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Cosmas Maduka’s Japan

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Cosmas Maduka Coscharis

Nigerian automobile entrepreneur Cosmas Maduka is unassuming and soft-spoken. His hallmark is a ‘Jesus is Lord’ brooch that he wears and has over the years become synonymous with his style. Maduka is President and Chairman of Coscharis Group, franchise holders of over eight automobile brands and one of the largest distributors of spare car parts in Nigeria.

The company also has interests in real estate, banking, technology, medical equipment, petrochemicals, elevators and agriculture. On average, the company sells more than 400 cars per month with prices around N150 million ($420,000) for the top end of its luxury fleet, which includes Rolls-Royce, BMW, Jaguar, Range Rover and Ford.

But the man who also holds the number two position in the ICT market in Nigeria through his brand, Coscharis Technologies Limited, and its pool of partners which includes HP, Microsoft and Lenovo, had to overcome some extreme difficulties to become the success story he is today.

Maduka lost his father at the age of four and had to fend for himself and his family selling bean cake (a local delicacy) on the streets. By the time he was seven, he was already working as an apprentice and continued for seven years without pay with the shop floor he was trading on doubling as his bed at night.

Today, with those dark days firmly behind him and an estimated net worth of $500 million, Maduka spends most of his time on the road, or in the air, building new partnerships for his various entrepreneurial pursuits. We chatted with him as he waited in the business class lounge at Murtala Muhammed International airport in Lagos for a flight to Bangkok, about what it is like to travel the globe and how certain cultures resonate with him more than others.

Life in Nigeria seems to be a constant whirlwind for you and your family. Where is your favorite destination to get away?

My favorite getaway location is Japan and there are a number of reasons. I have learned a lot of things from the Japanese and I see them as an inspiration. I went to Japan for the first time in 1979 and I was so impressed by the culture and courtesy of the people. It was strange for me to witness, even at the tollgate, that men who collect money from passengers, on behalf of the government, bow to as many vehicles as they collect money from. It was a big surprise for me because this was not their personal money but the level of dedication was amazing. That courtesy is seen everywhere you go, from the airport to the restaurant and that embodies the type of person I am. From the early 80s, I used to go to Japan for business and even after that, I would spend some more time moving around to see more of the culture and their way of life influenced me as a person and Coscharis as well.

What is it about their culture that has influenced the way you run your business?

If the Japanese are not happy about their boss, they actually over-deliver instead of other places where most people will cut back on their output or even go on strike or protest. I have never heard that employees in Japan have gone on strike even when they are angry. They are efficient with time and they always keep to their promise; that is why in my organization, I always under-promise and over-deliver.

What is your favorite airline to travel on?

It used to be KLM in the early days but, in the last 10 years, I travel with Emirates.

What is your favorite city to stay in?

I am mostly in three cities in Japan – Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka.

What is your favorite hotel?

I usually stay at the Hotel Plaza Osaka and Imperial Hotel Tokyo. I look for a decent and clean hotel. I want to stay in a place where there is no smoking and the staff is warm and pleasant. The cleanliness in Japan is also very impressive.

What are your favorite activities in Japan?

I usually go to Japan for work but I have also been there on holiday with the family and sometimes I combine the two. I go to work in the morning and during the evening we go out for dinner. If I am in Tokyo, I like to take a walk after dinner around the ‘emperor park’. The park is very large and beautiful and it is around the castle where the emperor lived. I also visited Disneyland Tokyo with the family during one vacation and have also seen the famous Mt. Fuji which is an active volcano, as well as other rural areas. I have been to Kyoto where there is a lot of beautiful scenery and mountain areas to explore. I like to go during the springtime when you see the beautiful cherry blossoms. It is a really amazing sight and many people travel all over the world to watch this spectacle.

How much do you spend on your travels?

Japan is quite expensive. First class tickets to Tokyo are on average about $6,000. The country has efficient train systems, both the local and express trains, which can help you save some money on your travel. You will hardly find a hotel for $100; so on average you are looking at $200 a night unless you want to go very far out of the city. Depending on where you eat, the prices also vary. Most five-star hotels are averaging about $80 to $100.

What is your biggest takeaway from the Japanese culture?

I will be honest and admit that there is no way I will have my success story without the Japanese. Meeting the Japanese transformed my way of thinking. I started setting up my office model the way I see them set up their office model. I drew inspiration from them in many aspects of my business. I learned integrity from them. It is a way of living for them. Respect for time is paramount. If a Japanese man gives you an appointment for 10AM, by 9.30AM, he is in a restaurant next door to your office. They don’t come 15 minutes before or 10 minutes after. Once it is 10AM, they knock on your door. If he comes two minutes late, he apologizes for almost 10 minutes for being late because it is simply not accepted in the culture. They helped me learn the value of making a promise and keeping it and that has completely transformed the way I do business.

The Cost:

First-class air ticket from Lagos: $6,000

Hotel room per night: $200

Meal at a five-star hotel: From $80 to $100

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A Solution To Improve Madagascar’s Local Economies

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Madagascar is a priority country for conservation and preserving Earth’s biodiversity riches threatened by a rampant rate of habitat destruction. Ninety percent of the natural habitat of Madagascar has been destroyed and 91% of the lemur species are critically endangered, endangered or threatened.

Since the political turmoil of 2009, coupled with security issues and illegal extraction activities, the conservation situation has worsened. The presidential election that took place in January offers hope that this new regime will make preservation of the unique wildlife of Madagascar a priority.

President Andry Rajoelina ran on a platform of eliminating poverty for his people.

Ecotourism is good for the economy, but there are doubts if it is enough. Our conservation teams in the Ranomafana region are hoping that we have a solution for improving local economies.


Patricia Wright is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Stony Brook University in the US and Founder of Centre ValBio Research Station, in Ranomafana, Madagascar. Picture: Supplied

Centre ValBio (CVB), a 30-year-old research center, is nestled overlooking the Ranomafana National Park rainforest near Fianarantsoa, and is an eight-hour drive from the capital Antananarivo.

CVB is a hub of modern science with laboratory equipment to study genetics, infectious diseases and mapping from satellites.

Substantial efforts by scientists have led to an improved understanding about taxonomy, species distributions, the evolution, behavior and population size of the flora and fauna, and the impact of habitat loss on Madagascan biodiversity.

READ MORE | Putting land To Good Use: Food Security In Our Backyards

This knowledge has been successfully used to guide conservation planning and action, as well as new discoveries in medical science. Scientists investigate the impact of anthropogenic influence, edge effects, climate change, and fragmentation on ecosystems and communities in these lush rainforests.

The CVB campus has five buildings and a staff of 130 local scientists, technicians and administrators who work year-round on research, training and conservation.

This station conducts studies of cyanide-eating lemurs, climate change, new leech species, lemurs that have genes that might be related to diabetes and Alzheimer’s, and genetics of an ecosystem.

All around, the parks, forests and the rare species within them are still disappearing. Slash-and-burn agriculture is the main threat to rainforests in Madagascar.

READ MORE | The Professor Who Saved An African Rainforest

Forests are sacrificed to plant rice, the staple food for humans.
CVB has launched an alternative against this destruction of natural resources. First, the village elders are engaged to ensure a buy-in by the communities.

If the villagers are enthusiastic, workshops and training begin in the fields.
Next, using years of botanical knowledge, the reforestation team (technicians and scientists) helps villagers plant endemic saplings of tree species eaten by lemurs. We don’t plant a monoculture, but rather use natural dispersion as a guide.

We know from our pilot experience that it takes about 15 years for the endemic trees to fruit and flower, and for birds, bats and lemurs to return to these ‘new forests’ where they could help ‘plant’ more forests by dispersing their seeds.

We are hoping that this strategy will help to stabilize the soil, prevent erosion and river silting, and expand the habitats for wildlife.
But what value do these trees have for the Malagasy farmer?

Using these trees as structure vines of high value crops such as vanilla, wild pepper and cinnamon that need shade to grow well are transplanted onto these trees.

With assistance in processing and marketing, the local farmers can harvest these high-value crops and earn great economic gain.

The prices of Malagasy spices are high in the world market and spice venders project that the high prices will continue into the future with new markets in China and India.

There is hope that not only will this strategy increase biodiversity, but it will also bring affluence to the farmers and merchants of Madagascar.
Rajoelina’s promise of prosperity is possible and the unforeseen benefits could be transformative.

– The writer is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Stony Brook University in the US and Founder of Centre ValBio Research Station, in Ranomafana, Madagascar

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Arts

From Fishing Village To Gastronomic Heaven: Tables Turn For Wolfgat

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In a small fishing village on South Africa’s rugged west coast, restaurateur Kobus van der Merwe is struggling to process his meteoric rise to gastronomic stardom.

He recently got back from Paris, where four days ago his 20-cover Wolfgat was named Restaurant of the Year at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards, also winning the remote location prize.

“In our category, which was for the off-map destination… there are restaurants that we literally hero-worship and we were like, this is insane,” the food-journalist-turned-chef told Reuters TV on Friday in his first interview with foreign media since returning home.

Others on that shortlist included Japanese wild dining sensation Tokuyamazushi.

Of both prizes, he added: “We never dreamed of making the shortlist, let alone winning.”

Situated in Paternoster, about 160 km (100 miles) northwest of Cape Town, Wolfgat’s speciality is seafood.

Van der Merwe’s seven-course tasting menu pays homage to the region’s long-gone indigenous inhabitants, and his signature dishes are flavored and supplemented with ingredients foraged locally, such as seaweed and succulent plants.

They include Rooibos tea-smoked yellowtail with dune spinach and buttermilk rusk, and freshly baked bread served with bokkom (salted dry fish) butter and infused herbs.

Guests at the 130-year-old whitewashed restaurant, nestled above Wolfgat cave within hearing distance of crashing waves, pay 850 rand ($60), or 1400 rand including drinks.

Van der Merwe, who took the plunge into full-time cooking before completing his culinary studies, said he had no wish to expand or replicate Wolfgat in an urban setting.

“We certainly don’t aspire to be in the city because the west coast is our muse and I can’t see Wolfgat existing anywhere else,” he said.

His clientele is split evenly between foreign tourists visiting the village and well-heeled South Africans.

But those who make the two-hour drive from Cape Town had better be sure of their reservations before they set out – because he’s fully booked for the next three months. -Reuters

– Wendell Roelf

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Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneur And DJ – Oskido Tells Us Why Brazil Is His Favourite Place

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This South African DJ and entrepreneur is never home-sick when in Brazil. He says its food and music fill his soul.


After traveling the world and the concomitant culinary outings that come with it, kwaito (South African music genre) pioneer, DJ and businessman Oscar Bonginkosi Mdlongwa, popularly known as Oskido, counts Brazil his most favorite overseas destination.

In enjoying the fruits of his success, Oskido has come far.

He was born in Brits, a large town irrigated by the waters of the Hartbeespoort Dam in the North West Province of South Africa.

His childhood was in Bulawayo, a city in the southwest of Zimbabwe, before returning to South Africa to pursue a career in music in 1988.

His influences may be primarily South African and Zimbabwean, but the South American country is what he regales about when we meet him in late November last year.  

“What amazed me the most was the food. I have traveled all over the world but the way they cook their food and the way they love their food stunned me,” says Oskido.

The memories are still fresh.

In September last year, Mdlongwa had traveled to the centrally-located capital of Brazil, Brasilia, on a cultural exchange program between Brazil and South Africa.

During our interview, he also compliments the city’s culture and the friendliness of its people.

“When I come back to my country [South Africa] after traveling, I just want our food. When I start going to Europe, I think of home, missing the food, but when I went to Brazil, it was like I’m home.”

He goes on to elucidate that they have their own traditional way of cooking, which includes beans that he enjoys the most.

Oskido especially appreciates Brazil’s restaurants because of the different meat cuts they serve customers.

“They will bring you a paper and describe the part that you are eating. Also, their way of cooking is healthy,” he says.

“We normally just eat and say ‘rump’; you don’t even know where it’s coming from. Therefore, they come in and you keep eating different cuts until you find the one you like and they will keep feeding you until you are full.

“What amazed me the most is when you get to our [local] food courts, you will find all these chain stores. It’s the same thing [there], but there isn’t anything that is like a buffet. Their food courts are designed that way, there isn’t any of the junk food,” says Oskido.

He speaks about connecting to the people despite the language barrier. He remembers going to a shopping center to buy things and having to explain.

He would speak on the phone with a translator and communication would be delayed.

But he found his own comfort zone.

Whenever he talked about music, he says there would be an instant connection with the people.

Oskido was invited by the South African Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa as a delegate for the exchange program.

“The minister and his office went to a school of kids aged between four and five years old. The kids were told to look for a song on YouTube that resembled Africa. Coincidently, they found Tsa Mandebele as the song of choice. I found that these kids could sing along to my song and dance to the moves because of the music video,” he says, joyfully.

“It was good to see a Limpopo language [song] sung in Brazil. That was the moment when I was really touched, and felt that there was something about Brazil.

“After the festive season, I want to go back, take my family and go relax.”

These are the notes from the South African DJ who has gone from Brits to Brazil.

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