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Building a Kingdom – Case Study of Kingdom Financial Holdings Limited

Posted on March 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

This article presents a case study of sustained entrepreneurial growth of Kingdom Financial Holdings. It is one of the entrepreneurial banks which survived the financial crisis that started in Zimbabwe in 2003. The bank was established in 1994 by four entrepreneurial young bankers. It has grown substantially over the years. The case examines the origins, growth and expansion of the bank. It concludes by summarizing lessons or principles that can be derived from this case that maybe applicable to entrepreneurs.

Profile of an Entrepreneur: Nigel Chanakira

Nigel Chanakira was raised in the Highfield suburb of Harare in an entrepreneurial family. His father and uncle operated a public transport company Modern Express and later diversified into retail shops. Nigel’s father later exited the family business. He bought out one of the shops and expanded it. During school holidays young Nigel, as the first born, would work in the shops. His parents, particularly his mother, insisted that he acquire an education first.

On completion of high school, Nigel failed to enter dental or medical school, which were his first passions. In fact his grades could only qualify him for the Bachelor of Arts degree programme at the University of Zimbabwe. However, he “sweet-talked his way into a transfer” to the Bachelor in Economics degree programme. Academically he worked hard, exploiting his strong competitive character that was developed during his sporting days. Nigel rigorously applied himself to his academic pursuits and passed his studies with excellent grades, which opened the door to employment as an economist with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ).

During his stint with the Reserve Bank, his economic mindset indicated to him that wealth creation was happening in the banking sector therefore he determined to understand banking and financial markets. While employed at RBZ, he read for a Master’s degree in Financial Economics and Financial Markets as preparation for his debut into banking. At the Reserve Bank under Dr Moyana, he was part of the research team that put together the policy framework for the liberalization of the financial services within the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme. Being at the right place at the right time, he became aware of the opportunities which were opening up. Nigel exploited his position to identify the most profitable banking institution to work for as preparation for his future. He headed to Bard Discount House and worked for five years under Charles Gurney.

A short while later the two black executives at Bard, Nick Vingirayi and Gibson Muringai, left to form Intermarket Discount House. Their departure inspired the young Nigel. If these two could establish a banking institution of their own so could he, given time. The departure also created an opportunity for him to rise to fill the vacancy. This gave the aspiring banker critical managerial experience. Subsequently he became a director for Bard Investment Services where he gained critical experience in portfolio management, client relationships and dealing within the dealing department. While there he met Franky Kufa, a young dealer who was making waves, who would later become a key co-entrepreneur with him.

Despite his professional business engagement his father enrolled Nigel in the Barclays Bank “Start Your Own Business” Programme. However what really made an impact on the young entrepreneur was the Empretec Entrepreneur Training programme (May 1994), to which he was introduced by Mrs Tsitsi Masiyiwa. The course demonstrated that he had the requisite entrepreneurial competences.

Nigel talked Charles Gurney into an attempted management buy-out of Bard from Anglo -American. This failed and the increasingly frustrated aspiring entrepreneur considered employment opportunities with Nick Vingirai’s Intermarket and Never Mhlanga’s National Discount House which was on the verge of being formed – hoping to join as a shareholder since he was acquainted with the promoters. He was denied this opportunity.

Being frustrated at Bard and having been denied entry into the club by pioneers, he resigned in October 1994 with the encouragement of Mrs Masiyiwa to pursue his entrepreneurial dream.

The Dream

Inspired by the messages of his pastor, Rev. Tom Deuschle, and frustrated at his inability to participate in the church’s massive building project, Nigel sought a way of generating huge financial resources. During a time of prayer he claims that he had a divine encounter where he obtained a mandate from God to start Kingdom Bank. He visited his pastor and told him of this encounter and the subsequent desire to start a bank. The godly pastor was amazed at the 26 year old with “big spectacles and wearing tennis shoes” who wanted to start a bank. The pastor prayed before counselling the young man. Having been convinced of the genuineness of Nigel’s dream, the pastor did something unusual. He asked him to give a testimony to the congregation of how God was leading him to start a bank. Though timid, the young man complied. That experience was a powerful vote of confidence from the godly pastor. It demonstrates the power of mentors to build a protégé.

Nigel teamed up with young Franky Kufa. Nigel Chanakira left Bard at the position of Chief Economist. They would build their own entrepreneurial venture. Their idea was to identify players who had specific competences and would each be able to generate financial resources from his activity. Their vision was to create a one – stop financial institution offering a discount house, an asset management company and a merchant bank. Nigel used his Empretec model to develop a business plan for their venture. They headhunted Solomon Mugavazi, a stockbroker from Edwards and Company and B. R. Purohit, a corporate banker from Stanbic. Kufa would provide money market expertise while Nigel provided income from government bond dealings as well as overall supervision of the team.

Each of the budding partners brought in an equal portion of the Z$120,000 as start-up capital. Nigel talked to his wife and they sold their recently acquired Eastlea home and vehicles to raise the equivalent of US$17,000 as their initial capital. Nigel, his wife and three kids headed back to Highfield to live in with his parents. The partners established Garmony Investments which started trading as an unregistered financial institution. The entrepreneurs agreed not to draw a salary in their first year of operations as a bootstrapping strategy.

Mugavazi introduced and recommended Lysias Sibanda, a chartered accountant, to join the team. Nigel was initially reluctant as each person had to bring in an earning capacity and it was not clear how an accountant would generate revenue at start up in a financial institution. Nigel initially retained a 26% share which assured him a blocking vote as well as giving him the position of controlling shareholder.

Nigel credits the Success Motivation Institute (SMI) course “The Dynamics of Successful Management” as the lethal weapon that enabled him to acquire managerial competences. Initially he insisted that all his key executives undertake this training programme.

Birth of the Kingdom

Kingdom Securities P/L commenced operations in November 1994 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Garmony Investments (Pvt) Ltd. It traded as a broker on both money and stock markets.

On 24th February 1995 Kingdom Securities Holding was born with the following subsidiaries: Kingdom Securities Ltd, Kingdom Stockbrokers (Pvt) Ltd and Kingdom Asset Managers (Pvt) Ltd. The flagship Kingdom Securities Ltd was registered as a Discount House under Banking Act Chapter 188 on 25th July 1995. Kingdom Stockbrokers was registered with the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange under ZSE Chapter 195 on 1st August 1995. The pre-licensing trading had generated good revenue but they still had a 20% deficit of the required capital. Most institutional investors turned them down as they were a greenfield company promoted by people perceived to be “too young”. At this stage National Merchant Bank, Intermarket and others were on the market raising equity and these were run by seasoned and mature promoters. However Rachel Kupara, then MD for Zimnat, believed in the young entrepreneurs and took up the first equity portion for Zimnat at 5%.

Norman Sachikonye, then Financial Director and Investments Manager at First Mutual followed suit, taking up an equity share of 15%. These two institutional investors were inducted as shareholders of Kingdom Securities Holdings on 1st August 1995. Garmony Investments ceased operations and reversed itself into Kingdom Securities on 31st July 1995, thereby becoming an 80% shareholder.

The first year of operations was marked by intense competition as well as discrimination against new financial institutions by public organisations. All the other operating units performed well except for the corporate finance department with Kingdom Securities, led by Purohit. This monetary loss, differing spiritual and ethical values led to the forced departure of Purohit as an executive director and shareholder on 31st December 1995. From then the Kingdom started to grow exponentially.

Structural Growth

Nigel and his team pursued an aggressive growth strategy with the intention of increasing market share, profitability, and geographic spread while developing a strong brand. The growth strategy was built around a business philosophy of simplifying financial services and making them easily accessible to the general public. An IT strategy that created a low cost delivery channel exploiting ATMs and POS while providing a platform that was ready for Internet and web-based applications, was espoused.

On 1st April 1997, Kingdom Financial Services was licensed as an accepting house focusing on trading and distributing foreign currency, treasury activities, corporate finance, investment banking and advisory services. It was formed under the leadership of Victor Chando with the intention of becoming the merchant banking arm of the Group. In 1998, Kingdom Merchant Bank (KMB) was licensed and it took over the assets and liabilities of Kingdom Securities Limited. Its main focus was treasury related products, off-balance sheet finance, foreign currency and trade finance. Kingdom Research Institute was established as a support service to the other units.

The entrepreneurial bankers, cognisant of their limitations, sought to achieve critical mass quickly by actively seeking capital injection from equity investors. The aim was to broaden ownership while lending strategic support in areas of mutual interest. An attempt at equity uptake from Global Emerging Markets from London failed. However in 1997 the efforts of the bankers were rewarded when the following organisations took up some equity, reducing the shareholding of executive directors as shown below: ïEUR Ipcorn 0.7%, ïEUR Zambezi Fund Mauritius P/L 1.1%, ïEUR Zambezi Fund P/L 0.7%. ïEUR Kingdom Employee Share Trust 5%, ïEUR Southern Africa Enterprise Development Fund – 8% redeemable preference shares amounting to US$1,5m as the first investee company in Southern Africa from the US Fund initiated by US President Bill Clinton, ïEUR Weiland Investments, a company belonging to Mr Richard Muirimi, a long standing friend of Nigel and associate in the fund management business took up 1.7%, Garmony Investments 71.7% -executive directors. ïEUR After a rights issue Zimnat fell to 4.8% while FML went down to 14.3%.

In 1998, Kingdom launched four Unit Trusts which proved very popular with the market. Initially these products were focused at individual clients of the discount house as well as private portfolios of Kingdom Stockbroking. Aggressive marketing and awareness campaigns established the Kingdom Unit Trust as the most popular retail brand of the group. The Kingdom brand was thus born.

Acquisition of Discount Company of Zimbabwe (DCZ)

After a spurt of organic growth, the Kingdom entrepreneurs decided to hasten the growth rate synergistically. They set out to acquire the oldest discount house in the country and the world, The Discount Company of Zimbabwe, which was a listed entity. With this acquisition Kingdom would acquire critical competences as well as achieve the much coveted ZSE listing inexpensively through a reverse listing. Initial efforts at a negotiated merger with DCZ were rebuffed by its executives who could not countenance a forty year old institution being swallowed up by a four year old business. The entrepreneurs were not deterred. Nigel approached his friend Greg Brackenridge at Stanbic to finance and effect the acquisition of the sixty percent shares which were in the hands of about ten shareholders, on behalf of Kingdom Financial Holdings but to be placed in the ownership of Stanbic Nominees. This strategy masked the identity of the acquirer. Claud Chonzi, the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) GM and a friend to Lysias Sibanda (a Kingdom executive director), agreed to act as a front in the negotiations with the DCZ shareholders. NSSA is a well known institutional investor and hence these shareholders may have believed that they were dealing with an institutional investor. Once Kingdom controlled 60% of DCZ, it took over the company and reverse listed itself onto the Stock Exchange as Kingdom Financial Holdings Limited (KFHL). Because of the negative real interest rates, Kingdom successfully used debt finance to structure the acquisition. This acquisition and the subsequent listing gave the once despised young entrepreneurs confidence and credibility on the market.

Other Strategic Acquisitions

Within the same year Kingdom Merchant Bank acquired a strategic stake in CFX Bureau de Change owned by Sean Maloney as well as another stake in a greenfield microlending franchise, Pfihwa P/L. CFX was changed into KFX and used in most foreign currency trading activities. KFHL set as a strategic intention the acquisition of an additional 24.9% stake in CFX Holdings to safeguard the initial investment and ensure management control. This did not work out. Instead, Sean Maloney opted out and took over the failed Universal Merchant Bank licence to form CFX Merchant Bank. Although Kingdom executives contend that the alliance failed due to the abolition of bureau de change by government, it appears that Sean Maloney refused to give up control of the extra shareholding sought by Kingdom. It therefore would be reasonable that once Kingdom could not control KFX, a fall out ensued. The liquidation of this investment in 2002 resulted in a loss of Z$403 million on that investment. However this was manageable in light of the strong group profitability.

Pfihwa P/L financed the informal sector as a form of corporate social responsibility. However when the hyperinflationary environment and stringent regulatory environment encroached on the viability of the project, it was wound up in early 2004. Kingdom pursued its financing of the informal sector through MicroKing, which was established with international assistance. By 2002 MicroKing had eight branches located in the midst of, or near, micro-enterprise clusters.

In 2000, due to increased activity on the foreign currency front within the banking sector, Kingdom opened a private banking facility through the discount house to exploit revenue streams from this market. Following market trends, it engaged the insurance company AIG to enter the bancassurance market in 2003.

Meikles Strategic Alliance

In 1999 the entrepreneurial Chanakira on advice from his executives and the legendary corporate finance team from Barclays bank led by the affable Hugh Van Hoffen entered into a strategic alliance with Meikles Africa whereby it injected some Z$322 million into Kingdom for an equity shareholding of 25%. Interestingly, the deal nearly collapsed on pricing as Meikles only wanted to pay $250 million whilst KFHL valued themselves at Z$322 million which in real terms was the largest private sector deal done between an indigenous bank and a listed corporate. Nigel testifies that it was a walk through the incomplete Celebration Church site on the Saturday preceding the signing of the Meikles deal that led him to sign the deal which he saw as a means for him to sow a whopping seed into the church to boost the Building Fund. God was faithful! Kingdom’s share price shot up dramatically from $2,15 at the time he made the commitment to the Pastor all the way to $112,00 by the following October!

In return Kingdom acquired a powerful cash-rich shareholder that allowed it entrance into retail banking through an innovative in-store banking strategy. Meikles Africa opened its retail branches, namely TM Supermarkets, Clicks, Barbours, Medix Pharmacies and Greatermans, as distribution channels for Kingdom commercial bank or as account holders providing deposits and requiring banking services. This was a cheaper way of entering retail banking. It proved useful during the 2003 cash crisis because Meikles with its massive cash resources within its business units assisted Kingdom Bank, thus cushioning it from a liquidity crisis. The alliance also raised the reputation and credibility of Kingdom Bank and created an opportunity for Kingdom to finance Meikles Africa’s customers through the jointly owned Meikles Financial Services. Kingdom provided the funding for all lease and hire purchases from Meikles’ subsidiaries, thus driving sales for Meikles while providing easy lending opportunities for Kingdom. Meikles managed the relationship with the client.

Meikles Africa as a strategic shareholder assured Kingdom of success when recapitalisation was required and has enhanced Kingdom’s brand image. This strategic relationship has created powerful synergies for mutual benefit.

Commercial Banking

Exploiting the opportunities arising from the strategic relationship with Meikles Africa, Kingdom made its debut into retail banking in January 2001 with in-store branches at High Glen and Chitungwiza TM supermarkets. The target was principally the mass market. This rode on the strong brand Kingdom had created through the Unit Trusts. In-store banking offered low cost delivery channels with minimal investment in brick and mortar. By the end of 2001, thirteen branches were operational across the country. This followed a deliberate strategy for aggressive roll-out of the branches with two flagship branches ïEUR­ïEUR one in Bulawayo and the other in Harare. There was a huge emphasis on an IT driven strategy with significant cross-selling between the commercial bank and other SBUs.

However, it was further discovered that there was a market for the upmarket clients and hence Crown banking outlets were established to diversify the target market. In 2004, after closing three in-store branches in a rationalization exercise, there were 16 in-store branches and 9 Crown banking outlets.

The entrance into commercial banking was probably held at the wrong time, considering the imminent changes in the banking industry. Commercial banking does provide cheap deposits, however at the price of huge staff costs and human resource management complications. Nigel concedes that, with hindsight, this could have been delayed or done at a slower pace. However, the need for increased market share in a fiercely competitive industry necessitated this. Another reason for persisting with the commercial banking project was that of prior agreements with Meikles Africa. It is possible that Meikles Africa had been sold on the equity take-up deal on the back of promises to engage in in-store banking, which would increase revenue for its subsidiaries.

Innovative Products and Services

KFHL continued its aggressive pursuit of product innovation. After the failure of the KFX project, CurrencyKing was established to continue the work. However this was abolished in November 2002 by government ministerial intervention when bureau de change were prohibited in an effort to stamp out parallel market foreign currency trading.

Sadly this governmental decision was misguided for not only did it fail to banish foreign currency parallel trading but it drove underground, made it more lucrative and subsequently the government lost all control of the management of the exchange rate.

In October 2002, KFHL established Kingdom Leasing after being granted a finance house licence. Its mandate was to exploit opportunities to trade in financial leases, lease hire and short term financial products.

Regional Expansion

Around 2000 it became evident that the domestic market was highly competitive, with limited prospects of future growth. A decision was made to diversify revenue streams and reduce country risk through penetration into the regional markets. This strategy would exploit the proven competences in securities trading, asset management and corporate advisory services from a small capital base. Therefore the entrance had low risk in terms of capital injection. Considering the foreign exchange control limitations and shortage of foreign currency in Zimbabwe, this was a prudent strategy but not without its downside, as will be seen in the Botswana venture.

In 2001, KFHL acquired a 25.1% stake in a greenfield banking enterprise in Malawi, First Discount House Ltd. To safeguard its investment and ensure managerial control, an executive director and dealer were seconded to the Malawi venture while Nigel Chanakira chaired the Board. This investment has continued to grow and yield positive returns. As of July 2006 Kingdom had finally managed to up its stake from 25,1% to 40% in this investment and may ultimately control it to the point of seeking a conversion of the license to a commercial bank.

KFHL also took up a 25% equity stake in Investrust Merchant Bank Zambia. Franky Kufa was seconded to it as an executive director while Nigel took a seat on the Board.

KFHL had been promised an option to gain a controlling stake. However when the bank stabilized, the Zambian shareholders entered into some questionable transactions and were not prepared to allow KFHL to up it’s stake and so KFHL decided to pull out as relationships turned frosty. The Zambian Central Bank intervened with a promise to grant KFHL its own banking license. This did not materialize as the Zambian Central Bank exploited the banking crisis in Zimbabwe to deny KHFL a licence. A reasonable premium of Z$2.5 billion was obtained at disinvestment.

In Botswana, a subsidiary called Kingdom Bank Africa Ltd (KBAL) was established as an offshore bank in the International Finance Centre. KBAL was intended to spearhead and manage regional initiatives for Kingdom. It was headed by Mrs Irene Chamney, seconded by Lysias Sibanda with the concurrence of Nigel after managerial challenges in Zimbabwe. Two other senior executives were seconded there. She successfully set up the KBAL’s banking infrastructure and had good relations with the Botswana authorities.

However, the business model chosen of an offshore bank ahead of a domestic Botswana merchant bank license turned out to be the Achilles heel of the bank more so when the Zimbabwe banking crisis set in between 2003 and 2005. There were fundamental differences in how Mrs Chamney and Chanakira saw the bank surviving and going forward.

Ultimately, it was deemed prudent for Mrs. Chamney to leave the bank in 2005. In 2001 KFHL acquired the mandate as the sole distributor of the American Express card in the whole of Africa except for RSA. This was handled through KBAL. Kingdom Private Bank was transferred from the discount house to become a subsidiary of KBAL due to the prevailing regulatory environment in Zimbabwe.

In 2004 KBAL was temporarily placed under curatorship due to undercapitalisation. At this stage the parent company had regulatory constraints that prevented foreign currency capital injection.

A solution was found in the sourcing of local partners and the transfer of US$1 million previously realised from the proceeds of the Investrust liquidation to Botswana. Nigel Chanakira took a more active management role in KBAL because of its huge strategic significance to the future of KFHL. Currently efforts are underway to acquire a local commercial bank licence in Botswana as well. Once this is acquired there are two possible scenarios, namely maintaining both licences or giving up the offshore licence.

The interviewees were divided in their opinion on this. However in my view, judging from the stakeholder power involved, KFHL is likely to give up the off shore banking licence and use the local Kingdom Bank Botswana (Pula Bank) licence for regional and domestic expansion.

Human Resources

The staff complement grew from the initial 23 in 1995 to more than 947 by 2003. The growth was consistent with the growing institution. It exploded, especially during the launch and expansion of the commercial bank. Kingdom from inception had a strong human resourcing strategy which entailed significant training both internally and externally. Before the foreign currency crisis, employees were sent for training in such countries as RSA, Sweden, India and the USA. In the person of Faith Ntabeni Bhebhe, Kingdom had an energetic HR driver who created powerful HR systems for the emerging behemoth.

As a sign of its commitment to building the human resource capability, in 1998 Kingdom Financial Services entered a management agreement with Holland based AMSCO for the provision of seasoned bankers. Through this strategic alliance Kingdom strengthened its skills base and increased opportunities for skills transfer to locals. This helped the entrepreneurial bankers create a solid managerial system for the bank while the seasoned bankers from Holland compensated for the youthfulness of the emerging bankers. What a foresight!

In-house self-paced interactive learning, team building exercises and mentoring were all part of the learning menu targeted at developing the human resource capacity of the group. Work and job profiling was introduced to best match employees to suitable posts. Career path and succession planning were embraced. Kingdom was the first entrepreneurial bank to have smooth unforced CEO transitions. The founding CEO passed on the baton to Lysias Sibanda in 1999 as he stepped into the role of Group CEO and board deputy chair. His role was now to pursue and spearhead global and regional niche financial markets. A few years later there was another change of the guard as

Franky Kufa stepped in as Group CEO to replace Sibanda, who resigned on medical grounds. One could argue that these smooth transitions were due to the fact that the baton was passing to founding directors.

With the explosive growth in staff complement due to the commercial bank project, culture issues emerged. Consequently, KFHL engaged in an enculturation programme resulting in a culture revolution dubbed “Team Kingdom”. This culture had to be reinforced due to dilutions through significant mergers and acquisitions, significant staff turnover because of increased competition, emigration to greener pastures and the age profile of the staff increased the risk of high mobility and fraudulent activities in collusion with members of the public. Culture changes are difficult to effect and their effectiveness even harder to assess.

In 2004, with a high staff turnover of around 14%, a compensation strategy that ring fenced critical skills like IT and treasury was implemented. Due to the low margins and the financial stress experienced in 2004, KFHL lost more than 341 staff members due to retrenchment, natural attrition and emigration. This was acceptable as profitability fell while staff costs soared. At this stage, staff costs accounted for 58% of all expenses.

Despite the impressive growth, the financial performance when inflation adjusted was mediocre. Actually a loss position was reported in 2004. This growth was severely compromised by the hyperinflationary conditions and the restrictive regulatory environment.

Conclusion

This article shows the determination of entrepreneurs to push through to the realisation of their dreams despite significant odds. In a subsequent article we will tackle the challenges faced by Nigel Chanakira in solidifying his investments.

Living in The Gambia

Posted on March 22, 2018 in Uncategorized

SUMMARY
I enjoy traveling around West Africa, especially around culturally rich regions blending nature with modern infrastructural developments. Both my air and road travels around this ECOWAS subregion in the last 15 years has been both instructive and enriching for me. I have been culturally immersed with diversity in languages, religion, culture, food, architecture, climate, economic life, flora and fauna.

The knowledge acquired, cannot be quantified in monetary terms, and i will recommend this educational tours to our youths to enable them appreciate and tolerate other cultures, thus reducing conflicts and disputes among neighboring countries. Somewhere else, i have written and held several seminars on working and living in Ghana about 11 years ago.

Today, the success story of Ghana is evident to all and this country Ghana, has emerged as one of the best economies in the subregion. Again, i am introducing another emerging great economy to you, The Gambia.

Before the whole world flood here, and you’ll be left out, why not take my advise seriously and invest, work, live or holiday in this beautiful country to experience what I’m talking about? I love this peaceful country blessed with hospitable people. Gambians welcome you with natural inspiring smiles. The Gambia is bounded round by an historical river, rich in natural resources of sea foods, animals and healing powers. Welcome to The Gambia, the smiling coast of West Africa.

From the natural beauty of Makasutu Village, historical sites of Kunta Kinteh village, James Island, Kachikally Crocodile pool, Kanilai Farm, and so many other sites to the beaches and people, you will hardly want to leave. Little wonder, there are so many repeat tourists coming to The Gambia for the past 10-15 years that I’ve met. They come from all over Europe, Americas, Asia and Africa. At the beach, the beauty of the Sea, the sand and sun will remind you of Mother Africa.

How about the investment climate, very favorable and investor friendly.With a stable economy with a single digit inflation rate and currency exchange of US$1.0= GMD26 (As at 9th April, 2010). The Gambia is a multicultural country with a lot of immigrants from West Africa, Europe, America, Middle East and Asia permanently living as investors, working with several NGOs, some retired investors while many others are engaged in importation businesses and owned several shopping malls.The Gambia is home to investors, volunteers, professionals pursuing their career, and holiday makers who has made this peaceful country their destination. Welcome to The Gambia, where there is no discrimination based on religion, creed, color, race, gender, social status, disability and with zero tolerance to corruption. Read on! Alsamadeh!

MARKET
The major markets are in Banjul, Serrekunda and Brikama. Here, you can shop for staple foods like fish, meat, vegetables, clothings, jeweleries and fashion accessories. The locals welcome people with natural smiles after exchanging the religious greetings: “Asalamalekun”, meaning, peace be unto you. Traditionally, Gambian women go to market daily to buy what to cook.They can be seen with the plastic baskets with holders thronging to the busy markets to shop for fresh fish, meat, vegetables and take time to greet each other asking after each others’ families, relations and get updated about current social events and other women gossips. Some of the elites, however, prefer to shop in shopping malls around Kairaba Avenue, and buy foods in large quantities to store at home.

Mini-markets, or what some call supermarkets are all over the Greater Banjul area competing with the traditional markets. There are also the neighborhood shops, called “Fulah Shops”, owned mostly by Mauritanian citizens and in some cases by Guineans. This is the place to get the locally made bread called, “Tapalapa”. This is usually a long banana shaped clay oven baked bread that is usually transported on bicycles by the suppliers early in the morning, mid-day and sunset time. I prefer buying this, when fresh, it’s soft and more appealing than the stale hardened and uninviting ones. A full one goes for D5 and the half is D2.50. The bread is usually sold with a nice spread of butter, mayonnaises, egg, potato and spiced with jumbo or Maggi sauce depending on the buyer’s preferences.

There is also “Senfu”, which has a crumb nature and much cheaper, being sold for D3 for a full roll. However, i noticed the “Senfu” is not as filling as the “Tapalapa” that can keep me going for the whole day, like a bowl of “Fufu”, which is the energiser for most Nigerians, Ghanaians and Sierra- Leoneans in The Gambia. The local “Fufu” unlike the ones found in Ghana and Nigeria are made from “Saddam Rice”, as it is called locally, by milling it into powder and cooked into a solid paste in a pot. The most popular lunch meal, among Gambians, is the jollof rice, locally referred to as ” Benechin”. Different types of stew are prepared to eat the rice meal like”Plasas”, “Super ganja”, “Damoda”,etc. I enjoy the Gambia breakfast meal of “Thura Girthe”, which is very rich in protein. This is a mixture of well pounded rice cooked with milled groundnut and eaten with a spread of yogurt “Sour Milk”.

Gambians eat together. Small groups of between 5-8 people are usually seen eating from the same bowl, and yet, when a visitor appears, he or she is beakoned to still join them and share out of it. This is the true love, i’m yet to see anywhere. If you think there is no free meal anywhere, you’re wrong; come to The Gambia! This explain the reason for very low or non-existent crime rate. At least, a lunch meal is guaranteed for anyone living in The Gambia. Food is shared, no one goes home hungry. The women also waste a lot of food by always preparing a lot expecting visitors to join them when serving their meals. They package the rice meals in large wide bowls with a cover and wrap it in a traditional manner with cloth, that will secure the food from spilling and carry to their husbands at their respective working places for them to eat with colleagues. Sometimes, they go travel long distances, to deliver the foods, like a family living in Lamin and the husband working in Serrekunda.

WORK HOURS

The official working hours is 8am- 4pm from Monday to Thursday. Friday is half day. Most of Gambians are Muslims, and they go for the Friday Special prayers in the afternoon. Although, the “African time” concept is still prevalent among the people, this is common with the government workers, the private sector is better. Most serious business appointments start from 9am, even though, they are scheduled for 8am.

The major reason sometimes for arriving at work late, can be as a result of unavailability of commercial vehicles to transport workers to their respective places of work. Even, at places of work, Gambians do not forget to take their Chinese herbal tea called ” Atire”.

GAME OF FOOTBALL

A first time visitor, to The Gambia will think the game of football has it’s origin from here, because of the love and passion attached to this game. There are quite a number of playgrounds that are never kept idle because of the teeming youths that religiously train and play daily matches, especially in the evenings after work or school. Similarly, on weekends, first thing in the morning, you will notice everyone exercising or playing the game they love most; football.

The discussions of most of these youths that constitute half of the country’s population is centered on the European matches. Teams like Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan and other big teams have passionate fans in The Gambia.

There are many Football Viewing centers that are making a fortune showing the live matches to most Gambian. Although, some of these youths might not know the capital of Nigeria, they often tell me it’s Lagos, but they certainly know all the European Club Managers, first line ups and transfers of these key players, not to talk about the latest scores in the premiership or championship.

The Gambia’s national team, called the “Scorpion” is adored and you dare not say anything bad against this team in order not to incur the wrath of my football lovers. A loss in game when “Scorpions” play, will turn the entire country into a grave yard, “a mourning period”. But with a win; the Brazilian samba dancers will envy the dance steps of both the young boys and girls singing: “ho, ho ho ho, ha,ha,ha,ha..haleyomii”. Therefore, to make friends with Gambians is so easy, just pick up a football topic!

BEACHES

The climatic conditions of The Gambia is slightly different from other ECOWAS countries. There is only one cycle of rainfall which starts around June and ends around October. It is usually hot during the raining periods, unlike other countries that experience cold periods.

The Hamattan period starts from November to February. However, the weather experiences erratic changes sometimes. The beaches are clean and provide succor to visiting tourists that want to experience the beauty of the sun, the sea and the sand of The Gambia.

There are several beaches to visit. From Banjul beach to Palma Rima, Senegambia and up to Sanyang. There are so many private beaches along this line. Most white tourists called “Toubabs” are usually welcome at these beaches that have attractive traditional bars with natural juice, canned drinks, barbecue and special packages for visitors.

The menace of “bumsters” have been curtailed and there are tourist police patrolling most of the busy beaches to deter the “unsolicited friends”. The beaches are besieged by almost all Gambians during festive periods or during major musical concerts or shows.

FESTIVE PERIODS

A visitor arriving The Gambia around Easter or Christmas will think all Gambians are Christians, with the celebration and partying. Similarly, around the Muslim festivals of “Koriteh or Tobaski” will give one the impression that there is no single Christian in town.

This is the beauty and diversity of the Gambian hospitality and tolerance of other religions in The Gambia. The people enjoy good music. The local artists are adored, some of whom are Jalibah Kuyateh, Titi Kololi, Freakie Joe, Asan Njie, Olugander and Sambou to mention a few.

The women, both young and old, enjoy dancing. The very physical dances of jumping and kicking the air is common and i often wonder where the women get the extra energy and strength from. Some young men that are not used to these dances, dare not challenge these women in a dancing competition, if they do not want to be hospitalized.

The entertainment industry is therefore very vibrant. Most people relax by watching Nigerian, Senegalese and Ghanaian home videos. There are several video rental shops to pick the latest Nigerian films from. Most of the banks and hotels show foreign channels like DSTV, CNN, AlJAZEERA, EUROSPORT etc.

PAID WORK IN THE GAMBIA

Except for ECOWAS nationals, that are allowed to work freely in some key government sectors like Education and Judiciary, other nationals are only allowed to work as expatriate and have to go through a scrutiny and get approval from the immigration department, before they can be permitted to work with the government.

However, investors are allowed to bring in their work force, provided they abide by the immigration laws of obtaining a work/residential permit. Openings exist all year round for qualified teachers in Senior secondary schools all over the country.

Most of the vacancies are usually filled by Nigerians, Ghanaians, Senegalese, Sierra-Leoneans, Liberians and a handful of other ECOWAS nationals. Openings also exist for lecturers in University of The Gambia, several professional training institutes and other tertiary institutes like Management Development Institute (MDI), Gambia College and Gambia Technical Training Institute (G.T.T.I).

Although, the private institutes remuneration is higher than the government pay scale. Most of the secondary schools in the provinces are in need of teachers, most teachers rather prefer to transfer to the urban cities leaving the rural villages without qualified teaching force.

Government subsidized schools remuneration package for non-Gambian teachers are between D3,500-D4,000 per shift (Morning or afternoon) depending on the entry level experience and qualification. The private schools pay between D4,500-D10,000, depending on the school and experience of the teacher.

Most schools prefer teachers that have gathered “Gambian experience”, meaning, they must have taught in The Gambia for some years to understand the system. Combining both shifts means more income. Most government schools prefer to pay full salary for the morning shift and half salary for the afternoon shift. There are other several opportunities of income earning, by organizing study classes for the students after close of school by some teachers. Most teachers often change school to those paying more, and every term witnesses a mass drift of teachers around.

The coveted schools are: Marina International, SBEC, Zenith, SOS, Scanaid and West African International. Linguistics and sciences are the preferred subjects often in high demand. English language, English Literature, Mathematics, Further Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Agric Science, Applied Electricity etc, are “hot cake” subjects for most schools.
ECOWAS qualified teachers (M.Sc, B.Sc & HND holders in the subjects listed above) are usually being employed in secondary schools in The Gambia.

Other professionals needed to work in the private sectors are:

1. Lawyers with LL.b degree that have successfully completed Law school and called to Bar to work as
Magistrates/Judges with the Ministry of Justice.
2. Professional Graphic & Website Designers.
3. Professional Advertisers.
4. Desktop & Laptop Repair Technicians.
5. Automobile Technicians.
6. Theater Arts & Dramatic artists.
7. Film Directors & Producers.
8. Professional Actors & Actresses.
9. Radio & T.V Programme Presenters.
10. Fish Breeding & Farming
11. Aquarium Making & Gold Fish Rearing.
12. Leadership Development Trainers.
13. Trainers in unique skills & vocations.
14. Cottage Industry set-up trainers ( Body creams, soaps, cartons, shoe polish etc.)

The financial industry has witnessed a phenomenal growth with addition of more banks joining the league recently, bringing the total number of banks to fourteen in The Gambia. Most of these Nigerian banks are opening up branches and will need more staff.

Although, it is far cheaper to hire the locals than expatriate by the banks, because of the special tax paid for not hiring Gambians. The same rule applies to the Hotel and Tourism industry. The Non Governmental Organizations, NGOs are allowed to bring in their personnel.

Volunteers are also welcome in The Gambia. Volunteers can have a cultural immersion and gain international experience in this peaceful country. For holiday makers, i will recommend visiting this small but unique country for those in search of a Peaceful, Affordable and Memorable African Retreat (PAMAR!)

INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES

1. ECOWAS CITIZENS

The government welcome investment in all sectors, special attention is, however, given to Agriculture because of the importance of food security to any nation. Other sectors like Real Estate & Properties, Mining Industry, Hotel & Tourism, Health, Education, Manufacturing and Agro- allied Sectors are key areas to go into and get government incentive, in tax relief and total support.

ECOWAS citizens enjoy free movement of persons and goods within the 16 countries block, the required capital needed to re-locate to the Gambia to work, live, invest or holiday is far less than what is required to settle down in other ECOWAS countries. With the electricity tariffs coming down (thanks to the government initiative), NAWEC, the electricity company is doing her best to guarantee stable supply of electricity and many businesses solely rely on this stable electricity supply.

Incidences of armed robbery attack are very rare. I have not noticed or witness or hear about armed robbery attacks in the last six years. I only read in one of the newspapers, one or two times, about such attacks in the provinces some few years ago. People move about without fear of molestation or attack. Petty mobile phone theft are usually common.

The residential houses are affordable, and rents of one to three months advance payments, are demanded. The people are warm and hospitable. For as little as D500 per month, a room can be rented around the busy areas like Brikama, Latrikunda, Lamin,Tabokoto, Wellingara and Coastal road areas.

The 2-bed room apartments with all the conveniences goes for between D1,500-D2,500 per month in these areas depending on the finished taste and proximity to the busy highways. ECOWAS citizens can enter and settle in the country with opportunities to start small businesses.

For these wise residents in the country, there are several businesses to choose from and do effortlessly in this investment friendly country. Anyone coming to The Gambia for the first time, must first of all plan and prepare, knowing what to do and where to stay and having adequate information about the culture and business climate.

2. WORLDWIDE INVESTORS ( MEDIUM/ LARGE SCALE BUSINESSES)

The specific areas, wise investors, can rush into to invest presently, from our detailed research findings are:
A) Setting up a private University with residential campus to attract all ECOWAS citizens.
B) Eateries like MacDonald’s, Chicken George, Mr. Briggs, Sweet Sensation, Tantalizers, TFC, etc
C) Botanical Garden/ Love Garden around the Tourist areas.
D) Building low Cost Homes to be sold or rented out to people.
E) Ground nut processing factory.
F) Feed Mill for Poultry, Rabbitry and Turkey Production.
G) Cashew Processing Factory (CNS Oil, brake oil, glue, rubber,electrical wires etc).
H) Natural Juice canning factory ( Fruits like mangoes, orange, lime etc abound).
I) Fresh Flower production and export.
J) Fish Canning/ Food packaging for export.

There are other 90 businesses we have surveyed to be potential instant money earners for wise investors to take on. Kindly request for a detailed project profile on this. The Gambia Investment Promotion and Free Zones Agency, (GIPFZA) welcome investors with unique offers of tax relief, government support and non-bureaucratic processing of necessary documents to allow for quick set-up and investment in The Gambia.

To have a fair idea of the business climate, i recommend that all potential investors read the latest business directory (The Gambia Business Directory).

INFRASTRUCTURAL DEVELOPMENT & BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT

The Gambia, though small, but has a robust economy with fourteen commercial banks, four GSM companies, a good number of airlines plying the subregion and the outside world. There are more than five daily newspapers, around eight radio stations and many hotels of international standards including the 5-star Sheraton Hotel.

The major roads from the airport to most busy commercial centers like Kairaba, Brufut, West Field, Senegambia, Brikama, Latrikunda and Banjul are all tarred with well lighted street lights. Clean, fresh and treated pipe borne water is available to most homes 24hrs uninterrupted.

Communication and internet services are quite cheaper than most other countries. The cost of starting a business in The Gambia is far cheaper both in the short term and long term. The real estate business is enjoying a great boom with 30% return yearly on investments, and the Meltdown phenomenon is not easily noticeable in The Gambia.

The Gambia is a tourist destination and repeated visitors are common in this wonderful and peace loving smiling coast of The Gambia. Although, The Gambia is a tax based economy, the government makes substantial earnings from Tourism and exportation of agricultural commodities like Groundnut, Fishes, Cotton and solid minerals.

It is mandatory for every resident to have a TIN number(Tax Identification Number) before a bank account can be opened. New buildings are coming up daily and it is common sight,to see most of the property owners advertising their phone contacts for those interested in renting or leasing these properties from high rise buildings in Senegambia axis, Kairaba, Fajara, West Field, Tallinding, Tabokoto, Abuko, Lamin, Yundum etc.

Gambians in diaspora are rushing home to invest in this high yielding property sector. A visitor that last visited the country a year ago, will notice a remarkable difference in this infrastructural developments. The Gambia is a clean country, especially with the introduction of the monthly cleaning exercises, called “SETSETAL”, which is a special cleaning day for everybody on the last Saturday of the month between the hours of 8-1pm and thereafter there is free movement.

Municipal officials go around to ensure the wastes are properly disposed and ensure compliance to the law, that all shops and businesses most be closed and no movement of commercial vehicles, until the end of the cleaning exercise.

Health wise, it is safe to live in The Gambia, because the health delivery system is very efficient and well equipped with the best medical personnel in The world. There are various health centers, well spread around the country with ambulances standing by to quickly evacuate emergencies to Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital, RVTH, Banjul where complicated cases are usually taken.

Visitors coming for the first time, therefore, are advised to take the appropriate vaccinations recommended. ECOWAS citizens must take vaccinations against yellow fever, meningitis, Polio etc and ensure these are stamped on their Yellow Card, this is even taken more seriously, when traveling by road through Benin, Togo, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal to The Gambia. Not having a valid Yellow Card could cost you a fortune in fines you’ll be asked to Pay!

Medical services is free to Gambians, except the registration card which is D5 only. ECOWAS citizens are, however, required to pay for cost of treatment and hospitalization, depending on the treatment. Tourist visiting The Gambia are advised to have a Travel Insurance when visiting

Transportation within the country is affordable. Moving from one location to another is quite easy. There are three categories of commercial road transportation. One, is the commercial Bus, that only allow maximum of three passengers on a row which is convenient, unlike four on a row in several other countries. This type of buses go around the major destinations like Banjul to Serrekunda (D6), Banjul to Tabokoto (D10), Banjul to Brikama (D15), Serrekunda to Senegambia (D5) etc.

The second category is the yellow and green painted taxis that take people for D5 a drop or chartered services for most tourists and locals, called “Town Trip”. The last category, are the green painted and branded “Tourist Taxis” for tourists from and to the airport, hotel areas, most beaches and historical sites for new visitors. They are more expensive than the yellow painted ones.

Except when it is very important, first time visitors are, however, encouraged to avoid going out around the rush hours, like 7-8am and 4-6pm, especially when commuters are going to or returning from work. From Tabokoto, Lamin, West field, Serrekunda and Brikama in the morning to Banjul and returning back home in the evening is always very hectic and expensive to take a taxi. The bus-stops are usually congested and the traffic chaotic around these periods.

There are many well organized tour operators with luxurious air conditioned buses to pick from and to the airport all visitors and tourist that arrange their visits through them. They also partner with most hotels on tours to historical sites and around the cities.

There area ferry services available to transport people across the River Gambia. From Barra to Banjul is D25 only. Visitors can come in to the country either by land through The Gambian border with Senegal at Hamdallah, or from Guinea and Cassamace, Senegal through Basse. By air is through the only airport at Yundum. The Banjul International Airport, one of the best in the subregion with the longest run-way and modern radial facilities installed.

The airport is not always busy and travelers should always inform someone to pick them at the airport, especially during the weekends when commercial activities are low. However, tourist taxis are available at any time for between D500-D800 depending on the distance, usually between 15-30km from the airport.

There is a Bureau de Change at the airport to change money from other currencies like Euro, dollars, pounds and CFA to Dalaisi. For Visa Card carriers, there is ECO Bank ATM at the airport. Bank PHB and Trust bank also have their ATMs at the airport.

On arrival in the country, when you hear “Nagadef?”, meaning how are you, just answer “Jamarek”, meaning i’m fine. After a hand shake, say “Jerejef”, meaning thank you.
Jerejef, Jarama, Baraka (meaning thank you in 3 different local languages).

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, An Extraordinaire African Woman Worth Celebrating!

Posted on March 14, 2018 in Uncategorized

There are women who have done so much for humanity that their strength and illumination enlighten nations around them. Such women don’t allow inconspicuousness that has always made most women unable to live out their dreams dampen their excitement in making their world a better place. These particular breed of women go all out to lighten the lives of other women, children and even the men as well. These women have truly become lights in their aion. Standing out amongst this lot is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a very distinguished person in the women’s world. She was born in the capital city of Liberia, Monrovia. She grew up in the chief seaport of the West African country. Ellen attended high school at the College of West Africa in Monrovia; afterwards, she took educational courses at Madison Business College. She was also at University of Colorado and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. This notable leading figure got her Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the later.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf started her political career soon after she got her Master’s Degree. She made progress professionally and stood out amongst her equals. Her great deal of skill and success is well-known! She is respected for her knowledge, expertise and achievements. This made the Liberia’s nineteenth President William Tolbert to appoint her as the Minister of Finance. She served in this capacity for one year and held senior positions at various financial institutions after she left the office. She got more committed to activities associated with government and finally made politics her lifelong job.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has proved to be an extraordinary African woman; she refused to be limited by factors that have made other African women ineffectual. Her getting married at a tender age didn’t stop her from skillfully writing her name on a glass with a diamond pen; this she did via her numerous achievements. She has progressed on every side; showing strength of passion and purpose. Ellen as a woman of passion is committed to high moral principles, professional standards and sustainable results. She is well known for her uprightness and good governance.

Ellen is a woman who gives others sense of purpose. She is a respectable leader who believes in doing things the right way. This therefore led her to speak out loud for the rights of women. She also promotes the importance of education in order to provide a better future for her country and its people. Her impact is felt beyond the depth of her country; she is really a success who is appreciated worldwide.

Sirleaf is a prudent woman who has directed her strategies very well to become an eminent political leader. She has power relationships in the political field; this powerful woman was among those who established the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. She successfully won the 2005 Presidential election in Liberia and was sworn in as the premier elected female Head of Government in Africa, in January 2006. Her government has done so well that the people of Liberia celebrated her leadership and re-elected her as their President five years later.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a noble person who was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her achievement in upholding Liberian reconciliation. Her undemanding effort in ensuring that women are unharmed, and equipping them to exercise their rights is worth emulating.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a woman of sound character, a superb leader who till date still re-writes history. Though her mother did not have enough money to cater for herself, and her father was taken care of by different families while he was growing up, Ellen refused to pack in the same parking lot with her parents. She defined a new life for herself; yes, she chartered a new course for her future. Unlike other African women, she got positively charged and put her best foot forward. Motherhood and the task of parenting did not stop her because she refused to stop herself either.

She has done so well at various levels; she is known for her result-oriented strategies that have enabled the government to manage their finances effectively. She pursued her financial career with gusto. Her heading various banking institutions is a proof. She has a professional track record that is worth talking about. She worked with Liberian bank for Development, CitiBank, Equator Bank and the United Nations Bank. She has reconstructed and developed structures that are efficient and effective. She also worked with the United Nations Development Programme as an Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Ellen’s prominence is really influencing Africa, especially her country Liberia. She has brought Liberia back to the outstanding status and integrity the outside world knew the country for. She is not just developing economy; she is also creating social development that has attracted the interest of many. Because of her, lots of International agencies have contributed to the growth and development of Liberia. She is changing lives continually and giving peoples’ lives a new meaning. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is an inspiration to womanhood; she has proved that what a man do can, a woman can do it even better. This mind-set has resulted in her being one of the best leaders in the world. This greatly blessed woman who has been described as the best President the West African country has ever had is a woman with many awards and Honorary Doctorate degrees.

This mother of four is an innovative status-symbol who has immortalized her name to give the world something very exceptional. She has gone beyond being a mother to being a role model and an exemplary person. She is a woman who has great passion for the future. Even as a grandmother of eleven, Ellen has done the ground work of imagination; she has taken dreams to realities. She has written various books; addressing matters that are needful for a successful world.

Her assessments are life-changing; she is really a woman of honour who has what it takes to build a better world. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf knew she will be great and therefore took herself to the stage of success.

You are a woman like her and you have what the ability to make a success and be celebrated. Do not hold yourself back anymore, you are exceptionally gifted to impact the world with the investment of your personality.

Copyright, Jaachynma Agu

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