Walk in our shoes, Experience Africa through Zambia
Written by Makena Njeru and Dennis Ondieki, Lapid Leaders from Cohort 4:
As part of the Lapid Leaders Experience, we had the privilege of conducting our Study Trip in Zambia. In the previous blog, I shared some of the lessons I picked from the Experience. In this blog, I will share additional lessons from the Experience . At Lapid Leaders we believe that we cannot change Africa if we do not understand it; this Experience is a starting point towards getting a good understanding of the Continent.
The journey from Nairobi to Lusaka took 3 days as we traveled by road. We had as many amazing moments as we did challenges. We got to bond more with each other; we sung, played and at some points we could even alight from the van and walk, run, dance and make a lot of jokes. We learnt a lot from each other.
On the other hand, we were faced by several challenges and we had to come up with solutions to most of these. For instance we were stopped at literally every police road block. When we observed this trend, we started being more friendly to the police officers and always left them cheered up and in high spirits.
Another highlight of this journey was our 10 hour stop at NACODE (Zambian border from Tanzania). It was one of the most trying moments for the team; being stranded at the border because the team refused to pay bribes and compromise their values was no mean task. However, the frustration of having to wait for 10 hours gave us an opportunity to educate the people around us on importance of integrity.
The highlight of this set back was having left a positive image of leaders who are unwilling to compromise their values.
What we learned
There are many trade opportunities that exist across Africa. Our meeting with Risper Ohaga, a Kenyan living and working in Zambia as the CFO of Barclays, and who has been featred in top 40 under 40 severally, was phenomenon. Some of the lessons from the meeting included:
- Look for an employer who will invest in you
- Invest in your career-don’t chase money- experience is very important
- Work in teams- to raise the bar be exemplary in all you do
We also had the privilege of vising the headquater of Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and met with the Secretary General alongside his team. The meeting was very insightful, and exciting as we had never expected to meet Secretary General but to our surprise he decided to come to address us. He talked on the progress he and his team have made in the COMESA region. The following were some of his take out:
- African problems can only be solved by Africans themselves.
- Young people need to understand the opportunities in the Continent, reposition themselves and take lead now.
- The biggest problem Africa is facing is not political or social but economical. This problem manifests itself in broken political and social systems
- Leadership needs to be developed at an early stage.
We also had the privilege of meeting Chola Mutoni, a social entrepreneur who is running an organization for preserving Zambian culture primarily through documenting the local languages. We learnt the importance of preserving the local languages for our future generations. Other take outs included:
- We need to know our identity as Africans, and be proud of it
- Our future generations need to know our language.
- You can start something in the community and bring change.
We met many other leaders and entrepreneurs in Zambia. The last one that we will highlight here is a young successful entrepreneur who has been featured in several Forbes lists, Mutoba Ngoma. He is the Founder and CEO of Tapera Industries Limited, a company that focusing primarily on renewable energy processing and raw material resources. This was a very inspiring meeting. We learnt a lot from him, having studied in Kenya we felt at home and engaged him more. He took us a round his factory and all the process of what they do. Some of the key take-outs included:
- Believe in yourself
- Engage other people in the industry
- Take your time before starting any startups
- Never begin a business with a loan it may work or not. Learn to get your capital from friends and family
- Care about your customer and suppliers
Through this Experience, we identified very many opportunities.
- Manufacturing – Africa relies a lot on imported goods but there is a very huge market for manufacturing and selling locally produced goods. It is now easier to sell local products especially in Zambia where the government has launched the “BUY ZAMBIA” campaign.
- Infrastructure – There exists opportunities in this sector by improving on the infrastructure that connects the entire COMESA region. One such opportunity is having a standard gauge railway system that connects the COMESA member states. This makes travel within the countries cheaper and faster.
- Technology – There are still many opportunities that exist in this sector because of the diversity of Africa’s. For instance technology is yet to be fully exploited in the energy sector and agriculture sector among others.
- Agriculture – Large scale farming still remain a major business opportunity across Africa. For Instance Zambia is a very fertile country but land still remains unused in the Northern region. Clothing business sector remains unexploited yet there is a lot of talent among Africa that can sew and supply clothes to the world.
- Telecommunication – We had to purchase multiple sim cards from different network providers as they was no dominant one. Communication hence proved to be difficult along the way unless we were in the within the vicinity of a major town.
At the end of the trip, we were all very clear that east or west home is best! Other observations that we found perturbing include
Dislike for Kenyans – In one of the countries that we passed through, there was an obvious dislike for Kenyans. There is a notion that we as Africans are united and we are one but this is not necessarily the case. This is a very unfortunate state of affairs. Africa will only progress when the countries stop operating in silos and build Pan-African brand!
Cultural society – The Zambians are very cultural, in and out of the workplace. This was was obvious from how they received and greeted us, to their interaction with each other. In a couple of our meetings it was aired out to us some of the cultural practices that take place and how they are important despite their individual’s status quo. It impressive how they have managed to retain all these in their day and age at which is in competition with the rate of development within Lusaka.
Witchcraft – Despite the country being a Christian nation there was a lot of witchcraft advertisement in their newspapers and also a lot of stories about witchcraft having a significant influence in the country. There is even an Act of Parliament in place that prohibits witchcraft! This made us wonder on what their understanding of Christianity was, and how the Christianity had been brought to the nation.
Daily blackouts – There are daily blackouts within the country ranging from 4-8hrs since the power supply is less than the demand. This affects a lot of activities within the country especially since a bulk of the population cannot afford backup power services to continue with their businesses. This is very sad, that in the 21st century, many African nations ar still struggling to get such basics in order.
The Experience was amazing, we are forever grateful for the opportunity to see and experience all these. We are grateful to everyone who made this a reality, from the mentors who we met, to the mentors who helped us to plan and fundraise for the trip, God bless you immensely