I take inspiration from these selfless humans who have chosen a path that has afforded them an opportunity to touch the lives of millions.

– The writer is Co-Founder of the ABN Group that includes FORBES AFRICA and CNBC Africa.

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Opinion

Why Now Is The Time To Invest In African E-commerce

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Although Africa is all too often viewed by investors and the public at large as being the “dark continent”, more often than not, they are letting prejudices and misconceptions cloud their judgment about some of the most exciting investment destinations available. In 2018 alone, six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world were in the African continent.

This prejudice is compounded by the natural tendency for investors to invest in what they know best and are most familiar with, which is often what is in their own country. Globalization has, however, made markets more interconnected, and distance is becoming less of the obstacle it once was.

The continent is blessed with strong demographics, considerable natural resources, and increasingly, a more stable political and investment environment for multinationals to operate within. Even traditional hindrances such as poor infrastructure can be viewed as a potential opportunity, particularly in the area of financial services and e-commerce.

READ MORE | Fewer Billionaires, Poorer Billionaires On African Continent In 2019

Jiji, is the largest classifieds business marketplace in Nigeria, it was started from scratch five years ago, by a group of seasoned e-commerce professionals. With a market of 200 million people, Nigeria provides enormous upside should a business take off. The horizontal classified business model (any online business using http) does, according to Goldman Sachs, offer one of the most attractive investment models in the world, along with search engines and social networks.

It’s not hard to see why it’s such an attractive model, when the “winner takes it all” model is applied, in certain markets, the number one online classifieds controls over 80% of market share. The size of earnings opportunity equals 6 b.p. of the national GDP with 60% of long-term EBITDA margin. It is also an asset-light business model that requires minimal investment in heavy machinery and ensures high cash flow conversion.

The potential upside to the classified business model is particularly evident in a market such as Nigeria that has a young population of just over 200 million people. Nigeria is a mobile-only country (where 90% of traffic is on mobile web and is rapidly shifting to apps) with high and growing Internet penetration. In Africa, classifieds provide the ideal platform for e-commerce, as it enables people to buy and sell both second-hand goods and new ones.

Over the course of the last five years, Jiji has become the largest classifieds marketplace in Nigeria. The platform has just over 6 million unique active monthly users and more than 50,000 professional sellers listing over one million items. In 2018, the Jiji app was rated number one by Android users in the Nigerian shopping category, it is currently the highest rated app in Nigerian e-commerce.

READ MORE | The Top 7 Investment Trends That Have Been Identified In 2019

Having cemented its leading position in Nigeria, the team have set their sights on expanding into new African markets, and recently decided to redirect OLX users in Nigeria to Jiji and to acquire OLX businesses in Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, and Tanzania. After the transaction is completed, Jiji will have a presence in five markets, with 300 million people.

In a couple of years, Jiji’s monthly audience is expected to cross the threshold of 10 million users which will make it one of the largest classifieds by traffic. Jiji’s ambition is to build the biggest Africa-based classifieds business, creating a new retail experience for Africa’s fastest-developing countries with a combined population of 300 million.

The deal will allow OLX users in these countries to benefit from Jiji’s market-leading products and services. OLX’s reach combined with Jiji’s own proprietary search and delivery algorithms, will give users a radically streamlined experience and ensure the experience of buying and selling goods more convenient and transparent than ever before.

Africa has in the past been viewed very negatively by potential investors and businesses in general, however, as technology breaks down barriers to accessing finance and supply chain infrastructure the potential opportunities have never been greater.

READ MORE | How Nigeria Can Attract And Keep The Right Kind Of Foreign Direct Investment

This combined with greater access to the internet and mobile phones provides imaginative entrepreneurs and businesses a chance to rethink traditional business models and create different systems that cater to the needs of this young, diverse and commercially underserved region.

The team at Jiji recognize the potential benefits and opportunities that this region has to offer, only time will tell if other foreign investors recognize the upside African economies have to offer.  

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Opinion

Over The Rainbow: 25 Years Of Freedom For South Africa

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South Africa survived colonialism followed by apartheid, and most recently, a new pandemic, HIV/AIDS. While we are living through the aftermath of the old order, the words often attributed to Italian philosopher, Antonio Gramsci, could not be truer: “The old is dying and the new struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.”

The dragons we need to slay are clear. We have unacceptably high levels of poverty, youth unemployment, child illiteracy and nutritional stunting. All of which are systematically undermining the next generation’s ability to enjoy freedom.

That said, these are but the more visible aspects of our life together. There are others – the more subtle, social dimensions.

In 2019, non-racialism – the bedrock of the new South Africa – struggles to find relevance in the public imagination in light of the disillusionment many experience in the new political dispensation. It remains devoid of substantial weight and consequence.

Its original purveyors did not theorize it or write about it extensively, making it all the more elusive. What we do know is that race is a social construct and that it has no biological grounding. While it does not exist in a scientific sense, race has profound political, social and economic implications. And it continues to be an undeniable fault-line within South Africa.

What is clear is that non-racialism does not mean not-seeing-race-ness. In this lesser sense, it mimics the American notion of a post-racial society. It is based on the myth that 1994 symbolized a tabula rasa – a blank page. But 25 years later, the past haunts us.

Mural depicting 1st election in new South Africa, 1994 opposite Parliament, Cape Town, Western Cape (Photo by Hoberman Collection/UIG via Getty Images)

In our public life, we often find ourselves in a rinse-and-repeat cycle in which an offensive action is followed by public uproar and reactive debates. In this polarizing space, the spotlight remains on rabid racists, leaving implicit and internalized anti-black racism unchecked – both of which affect most South Africans.

Political entrepreneurs – understanding the wounds we carry as a nation – capitalize on the moments of uproar by playing on these incidents. What happens in the context of the misuse of our racialized experiences is that well-meaning citizens opt to shun any references to race in order to maintain respectability. This tempts us to see race talk as unproductive rhetoric, and not as a useful language to name our experiences with one another in this country.

In our public life, talk about the past has similarly been weaponised. Our history is either denied or it is deployed to delegitimize, to silence, and to condone the inexcusable. But it is exactly in this moment that we need more robust and critical engagement with our histories and their effects in the present – not less.

When we actually grapple with the historical records, the findings are chequered. History refuses to simply serve as a pass or a trump card. It is far too unruly and intricate to merely be functional. History demands to be reckoned with as a way of understanding the processes that led to the present. A more accurate way of understanding it is as an unfinished story. It has no end and it implicates us all.

A way we can begin to participate in the unfolding of our history is to infuse non-racialism with substance. We need a larger project that rigorously surfaces our experiences at the coalface of the color line. Scholars in the social sciences and the humanities as well as fiction writers have no doubt begun this theorising labor, and their work has to make its way into the mainstream. The process of naming the thousands of experiences we have with each other can begin to inform our imagination about what it means to simultaneously be inclusive, rooted in Africa and released from Europe’s orbit.

The project of naming our experiences for ourselves is an act of power. In fact, the true might of colonialism and apartheid lay not in their arsenal but in their ability to name us, define our borders, to codify our laws, and thus, frame our self-imagination.

In this moment, as South Africa reaches the quarter of a century mark, it is imperative that we take a fresh look at the past. Not merely as a story of victory, but as an incomplete struggle. At 25, all South Africans need to join the struggle, knowing that aluta continua and that the country we inherited in

1994 is ours to continually liberate.

We are part of the same cast of characters in history’s production of South Africa, and we are on the stage now.

Dr Sebabatso Manoeli is a historian and non-profit professional. She serves as an Innovation Director at the DG Murray Trust. Previously, she was a History Lecturer at the University of Oxford, and at Stanford University’s Montag Center for Overseas Studies. She consulted for the African Union Commission’s Department of Political Affairs and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation on transitional justice, as well as the African Peer Review Mechanism.

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Investment

To Increase Productivity Corporate Africa Needs To Look For Problems

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Productivity is calculated by dividing each country’s GDP by the average number of hours worked annually by all employed citizens. In my opinion, country productivity simply means the financial evidence for problems solved by business communities over a period of time.

According to a 2018 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, businesses in the African continent are among the lowest ranked when it comes to productivity.

This means corporate Africa needs to solve problems that matter. In each firm, the chief executive officer is the chief problem solver for customers and the firm.

In every enterprise, problems are resolved at a different level. The man at the gate solves the problem of parking and watches out for thieves and intruders.

The chief operating officer solves the problems of disorder and inefficiency. The ability of a leader to recognize that everybody in any enterprise has the capability to solve a problem makes the business system efficient and productive.

When a leader believes he is the only one who can solve all problems at every level of an organization, it only wastes the corporate potential. Everybody in an organization has the potential to solve challenges.

Problems are facts of every business because we live in an imperfect world. For winning enterprises, tests are stepping-stones to maturity and productivity.

There are two perspectives to a problem that will put firms in the winning mode.

READ MORE | Businesses Of The Future: 20 New Wealth Creators On The African Continent

It is important to be reminded that an outstanding person is the one who resolves an outstanding problem.

Can you think of an outstanding billionaire who didn’t resolve an outstanding problem? I believe there is none.

I think a team’s attitude should be focussed on solving an outstanding issue for all humanity.

That is what Larry Page and his team have done by creating Google. They solved the global problem of searching for information at the click of a mouse.

Secondly, problem-solving is the quickest route to leadership. In every society, people fall into two categories of problems; those who create them and those that solve them. As an entrepreneur, you will be rewarded based the degree of problems you solve, not the ones you create.

As a team member, when you solve a problem beyond your current job description, you are likely ready for a promotion.

Thirdly, the capacity of the entrepreneur is more important than the size of the problem. The problem is the self-image of the person. This means an entrepreneur will not take on activities on the outside that he or she is not capable of on the inside.

These three attitudes mentioned above are important for any firm to create a winning team. Let me quickly say that it is only effective when a business leader helps his or her associates and team members develop this attitude.

READ MORE | African Countries Should Rethink How They Use E-government Platforms

When they express these attitudes, they solve challenges with you in the enterprise. Don’t be caught by the ‘Moses syndrome’, because you cannot solve every problem in your enterprise by yourself.

Problem-solving is first an attitude and then a technical skill. Now let me share with you a few technical skills that are applicable to problem-solving.

The first step would be to erect a business thermometer to identify the issue. Focus on vital aspects such as finance, sales, marketing, customer satisfaction, employee performances, and turnover rate.

You need to look for an anomaly in the vital signs before you can identify the threat and knock it off.

Secondly, prioritize the problem and identify the most important and urgent of them and attend to it. The problem can be important, important and urgent, or urgent and unimportant.

READ MORE | Deals, Dollars and Developments On The African Continent

You must be able to place it in the appropriate category. You will need to dig around the it to define the real issue. If the sales are poor and it is an important and urgent concern on your priority list, the next thing is to dig around it and define the elements of the problem, both internal and external.

Thereafter, select a project team to solve the contingency.

Whether it is to be solved in two hours, two days, two months or two years, call the project team and give them responsibilities within a space of time to solve it.

Finally, select the best solution and create a policy. Look at all recommended solutions to the problem and select the best that suits it. Evaluate the solution appropriately and set up a policy that can guide against the recurring of the problem in the future.

-Victor Mamora

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