Mr. Mustapha Njie, CEO/MD of TAF African Homes delivered a powerful keynote address on “African Entrepreneur-The Challenge of Globalization” at the 2016 GCCI Gala dinner and awards night. You can read the full keynote address below:
It is indeed a great honor and a privilege for me to be invited to be the Chief Guest of honor and to deliver the keynote address during this dinner and awards night. I would like to thank the board for the recognition and honor they continue to give me, dating back to the Businessman of the Year in 1992 / 93
Whist I have been asked to speak to the theme: African Entrepreneurs – “The Challenge of Globalization” I would rather focus my speech on the challenges and opportunities in expending businesses in Africa. I am sure the issues raised will resonate in the global context.
This subject is close to my heart and indeed, I will anchor what I have to say in my own personal journey.
Let me therefore start from the beginning. As mentioned in the introductory video, I have always been passionate about technical education and very early on I took a decision that my career would build on this. Such passion is really critical if one is to succeed. In today’s world it is important to recognize that everyone has a skill or gift which should be nurtured.
I was also very lucky to be part of the New Perseverance” Vous” which really helped build my self-confidence and provided much needed peer support. We hung out daily, drinking “attaya” and playing chess after work or school but mainly engaged in debates on current affairs. This helped us build our worldview and knowledge considerably. While we shouted at the top of our voices, we were never violent. It taught me to be self-confident at a very young age. We also learnt from each other and built a solid support system. The global Arena can be brutal and players need to be self-confident to operate in this space. “Gom sa Bopa” as we say in “Wollof” is a must in today’s world.
As I stated earlier in the Video, Apprenticeship and learning is key. Learning is a lifelong process. In addition to what I learnt in building up my career in The Gambia, I later on became a member of the West African Enterprise Network. I was privileged to meet with my peers from other African countries. I served in the Executive Committee and this took me to 36 African countries. This contributed significantly to myself development and I could engage with policy makers in Africa and the international community in advocating for a better environment for doing business in Africa
In this business, like in many others it is true to say, no pain, no gain. One has to take risks, and I took a risk at 33yrs to set up my business. I had a vision for where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do and I gave it my all, not cutting any corners. This also means that failure is part of the process, and it always provides important lessons. Not every attempt I made in expanding my businesses has been successful. I failed in some but learnt from the experience. It is imperative to always persevere and never give up.
Building a solid reputation is at the core of our business. I strived to achieve client satisfaction by delivering quality homes and other projects on time. One of my guiding principles is to always give client satisfaction the highest priority. Potential partners and clients are most interested in reputation before any form of engagement.
To do business globally or regionally requires being competitive. In addition to what I have already mentioned, it also means that we have to venture out of our comfort zones. It is easy to be a big fish in a small pond. Travelling around made me better exposed to ways of life and business throughout Africa. This and the knowledge I have gained at home and with my peers has made it possible for me to compete within the region.
Africa is a vast and diverse continent. My 1st challenge was when I was invited to Mali in 2004 by then President Amadou Tumani Toure to invest in affordable housing in Mali. I had a meeting with him without an interpreter. He only spoke French and I only spoke English. I leant an important lesson which I addressed immediately by taking a holiday and enrolling in an intensive French course in France. Taking into account that 10 out of the 15 countries in West Africa are Francophone, it became very clear to me that if I was to expand my business in the sub region, I needed to understand French very quickly. You cannot compete if you can’t communicate.
Adopting this type of orientation has been key in my expansion in the sub region. Today we have registered our business in 8 African countries, and we are listed and active in 4 of them. This is something we have worked on over the years and I have mentioned elements of the strategy that got us to where we are today.
And now to NIGERIA. Nigeria is the biggest and most active project we have right now. Let me share my experience with the challenges I have had and how I was able to overcome them and turn them into opportunities. Local partnerships are a must. In trying to expand into any African country, one must learn to work in partnership with good local partners. Again as we say in wollof “Gaanarr amfa narr bahhna”. It is our policy not to own more than 51% shares in any country, and this is what we have done in Nigeria.
Let me now focus on the Rivtaf Golf Estate, which is our Flagship project in Nigeria. We negotiated with the River State Government on a Public Private Partnership to develop a 1000 unit housing project. This is a multi-million dollar project and obviously financing is key.
The startup capital was invested by shareholders and the project was initiated mainly with off plan financing by buyers. Buyers became confident in making advance payments, after making extensive research about my track record. The lesson here is obvious and I have mentioned it before – REPUTATON MATTERS
We immediately got overwhelmed by the size of this project, especially the human resources capacity. We quickly started building our human resources base with the employment of young African personal. We were short of skilled technical workforce and had to hire about 400 tradesmen from Senegal and Gambia. We move them with buses and it took them 7 days.
I wasn’t the only one with challenges. You can imagine having this number of Senegambians in Nigeria. How will they adapt? What will they eat? They were actually very Resourceful. These boys got one of the Nigerian ladies selling Nigerian food, taught her to cook Benechin, Mbahal, Dahine and Himm ataaya. .. The rest is history…
Another challenge we encountered was to use local labour whilst maintaining our quality. Getting skilled workers is a major problem for the industry. We therefore continuously trained about 100 young contractors, some of whom were brought to The Gambia to acquaint themselves with works done here.
We were also constrained by not having enough engineers to supervise these contractors to maintain good quality of work. We contacted some of the young supervisors that worked with us when we built the AU villas in the Gambia in 2006. Today about 12 of them are amongst the best engineers in Nigeria
The Niger Delta has its own challenges and is known for militancy. It is one of the most difficult places to execute any project. We had the community protesting to stop our works. We engaged them, trained and empowered them to benefit from the project. We are proud that today we have contractors from the 3 communities that are building houses for us to our standards.
The learning’s from this project have been profound. Training, motivation and empowerment of my team is no 1. I am proud that we have a competent and well-motivated, pan African young team. This has made my work very easy these days.
We have to keep abreast in our field and embrace technology if we are to compete. In this regard, our apartment blocks are built out of steel and are earthquake resistant.
We have been able to use ICT to our advantage as a means of communication. We no longer sit in meeting rooms and spend hours, but create groups on available platforms as a means of communication. This also helps to be on permanent contact, regardless of your location at any given time
We thank Allah that the project is coming to an end and we have been planning ahead. As I said earlier, this year we launched the delivery of one million homes in sub-Sahara Africa. We will identify, train and empower young Africans to deliver this project with the creation of 30 million jobs
We are also working on redefining and reconstruction of open markets and involved in negotiations to build the biggest market in Nigeria with over 60,000 shops
In concluding, I just wanted to reaffirm that Africa is the next big frontier and the opportunities are enormous. We should make use of these opportunities, as not only will it be good business but it will also build a bright future for our children and for future generations.
Your say on this keynote address
I was trying to highlight some few points but I almost underline the whole speech. You will agree with me that it was a very inspirational keynote address. Thank you Sir for sharing your experience with us.
In addition to the keynote address, you can also read the full list of nominees and award winners of the night.