When I first learned that CNBC's Erin Burnett visited Nigeria and would present a documentary on the country, I got worried. Far too often, Nigerians are simplified to fit certain basic stereotypes - corrupt, dirty, poor, corrupt, and the list of negative connotations could go on. Inspite of my concerns, "Dollars and Danger: Africa, the Final Investment Frontier" did not present a negative or overly-simplistic picture of Nigeria, Nigerians and the African continent.
I initially considered the title to be unnecessarily inflammatory - this association with danger stems from pre-colonial sentiments of what the 'Dark Continent' represents and has continued through modern media. Despite my reservations, being that I am a writer, I understood the tactic and Burnett's respectful and practical reporting made up for my concerns. The documentary focused on Africa as a potential goldmine for investors in the current economic slowdown. It pointed out that most African nations have large populations with a growing middle class yet to be exploited. It revealed that Africa is not just for safari vacations but has world class attractions and several miles of old Roman cities on the Mediterranean. The program focused on the reality that Africa remains the one continent with a large amount of natural resources instrumental for modern day existence - cobalt, oil, copper, and coltan. The show also noted that most of Africa's citizens lack certain basic necessities and as expected, discussed the battle for Africa's resources being waged by China, the United States and other large economies.
With regard to Nigeria, Burnett took an approach that I appreciated. She pointed out the reality that fuel scarcity plagues a top global producer of oil and other problems related to the oil and energy (electricity) sector. Yet, she focused on the entrepreneurial spirit of the Nigerian individual. As someone with great faith in Nigerians, I was pleased to listen to enterprising Nigerians and inspired by their ability to be successful despite the odds they face. For instance, Ms. Ayodeji Megbope, an entrepreneur with her own catering business, during whose interview, a generator could be heard whirring in the background. Even though she has to pay exorbitant amounts to provide the electricity necessary for a catering business, she was making a profit and is an independent businesswoman. Mrs. Adenike Ogunlesi was another inspiration, with her 'Made in Nigeria' clothing and bright, captivating advertising campaigns to market her products. Ogunlesi spoke of the realities of enterprise in a country where only 2 textile factories are operational, and certain officials deprive business people of information so that individuals can be caught breaking the law in order to benefit an officials 'pockets'.
These individuals reinforces my belief that although the Nigerian government has for years failed the very people it is intended to serve, Nigerians, as a people, continue to be ingenious and thrive despite their circumstances. And they manage to do it despite the minority of Nigerians who give the nation a bad name, despite the stereotypes, the unfounded vitriol launched by some who simply seek hits on their web sites, and those who choose, for whatever reasons, to be bigots and condemn an entire nation of 140 million people.
ON BUSINESS IN NIGERIA...
Nevertheless, the program provided a practical look at Nigeria, Africa and the challenges to business. But, with the fact that Virgin Atlantic is looking to sell its stake in Virgin Nigeria, an intriguing question remains, can foreign business investors truly hack it in Nigeria given its political, economic and other related complexities? Clearly, many have, like Coca Cola are doing well. Yet, others like Siemens, Halliburton/KBR have ended up in the news for their criminal and corrupt activities in the country.
A discussion with fellow Nigerian blogger Akin recently compelled me to wonder "Does Nigeria offer a conducive business environment for international businesses?" To which Akin responded, "It takes a particular type of international business to do well." It would be interesting to see who will tackle this question of what kinds of international businesses do well in Nigeria. I, for one, would be willing to watch/read the conclusions achieved in response to this issue. One thinks that if Nigerians manage to run their businesses despite the complexities and unfortunate encumbrances, foreign businesses should be able to do so as well without falling into the corruption traps that befell the likes of Halliburton or Siemens or losing the goodwill of the community as has been the case for oil companies like Shell in the Niger Delta.
The frank portrayal of Nigeria in "Dollars and Danger: Africa, the Final Investment Frontier" spotlighted Nigeria's strength - its entrepreneurial and hardworking people - with an eye towards revealing the potential profit to be made by foreign investors. Certain questions remain, but for now, this Nigerian was happy to see Nigeria not be portrayed in a stereotypical manner.
This post continues with my observations on investing in Africa and the issues it raises for the people of the continent in A NIGERIAN REVIEWS CNBC'S "DOLLARS AND DANGER" Part 2
- Nigeria's Re-branding Effort
- Using Nigerians to Re-Brand Nigeria
- Re-Branding Nigeria: Success Is The Key
- Rebranding Nigeria: With Britain's Help?