Contrary to what many think I actually like speaking to people when I get the chance to do so. Some may even tell you I come over as sincere and knowledgeable. The last part is very true when I speak about JKLS Africa; obviously, I created the company back in 2003 and used it on and off until I came back from Nigeria. Then it became the company of choice for me. I know what my ideas are.
I am asked at times what the briefings are about, the country briefings. Once again it is based on personal experience. When G4S recruited me to West Africa I was flown in blind. There was no such thing as a proper briefing on what to expect and what to do. It went as far as saying I should have about a 100 dollars with me (but not that it should be in large notes, not small ones, as the larger notes is changed to Naira more easily). It said bring a laptop with (which I wondered about, a company which prides itself in being the largest security company in the world really should be able to supply senior people with a laptop). I can mention many other examples of a lack of preparedness but this not the "I hate G4S blog." It is merely what caused the JKLS briefings. In fact I am rather grateful to G4S for opening my eyes to what must not be done to professionals.
"Ex Africa semper aliquid novi" (There's) always something new (coming) out of Africa, said Pliny the Elder centuries ago. Obviously it is hard for you to go to a foreign country and conduct business if you have never been there before. I say in all my legal books that you really should never underestimate Africa. Do not think you can cut corners and treat us differently from any other place. We will take your money and you will cry foul but mostly you have only yourself to blame. Do not make the mistake of going into Africa unprepared - that is foolish and unproductive. You need to be prepared and understand the risks.
The answer is not in media or a Google search. The media tends to over exaggerate everything so they can sell more newspapers, get more hits and more readers. Nor is the answer in the CIA files (they have a country report which is rather pathetic and of no use). No, the answer is to talk to the professionals who lived and worked in the place. Who know the local laws, economy and most importantly culture. We do things differently in Africa; there are unwritten rules which if you break it more than once will have dire consequences on your business negotiations. This is what the briefings are about...to prepare you to do business and make money.
I go to the client; we sit down and have a cup of tea or coffee and talk. I explain to him what the security risks are and what not to do. For instance stay away from women of the night. In almost every kidnapping I dealt with he got caught by a local girlfriend's house or place. Be sure that you open your hotel door fully clothed, why? Because we had a fellow arrested for rape, he was innocent, the CCTV cameras showed she never entered his room but she saw his tattoo on his shoulder and described it to the police. That was enough to get him arrested for a nice attempted bribe.
It is small things like this which makes the difference. Take another example; it rains at a tremendous rate in Africa. Hence you would be advised by me to get ankle type boots rather than your nice shoes you have on now. What about medicines? What about the legal system and contracts? How do you address a senior Nigerian? Who pays the bill after dinner? Is it even safe to use your credit card? Do you know that 95% of banks will block your card automatically when used in West Africa? That is if you did not inform them you are there and now you have the embarrassment of not being able to pay for the meal. I have seen senior executives red faced and severely upset when that happens. He lost face and is seen as a Mickey Mouse wanker who is not serious.
And so the list goes on and on. From a business viewpoint it is madness to dash into a country unprepared. Finding your feet costs money and productivity. Of course, this is Human Resources function but I have yet to meet a single one who does this or impresses me with his knowledge. Paradoxically his lack of knowledge frequently impresses me. They frequently scare me with their arrogance but that is a topic we spoke of before.
What was interesting to me was not the briefing on Nigeria and Mozambique but the one on South Africa. How do you describe your own place to foreigners? Do you gloss over the truth, the shameful bribery seeking traffic police? Or do you say it as you see it? I chose the latter and it seems to be working. There is anyway no other way for me, fear is from satan. And this is what it is about; when you talk to me you get the answers. I was there; I know the legal systems, culture, people and the economy.
Why in the clients office? Simply because he feels more comfortable and hence take in what I say. I know this works better than a formal conference scenario. Hence I meet clients at airports too and the briefings take as long as it takes meaning as long as there is a question I will answer it. But in practice this is about two hours and from 35 pages of notes (sometimes more). Yes, I like talking to clients.