SETTING UP A BUSINESS IN AFRICA AS A FOREIGNER

Tell you something. When I arrived in Bamako in 1993 with 3 PC’s in my suitcases as a present of my employer I never thought how difficult it would become. I didn’t speak much French except some “Comment ça va” or “J’ai faim”, “C’est chaud” etc. My school French was quite different from the African tongues, but I did learn. And the Africans were tolerant and understanding – talking slowly so I could grasp a word now and then, and I lost my hesitations to speak. And since I learnt French NOT by rolling “r” in school I had a sore throat in the evenings and decided one day to adopt African French as good as possible. And it worked. I mean I had been to Asia, worked in the US, Canada and Australia – but this was different all the way.

But with time I started to like Mali, and finally I loved it, and it made me curious of other countries. Back in Switzerland I missed Africa so much that I decided to go back in 1995 to try it on my own. I knew that Africans are very open when it comes to first contacts, and of course I figured they would expect something in return from me for that hospitality. Only logical when one sees the general conditions they live in. And a “Toubab” can eventually be helpful, right ?

I was already into IT networks for a while and decided to get computers to ship them down. I asked Zurich Group, where I made my apprenticeship decades earlier for some used machines, and they gave me 110 Compaq Proliant PC’s. Well… finally I packed them into 2 containers containing an old car and some household to go with and got the stuff to Dakar, because I already had a business contact there, which was lacking in Mali. Gotta go where the chances are better, right ?

So the stuff got to the port – and sat there for 8 months, and the bill went skyrocketing to get it out of customs, because we didn’t know anybody in customs, didn’t have the needed cash, but finally my Senegalese partner got around to know some of the people who worked there, and we were ready to start. Since the police helped us to get it out, we set up a networking school for young officers so the police corps would have some experts in their ranks. IT was quite new at that time, you know.

It was expensive, true, but that project put our name quite up there since the newspapers brought articles about us, I had to give radio interviews in French….

We did other projects in the following until 2008, when the economic crisis hit us all, and I was forced to return home. After doing some small projects in Cameroon my partner from Dakar rang up and told me to get ready to restart in Senegal. He said: “You know, everybody wants to invest in Senegal now, we have the connections to the government, come down !” Of course that took me by surprise after all that time, but I thought: These people are truly wonderful. They haven’t forgotten us after all these years. They still remember the small Swiss Toubab.

And therefore I didn’t hesitate to start again – exactly what we’re doing now. We have learnt very hard in Africa. It’s easy to lose money there when you’re a Newbie. But EVERYBODY who goes to Africa loses first before he wins. At least until he has learnt the difference in cultures.

And that’s what we’re doing now with SW@XE consulting. We advise you on the do’s and dont’s, introduce you to the deciders. Because you will never make any business in Africa without getting ripped off until you’re friends with your client and his family.

And we do the endless paperwork you need until you can start making money. We like that job, because we would have needed somebody like us when we started. We’d saved up a lot of money then 😉

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