Senegalese-born entrepreneur Mariéme Jamme is the founder and chief executive of SpotOne Global Solutions, a UK-based outfit that helps IT companies enter new markets. Jamme is a well known speaker on development in Africa and she is also a 2013 World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. Dinfin Mulupi asked Jamme about doing business in Africa, and the role the African diaspora should play in developing the continent. Below are excerpts.
Is Africa’s rise being exaggerated?
We have the opportunities, great opportunities in fact. However, I sincerely think that some of the narratives you hear such as ‘Africa is booming’ and ‘Africa is rising’ are overrated. We must not encourage these narratives if we don’t have concise and accurate data to back this. Projecting these ideas or narratives about the rise of Africa can be damaging.
Africa has a long way to go. We need to have the right systems in place, good infrastructure, respect for human rights, gender equality, freedom of speech and transparent elections. We need to be very careful to not become slaves of people who anticipate the rise of Africa for their own gain.
What advice do you give to companies looking to enter the African market?
They should work with the right partners on the ground to help them deal with the risks, human resources, and branding and business development. We have helped many companies enter Africa and they have been successful.
Describe some of the concerns held by foreign companies looking to enter the African market.
They worry quite a lot about sustainability, stability, reliable human resources and risks to their businesses such as the existing banking systems and tax regimes. Companies are also often concerned about whether or not the African consumer will understand their brands and buy from them.
What contribution can the African diaspora make in driving growth on the continent?
I think the combined skills of the African diaspora are enough to run the entire world. Unfortunately, most people do not want to lose the comfort of living and working in Europe and face the societal pressures in Africa. We can’t wait for our governments to build our respective countries. We need to be the change we want to see by supporting and mentoring young entrepreneurs in Africa, transferring our skills and investing in local businesses. Kenyans and the Rwandese are going back home to build their countries. Citizens of other African countries need to do the same.
In your opinion, what is needed to take Africa to the next level?
Africa is moving forward; I have seen lots of change in the continent in the last five years and I am sure we have accurate data to prove this. However, we need a proper plan, a vision and some sort of business plan for the continent. I feel we are trying to move forward without plans. As Lewis Carroll once put it: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” We need to have a long term vision and strategy to change things in Africa. We should also address real issues that will help us shape our future.
You also help African companies enter international markets. How can African tech companies compete on the global stage?
There are African companies selling outside Africa, but they are not many, unfortunately. I think branding, marketing, business development and also trust in our own products will help indigenous African IT companies go global. If we don’t consume our own products in Africa, we can’t expect consumers in other continents to do so. At the moment most African companies do not have reliable market strategies and don’t understand the route to going global. That said, I have seen South African companies selling all the way to Germany, for example. That is a good sign and I am sure we will see more African IT companies selling to the world in the near future.