Last week we discussed Part 1 of political access and how, if managed skillfully, it could be an enormous intangible business asset. We highlighted two African billionaires Aliko Dangote and Patrice Motsepe and how, besides their hard work and shrewdness in business, political access was an enabler to them building huge conglomerates in Africa and across the globe.
By GLORia NDORO-MKOMBACHOTO
What should be made clear is that within many families in Zimbabwe, those who came before, the forefathers and grandmothers, worked very hard to leave legacies. Those legacies have brought visibility to the names of those families and in many cases political access. The question that begs an answer is what has the current generation done with the political capital generated as the legacy built through previous familial connections.
How do we piggyback on the track record of familial legacies to tap into political access?
By remaining relevant in whatever you are doing wherever you are doing it. Since we are talking about political access as an intangible business asset, the easiest way to remain relevant is to serve. When in business, the best way to serve is to be active in corporate social responsibility programmes. It puts your company on the map located in the hearts and minds of people. When your company is known to do good, particularly to the needy who will never be able to reciprocate, the company will be creating a brand more powerful than any other.
The Motsepe matriarch, Key, left them the gift of generosity. Patrice is known to remark that his mother always gave to the needy. Today it is well-documented that “he (Patrice) is known to have donated half of his wealth to rural development projects and educational and health related charities in South Africa. He is also a prominent member of The Giving Pledge — the group of billionaires who have vowed to give back to society.” Generosity and giving through the Motsepe Foundation has allowed this business family to access other connections in politics and the global world of business.
To have proximity to politicians must not only be for personal and business gain. History is going to judge us for having left no sustainable legacies for Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe when wealth is amassed, the tendency is to use it for consumption and not to build lasting businesses or legacies whatever they are.
How can one achieve political connectedness?
Often it is the skillful management of relationships over time but sometimes, political connectedness can find you given the visibility and relevance of the business you are doing.
I remember many years ago in my early 30s, when I was still vocal and unfiltered about many issues. At a government function, I bumped into the late struggle stalwart Dr Cephas Msipa who was then Public Enterprises minster. As I greeted him, I used to call him baba (dad) because my father, had told me that they had been great friends at school and shared a room at Tegwani together with the late Dr Eddison Zvobgo during their secondary school years.
Dr Cephas Msipa said, “you sharp little daughter of mine, we need people like you to help out on boards of parastatals, bring your CV to my office before the end of the day and I will see where you can help out. Before I knew it, I ended up serving the nation on the boards of Zimbabwe Open University, SEDCO, Ziscosteel, Buchwa Mine, Salwire Fencing, etc.
That time, the looting that is taking place in state-owned enterprises was unheard of and those who served with me did their best under difficult circumstances, if I may say so myself. The point I am making is, here was a minister in my fathers’ network, who sought me out to serve. In this case, the political access found me, but still through a familial connection.
But you can create political connectedness for yourself, without resorting to using tribalism as a point of access as we are witnessing in this current dispensation. A friend I went to school with recently revealed that she made her first million dollars by supplying bales of second-hand clothing from Zambia for Child Survival Development Foundation that was founded and run by the late first lady Sally Mugabe. She approached the then general manager the, late Abigail Vera, who decided to try her for a few months. As she delivered on time and at value for money prices, she found herself being the preferred supplier. What I know for sure is that I never introduced my friend to my aunt Mrs Vera. I also know that Mrs Vera shunned dealing with family and therefore never shared any business opportunities that arose within her organisation.
Five points for mindfulness about political access
A viable network is not one that you know — it is one that acknowledges you among important peers, particularly when you are not around. Throughout the world, particularly in Africa, very few business people achieve billionaire status without political access. Dangote and Motsepe leveraged their familial political connectedness to grow their businesses. As their businesses grew, new relevant networks have come on board.
Viable networks are good, supportive and affirming mates that do not bad-mouth you nor create doubt about you in other people’s minds and consciously push opportunity towards your direction. Well-connected friends and family without the presence of mind to invite you to the deal table are overrated and those kinds of relationships must be re-evaluated for lack of collateral value.
Stay under the radar while leveraging on family and viable political networks. Zimbabweans are known at home and abroad to be a bunch that thrive on the PHD (pulling her/him down) syndrome. This is a syndrome anchored in pulling home brothers and sisters down. Only share on a need to know basis. On face value, low hanging opportunities lie in ICT, tourism, mining and agriculture for export.
Beware of greedy politicians and government officials in strategic positions in the habit of killing would-be beneficial projects for Zimbabwe because of greed and corruption. With evidence in hand, report them to the various corruption busting agencies.
The intangibles — integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, fairness, sincerity are of utmost importance. Zimbabweans at home and abroad are increasingly developing a reputation of crookedness. Gains from chicanery and theft do not last very far and has made very few people I know wealthy. It is called karma.
For cashflow purposes, please balance low hanging fruit opportunities with long haul ones. When large inflows come through, always remember those who helped you along the way. But most importantly, remember to be philantropic to Zimbabwe by generously investing in social responsibility programmes.
According to dangote.com, “The Aliko Dangote Foundation (DF) is the philanthropic endeavour of Aliko Dangote. The main objective of the foundation is to reduce the number of lives lost to malnutrition and disease. Combating Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in children, is at the core of our programming. Improving the outcome of children’s lives, forms the basis for the work the foundation is engaged in, using our investments in health, education, and economic empowerment to help lift people out of poverty.”
Be proudly Zimbabwean and invest in Zimbabwe while guarding against the country’s political risk that always impacts adversely on economic risk. Business success in your home territory should be the launch pad for success in other markets.
Dangote invested heavily in Nigeria and it has paid off. With a population of over 100 million inhabitants in Nigeria, you laugh all the way to the bank when your business model is about the manufacturing, importation and supply of basic needs.
Political and economic risk is a justifiable reason among others for expanding your operations abroad and overseas.
For the longest, Zimbabwe guarded the pipeline from Beira in Mozambique. I believe we even helped the Mozambican army in fighting off the Renamo rebels, founded by the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organisation in 1976 and also sponsored by the Apartheid government. Today, very few Zimbabwean companies are benefitting from this investment. The main beneficiaries in Mozambique today are Portugal, Spain and of course predominantly white South African companies.
Zimbabwean businesses ought to get over this attitude of thriving on being a big fish in a small pond. Zimbabwe is a small pond and we ought to be casting our business nets wide and afar. As we spread our business wings, so will political connectedness and business opportunities get realised in other regions.
l Gloria Ndoro-Mkombachoto is an entrepreneur and a regional enterprise development consultant. Her experience spans a period of over 25 years. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org