A true believer in the development programs in Africa, that creates jobs through his various programs and network like EmAC, EASEN, SocEntLab etc. He is also a bridge builder between the Scandinavian countries and the African continent by helping to facilitate for foreign investment in Africa. Skandik Afrik presents the exclusive interview with the Glow of the week, Svein Mork Dahl.
(Skandik Afrik) Where did your bond with Africa come from?
(Svein) I had earlier lived for a year outside the coast of North Africa at the Canary Island which gave me a soft introduction to the continent. But in 2007 l was working with a company called Fund Management Group, as an emerging markets fund manager. We were working on launching a MENA (Middle East, North Africa) and Africa Fund. I then saw the growing opportunities in the continent.
I left the company later because l wanted to do some consulting. I wanted to work with entrepreneurs and help them reach their full potential. Through consulting, l started working with this Norwegian NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) who was running a development centre near Kisumu. That was how l went to Kenya. In Kenya, the organization was involved in planning a school for solar technicians outside Kisumu in Kenya. There l fell in love with the people and the country and just wanted to stay on after my work was done. I also had met Lillian during my stays, so there were more reasons for me to stay.
(Skandik Afrik) In what way have you contributed to the development of Africa or the Scandinavian countries?
(Svein) I have been an effective link between Norwegian companies and African grass root networks and local businesses which are beneficiary to the rural people. For example, East African Social Enterprise Network and other Entrepreneurship programs which I was actively involved in teaching the rural people on how to run businesses by themselves. We were working with people that came to us and were able to show us that they can build something of benefit for more than one person and that can actually create jobs. We also work with law firms and bigger investors. My job has gone from being an incorporation officer to being more of a strategic adviser lately. Mostly I am working on bringing in Foreign Direct Investments to Africa, advising foreign funds and impact investors on the local scene.
(Skandik Afrik) Do you have any collaboration with the grass root companies in Kenya?
(Svein) Smaller companies that we are working with are working closely with grass root companies like NGO which are working with the little community outside of Kisumu. This NGO has been there for 20 years, I have been involved with some of their leaders in training programs. We’ve also founded the East African Social Enterprise Network (EASEN) which works on social entrepreneurship throughout East Africa. EASEN mostly do training of trainers that will take their knowledge back to the local communities. We call it the Shaggz Connect-project connecting knowledge and local communities. Personally, I am strained on time, so I have not been able to follow up these projects as close as I could have wanted.
(Skandik Afrik) What were the challenges you encountered when you were trying to integrate into the African society?
(Svein)A lot of it is the mentality brought by foreigners (Western world) and Africans. Fifty years of aid has destroyed a lot. When I got to Kenya, some of the Kenyans expected me to do things for free because I am white and they also thought I was a walking bank doing training in the rural areas. The people where most often more interested in me as a person than what I had to say. It is also hard to find the right people to work with without being deceived as well. The Scandinavians also need to understand that not all information they see on the television are true reflections of things in Africa. They (Scandinavians) need to travel to Africa and see things for themselves. Therefore the problems go both ways for both the Scandinavians and the Africans, it seems like we do not understand each other.
I will always be the Mzungu (white man), and I always have to remember that in my dealings with the local community. After some years down here I have gotten some clue on how to handle the cultural differences.
(Skandik Afrik) Are you mainly active in Kenya or do you work in other African countries as well?
(Svein) We work mostly in East Africa but are also working with people that have interests in West Africa, like Ghana and Nigeria. Through Emerging Africa Capital Ltd. we are doing a lot of work in the East African- region, and we are ready to do more. Just last month we delivered a turnkey solution for an Islamic SACCO (Savings and Credit Cooperative) that even operates in Mogadishu, Somalia. We are regulated by the Capital Markets Authority in Kenya. Together with Innovare Advisors (US-based fund managers), we’re setting up a fund doing debt financing of post-harvest agric business for most infrastructure like storage facilities and production equipment. There is a huge need for credit facilities, especially in the African SME-sector. We will be starting operations in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South-Africa, but will later scale to cover more of Africa.
(Skandik Afrik) What would be your advice to the majority of Africans that are interested in investing in their home country?
(Svein) The time to go to Africa is now. They should at least go home to have a look and see what is happening. We have a lot of Norwegian-Somalis right now investing in Kenya, waiting for things to calm down in Somalia. If you have not been home for a while you should take a trip, have a look and see. There have been lots of changes in Africa most of them for the better, even though it is still a long way to go, especially governance issues.
Stop sending money to sustain your family, but invest in their future by helping them create a job. People can no longer just wait around to get employment. The official unemployment rate in Kenya is 40%. The job is not there. It needs to be created. Someone got to do that. If not you, who will? There is no one better to lead the way in job creation than the African “ex-pat” community in Europe and US. Take your knowledge, and bring it home. I see a lot of Africans are buying land in their home countries, but they should also look into creating jobs. Create new value, not just bury their money in the ground.
Give your family and fellow countrymen the opportunity and the pride to be able to sustain themselves, that is where the intending Africans that are planning to go home should invest. They know the people, they know the mentality and they also know what I as a Norwegian want to see in a company. They know how things work in for example Europe, and can bring that knowledge home. I think that’s the best thing to do and that is how Europe was built. People tend to forget that Norway was one of the poorest countries in Europe about 100 years ago. Now it is the most developed country in the world. This is mainly because of good governance of our natural resources (Like oil). Africa got the resources but lacks the governance.
(Skandik Afrik) …You just said the right time to invest in Africa is now, through what channels, to reduce the risk of manipulation?
(Svein) That is a hard question if they do not want to do things by themselves and they want to contribute, there are lots of firms doing a lot of good work down here (Kenya). You could put your money with them and most of these companies are run by Africans. Like our firm Emerging Africa Capital Ltd. which is headed by Michael Musau, a young and very entrepreneurial Kenyan. We (EmAC) also represents FMG Funds, an emerging markets fund manager that has been operating since 1989. I have known them and worked with them since mid-2000. We have a Middle-East North Africa Fund and an Africa Fund already investing in Africa. EmAC is also working on setting up an African SME-Fund, the Biashara Fund, to invest in mid-range African companies. To do this effectively you need local people with local knowledge. There are lots of people doing great things on the ground here in Africa that could need their support. The investment should be sustainable over a long period of time.
There is a huge difference in east Africa now compared to ten years ago, a lot of things has happened. Look at Rwanda for instance. Being there is like being in Switzerland. Go to Kigali in Rwanda, it´s like a European city, its clean, its modern, they have better roads and road signs in Kigali than some parts of Oslo, the capital of Norway. It is possible. But Kigali is the “posterboy”. Development still needs to scale to the rural areas.
(Skandik Afrik) And finally, how would you describe your experience in Africa, what is Africa to you?
(Svein) I would not have been without it. It has been a wonderful experience in many ways. Working with the people I have met, has been fantastic but there have been a lot of challenges as well. I feel it is hard for me to talk to the Norwegians about the experience in Africa because they would not understand unless they are here (Kenya) to experience it themselves.
Africa is the last frontier and got this huge potential. For me being able to work and live both in Europe and Africa gives me the best of the world.
Interviewed by; Kenneth Fagbe