Born in Côte d’Ivoire, Nawa Yeo last year took over the reins as country manager of DHL in Burkina Faso. Since then Yeo has gained some valuable insight into the West African country’s business environment. He shares some of his observations with How we made it in Africa.
1. Human resources – a mixed bag
In many African countries it is a challenge for companies to find skilled local talent. In Burkina Faso, the situation is not that straightforward. Yeo says for companies operating in the services sectors – such as banking, logistics and hospitality – it is relatively easy to find the people they need. He says many citizens are returning from abroad, which is widening the talent pool.
However, mining, engineering and telecoms companies, which require highly specialised skills, are struggling to find talent locally. “When I talk to our customers in the mining sector, all of them are complaining that it is quite difficult to find the skills that they need. They often have to bring in expats from abroad,” explains Yeo.
2. China’s notable absence
From cheap electronics to multi-million dollar infrastructure projects, China’s presence in Africa is hard to miss. In contrast to many other parts of the continent, Chinese companies are not particularly active in Burkina Faso. This is partly due to the fact that Burkina Faso doesn’t have any diplomatic relations with China. It does however, have a good relationship with Taiwan, and according to Yeo, there are some Taiwanese traders operating in the country.
3. Bobo-Dioulasso – the second most important city
Ouagadougou is Burkina Faso’s capital and largest city with well over 1m people. However, Yeo says companies that are serious about their business in Burkina Faso need to consider having a presence in the second largest city of Bobo-Dioulasso. According to Yeo, the city is the hub of the important cotton industry. There are also a number of SMEs involved in agri-processing activities.
4. Opportunities in the hospitality industry
Burkina Faso is currently experiencing an increase in the number of foreign investors, especially in the mining industry. According to Yeo, the country does not have enough top-end hotels and restaurants to meet the demand from foreign businesspeople.
“If you want a hotel room in Ouagadougou you need to book well in advance. We need many more facilities catering for businesspeople,” says Yeo.
5. Growth in agribusiness
Burkina Faso is a major producer and exporter of cotton. The country was one of the first African countries to approve genetically modified cotton. However, Yeo is also seeing growth in agri-processing, an area which holds much potential in a continent that has traditionally exported most of its raw materials. According to Yeo, many companies are currently involved in value-adding activities such as producing fruit juice.
6. The effects of being landlocked
Burkina Faso is a landlocked country and most of its imports travel through the ports of its neighbouring countries. Yeo says it is important to remember that any issues in neighbouring countries that cause delays at ports can have a negative impact on business in Burkina Faso, especially for companies that depend on imports.
“If there is an issue at the ports in Côte d’Ivoire or Ghana, your business is stuck. Companies in Burkina Faso face these issues on a daily basis. This is one of the issues you need to keep in mind if you are considering doing business in Burkina Faso.”
7. Prepare to sweat
Yeo says one of the best things about living in Burkina Faso is the accommodating nature of the people. “It doesn’t matter if you are Asian, African or American, anyone can easily integrate themselves into Burkina Faso’s society because the people are really warm and welcoming.”
However, one aspect of living in Burkina Faso that Yeo struggles with is the heat. “During certain times in the year – from April to about June – the temperature can reach up to 45°C.”