Firms like to talk about investing in Africa. But what they are really looking at is a jumble of 54 sovereign countries, with their own laws, regulations, cultures and languages. Only a few people are knowledgeable about all the countries. Among them is Riaan Manser.
Forty-year-old Manser grew up in Richard’s Bay, on South Africa’s east coast, where he spent most of his childhood roaming the outdoors. He studied human resources because he wanted to work with people. Manser took a job with private healthcare provider Prime Cure in Cape Town, selling insurance.
“One Sunday afternoon, I realized I wasn’t completely happy. I did my job just to make money. I decided my life was going to be much more than that. I made the decision to change my life,” he says.
A year later, in 2003, Manser mounted his bicycle and went on a 26-month ride across Africa, peddling 37,000 kilometers through 34 countries. He got to know Africa and its people slowly, learning important lessons in life.
“When I left South Africa, I wasn’t very organized. I had zero visas in my passport. I had to negotiate everywhere I went. I would have to remain calm and negotiate in extremely stressful situations, when I was freaking out inside,” he says.
With every country he explored, Manser came to understand different cultures and dynamics, over time he developed exceptional people skills. He gained wisdom that can only come with experience and, as he firmly believes, trial and error.
“I want people to understand that success comes from failure. We like to learn from other people’s mistakes very much, but the problem is that you normally don’t learn as astutely as you would if you learnt on your own. You’re generally most successful if you are willing to take a calculated risk.”
His insights have attracted the attention of numerous major multi-nationals from the mining, retail and financial services sectors, which Manser—who meanwhile also paddled 5,000 kilometers around politically unstable Madagascar and circumnavigated Iceland—now consults on how to expand into remote parts of Africa. Among them are mining giant Anglo American Platinum, heavy machinery manufacturer Bell Equipment, South African supermarket chain Shoprite and Zurich Bank International.
“I speak to CEOs but also to staff, who will be deployed to African countries, telling them what they can expect on the ground—be it regarding infrastructure, cultural issues, bribing or how to make business decisions in a foreign cultural context,” he says.
Manser, who remarkably never paid a single bribe during his adventures, says integrity, morality and patience are the keys to unlocking Africa’s potential.
“You must make [it] clear upfront that there is no room for negotiation about bribes. The most important thing is not to seem desperate. Desperation can be smelled a mile away. Even when I was panicking inside, I didn’t show one ounce of desperation,” he says.
Instead of paying kickbacks to smooth the rocky road of expansion, companies, especially those exploring natural resources, should focus on building good relationships with both national governments and local communities, suggests Manser.
“It’s vital that companies stop regarding Africa as a place where you can just take out resources. There has to be some giving… a generator for a village, digging a well. Communities don’t want to hear promises of better infrastructure five years down the line. They want to see improvements to their lives right away,” he says.
Manser knows how customs officials must be approached in Ghana compared to Angola, how to deal with government departments in Nigeria and how to open negotiations in Mauritania. Although his advice often seems almost obvious, at least in hindsight, it’s based on insights that can only be gained from having been there and having done it.
Patience, however, is key to commercial success in almost all African countries, says Manser.
“Don’t rush people. Don’t try to bulldoze them. The humility that comes through patience will lead to trust and ultimately to respect for each other. It’s the basis for building good relationships,” he says.
But the decision to be patient can’t be made in a boardroom. It’s something managers have to learn in a foreign context, on a day-to-day basis, says Manser.
Another key requirement for successful expansion is selecting the right people to do the job, Manser believes. In the small island nation of Madagascar, that has been experiencing years of political turmoil after a coup d’état in 2009, consolidation is seen as much more important than expansion.
“People just want stability. They want short discussions with firm results. So whoever negotiates on behalf of your company needs to know that,” he says.
In the end, it all comes down to good leadership: a lesson—and probably the most difficult one—Manser learnt when his travel partner Dan Skinstad, who has mild cerebral palsy, fell out of the boat when they circumnavigated Iceland in a two-man kayak, and almost drowned in the icy waters.
“You need clarity of thought in difficult situations. If there is a crisis, you have to make a decision with clarity, not in a panic. You take stock of what you promised, of what you want to achieve and then implement what is necessary to get you there,” says Manser.
Good leaders acknowledge other leaders. When Manser returned from Africa, former president Nelson Mandela was so impressed with his feat, he requested a meeting with him, saying Manser was an inspiration to the continent. Manser has made that his goal.
IN PICTURES | Looking Back At The Vibe Of The South African Elections
FORBES AFRICA’s photojournalists immortalize the tension and elation of the South African elections in May that saw the African National Congress win for the sixth time since 1994.
In what was a landmark 25 years since the first democratic elections, South Africa registered, voted and elected the African National Congress (ANC) for the sixth time to govern the nation again for the next five years. The 2019 elections saw many surprises and plenty more political action compared to the previous polls.
In the run-up to election day, political parties (48 in all) emphasized the country’s socio-economic challenges such as unemployment, education, housing and the contentious issue of land expropriation.
On May 8, the day the country cast its vote, voters woke early to congregate and line up at the 22,924 voting stations strewn across the country.
I was among them, a citizen also doubling as a photojournalist on the quest to document this historic election, my camera strapped around my neck and my constant companion.
This Wednesday morning was particularly cold but voters were in sweaters and armed with their identity books to have a say in South African politics with an ‘X’ mark on the ballot paper.
Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), was among those at the Presbyterian Church in Dobsonville, Soweto; the township where he was born.
His arrival created a frenzy as international and local media wrestled with each other for the perfect shot.
After casting his vote and walking out of the church, he addressed the public.
“On such a historic day, it is important to vote in Soweto with the people of Soweto to express hope and a future for our country. Soweto, to me, represents the home of where the struggle is and now we’re entering into a new struggle for jobs for many South Africans. I remember, vividly and well, when I played in these streets and I remember too well the release of Nelson Mandela, therefore today, I urge that we come and cast our votes,” Maimane said.
He spoke about the new struggle.
“To me, there could be nothing more special, nothing more historic than being able to express our future. Vote for the future of this country and for the unemployed South Africans; it’s a new struggle and we are fighting for the protection of freedom and advancement of freedom.”
Post the election results, Maimane was the first DA leader to not have grown more supporters, whereas the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), with the third highest number of votes, gained more in all South African provinces except the Northern Cape.
A few kilometers from Dobsonville is Mzimhlophe Hostel. A hostel among many others in Soweto that erupted with service delivery protests prior to the elections. On election day, it was more peaceful and locals were going about their daily lives.
In the same vicinity is a squatter camp (informal settlement) allegedly set on fire weeks before the elections.
Residents and brothers Mduduzi (32) and Kwenzi Gwala (22) came to Johannesburg looking for employment.
“This is my first time voting this year; I wish the economy could strengthen so we can move out of the squatter camps and live in houses. Our camp burned around the Easter holidays while we were at church. We used to sell African beer and our stock got burned along with the money and clothes that were inside. All we have is what we are wearing now,” Kwenzi says.
About 12 kilometers away was where national president and president of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa cast his vote in his hometown of Chiawelo, at a local primary school.
The supporters of various parties, the media and voters were out in full force to witness their president in Soweto.
“The nation and the people are energized. They can see their votes are heralding a new dawn. This is a vote that reminds me of 1994 when the people were just as excited as this because they were heralding a new period, a new future for our country,” said Ramaphosa.
“Today, this is what I am picking up, our people are excited about what lies tomorrow and they want to vote for a government that is going to serve them, that is going to address their needs and aspirations. So, I am truly humbled by the turnout that I’ve seen here.
“There is a great vibe and it’s a vibe for democracy, it’s a vote also for our democratic system that we’ve been building over the last 25 years. So, 25 years later, we still have a nation that is breathing confidence and excitement casting their vote. Today, I will go home to sleep very peacefully like I did last night.
“This vote is about confidence, it is about the future and it is about us that are going to be elected to work a lot harder, much harder than we have in the past to realize the ideals, wishes and hopes of our people, so this, to me, is like a rocket booster for democracy and we are going to build a great country because we will be doing so standing on the shoulders of our people,” Ramaphosa said.
Like the DA, the ANC lost more supporters nationally; Gauteng province was the gold prize, for the first time since 1999, the ANC had to battle to remain above 50% to secure the province.
May Will Be Gone In June Ending Months Of Political Battering And Speculation
British Prime Minister Teresa May – just under three years into the job – says she will step down on June 7.
This follows a hammering, from both sides of the house, over her clumsy handling of the Brexit process. She has lost countless votes in Parliament over a Brexit deal and was seen by many in politics as weak and dithering. It is ironic that May herself voted to keep Britain in Europe, only to see her career expire as she struggled to make the opposite happen.
Her heartfelt farewell speech on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street concluded that she had done her best to make Britain a better place not merely for the privileged few, but also for the whole population.
The supreme irony is that her shuffling off of the Prime Minister’s job will see the shuffling in one of Britain’s best known members of the privileged few. Eton and Oxford educated Boris Johnson is likely to step in as leader of May’s Conservative party ahead of what surely is going to be a snap election.
Poll Position: The South African 2019 Elections
May 8, a landmark day for Africa’s second biggest economy. South Africans will cast their votes for the country’s sixth general elections since the dawn of democracy in 1994.
In the run-up to the polls, the country saw flagrant protests in some parts, as disgruntled citizens expressed disapproval of their stifling living conditions.
In this image, a resident of Alexandra, a township in the north of Johannesburg, squats in the middle of a busy road leading to the opulent precincts of Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile.
The dichotomy of socio-economic circumstances is an accelerant in one of the country’s poorest communities filled to the brim with squatter camps and the restlessness of unemployment.
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