HomeOpinion & AnalysisLet’s acquire business acumen from foreigners

Let’s acquire business acumen from foreigners

So when is the first suicide bomber going to blow himself up in the heart of Luanda? This is the question that came to my mind when I first read that the Angolan government had banned Islam and was in the process of shutting down or destroying mosques. It was with some relief when Luanda quickly denied the story. But, the question still stands!

From the Editor’s Desk by Nevanji Madanhire

There will be a suicide bomb in Luanda in the not-too-distant future, bet your bottom dollar.

I did some research on Islam in Angola. The religion is followed by only 90 000 people, about the same number of people who voted for Welshman Ncube in the July 31 harmonised elections in Zimbabwe. Nothing to fear then?

The Muslim community comprises mostly West Africans and Lebanese immigrants. This is where the problem seems to originate. Islam in Angola is a foreign religion, is the easy conclusion to be made. It therefore becomes a threat to local culture and stability. This is supposed to be the rationale behind moves to ban it.

And, an Angolan citizen may argue, there has already been some proof the Muslims are up to mischief.

Some Lebanese businessmen have been linked to Hezbollah; an organisation the United States government has labelled a terrorist organisation and is said to have links with al-Qaeda .

They allegedly finance the movement to the tune of millions. The businessmen have been declared illegal immigrants and their businesses closed.

By banning Islam and deporting its proponents, the Angolan government can be accused of two transgressions namely, xenophobia and the suppression of religious freedom, the latter which, incidentally, is enshrined in national constitution.

Suppressing religious freedom is one of the most difficult things to do. When Christianity was in its infancy and spreading into Europe, the instinctive thing to do for European emperors was to block it. Converts were persecuted and, in most cases, gruesomely burnt on the stake. But it became clear that for every Christian burnt on the stake, hundreds of pagans converted to the new religion.

The same may happen in Angola. Not only that, driving Muslims underground, will most definitely militarise them, hence my worry about suicide bombing. It will be almost conscionable for foreign Muslims to blow themselves up in a country in which they are not loved. One only has to consider the international wave of sympathy and anger triggered among Muslims by Luanda’s threat.

All those West Africans who have made their fortunes in Angola and call it home will feel justified fighting the xenophobic system. Angola is a rich country, what with the diamonds and the oil. This explains the presence of the Lebanese and the Nigerians, two nationalities that are followed by suspicion wherever they go. Banning Islam will have the opposite effect of what it is intended to do.

And this brings us home. The Zimbabwean government has declared that foreigners may not do business in certain sectors and those who continue after a certain date will be prosecuted.

This is xenophobia at its worst! What is likely to happen is that Zimbabweans will begin to hate foreign businesspeople operating in the country. All their poor business acumen will be blamed on the foreigners. Their anger will boil over into violence and soon we will see the foreigners being lynched.

This is exactly what happened, or is happening in South Africa where Zimbabweans and Mozambicans have borne the most attacks from indigenous South Africans who know next to nothing about business.

If we expose our foreign businesspeople to xenophobic attacks, what’s the worst they can do in vengeance? We are unlikely to witness a suicide bomb blow-up at Eastgate as happened in Nairobi and is likely in Luanda, but we shouldn’t forget we have about three million of our compatriots scattered around the globe surviving on all sorts of business lines, including those from which we intend to exclude foreigners. In retaliation the countries that host them will become xenophobic and, we don’t know what they are capable of doing.

The only way we should deal with foreign businesspeople who have invaded sectors we think should be our own is to beat them at their own game. When they came into our country, they noticed gaps which we had not filled simply because of our poor entrepreneurial skills or our inability to see opportunities when they knock at our door. We do not have to begrudge these foreigners for seeing what we could not see. Now that they have shown us the way, we have to outdo them by changing the way we do business.

These foreign businesspeople do business differently from us. For example, they fiercely support each other and every dollar that gets into their community doesn’t leave that community, be it Jewish, Indian, Lebanese, Nigerian or Cameroonian. This is how these communities have survived wherever they are, be it in Britain, Angola or Zimbabwe!

Zimbabweans lack that kind business model; instead they compete against each other, pull each other down and whenever they get an extra dollar it leaves the community. A Zimbabwean would rather spend his money in an Indian shop or Jewish shop than in a fellow Zimbabwean’s. The little money they make is therefore always flying out.

Yet, because our population constitutes the critical mass needed for business survival, we can easily snuff out any foreign competition that comes to our shore if we outdid them and kept our money within our own communities. What I am saying isn’t new; it is the basis of the book Capitalist Nigger by that Nigerian author.

When foreigners in our country keep money within their communities, no one can accuse them of any phobia; it’s how they do business. Similarly, if we keep money within our own communities, we cannot be accused of xenophobia.

Before the economic crisis that hit Zimbabwe at the turn of the millennium, we Zimbabweans had become brain-dead in their comfort zone, and someone ate our cheese. The solution is not to resent those who upstaged us, but to blame ourselves and then re-organise and invent or emulate new business models to counter our competitors.

Our government doesn’t have to stoop so low as to legislate against certain people doing business in our country. It’s base!

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