Besides white, perhaps the only other color that gets mentioned in Orania is orange.
Orania, a whites-only town flanked by the majestic and breathtaking Orange River, is about 160 kilometers outside Kimberly in South Africa’s Northern Cape province.
South Africa may have entered its 23rd year of democracy, yet this Afrikaner town has no desire whatsoever to be a part of the ‘Rainbow Nation’.
Orania is secluded, separated and solo.
And so on a sunny Tuesday morning, I drive to Orania with my colleague from Soweto, photojournalist Motlabana Monnakgotla. Like him, I am black South African, from Harrismith in the Free State.
Who knew we would one day pull up into the streets of this arid town?
A rusty signboard greets us about 10 kilometers before Orania. We approach with trepidation, not knowing what to expect from South Africa’s only town with no black residents.
There are no walls, security or gates preceding Orania. No grim militarized borders – a la Donald Trump’s proposed Mexico wall – so now that’s a big relief.
Instead, next to a grocery store and the town’s petrol station is a wall rife with color, a festive reminder to the locals of the fun fair taking place later in the year.
Our contact is Orania’s Communications and Marketing Director James Kemp, who has agreed to meet us at this location.
The desolate gas station has two dusty petrol tanks; a young white attendant waits idly for the next customer.
While we wait for Kemp in our rented car, some of the locals stare at us, making us aware we are quite conspicuous.
Kemp arrives in a white Mercedes-Benz, and we follow him to a restaurant in a resort located in a leafy part of Orania. As we drive up, the locals we pass wave at us. Their welcome comes as a surprise.
The resort is Aan-die-Oewer, Afrikaans for ‘On-The-Banks’ – situated on the banks of the Orange River. Kemp tells us the area attracts holiday-goers and families through the year because of activities like bird-watching and fishing.
According to the information compiled in Orania’s tourism booklet, the town attracts almost 30,000 visitors annually. An increasing interest in Orania has helped the tourism sector and businesses such as guesthouses, restaurants and a spa have since opened.
We receive a warm welcome at the restaurant and I marvel at the captivating beauty of the Orange River, the largest river in the country.
Even though this self-styled 8,000-hectare enclave is isolated from the rest of South Africa, the community of Orania denies they live in remoteness.
Instead, they say they have chosen to embrace the community made up of Afrikaners only, in order to remain true to Afrikaans’ tradition and culture.
Dr Sonwabile Mnwana, a sociologist and Deputy Director and Senior Researcher at the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP) at the University of the Witwatersrand explains Orania was established after Afrikaners felt threatened by issues such as poverty in urban areas and political defeat in the wake of a liberated South Africa.
In order to understand why a community like Orania came into being, Professor Kwandiwe Kondlo, a professor in Political Economy at the University of Johannesburg, says the political and historical context of South Africa needs to be taken into consideration.
In the 1990s, when the idea of a new government was taking shape, Kondlo says negotiations for national liberation were compromised.
“We had a situation in South Africa where the oppressor and the oppressed were declared both victors at the negotiation table, and that never works in the long run. The liberation movement [African National Congress] negotiated with its back against the wall,” he says.
The outcome of these negotiations was the country’s first democratic elections. And the elections saw a black president, Nelson Mandela, elected for the first time and a black-run government, the African National Congress (ANC), helm the country.
The 1994 elections had been long overdue. In 1989, the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wrote a firm one-paragraph telegram to then South African President F.W de Klerk to provide a date for Mandela’s release from prison. The White House supported this request and pressure mounted on the Afrikaans leadership to free Mandela.
“On the 10th February, 1990, F.W de Klerk announced in Parliament that on the 11th February, 1990, Nelson Mandela will be released from prison. This announcement came as a surprise to everyone. Not even his friends in cabinet knew about it. The ANC likes to boast about many things… the old man [Mandela] could have died in prison if the Boers were not put under pressure,” says Kondlo.
Economists like Kondlo call the 1990s the New Phase of Financial Globalization, which pushed for a borderless world. However, after 2015, the global political economy started shifting again.
He says that is why, for example, Americans voted for President Trump, as a way of “applying brakes to the wave of globalization”.
A security valve
Orania was established in those turbulent years, in the early 1990s, when South Africa was pushing for unity with every race in the country.
“Orania is a security valve for Afrikaners in a negotiated democracy,” says Kondlo.
However, the notion of separatism and self-determination that Orania has been famously documented for isn’t unusual.
Dr Frans Cronjé, CEO of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), says people that have actually “exited South Africa” and decided to live in seclusion, are those who live on golf estates and private housing establishments and not just in Orania.
“Even though in Orania, there is just over a thousand people, hundreds of thousands of South Africans have actually made the same decision of going to live in relative seclusion,” he says.
According to Kemp, anyone can move and live in Orania, provided they can fully adopt and express the Afrikaans culture and way of living.
Max du Preez is a veteran Afrikaans journalist and columnist who, in the apartheid years, founded Vrye Weekblad, an Afrikaans-language weekly and the first anti-apartheid Afrikaans newspaper.
“Orania is practicing separatism because they are motivated by fear of being swamped by the majority black society, fear that they may lose their language and culture, and fear of crime. Most Afrikaners don’t share their fears to the same extent. I cannot see modern, urban and professional Afrikaners ever feeling at home in Orania,” notes Du Preez.
However, Kondlo says the elite Afrikaners could “surprise everyone” and move to Orania if the South African government collapses in the years to come.
In the 1980s, the founder of Orania, Professor Carel Boshoff, was chairman of the Afrikaner-Broederbond, a movement known to be the Afrikaner think-tank.
“The Afrikaners are very forward-thinking people. Orania was established as a tactical strategic exit for the Afrikaner, should the new South Africa run into serious crisis. They will then have a place to preserve themselves,” says Kondlo.
In 1991, as the country headed towards a democracy, which Archbishop Desmond Tutu referred to as the Rainbow Nation, a group of 40 Afrikaner families led by Boshoff proceeded to start their own state in the Karoo.
Even though it was established in 1991, the land Orania sits on was initially built in 1963 by the Department of Water Affairs and known as Vluytjeskraal, referring to the place where the town was established. Colored workers lived there, whilst working on building irrigation canals connected to the Vanderkloof Dam.
As the wheels of change started to roll, Boshoff, who is former South African Prime Minister Dr Hendrik Verwoerd’s son-in-law, bought the abandoned 500-hectare land, which has since expanded to 8,000 hectares, for R1.5 million (approx. $521,000 at the time).
He envisioned tens of thousands of people occupying it, yet today, 26 years later, Orania is home to only about 1,300 residents.
Cronjé says this low number shows there isn’t a high demand for an establishment like Orania amongst other South Africans.
Orania’s annual population growth is reportedly about 10% and over the years, political leaders like Mandela, Jacob Zuma and EFF President Julius Malema have visited the community.
“The ANC is moved by numbers and due to a slow rise in Orania’s population, they [ANC] don’t see them as a threat. But remember, an elephant can be killed by an ant,” says Kondlo.
Whether Orania is a community that only has self-preservation at its core or if it’s indeed an enclave for Afrikaners should South Africa experience crisis, remains a burning question.
Boshoff’s son and the current president of Orania, Carel Boshoff (junior), says his father was attracted to the idea of “a sort-of Commonwealth South Africa” and in the 1970s, he had the impression that the idea of a white minority government was unsustainable.
“He did not see a white minority government being replaced by a black majority government very attractive, because [to him] it was just turning the picture around,” he says.
In 2011, after 10 years of leading the community of Orania, Professor Boshoff died aged 83 from cancer. He is buried next to his mother-in-law, Betsie Verwoerd, in a small cemetery in Orania.
The cemetery has several simple tombstones of people who once lived in Orania. A pointy tower rests atop a round tombstone located at a higher point in the big yard, which serves as a monument for Verwoerd’s late wife, Betsie, and Boshoff.
A stone’s throw away is a decrepit water mill structure used in the 1960s. Overlooking the cemetery is a lush green maize field, giving the brown surroundings verdant appeal.
An intentional community
Agriculture is Orania’s mainstay. The town has over 15,000 pecan nut trees as well as wheat and corn fields.
Self-sufficiency is the norm here. All labor in Orania is undertaken by residents and according to records on Orania’s website, the unemployment rate is under 3%.
“If you are lazy and not willing to work for yourself, you will not survive in Orania,” says Kemp, who lived in Pretoria before moving to Orania three years ago.
The residents do all the work such as building houses, service delivery, plumbing, fixing cars, administrative work at the municipal office, farming, legal matters, healthcare, teaching and construction.
A German who brews craft-beer is the only non-Afrikaner we meet in Orania. He moved here 18 months ago and sells his beer in Orania. Kemp says the beverage has proven to be a favorite among the locals.
A soft-spoken Carel (junior) says Orania carries the concept of an intentional community, which means, as a community they are not only looking back but forward as well.
“When people move to Orania, the important questions we ask are ‘what are your intentions, aspirations and ideas for the future’. I am confident to say – in the broader sense – what my father had in mind when he bought Orania is what is still being done,” he explains.
Be that as it may, Lindsay Maasdorp, national spokesperson of The Black First Land First movement, says he has nothing against people who want to preserve their language and culture, but feels differently about the residents of Orania.
“The people in Orania have the highest form of white arrogance,” he says.
Maasdorp says areas like Orania destroy the idea of the Rainbow Nation and instead, its residents only practice racism.
“The idea that white people can cut themselves off the entire country, may seem like they do not want to interact with black people. It’s a stigma attached to us [black people] and the only way we can break that is to take all the land back including Orania,” he says.
A lingering question is how, in working towards a united South Africa, the right to self-determination and a self-governed community was granted to Orania’s founders. Their support is a clause stipulated in Chapter 14, Section 235 of the Constitution of South Africa.
“[In it], the aspect of national self-determination is referred to in broad terms and does not speak specifically to historically-oppressed groups. This aspect was signed by both sides of leadership and the Afrikaner’s strategy was very calculated. That is why in terms of law and the constitution, it is very difficult to confront Orania,” says Kondlo.
The residents of Orania exude a sense of forced friendliness and appear used to the media attention their lifestyle, beliefs and livelihood attract.
Carel (junior) admits scores of journalists have visited Orania, and from his responses, it’s easy to see he knows his answers well.
“We are not multi-cultural activists, we look at our culture and the idea of the uniqueness of culture in a positive way,” he says.
Du Preez opines Orania is not threatening anyone and the community is not a burden on the state.
“I believe they should be left in peace. They’re not the first ethnic/cultural/language community in the world who wants to withdraw from broader society,” he says.
Sarel Roets is a minister-turned-businessman who moved to Orania five years ago. He owns several businesses and properties here, including a commercial office park. It is modern and located with a perfect view of the Karoo’s brown and rocky plains.
Most of the infrastructure in Orania is stylish and up-to-date.
Roets grew up in a conservative Afrikaner home and says like most Afrikaners, were “originally pro-apartheid”.
He says Orania has exposed the Afrikaners to a life of self-reliance. Most of them had grown up with domestic workers and gardeners who did all the manual labor in and around their homes.Now they do it all on their own.
“We used black labor everywhere we went and had a black lady doing laundry in the house. That is legalized slavery,” he says.
One of the buildings on Roets’ property is Roelien de Klerk’s jewelry shop. Oranzi Pop sells offbeat jewelry, all handmade by her and her assistant who sits at the back of the store. The shop also sells colorful scarves, bags, sunglasses and small, intricately-carved treasure boxes.
My colleague grabs a pair of small flower-shaped wooden earrings for his 10-year-old sister. I too am tempted to buy something, to serve as a souvenir from Orania, but think twice seeing some of the price-tags.
De Klerk has been living in Orania for over 20 years now and says her dream is to start a jewelry school. She desires to pass on her jewelry-making skills to the next generation since she knows there is a gap for such expertise in South Africa.
A majority of the jewelry in her store gets ‘exported’ into the rest of the country, which has helped grow her business and in a small way, contribute to the town’s economy.
Residents are proactive in making a living for themselves in Orania and the town prides itself in being eco-friendly. Every corner in town has clearly-marked bins with labels of what should be thrown in for recycling. Also, every building in Orania is required to have a solar panel.
This part of the country is dry and the sun is scorching, so around midday, all the laborers drop their tools and head indoors to cool off.
We pass a swimming pool and see a mother and daughter walk out with towels around their waists. In front of the swimming pool is a large monument of a koeksister, a sugary deep-fried treat enjoyed mostly by the Afrikaners.
A street away from the pool is a contemporary white building with wide open wooden doors. A few cars are parked in a spacious parking bay on the side of the building. The building is a hair salon owned by Annelize Kruger.
“Oh I fixed my hair just for you guys,” she gushes as we enter her stylish salon. The burgundy walls are decorated with paintings of flowers and other eye-catching drawings. A petite woman sits behind the high counter, looking on silently with a smile.
Kruger says she moved to Orania from Pretoria three years ago because she could no longer take the traffic in the city.
“In Orania, it takes me five minutes to get to the shops, another five to go home and I would still have another 45 minutes to relax before coming back to work,” she says.
Kruger is bubbly and friendly. She says her hair salon is one of many in Orania, and in order to stay ahead, will be opening her own hair academy.
“In Orania, you need to do more than one thing in order to sustain yourself. I asked the Lord what else I can do here and He said I should use what I have. It has been a faith process,” she says.
Kruger says students can come from anywhere in the country. They would have to apply first and then come for interviews before training.
So far, she has one student and says she gets accreditation from the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations for the training.
Kruger willingly smiles for the camera and agrees to pose for the several angles my colleague suggests.
“You can come here all the way from Johannesburg and I can do your hair!” she jokes with me as we leave.
Orania also has its own currency, the Ora. According to Orania’s website, Die Orania Beweging, the Ora has been used since 2004 and was created to promote local spending. It operates like a coupon system whereby, if used to purchase goods in the town, residents are given discounts on their purchases. The value of 1 Ora is equal to R1.
The community uses the Ora to keep their own cash in circulation, while their rands are placed in banks and accumulate interest.
“Since we don’t get funding from the government, we have international partners – called Friends of Orania – who help us with funding. Currently, there is R500 million [$37 million] invested in Orania,” he says.
On their website, Friends of Orania is a group of people in Europe, working on creating an “autonomous European organization” with the aim of supporting the Afrikaans community.
Orania also has a community radio station, Radio Orania. The studio is located in the town’s municipal building and boasts basic audio equipment. It is accredited with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and its frequency stretches to a radius of about 40 kilometers.
Their programs range from community announcements, poetry and Afrikaans folk music. They don’t have frequent news slots or shows on current affairs. The town also has its own community magazine, Voorgrond.
A 10-minute drive from the radio station takes us to Monument Hill. Here, bust-statues of former Afrikaner leaders look down on the parched town.
Paul Kruger, JBM Hertzog, Verwoerd, DF Malan and JG Strijdom encircle the town’s totem, ‘Die Klein Reus’, Afrikaans for ‘The Little Giant’. It’s a statue of a young boy rolling up his sleeves, demonstrating his readiness to work.
Even though the original artwork of the boy was made by German-born South African artist Elly Holm and given to Verwoerd as a gift, the leaders of Orania have since made this piece of art their icon. Carel (junior) says the busts represent their heroes and choosing to keep them was the obvious thing to do.
“We can’t look at those leaders from the early stages and allow their busts to get buried under dust in store rooms. We need to be true about where we come from as well. It’s not to say they never made mistakes but we are owning up to our history – bad and good. We don’t believe it was only bad,” he says.
In 1948, the National Party governed South Africa led by Verwoerd and because of his role in implementing the apartheid policies in the country, he is mostly called the ‘Architect of Apartheid’.
In a central part of Orania is Betsie Verwoerd’s house, now a museum. Joost Strydom, a Junior Communications Officer at Orania, takes us to it. It looks like any other home, except for Verwoerd’s bust at the front gate that reminds us this is a museum.
Along the pathway leading to the front door, my colleague and I pluck juicy grapes hanging off a steel arch. It feels strange eating from the Verwoerds’ vine.
The museum is filled ceiling to floor with Verwoerd’s pictures, clothing, gifts, collectables and everything else that belonged to him.
In one room, Betsie’s old-fashioned belongings hang from the cupboard knobs and family pictures crowd the small tables in the room.
Atop a doorway leading to the rest of the house, is Verwoerd’s fishing rod. Pictures around the rod show him revelling in his many fishing outings.
His portraits are on small, medium and large canvasses. Small sculptures of him fill almost every corner of the house. His pictures are all framed and one particular image of him is placed in a colorful round-glass bubble.
In one room, in a large glass case, lies the suit he was wearing when he died after being stabbed four times by Parliamentarian Service Officer Dimitri Tsafendas, in September 1966.
Next to the navy-grey suit are things that were in his possession at the time of his death. In a little room next to the glass case, are piles of handmade wooden Basotho, Khoisan and African craft stacked on a counter.
Different kinds of bows and arrows and spears hang on the wall. We are told these were gifts he received from his black counterparts and leaders during his reign.
After 15 minutes at the house, we exit and walk into a warm afternoon.
For a moment, the pleasant weather makes us forget where we were.
Like the stillness around us, the community of Orania is content. They handle their own affairs and continue building their establishment.
However, internationally, in view of a re-igniting of right-wing populism and changes in the new world order, it can never be clearly known what a community like Orania can grow into, especially if the major state – South Africa – starts facing serious challenges, as Kondlo says.
The advantages that Orania could gain in that respect remain unknown. He avers while the majority of South Africans are pointing fingers at Orania, in hindsight, it is the rest of South Africa that is exposed and vulnerable.
A democratic South Africa could be “a fallacy created to stop bloodshed and apartheid”. Yet, in a place like Orania, it is what could have led to the establishment of “a secured, private enclosure that will shield the minority group in the event of a greater crisis”.
For now, the people of Orania are going about their lives, solo and satisfied.
The Maverick In Tech
The founder of some of Nigeria’s best-known startups on the mistakes and the millions that made him click in the technology business.
Sometimes, the simplest business ideas can come from strange places, or even strangers.
In his first year studying law at Waterloo University in Canada, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji was approached by a stranger who asked to stay in his house.
“I was like ‘I don’t know you, you have long hair and you are white; I don’t know about this’, but I said, ‘ok cool’, and he stayed over and we became good friends.”
About a year later, Pierre, the friend, decided to head to Silicon Valley for his cooperative education term.
“He told me about this amazing world of Silicon Valley, tech and investments, and I was sold. A few months later, we decided to start our own tech company called bookneto.com,” says Aboyeji.
It was a platform that enabled students to download past examination questions and work with a team of people at the school to help answer them.
The company did decently for three years until it got sued by the university, but at least that marked a turning point in Aboyeji’s entrepreneurial life.
It turned out that the intellectual property for past examination questions belonged to the professors at Waterloo University, a fact that was “unknown” to the pair of entrepreneurs and they were found “guilty of piracy”. The venture was eventually sold to a professor who wanted to teach students not enrolled on campus, for a small fee.
“We had it for three years, and by this time, I had graduated and looking for a new adventure and I was pretty sure I did not want to run another business in Canada, so I had started looking at other markets and Africa was a big one for me, Nigeria in particular,” says Aboyeji.
After graduating, he returned to Nigeria in 2013.
His proclivity for identifying opportunities inducted him into the world of massive open online courses (MOOCs). The dominant players at the time were Coursera and Udacity.
According to a report by Component, globally, the MOOCs market is estimated to hit $20.8 billion by 2023. Aboyeji wanted in. He set up a company in Abuja called Fora.com focused on incorporating MOOCs into the university environment especially for courses that were relevant but not provided by Nigerian universities due to a lack of quality resources.
“I was very naïve. I imagined that it would be a breeze to build that business and learned the hard way that anything regulated doesn’t operate rationally. So, the regulators didn’t give me any approvals and universities were skeptical and didn’t want to be laid off so it didn’t work out. We ended up pivoting that business and ended up selling online MBAs instead. Our typical clients were young bank managers who wanted to get an MBA or advanced degree courses to improve their chances of being promoted,” says Aboyeji.
The firm began to gain some traction. People were paying for the application courses and Aboyeji decided to pilot a loan program where financial institutions would offer loans to students.
“So, we were making money but it wasn’t popping off. I went to New York with the team because we had just gotten some new funding and we had to meet the new investors. I had met a guy named Jeremy Johnson when he was in Nigeria earlier so I pinged him and told him what we wanted to do. I wanted to learn from his experiences. He agreed to meet for coffee in New York.”
During their meeting, Johnson expressed his idea about a new form of education geared towards skills rather than degrees. Aboyeji also talked about unemployment in Nigeria and how that represented a massive opportunity.
It was a match made in heaven.
“One of the things he told me was that he could not find a sales force engineer for $150,000 in New York. They just didn’t exist so I said, ‘man, I can train you sales force engineers’. And he said ‘if you decide you are going to pivot, what you are doing or adding to it… I would fund you and I will be chairman and we can do this together’. So, I said ‘someone is going to fund you to do a new business, why not’.”
Aboyeji had just stumbled on a new gold mine and Andela was born. He started with one person and began teaching him how to code. He repurposed the team from Fora into coding masters, bid masters and operational staff, and shifted the focus of Fora because they had the flexibility to do it.
“I don’t think at the time we had any idea how big what we were doing was. We did the first one, it was semi-successful, we trained the next four, which was really good. We put out a job description saying no experience required, we will pay you to learn how to program and we had over 700 applicants off Twitter and we knew we had something.”
They whittled down to about four or five people that completed that program. To find work for his new coders, Aboyeji used Upwork, the popular freelance jobsite, to bid for jobs.
“We didn’t know anybody, so we bid for jobs, executed it and before we knew it, we had about 150 people in the room. That was how the transition happened from Fora to Andela,” says Aboyeji.
The company has since gone on to raise $180 million in venture funding from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and other notable investors from Silicon Valley. Aboyeji left the company after three years in search of his next adventure but is still a major shareholder in Andela.
That voyage led him to co-found Flutterwave, an integrated payments platform for Africans to make and accept any payment, anywhere from across Africa and around the world. Under his watch, the company processed 100 million transactions worth $2.5 billion.
Turning his eyes firmly on future opportunities has led Aboyeji to set up his own family office called Street Capital, with a focus on identifying passionate and experienced missionary entrepreneurs with the integrity and courage to flawlessly execute in Africa.
With a solid track-record of unearthing diamonds in the rough, Aboyeji hopes to empower the next generation of African entrepreneurs to achieve their fullest potential and help build some of Africa’s fastest-growing and most-impactful tech businesses.
The Movie Buff With A Happy Ending In Business
Kene Okwuosa continues to make profit selling the immersive cinema experience across movie halls in Nigeria.
If trailers of Simon Kinberg’s upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix have whetted your appetite for more action-packed cinema, you could take your pick from the likes of Hobbs & Shaw, John Wick 3: Parabellum or Avengers: End game. But as any film buff would tell you, watching these adrenaline rushes on DVD or TV is no match for a full-throttle cinema experience.
Kene Okwuosa is bullish about letting Nigeria’s 190 million population experience the thrilling excitement of the celluloid world. Using the theater to extract a sizeable profit from the Nigerian culture of socializing and communal engagement, his Filmhouse Cinemas has grown from just three screens to multiple locations across the country.
As part of the company’s strategic expansion plans, Okwuosa signed a pioneer deal to bring IMAX, the world’s most immersive cinematic experience, to West Africa in 2016. In doing so, Filmhouse has flipped a switch not just to beat competition from other local cinema chains, but also become one of the fastest-growing IMAX businesses in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
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Quite a feat considering Okwuosa’s first stint at the cinema business did not have a happy ending.
The year was 2008 and Okwuosa and his partner at the time, also named Kene, were desperately looking for greener pastures beyond the borders of the United Kingdom (UK), where they were both employed as assistant general manager and general manager respectively at Odeon Cinemas.
“I had a conversation with Kene on the first of December 2008 and he was saying there is an opportunity with a friend of his who was an investor in Nigeria and we could go back, set up a company and create a great product in Nigeria. I resigned from my job on the second of December, I saw my family on the third of December and I caught a flight on the fourth of December after not being back in Nigeria for 11 years,” says Okwuosa.
And their voyage back home was favored by lady luck. A South African company at the time was exiting the Nigerian market and their assets were up for grabs. With the help of their investor, the pair bought up the assets and just like that, Genesis Deluxe Cinemas was born. It was a magical moment in the lives of the newly-minted entrepreneurs.
With three chains of Genesis Cinemas under their belt, the pair were ready to reap the profits of their entrepreneurial pursuits until everything went belly up.
“A year later, that deal went so bad we had to exit. Myself and Kene exited the company to our dismay. The private investor owned most of the business and there were issues between the investor and my partner relating to a slight misalignment of the company. We were torn between either staying in Lagos or going back to the UK. We decided to stay and tug it out,” says Okwuosa.
The pair had to downsize from the guest house they were staying in to a smaller flat and survived on noodles, while they hatched their next plan. They turned their living room into an office and went back to the drawing board.
Okwuosa believed there was still a market in the cinema theater business and he was not wrong. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Nigerian film industry is globally recognized as the second-largest film producer in the world. Total cinema revenue is set to reach $22 million in 2021, rising at 8.6% CAGR over the forecast period.
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The cinema industry is one of the priority sectors identified in the economic recovery growth plan of the federal government of Nigeria with a planned $1 billion in export revenue by 2020. Furthermore, the National Film and Video Censors Board estimates the Nigerian movie industry needs at least 774 cinemas across the country for it to tackle the menace of piracy.
“So, for two years, I was literally waking up and going to every single office trying to pitch and raise money. We didn’t know anybody and we are not sons of rich men, we had already failed with Genesis, we had no assets or collateral. We were literally telling people we were going to modernize Nigeria’s entertainment scene and everybody was looking at us like we were crazy.”
In 2009, the Intervention Funds, created by then president Goodluck Jonathan to boost the Nigerian creative industry, would prove to be the lifeline Okwuosa and his partner so badly needed.
“I am proud to say we were the very first to access that fund in 2012, which was about N200 million at the time which, when you look back is not that much but considering the exchange rate, it was over $1 million. It was enough to help us kickstart Filmhouse. We had nothing, so that particular facility was largely uncollateralized,” says Okwuosa.
The fund took a bet on Okuwosa and his partner and it paid off. The loan was used to open their first three-screen cinema in Surulere, Lagos.
“It had a slow start but ultimately grew to be one of the biggest locations in the country and that organic growth led us to open two more cinemas prior to our second round of investors, which was private equity money from African Capital Alliance.”
The investment helped Okwuosa to scale to 10 operational locations across six states. The original vision when Okwuosa started Filmhouse was to be the biggest and best cinema and create an amazing space where people could escape into a different world.
Two years after, the company set up the production and distribution part of the business.
Filmhouse now represents about 50% of tickets sold in Nigerian cinemas, according to Okwuosa. With just a dream to conquer the Nigerian market, today, Filmhouse has a vision to become a media entertainment company.
In addition to IMAX, the company represents other international brands like Warner Bros and Lionsgate. With the institutional investment, Okwuosa has strengthened his core team, which no longer includes his former partner, as well as providing the company the impetus to scale with the right mind and right trajectory.
With a GDP of $375 billion making the Nigerian economy the 30th largest economy in the world, Okwuosa believes there is still a big chunk of money to be made from the entertainment and media space.
“I think we haven’t even scratched the surface of this industry and we want to position ourselves at the forefront of Nigerian entertainment.”
Advances In Nigeria’s ‘Burglar Watch’ Industry
The escalating safety and security issues in Nigeria raised the alarm for this innovative entrepreneur.
Today, organizations not only face escalating risks but also the certitude that they will face a security breach at any time, if proper precautions are not taken. Such was the case for Paul Ajibulu when his office premises were ransacked by thugs in Adeola Odeku, Victoria Island, Lagos.
“We had just got our office fully furnished with MacBook computers and the whole works. When we came in the next day, we found the locks broken and all the office equipment had been looted. I lost about $20,000 in all that day and that set our business back for a couple of months,” says Ajibulu.
To solve his problems, he reached out to Extreme Mutual Technique, an automated digital systems solution and renewable energy service provider.
The company says it boasts top-tier clients such as MTN, the Embassy of Sierra Leone, South African Breweries, and Africa Finance Corporation, amongst many others.
Akpobome Ojoboh, its founder and Managing Director, is adamant his systems are a must-have for every organization in Nigeria.
“We initially started the business called Extreme Surveillance Systems limited. Coming from my previous background, we decided to focus on CCTV and digital security. Considering the fact that Nigeria was being terrorized by security mishaps, we decided to [resolve] that,” says Ojoboh.
Safety and security have never been discussed in Nigeria as they are now. Threats are from everywhere, and at all places. Routine security checking at offices and shopping mall entrances has become the norm.
The idea of preventing crime is an appealing twist in today’s times and although it’s comforting for many to imagine a competent police officer monitoring every camera in Lagos, the question remains whether CCTV systems really do prevent crimes from happening or do they merely help in nabbing a criminal once a crime has occurred.
In a city like Lagos where you have constant disruptions to power, the long-term success of these systems presented significant hurdles for Ojoboh in the early days.
“There are so many limitations to digital security vis-à-vis the lack of a proper database that even when you have [identified] the culprits, you cannot find them. Furthermore, there were limitations to how people took ownership of their equipment because there was [often] no power. So, you put a system and people say ‘what if there is no power’?”
To combat these challenges, Ojoboh decided to provide another solution, by moving into the world of inverters.
“Then again, these inverters run down when there is no power to charge them so we went into renewable energy called solar to back up our inverters and digital solutions. That is when we changed the business to Extreme Mutual Technique Limited,” says Ojoboh.
Security is one of the largest businesses in the world, according to Ojoboh.
He has seen an increase in more families opting for peace of mind by having big brother watching over their loved ones whenever they cannot be with them.
“When I first became a mum, I would always worry incessantly about my daughter left alone at home with my nanny. Then, we started noticing strange marks on my daughter and I had heard about people mistreating children they cared for but I never thought it would happen to me. I reached out to a security company to install a camera in the house and lo and behold, I saw the nanny hitting my daughter. My whole world crumbled,” says Rebecca Gyan, a grocery store owner in Accra.
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“You have to be prepared because if you are not, then you almost cannot stop any security breach. It helps you to know some proactive measures to protect yourself. If you have a CCTV system and you notice there is a particular group of people visiting your building, you will be able to notice and react,” says Ojoboh.
As organizations become familiar with probable threats and vulnerabilities, they will be able to establish both preventive measures and responsive systems, to decrease the likelihood of intruders and attacks.
Since starting out in 2007, Ojoboh has grown the team to a 40-member business spread across Lagos and Abuja. The company has also moved into IT and engineering services in the areas of energy infrastructure, home automation, fire safety and digital security solutions.
With power still an issue in Nigeria, Ojoboh sees the future of his business in the area of renewable energy to power his systems to provide that all-important peace of mind to his clients.
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Advances In Nigeria’s ‘Burglar Watch’ Industry