Political instability – both an opportunity and challenge for business

In December 2010 a revolutionary wave of demonstrations, dubbed the Arab Spring, swept across a number of Arab nations. In Egypt, one of the affected countries, civilians took part in eighteen days of mass protests and forced then President Hosni Mubarak to resign in February 2011 after three decades in power.

Amr Shady

Amr Shady

The country voted in a new government in 2012. But calm and peace was short lived as millions of protesters took to the streets again in mid-2013 and eventually President Mohammed Morsi was deposed by the military.

Post Arab Spring, Egypt’s economy was significantly weakened as prices of basic commodities went up, businesses were negatively affected by continued unrest, tourism declined and investors held back. But out of the chaos emerged “opportunity” in certain sectors, says Egyptian entrepreneur Amr Shady.

Shady is the founder and CEO of TA Telecom, a firm that offers telecom operators, brands and NGOs a wide range of mobile-managed value-added services such as mobile applications, content delivery platforms and mobile marketing solutions. It has operations in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Kenya.

“The Egyptian market is a very big market, one of the largest in Africa. The best opportunities are yet to emerge; we just need to be on the lookout to capture those,” says Shady.

After the 2011 uprising, Shady explains Egyptians “grew hungry for news and information”. They began to increasingly rely on mobile phones to consume news. TA Telecom runs content delivery platforms BUZZ! and Waseelah.

“It was a very exciting time for us to see Egyptians consume information through our platform,” he says. “Political instability and change can inspire action, and we’ve seen how the entrepreneurial scene in Egypt just boomed after 2011. This can be an opportunity at times but it can also bring the business to a halt at other times.”

The going has been tougher in other nations such as Libya, which continues to face turmoil as various terrorist groups fight for control of the oil-rich nation. Shady says it was hard to launch its services in Libya.

“Armed conflict and terrorism, ultimately, are your stop signs. Anything less can be a source of inspiration for change, like what we’ve seen in Egypt.”

Outside of Africa, TA Telecom also does business in other countries that have faced political challenges, such as Afghanistan. Shady’s company is now “more cautious with countries undergoing political instability”.

“We are kind of gauging the situation in such countries to make sure we take the right steps at the right time. The real challenge for us in countries with political instabilities is the talent or brain drain. The pool of talented people gets smaller and smaller. Even if it doesn’t reach armed conflict, political instability can still hurt employee morale. We try to stay positive, productive and goal-oriented,” he says.