Toughest African markets can hold biggest opportunities


“People are turned off by these opportunities – we like to go there. We sit in these countries, understand the culture, understand who the players are and we found great success, be it from East Africa, be it countries in the West or the Southern region of Africa,” Haidar, the founder, chairman and chief executive of Channel IT group, told CNBC Africa.

“Africa cannot be seen as just Africa in itself. Every single country has got its own cultures, its own rules and regulations. Some countries are extremely tough to work in with a lot of red tape and bureaucracy but that’s just part of the game.”

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Haidar, who has been at the helm of over 10 companies in the logistics, telecom infrastructure, telecom services and venture capitalist fields, also stated that while there are challenges to building and managing a large business in Africa, the key for entrepreneurs is to not give up too easily.

“Today I run a lot of successful businesses but in reality, I also failed a lot. Every time I failed, I never questioned why I failed, I just said, ‘Next time I’m going to do better’. Some businesses that I started failed at the beginning but then I found the one unique formula that made it a success,” he said.

“Even when I talk to my own people, I say, ‘If you fall once, that’s just the beginning. You need to get up, you need to keep running and, eventually, you will get there’. This has always worked.”

However, he added that there are external factors too, which includes being in market at the right time, at the right place, having the right tools and being able to understand the needs of the country that you are operating in.

“A lot of entrepreneurs see an idea and they try to adapt it differently, thinking different works – that’s the biggest mistake I’ve seen them do. Just tweaking an idea doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to make it better,” Haidar explained.

“If something is working but not working well, then that’s a different story. You can build on that, you can try and improve it but don’t change a radical idea thinking that’s going to make it more of a success.”

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Having grown up in Nigeria, Haidar stated that the West African nation’s potential is no longer a secret and that it seems that everyone is trying to get into the market.

“I always come up with solutions on what the market requires from the inside out rather than trying to apply best practices abroad and bringing them into the territory. We’ve continued to invest heavily into the Nigerian market,” he indicated.

“This is only the beginning of new services on microfinance, mobile advertising and there’s a huge boom area coming in this sector. We’ve invested large amounts of money in human capital, in technologies developed in Africa and hopefully, in the next two years, we’re going to see a huge climb in these areas.”