As far as foreign investment in Africa goes, it is hard for one not to consider Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, as a target.
But breaking in can be a challenge, even for a Nigerian. Jerry Igwilo relocated back home to Nigeria after working in South Africa for a few years to set up his own business. It’s been an interesting process:
ABC: Please tell us your name and what you currently do.
J.I: My Name is Jerry Igwilo. I moved back to Nigeria last year to start a new business.
ABC: And what did you do before that?
J.I: I worked in South Africa for Absa Wealth as a Wealth Manager.
ABC: Can you tell us the sort of business you looking to start up?
J.I: We are into crude oil spill remediation and soil rehabilitation business. We have a world renowned, EPA-approved microbes remediation agent which we are introducing to the Nigeria market. Given that Nigeria has huge challenges with reoccurring oil spill, we believe we have a solution that works for Nigeria.
ABC: Is it a hostile market in Nigeria today?
J.I: The Nigeria market, I will say, is more competitive than hostile. There is a lot of opportunity in the market. In any case, one needs to fully understand any market environment before making an investment decision in said market. In Nigeria, this is even truer because it is such a unique market and slow for one to break into; but once you make the inroad, success is assured.
ABC: Are you finding your venture as easy as you had anticipated, or are you running into a lot of obstacles?
J.I: We never thought it was going to be easy; however we didn’t anticipate some of the challenges we are currently dealing with.
ABC: Challenges such as?
J.I: The requirement for all kinds of approvals before we can launch the product in the market is one challenge that has serious financial impacts on our business. However, we have painfully initiated this long and slow process and we are now making progress.
ABC: What, in general, are the major challenges to operating in the African market today?
J.I: To my mind, they are as follows-
* Understanding the local market. Africa has a unique business environment, therefore it is crucial for a business to understand the peculiarities of the sector and the country when deciding to do business in Africa.
* Lack of experienced worked force. The African labour market is very shallow in terms of depth of operational experience. Also, youth attitude to work needs to be revolutionized.
* Infrastructure in adequacy. The level of infrastructure in most African countries (obviously excluding South Africa) is a major challenge to businesses in Africa.
* Uncertainty in legal environment. For any business, the law of contract is very important and the certainties around these laws are crucial for the long term sustainability of said business. Once again, in most African countries this is a major challenge.
ABC: As a player in this market, can you proffer a possible solution to these challenges?
J.I: The solutions to most of these challenges highlighted above are long term in nature and also very unique to jurisdiction. Infrastructure for example can be tackled with the involvement of the private sector in Public, Private, Partnership (PPP) structure. I think that this will go a long way in addressing the major infrastructure deficit in the shortest possible time. Furthermore, when government institutions begin to adhere to common dictates of the local laws, this will bring back confidence in the minds of business people and overtime, create the necessary environment for adherence to the law of contract by all.
ABC: You have experience in the finance industry. What remarkable advancement has this industry made in recent years that you find most outstanding?
J.I: The financial sector of the African economy has shown strong resilience in the face of global financial crisis. The interconnectivity of global markets has led to the assumption that when the developed world economies struggle, then the developing economies will come to a standstill. However this myth had been broken with what’s now happening, where developed economies are struggling while developing economies are leading global economies in growth. For me that’s a remarkable achievement made possible by the soundness in most African financial sectors.
ABC: How has technological advancement in recent years (social media, internet, etc.) affected the business climate, and your job in particular?
J.I: Technology in my view is here to stay and any business that embraces it early and implements properly for growth will reap healthy returns on their investment. However, when implemented wrongly, it can be very expensive. The financial services sector has been impacted immensely by the Internet; it has changed the way financial transactions are undertaken today. It has changed the face of banking for instance; even the way we communicate with one another has been revolutionized. In my opinion, the impacts are very positive.
ABC: What change(s) would you like to see in your industry that would make your job easier?
J.I: The major change I would like to see is for stability to return to the global financial markets. In today’s world, both legal and operating environments pose a major challenge to the financial sector, given that the financial sector has been blamed for the global economic meltdown that we have experienced.
ABC: Overall, how would you say the African market performed in the first half of 2013?
J.I: The African financial market performed well in the first half of 2013. When compared to the developed economies this performance might not seem very encouraging, but one must keep in mind that African markets started recovery way ahead of the developed economies, therefore the developed economies are just playing catch-up after the global economic meltdown of the last years.
ABC: Any predictions for the market, and particularly in your industry, for the second half of 2013?
J.I: The second half of the year, I believe will be stable. There won’t be any major run in the market as we have seen significant performance in the markets.
ABC: Would you advise people to invest more carefully or more boldly?
J.I: I’d go with carefully. Always.
This interview is also posted on Nigeria Business Communities
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