NO VACANCY HERE! A National Moto. (Part 1)

 

“Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.” Jacques Mallet Du Pan 1793 

It has long been known that Zimbabwe’s politicians regardless of party affiliation, are not given to discussions about succession, whilst simultaneously talking about the importance of the country’s youth. The ruling elite continues to introduce laws and measures that not only seek to ensure their privileged status but extend it at the expense of the general population. However, this resistance to succession is not unique to politics.

No Country For Young Folk.

Zimbabwe is a classic case of a country led by people who are stuck on the fact that they liberated the country but at the same time do not recognize that the country is indeed liberated and events of the last twenty years have not helped. To this end, they stay in power purportedly to protect the liberation they ushered in, never letting you forget it. In this spirit of liberation the late eighties and early nineties saw the emergence of a black male business elite buoyed by favorable government policies and generous loans. Whilst there are a number of admirable businessmen who emerged, the not so admirable were never far behind, along with corrupt and corruptible government officials. In 1990 these self-proclaimed economic liberators formed the Indigenous Business Development Centre to “secure” said liberation. Barely four years later the Affirmative Action Group, AAG, was formed in response to the perceived slow pace of progress in IBDC. In reality, it was a collection of the more radical and flamboyant elements in black business who wanted their own platform from which to shine, personified best in the character of one of the founding members, Philip Chiyangwa.  He remains a loud voice in AAG despite no longer being it’s president.

In this spirit of liberation the late eighties and early nineties saw the emergence of a black male business elite buoyed by favorable government policies and generous loans.

One trait in corporate Zimbabwe that emerged in this era and continues today, is a reluctance to let go. Granted, founders and experienced managers have a lot to contribute but you will be hard-pressed to find a Zimbabwean board, public or private that has ever actively groomed new talent and rotated members out at the end of their terms. This is something that was symptomatic before the economic collapse beginning in the late nineties and has only become more entrenched since.

In banking we trusted.

The early nineties saw Zimbabwe welcome a number of black-owned financial services firms most notably banks and insurance companies either newly established or through acquisition of interest in existing businesses.  Jump to late 2003 and the country was gripped by a banking crisis which, if the Reserve Bank is to be believed, was engineered by these very founders. Despite this many of the founders continued to head their institutions, even if it meant attempting to do so from outside the country after evading arrest. Others survived or defied board attempts to remove them or get them to relinquish their shares eventually leaving on their own terms. Some, like William Nyemba of Trust Bank and Mthuli Ncube of Barbican Bank were not so lucky, they had their banks seized and closed respectively by the Reserve Bank. James Mushore who co-founded NMBZ in 1993 fled the country to avoid imminent arrest in 2004 to only return six years later and later left the bank in 2014. In 2015 he joined the board of Meikles Africa in 2015, they have an interesting way of explaining his time away from 2004 to 2010.

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Who’s company is it anyway?

This resistance to succession is so entrenched in Zimbabwe you will find it in just about any sector. John Moxon, Executive Chairman of Meikles is embroiled in a years long battle to topple him having joined in 1970 and been on various Meikles boards since 1980. Anthony Mandiwanza has been Group Chief Executive at Dairibord for almost 20 years and joined the company in 1980, oddly enough none of this information is on the Dairibord site. Retired Justice Leslie Smith has been Chairman of the National Blood Service Zimbabwe, NBSZ, since 1977.  Michael Fowler and Zed Koudounaris are a founding shareholders of Innscor and have featured on the board in various roles, they are currently non-executive directors.

Drill down to management in corporate Zimbabwe and you will likely find this resistance is rife. With limited opportunities for upward mobility and the dire consequences of unemployment in a failing economy, people will do all they can to hold onto their positions for as long as they can. Even with companies struggling to pay salaries on time, sometimes not at all, employees hold onto their jobs regardless.

What’s good for the party is good for the board.

This economic liberation of the eighties and nineties is devouring the children of two generations and eyeing a third. We routinely berate political parties for not having clear succession plans but the best laid plans of politicians will come to nothing if there is no succession in the economy. It is sheer suicide to wait for the current executive to die off in the hope that this will finally present an opportunity for new blood.

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure,” Thomas Jefferson November 13, 1787. 

In Part 2 next week I will look at the economic distortions in Zimbabwe as a consequence of of this culture of holding on as the economy has contracted, what this means for Zimbabwe’s recovery and possible solutions.

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Based in Johannesburg South Africa, Ricky Marima is a recovering economist and twenty year veteran of building businesses across a variety of industries. He currently works at knowledge startup RemNes where he guides clients across the continent to ask the right questions about the 4th Industrial Revolution. You can reach him on ricky@remnes.com

 

 

How Do You Say Unicorn In Your Language?

This article first appeared on LinkedIn, follow me there.  

Earlier this week I attended a talk on the 4th Industrial Revolution and as expected, some of the usual buzzwords were thrown around, including “this could be the first African unicorn”. To date, American and Chinese startups have dominated the unicorn rankings with India a distant third, however, there is yet to be a unicorn from Central and South America or Africa. Chances are the world will not see an African unicorn anytime soon and here is why.

A time before unicorns

Before getting to the impossibility of the existence of an African unicorn, nevermind a decacorn or hectacorn, a little history. In 1999 VeriSign bought South African internet certification firm Thawte Consulting for $575 million, at the time some believed VeriSign had grossly overpaid for a company that few outside the tech sector had ever heard of. Turns out Thawte was VeriSign’s biggest and only competitor as a digital internet certificate provider and acquisition made more sense for both companies rather than competition, VeriSign also took into account Thawte’s future revenues in it’s valuation. At the time Thawte founder and then 26 year old Mark Shuttleworthe was quoted as saying the sale was the best way for his company to unlock it’s value. This begs the question, if Shuttleworth had held on for a few more years could Thawte Consulting have been Africa’s first unicorn?

..could Thawte Consulting have been Africa’s first unicorn?

South African founded Dimension Data, or DiData, as it later came to be known, was Africa’s first breakout tech star. Listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in July 1987 for a modest 150 cents a share and raising R7,5 million, DiData went on to list on the London Stock Exchange in 2000 raising over $1,5 billion. The dotcom crash of the early 2000s was not kind to DiData seeing its share fall from R70 in late 2000 to less than R2 in 2003. Though they did ride out the storm and manage to rebuild, DiData were eventually sold to Japan’s NTT Dokomo in 2010 bringing an end to an era in African tech companies. Whilst being founded in Africa, DiData does not qualify as a unicorn, they’re 1987 IPO barely raised $1 million.

Follow the money

Since then, a number of tech startups have emerged across the continent garnering significant interest, notables include Nigeria’s Andela, online retailer Jumia which now spans from West to East Africa and a slew of fintech startups. It is amongst fintech startups that much of the hype around Africa’s first Unicorn is focused. Flutterwave, billed as the next big thing in payment platforms raised $10 million this July in Series A funding led by Silicon Valley venture capital funds Greycroft and Green Visor Capital, to put this in context, between January 2015 and August 2017 African fintech startups raised just over $100 million in funding. Also in July, Andela raised $40 million in Series C funding led by African venture capital firm CRE Venture Capital to bring it’s total funding to date to $80 million. Now, whilst these are not numbers to be sniffed at, they’re not exactly shooting the lights out when compared to what is required to even have a chance of achieving unicorn status.

between January 2015 and August 2017 African fintech startups raised just over $100 million in funding

Much of this startup funding originates outside of Africa which presents entrepreneurs with a number of problems not least of which is competing for the attention of a small investor base. Whilst, as will be explained in the next paragraph, Africa has significant private and public cash reserves, the appetite for tech investment is simply not there. On a continent where spending on telecoms is still seen as a nice to have, spending on basic infrastructure and poverty alleviation takes the bulk of public investment funds and tech is barely a consideration, if at all. This disconnect sees businesses across sectors looking offshore for funding even from inception. Ironically, technological advancement is partly to blame for this as the growth in mobile money in Africa races ahead of traditional banking.

Unlike in the United States, Africa has incredibly limited financial resources to direct towards new industries and with a financial sector dominated by global players who have other priorities besides the continent, talent and foresight are the least of our worries. In a 2017 study funded by South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry, the University of Johannesburg found that country’s top fifty listed companies were sitting on R1,4 trillion in cash reserves as at 2016 up from R242 billion in 2005. Added to this, in 2012 South Africa allocated R827 billion to the National Infrastructure Planmeant to fund healthcare facilities, schools, water, sanitation, housing, electrification, construction of ports, roads, railway systems and electricity plants. My point, even the continent’s most developed and financially complex economy has basic priorities it has to put ahead of creating unicorns coupled with an incredibly conservative private sector when it comes to investments in general but particularly in Africa. That said, one cannot go without mentioning South African firm Optimal Energy’s attempt to build a commercially viable electric car, a valiant effort that ended in 2012 taking over R300 million of public investment funds with it.

South Africa’s top fifty listed companies were sitting on R1,4 trillion in cash reserves as at 2016 up from R242 billion in 2005. Added to this, in 2012 South Africa allocated R827 billion to the National Infrastructure Plan

Where the founders are

Last but not least, founders are exiting before they realize the full potential of their businesses because, sooner or later they figure out that nobody with the money to do it, is really willing to risk funding a potential African unicorn when they can invest that money in a Silicon Valley firm with much greater chances of success. The thing is, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, if nobody is willing to put hundreds of millions into an African business then nobody will put hundreds of millions into an African business and there will be no billion dollar African startup. This has been true of Thawte Consulting, MXit, Jumia, Optimal Energy and Andela to name a few. A common thread amongst founders is that they are serial entrepreneurs who after exiting their startups have gone on to new businesses, never mind that the startups that we know them for are likely not their first businesses but just their best known. No matter where in the world you are, serial entrepreneurs are necessary for progress because economies can only grow through doing, the more we do, the more jobs we create and the more we create, the faster and more inclusive this growth will be.

A common thread amongst founders is that they are serial entrepreneurs

There is always something new out of Africa

Whilst Africa has been a leapfrogging champion, creating unicorns will not be one of those instances, much still needs to be done to deepen African economies before we can even dream of creating a conducive ecosystem. This may very well just be an exclusively American phenomenon but the news is not all bad though, the desire to create Silicon Valley clones across Africa may very well be the impetus to create something completely new that the world didn’t even know we needed.

“ex Africa semper aliquid novi”

Pliny the Elder

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Based in Johannesburg South Africa, Ricky Marima is a recovering economist and twenty year veteran of building businesses across a variety of industries. He currently works at knowledge startup RemNes where he guides clients across the continent to ask the right questions about the 4th Industrial Revolution. You can reach him on ricky@remnes.com

Cooperation Over Competition Is Africa’s Economic Future.

This article originally appeared on my LinkedIn page.

Good economic news has been in short supply for South Africa in recent months. From shocking allegations of state capture to the second cabinet reshuffle in less than two years and stagnant growth. A ratings downgrade proved inevitable in 2017 but there was a glimmer of hope with cautious reports of in September of green shoots emerging.

In continental news Egypt was named Africa’s top investment destination by RMB, knocking South Africa off the top spot for the first time in the seven years of the rating. South Africa and Nigeria continue to tussle for the title of Africa’s biggest economy but with a larger population and better overall growth prospects, the odds are in Nigeria’s favor. The news is not great either when you look at South Africa’s ranking in the 2017-18 WEF Global Competiveness Index (WEFGCI) or the World Bank’s Ease Of Doing Business Index.

This is by no means strictly a South African story, look at any African country and you will find they are struggling with at least one index or another. But what if we looked at things differently? What if instead of focusing on who is the best African country, region or city we looked at how through cooperation, African countries, regions or cities can overcome their individual weaknesses? It makes no sense for the African Union to trumpet African economic integration but in practice intra-regional cooperation has been woefully slow, for example, SADC’s intra-regional visa is still a dream after more than a decade of negotiations despite obvious economic benefits. It also makes no sense that a continent endowed with incredible resources competes for global investment and countries find themselves in a spiral to the bottom trying to attract foreign direct investment by giving up non-renewable resources that could fuel long term growth through beneficiation for immediate gain, the trade in unexploited oil blocks all along the east coast comes to mind.

Intra-Africa trade has only increased to 15% of total African trade in the period 2010-15 after languishing around 8-11% for the prior eight years due to numerous logistical and political bottlenecks. There is, however, hope that the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) will usher in ways to circumvent many of these bottlenecks as red tape lags behind technological advancements such as blockchain and industries now possible thanks to increasingly ubiquitous high speed internet. Faster internet speeds, rapidly mushrooming local content across all online platforms, increasing inward as every country has at least one international airport and growing intra-Africa travel is showing we Africans, are all the gateway to Africa. With blockchain cumbersome foreign exchange regulations that have long hindered intra-Africa trade could be a thing of the past. Couple this with high speed internet, one is now able to have cross-continental teams across all sorts of industries working simultaneously on the same project and not having to wait an eternity for payments or juggle exchange rates.

Blockages that have existed for decades are set to be overtaken by a new breed of entrepreneurs who do not see borders and lethargic legislation as they lead Africa’s resurgence. Cooperation, not traditional ideas of competition, is how Africa’s much talked about youth dividend will be realized. Rather than aspiring to be Africa’s top -insert favorite index here-, in the next thirty years national borders will give way to regional economic blocks anchored by mega-cities modeled by unique population growth, migration and urbanization patterns. Governments will focus on facilitating this cross-border entrepreneurial spirit through relevant educational systems, infrastructure development projects and meeting their developmental mandates.