February 3, 2011

Doing Business in Africa: Who is the Mad Man – or Woman?

We have a common saying in this country: “if you are swimming in the river, a mad man comes and steals your clothes and you leave the river naked to run after the mad man, who is really the mad man?
I am feeling a lot like the man (in this case woman) running naked after a mad man to get my clothes back. That is what it feels like to try to do business ethically in this country.
When crooked competitors win contract after contract while you struggle do make ends meet, who is the mad man?
When a customer tears up a payment because you refuse to bribe the accountant and says “see how you will get paid now,” who is the mad man?
When thugs working for an “enemy” are allowed to break down your door and assault you, the police comes and tells them “go home” without any punishment because you don’t bribe them, who is the mad man?
Perhaps what makes me even more the “mad woman” is that I still think something is wrong with the way the system works but I still persist in going against it.
I run after the mad man when I speak out about the lost contract, raising examples of unethical behavior – when the decision makers were certainly in on the deal.
I run after the mad man when I sue the customer to get my payment – in a corrupt judicial system that will drag the case on for years before eventually awarding me a judgment I can’t execute.
I run after the mad man when I protest to high level police officials – who tell me to go get my own thugs.
The examples are many. The point I am trying to make is that running counter-culture means running after the mad man. In the end, you are the one that looks stupid, the one that doesn’t get paid, the one that doesn’t get the contract, and the one that can’t get help from the police. I have frequently gotten laughed at to my face for refusing to bribe. And honestly, I begin to wonder if I am not the crazy one.


  1. You are following the truth and integrity. Even if you stand alone and as the last (wo)man! Time will heal your environment, the world is changing rapidly, look at Tunesia, Egypt and many other places. Never, eber give up doing the right thing (think about Mandela).

  2. Yeah, I'm not sure what to say. As a fellow expat in Africa, I read your blog hoping to find positive, encouraging results from a good, ethical businessperson from you, who's trying to both make a profit and help the local economy. But thus far, it might unfortunately be a lost cause...

  3. Oh. Kevin, So sorry. Really. I wish things were different. I hate to sound so pessimistic. I just don't want to lie or sugar coat the reality here. I still have hope though, believe it or not.

    God Bless and thanks for the comment.

  4. I've tried albeit not during a long span of time to do business there.

    The environment just isn't conducive.
    Corruption is rampant and there's no ethics whatsoever.

    Talk about how many small companies that simply vanish and jobs that are lost because of such behaviors.

  5. You have to stick to your guns. I have been following your blog and you have come a long way.

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