June 16th, 2011
01:39 PM GMT
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(CNN) – What is the worst job in the world? Just how low would you go to earn money?

During the worst of the economic crisis in Zimbabwe, it would break my heart to hear stories of teachers or doctors who were working as street cleaners or janitors in South Africa. They had made a decision to work in menial jobs away from home because these jobs paid more.

The situation has somewhat improved but many educated Zimbabweans continue to work in jobs they are overqualified for in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

They are not alone.

The higher rates of unemployment across the world, from the United States to Dubai to Harare, are forcing some educated professionals to swallow their pride and get their hands dirty.

For some, that means taking any job to get by. For others, it just means taking a pay cut or working two jobs.

For many Zimbabweans any job is a good job. At the height of the economic crisis the official employment rate in the formal economy was around 6%, according to some reports.  Most people earned money in the informal economy ­by hawking, trading or bartering.

It is no surprise, then, that when a local newspaper, Newsday, reminded readers that the post of “hangman” at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison was still vacant it said it was inundated with queries from readers interested in the job. The previous hangman reportedly quit in 2005.

When I was in Zimbabwe recently, I read Newsday readers’ responses with interest. One said: “I read the story of a hangman’s job in your paper, please help me I really need that job. How do I apply?”

Another “desperate job seeker” wrote: “Why not take up the job? It’s just a job like any other. There is no difference even with a soldier, as I will simply be exercising my duties.”

Others asked for more details on what qualifications were needed to be a hangman.

The paper wrote that a job description for the post of Chikurubi prison hangman included, “dexterity, ability to tie a knot, hard heart and anyone prone to mercy or hesitation need not apply.”

June 9th, 2011
02:55 PM GMT
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My four-year-old daughter loves to watch a television show called “Dora the Explorer.” Each episode has a challenge that Dora and her friends have to accomplish: Cross the bubbling mud! Climb the snowy mountain! Through the golden tunnel! Over Rattlesnake Rock! Reach the princess’s castle!

During Dora’s adventures, they learn lessons about teamwork: thinking laterally, being kind, taking risks and the importance of trying hard.

Sometimes when I watch it with her I wonder if Dora the Explorer or many other educational TV programs are studied by some of the business leaders I regularly interview.

If not, perhaps CEOs should take some time to watch children’s TV.

Forget leadership books like “The Habits of Highly Successful People” or management manuals - I wonder if the tools of leadership are best learnt from our children.

After all, the first lessons of life are learnt in the playground. The early heartbreaks and the joys of human relationships are what mould us. Leaders in all walks of life take the best and worst of those experiences on their life journey. Just like Dora.

Obviously, there are many different types of leaders - those that “rule by fear,” for example. Other bosses lead from the front or from the sidelines. Each personality type works, or doesn’t work, in varying environments.

For many, the methods of leadership all boil down to managing people - just like kids in the playground learn to play happily together.

Strive Masiyiwa, the founder and CEO of Econet, an African telecoms company that has a global footprint stretching from Haiti to Zimbabwe to New Zealand, says his job is mostly managing “a global talent pool.” Strive says that his main goal as CEO of a growing business empire is to spot talent, manage potential and empower people.

To do this, Strive says he reads the Bible, sometimes four hours a day, to get inspired management advice. He says the Bible is full of practical examples of how to run a global company. He cites a passage in which God commands Moses to “delegate.”

So what makes a good leader? And how does a leader focus on their goals with the support of their staff?

Some, like Strive, look to the Bible. Others rely on that ancient text ”The Art of War,” by Sun Tzu. Some just wing it and bank on instinct.

Others, I might suggest, could learn from the adventures of a small cartoon character called Dora the Explorer, whose sing-along catchphrase is, “We did it! We did it!”

June 1st, 2011
11:58 AM GMT
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Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) – Strolling around my neighborhood high street in Johannesburg, one is struck by a disproportionate number of décor shops.

On just our small street there are at least five shops selling “French provincial” furniture and design accessories. Wedged between one of those shops and the DVD rental store is another design store selling “Balinese” furniture and gifts.

Of course, not much of this furniture actually comes from France or Bali. Instead, most seems to originate in China. Hopefully, most people buying from these stores realize they are paying for a “look” and not the real deal.

The proliferation of Chinese goods is not new. Neither is China’s growing business presence on the African continent.

What does seem to be changing is the terms of the relationship between Africans and the Chinese.

African leaders - and I’ve interviewed a number of them in recent weeks - all seem to be making tougher contractual demands on their Asian counterparts.

Whether or not the rules of the game are actually changing is one thing, however, there is at least a public shift in the dialogue, with the Africans pushing for a less “one-sided relationship.” South Africa’s Business Day newspaper recently ran a headline that said: “Zuma seeks ‘fair deal’ in Africa’s ties with China.”

South African President Jacob Zuma echoed what many other business and political leaders are saying on the continent. They seem determined to ensure that Chinese business deals in Africa are more equitable in terms of long-term investments, infrastructure maintenance, job creation and skills transfer.

Even though Africans are favorable towards this relationship there are serious questions being asked by leaders like President Zuma. “How do we trade with China in a way that benefits us as well as them?’ he recently said.

So it seems Africans are pushing back and insisting on tougher terms on contracts. One Rwandan I had a conversation with said that some other African leaders had been “stupid” when negotiating with the Chinese and that the Rwandan business elite had been “cleverer” when constructing their deals with China.

In other parts of the continent, people are questioning why they aren’t getting more for the mineral riches that lie in abundance beneath Africa’s soil.

There is a growing political pressure to leverage Africa’s wealth better and for Africans to rewrite the terms of their relationship with Chinese investors.

Ever sensitive to the image of the African with his arms outstretched, palms turned upwards, looking for handouts, many on the continent want to make sure that they aren’t thrown the scraps when it comes to apportioning the massive opportunities that lie ahead.

May 20th, 2011
05:49 PM GMT
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When you buy a 50 cent newspaper in Zimbabwe, you don’t receive change in coins. Instead, you get a small, round, grey token, which you redeem at the same newspaper vendor when you buy from him another day.

When your supermarket bill is rung up and the total is $5.21 the cashier offers you some sweets to make up the 79 cents change difference.

When you buy a pizza or a burger at a Harare fast-food center, your change is a thin paper voucher, which you’d better cash in quickly because within days the ink has rubbed off in your wallet. All you are left with is a grimy blank piece of paper.

When you hop off a local minibus taxi be sure get your change from the driver. Sometimes he hands it over, other times he rounds up the cost of trip, leaving passengers shortchanged. Mostly, he hands over a dollar note to two strangers exiting his taxi at the same place – telling them they have to divide the change.

Sometimes, frustrated, poor commuters come to blows on the side of the road over how to split taxi-fare change.

Taxi passengers – like shoppers and newspaper vendors – can’t receive their change because there are no coins in Zimbabwe. The smallest denomination is a $1 U.S. note.

The country adopted the U.S. dollar two years ago after the collapse of the Zim dollar. Since then, rampant, record inflation has stabilized but the realities on the streets indicate there are still very challenging economic realities for Zimbabweans.

Firstly, the price of produce and goods has become more expensive because the country now has to import most foodstuffs. A chicken at a supermarket costs around $10 U.S.

Secondly, because there are no coins, many shops and restaurants automatically round up the price of their goods and services – so ordinary Zimbabweans find themselves footing the bill for an ad hoc “change tax.”

Zimbabweans say proudly that they are a resilient people, that they survived even tougher economic times in the past decade. Indeed, that seems true because from what I have witnessed this week on the streets of Harare, they seem to have stoically adapted to an economy that is run on dollars and sweets, not dollars and cents.

May 12th, 2011
10:28 AM GMT
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When Africans talk about what they want for their continent, the chatter is varied and often contradictory. We need jobs! We need roads! We need aid! We don’t want more aid! We want trade!

What does Africa really need to achieve if African children are to come of age in a continent that offers them more opportunity?

From Cape Town to Cairo, there is an underlying consensus that it is African children themselves who form the basis of the continent’s future.

It’s estimated that by 2050, Africa’s youth will make up nearly 30% of the world’s youth population.

Some economists and analysts say this “youth bulge” is a positive trend because Africa’s people are its most precious asset.

Others worry that the critical issue of educating and employing millions of young people will be the most challenging aspect of Africa’s future.

Education is woeful in many parts of the continent. Even here in South Africa, the continent’s most developed economy, there is a worrying failure to educate the young.

One economist regularly repeats this statistic: Of the estimated one million children who start school in South Africa every year, only 9,000 of them will finish school, 12 years later, with a “distinction” or B+ in Mathematics. So each year, there is a pool of only 9,000 students who could potentially qualify for maths-based university courses.

If South Africa can’t churn out enough architects, engineers and economists then imagine the challenges faced by teachers and their hapless students in Gabon or Congo or Mozambique.

I often listen to government ministers and their advisors pontificate about various “pillars” of growth, without including education as a major priority. Look at how Asia’s extraordinary growth in recent decades was fuelled by a determination to invest in “human capital.”

It is widely understood that Africa’s children will not own the 21st century until their leaders put more emphasis on educating them. Poor, barely literate 18 year olds in a rural area cannot compete for jobs. Neither can they take advantage of the investments being made on the continent.

It seems the critical investment of this century will be how Africa’s children are equipped to prepare for the challenges and chances ahead. There is no time to waste.

May 9th, 2011
10:13 AM GMT
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Assessing attractiveness can be a subjective undertaking.

However, an international company has used objective data to examine Africa’s “attractiveness” as a place to do business.

Ernst and Young launched its “Africa attractiveness survey” at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town. It makes for interesting reading if you want to understand the perceptions surrounding business in Africa.

The firm polled 500 companies from around the world, as well as Africans themselves, and found that - no surprises here - Africa is becoming increasingly attractive to international investors.

Importantly, emerging-market investors were more positive about Africa’s long-term prospects than developed-world investors, which obviously points to stronger and deepening relationships between the BRICS countries and the rest of Africa. Ernst and Young note that the mining and manufacturing industries, in particular, experience a strong capital influx from emerging-market economies.

What will cheer many within the continent is the huge optimism Africans feel towards business opportunities in their own backyard. Africans themselves are leading the growth in investment.

This is key. There is a growing self-confidence amongst Africans, as well as a growing awareness that regional barriers need to be broken down so that intra-African trade can be increased.

So while reports like these - and there were many at this year’s World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town - make for happy reading by Afri-optimists, it is worth putting a sobering note on the assessment.

Significantly, three quarters of foreign direct investment was in just 10 countries, out of a continent of more than 50 states. Why are the 40 other Africa nations considered to be the “ugly sisters?”

There are many reasons - beyond political instability - like bad infrastructure, red tape and a lack of skills, that are cited as common reasons for a lack of investment.

Mostly, though, there is a lag between the optimism directed towards Africa and capital flows. Foreign direct investment is still relatively low when compared on a global scale and African intra-trade is woeful.

Although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, many would like to see more tangible benefits to Africa’s growing attractiveness.

April 27th, 2011
02:08 PM GMT
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Business leaders and political bigwigs will soon meet in Cape Town for the World Economic Forum. There is a clear understanding that the dialogue has shifted in recent years when it comes to understanding Africa’s role in the world.

No longer dismissed as a business basket case, the global community knows that money is being made on the continent. Growth rates are strong. Investment is flowing. Returns are good.

The big question for Africans is to ensure that they too get a share of the spoils.

But how do they do this?

The answer for many is the rather wordy phrase “beneficiation at source.” Politicians like to throw this buzz phrase into conversations because it describes how local communities should “benefit” from their own natural resources.

Traditionally, foreign companies buy Africa’s raw materials, whether they are metals, oil or crops, and then sell the finished product back to Africa.

Now, there is a political push for more African control over its refining capacity, to have more influence over the end product.

While this makes sense, economists and analysts all point to two significant challenges that Africans face as they try to unlock the potential of their continent and grab the opportunities “at source.”

Over and over again, I hear the same two concerns - that a lack of infrastructure and a skills deficit continue to hold back Africans.

If Africa’s working-age youth - an estimated half-a-billion people by 2050 - are to seize the chances that lie before them, then more investment has to be plowed into education.

African engineers, farmers and architects are urgently needed to create a better infrastructure to underpin the continent’s economic potential.

Highways linking big cities and regional hubs need to be built. Fertile agricultural lands need to be farmed strategically. Electricity and power grids need to be upgraded and maintained.

The world and African leaders cannot talk about economic growth unless they increase investment in the critical areas needed to sustain that potential.

April 21st, 2011
04:38 PM GMT
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The gold price has hit $1,500 for the first time. However, it is unlikely South Africa, once the world’s largest gold producer, will reap the benefits of these prices.

South Africa’s gold mines are some of the deepest in the world and so extracting the precious metal has become more expensive over the years. Mines have closed down and retrenched many workers.

Even though commodity prices for gold, copper, coal and iron ore have been rising steadily, many say the South Africans may have missed opportunities to capitalize on these heady levels. Despite the boom times, the South African mining sector has contracted, admitted the government in parliament recently.

Negative perceptions have scared off potential investors for a number of reasons. Inflexible labor laws make employers think twice before setting up shop in South Africa. Infrastructure, like rail corridors to transport coal, for example, is woefully inefficient. Also, there has been much political noise about the possibility of the mines being nationalized. Government keeps on discrediting the calls but the worries still persist for international investors.

South Africa's leaders also point to the new rail links that are being built, the electricity supplies being upgraded and other benefits to doing business in Africa’s largest and most sophisticated economy.

That said, there is still the sense that South Africa is missing the boat.

Interestingly, many economists and mining experts say it’s other African countries that may benefit, because as commodity prices skyrocket, the appetite for risk increases.

The South Africans recently joined the BRIC club of emerging economies and the Trade and Industry minister says that they expect $17 billion of investment over the next three years because of this new relationship. Doors will be opened, new deals will be done, say the South Africans.

However, will it be too late to ride the wave of these boom times?

April 7th, 2011
03:52 PM GMT
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They call it “indigenization” in Zimbabwe. However, the process of forcing foreign mining firms to hand over 51% of their companies to local black owners is commonly understood by many to be “nationalization” or “expropriation.”

The Zimbabwean government says the forcible handover of a majority stake by foreign mining firms is necessary to readdress historical imbalances. It says international firms like Angloplat or ImpalaPlatinum are “taking money” out of the country and ordinary Zimbabweans aren’t benefiting from the country's mineral wealth.

Critics of the Indigenization Act say it’s not about giving mineral rights back to local Zimbabweans, but a way of ensuring an entrenched system of patronage in the southern African nation.

The issue is not about race, or even foreign ownership, say critics. Instead, it’s about buying support and currying favor among acolytes of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF party.

Mugabe’s partners in government, the MDC, seem powerless in the face of ZANU’s push for this far-reaching legislation. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai has been reluctant to criticize the “indigenization” legislation – perhaps fearful of being labeled pro-white or pro-West? In its defense, the MDC has said companies should be paid fair market value for their stakes.

However, it still seems unclear how international mining firms will be compensated for their 51%. The Indigenization Minister, Saviour Kusukuwere, says the state will raise the money via a “Sovereign Wealth Fund.” He says mining companies will not be paid for any of their “underground assets” because they “belong to us.” However, companies will be compensated for “improvements” above ground.

Just weeks ago, Zimbabwe had an investment conference in Harare, urging foreign investors to come and do business there. These latest pronouncements can’t have done much good to Zimbabwe's reputation as an investor-friendly location.

What do you think?

March 31st, 2011
03:31 PM GMT
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The price of chocolate could increase if the violence and political stalemate in Ivory Coast continues. Prices of cocoa are already at an all time high and confectioners warn that the consumers could soon be paying more for chocolates if there is no resolution.

The West African country is the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocoa. The international community has slapped embargoes on the Ivorian cocoa industry, stopping exports of the crop, in a bid to cut off foreign exchange revenue to former president Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters. Gbagbo refuses to give up power after losing elections last year

The fighting has also paralyzed the country’s biggest port, which exports much of the raw produce for chocolate.

Latest reports indicate that forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the would-be president of the West African nation, have taken the coastal cocoa town of San Pedro. Hundreds of thousands of tons of cocoa beans are reportedly in warehouses, ready to be shipped to international markets.

As the crisis of leadership continues, ordinary Ivorians say they are paying the ultimate price for Gbagbo’s stubbornness. Cocoa farmers are forced to stockpile their crops, waiting for the impasse to end. However, the longer this goes on the longer they don’t get paid.

Beyond the economic hardships, the human impact continues to horrify observers.

“Ivory Coast has reached a boiling point,” says Human Rights Watch (HRW). It says ordinary Ivorians and West African immigrants continue to be massacred by forces loyal to Gbagbo. “We are extremely concerned about the potential for further human rights atrocities, given the killings on both sides,” says Daniel Bekele, who heads up HRW in Africa.

Now, the United Nations has eventually beefed up its response against Gbagbo’s regime, implementing tougher sanctions against him, his wife and three associates. However, the Security Council fell short of referring Gbagbo and his supporters to the International Criminal Court.

With both the economic and humanitarian situation reaching dire consequences for ordinary Ivorians, what is the solution? Will sanctions work to shift Gbagbo out of power? Will West African nations take matters into their own hands and launch their own offensive? After all, the impact of this instability is felt far beyond the borders of the Ivory Coast.

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