“I spent quite a lot of time on the continent the year before opening offices there so I really thought I understood. Most of our US-based staff was also of African origin so many of us had strong ties to the continent. We also carefully planned and budgeted for our Africa investments and tried to anticipate a lot of the challenges we were likely to experience. Despite all of this preparation and the exposure that our team had, we were quite unprepared for reality. We realised too late that we truly had no clue how business was done on the continent,” she explained.
For example, while Enonchong expected corruption from government organisations, she had not expected the private sector – even multinationals – to be corrupt too.
Despite the frustrations and challenges, Enonchong said the return was important as “Africa is home”.
It requires preparation
Cordie Aziz is a former US congressional staffer who relocated to Ghana in 2011 after losing her job.
“I decided to move to Ghana because of the opportunity I saw. Africa is still in many ways untapped terrain so, with a little bit of work and dedication, there is tremendous opportunity to do well. The type of wealth you can generate in Africa in my opinion is greater than what you would generate in the US or the UK.”
She started a mobile phone rental company in Accra which she closed at the end of last year. She admits that she previously thought operating the business in Accra would be fairly easy.
“I didn’t prepare for challenges with [finding adequate] employees and inflation; all things that have a major impact on the business. I also assumed that it would be a self-sustaining business. I had no clue the amount of time I would have to spend coordinating and setting everything up.”
Aziz is now focusing on her blog and series of books aimed at assisting other members of the diaspora with understanding the challenges and rewards of moving back to Africa.
“I think moving to Ghana has made me more innovative. I think it has also helped me redefine my view point of business and what it takes to be successful.”
It requires patience
According to Kuenyehia, as well as the other returnees interviewed by How we made it in Africa, patience is a necessity to doing business in Africa. While there are some African countries, notably Rwanda, that offer very swift company and property registration, Kuenyehia noted that in countries such as Ghana, this still remains a challenge.
“GMT – Ghana Maybe Time – just how long it takes to get even the most basic things done. You’ll be lucky to be able to register a company in a month and it’ll take a miracle to register title to property in less than nine months. It took one of my colleagues, just recently, 17 trips over six weeks to the Ghana Revenue Authority to obtain a tax identification number for a client setting up in Ghana,” he said.
Despite the challenges they have all faced, Kuenyehia, Enonchong, Doshi and Aziz expressed no regrets about the decision to return to the continent to set up businesses, and encourage other Africans living abroad to do the same.
“I believe that, for the African in the diaspora, Africa should be a shared responsibility,” added Kuenyehia. “If you are from the continent or have any connection with the continent and you have been privileged enough to get an education and experience from outside Africa, then it should be your obligation to use your skills, experience and contacts to help develop Africa. As Tony Elumelu says: ‘Only Africans can develop Africa.’”